Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $170
Pros: Great price, light weight, nice pockets.
Cons: Not as comfortable, not as durable.
Best Uses: Backpacking, mountaineering, trekking.
The Flash 65 has been discontinued and is replaced by the REI Flash 62. The 62 is a big upgrade over the 65 as you will see in the review of the 62.
The Flash 65 is a fairly comfortable pack that is extremely light. It is the lightest pack in our review and could easily compete with most specifically designed lightweight packs on the market. However, it is comfortable enough and has enough features to compete with more average weight, general use backpacking, trekking and mountaineering packs. One of the REI Flash 65's brightest points is that at $170 it is by far and away the least expensive pack in our review. The downside is you don't get a lot of frame and suspension or durability for that $170. But if you go on shorter trips or pack lighter than 35-40 pounds and are careful with your pack not to rip it, then you will be perfectly happy with the REI Flash 65.
If you are someone who is trying to pack lighter and don't want a super heavy pack but need a little more support, consider the Gregory Z 65. The Z 65 is a little heavier but much more supportive and more durable. If you often carry 35-40 pounds you should consider buying a more supportive pack. It might be a little heavier but most people will be happier in the long run. The REI Flash 65 is also a excellent choice for lightweight backpackers and trekkers who want a little more support than a "frame-less" pack not only because it will carry better but it will keep your back protected from sharp items.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
We liked the suspension of the Flash 65 considering how light it is. It transferred the load well and protected our backs from strangely shaped or sharp items (think stoves, cams etc.) from jabbing us in the back, a problem on some similar weight, "frame-less" packs.
We thought this pack compared well with other packs in our review when carrying 30-35 pounds and under. Once we got to 35 pounds we thought the Gregory Z 65 pack was more comfortable, along with all the other packs in our review. We liked the pockets on back and used them a ton for smaller and easily accessible items. It was harder to get bigger items (like a big 10 oz. container of sun block) out of the back zippered pocket when the pack was super full. We did like the "Kangaroo pocket" and, depending on the trip, we loved to put wet cloths, flip flops (or five fingers, depending on your preference) and it even seemed like the prefect place for our smelly garbage bag.
The straps underneath the pack are nice and just barely long enough to fit most sleeping pads. But we wish that they didn't put on the plastic strap end holder things – they make the straps harder to adjust with sleeping pads or other items in there. So we just cut them off. At first we were a little skeptical of the Velcro closure pocket underneath the lid but if worked fantastically. We have no complaints after using this pack on several trips in the North Cascades.
There are also several lash points on the back and top of this pack which we used to attach crampons. They are in versatile positions and could have many applications. We also thought the Flash 65 was the one of the best of any pack in our review for holding one or two ice axes. Axes attached firmly and securely without leaning back or to the side at strange angles.
We didn't love the shoulders straps on this pack. They were lightweight and breathed okay, but with loads more than 30-35 pounds, after a few hours on the trail testers agreed they weren't nearly as comfy as other packs we looked at. Same goes for the waist belt. A couple testers thought the frame was "too stiff" and despite the stiffness the frame didn't transfer the load effectively to the waist belt because they didn't have enough structure to take it.
As a whole most of our testers thought that for loads under 30-35 pounds the Flash 65 stood up just as well as other packs we tested. Once over 30-35 pounds, however, the Flash quickly fell behind. This is where the Flash straddles the line of an ultra-light pack and a more traditional pack. It can carry more weight than a frame-less or minimalist frame pack but doesn't carry heavier loads nearly as well as a traditional pack. But, hey, it's one to three pounds lighter than all the other packs, so what can you say. We also thought that the fabric on the Flash 65 was the least durable in our review. We just used it on hiking trails (Which are often overgrown in North Cascades National park) and the mesh pockets on the sides of the pack ripped quickly; so did a few small holes on the side of the pack.
The people who will be the happiest with the REI Flash 65 are climbers, lightweight backpackers or trekkers who pack fairly light and keep their loads under 30-35 pounds. We think average backpacker would use the REI flash for 2-5 days, but you could go longer. The Flash 65 is a nice way for folks who want to save more weight but aren't ready for or don't want an ultra-light frame-less or minimalist frame pack.
At $170 the REI Flash 65 is the least expensive pack in our review. It is also by far the lightest. It almost competes with a different category of pack but still crosses over nicely. So if you were on the fence whether you should get a true ultra-light pack or a more traditional pack then you should at least check out the Flash 65. It most closely compares with the Gregory Z 65, which at $230 is $60 more. While the Gregory sports more bells and whistles and is more durable the Flash is 25 percent less expensive and around a pound lighter.
— Ian Nicholson
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Most recent review: October 24, 2012
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