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REI Co-op Flash 22 Review
Cons: Thin fabric, flimsy shoulder straps
Bottom line: A budget pack, with ultralight construction, that will perform as well as many users need.
We like it when an award winner is clear. Early in our testing, we noticed the performance to cost ratio of the Flash 22. The further along our rigorous examination went, the more significant this appeal was reinforced. The Flash 22 was a natural choice for our Best Buy award. It is good, but not perfect. You compromise some comfort and a fair amount of durability to save half the cost of the Editors Choice Osprey Talon 22. A close comparison could be made to the similarly priced and similarly durable Marmot Kompressor 18. The REI, however, is more comfortable with more features, while the Kompressor is more straightforward and lighter. The Kompressor earned our Top Pick award for its unique application as a backpacking sleeping bag stuff sack that can be deployed as a backpack for day trips from your remote camp.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The REI Co-op Flash 22 is a rucksack of classic form, made of modern materials, at an excellent price. We look at a lot of categories of outdoor gear, and we start to notice patterns. One of the trends we saw is that, and this should not be much of a surprise, our overall scoring correlates with cost. Higher scores come with higher prices. Every once in a while, though, a product flips the script and defies the cost to quality ratio. The Flash 22 (and also the Flash 18) is one of these products. Tied for the third highest score in our review, the Flash 22 is the second least expensive backpack we assessed.
The Flash 22 bridges a gap, regarding comfort. It is more comfortable than any of the ultralight or ultra inexpensive packs, and less comfortable than the fully structured products. The frame sheet is just a flexible foam back pad, the shoulder straps are very flexible, and the waist belt is simply removable webbing. The back panel is mainly smooth fabric, with sections of softer foam covered with mesh. This makes for a little bit of moisture management, but not as much as on other packs.
A fully structured back panel, stiffened shoulder straps, and a full, padded waist belt is the gold standard for daypack comfort. The Editors' Choice Osprey Talon 22 is the archetype for this sort of comfort. It is no mystery why the Talon wins our top honor. As compared to the Talon, the REI Flash is flimsy and minimalist. However, the contenders at the other end of the spectrum, like the Fjallraven Kanken Classic 16 and the Top Pick Marmot Kompressor 18 are far less comfortable than the REI Flash 22. The closest comparison, regarding comfort, is to the Deuter Speed Lite 20. Both these models have soft shoulder straps, mesh-over-foam back panels, and removable webbing waist belts. The result is a similar comfort as well.
Weight, for a day pack, isn't a huge deal, to be honest. The difference between the heaviest and lightest is about a pound. When your total pack weight is around 15 pounds, one pound doesn't make a huge difference. Few are examining their pack weight for the hikes on which they'd use a bag like this. That being said, the Flash 22 is pleasantly light.
It is 3/4 of a pound lighter than the Editors Choice Osprey Talon 22. Only three of the competitors we reviewed are lighter than the Flash 22, and both of these are far more minimalist than the REI award winner, compromising significantly on comfort and features. Regarding weight, the closest competitor is the Deuter Speed Lite 20. The Deuter is four ounces heavier. For that, you get more straps and more rugged fabric. Comfort and features are otherwise similar.
Trending into the ultralight category, with a capacity that is just a little above average, the REI Co-op Flash 22 is rather versatile. It can hold all you'd need for even the longest, most serious summer day hike. If you are out in the winter, you'll want to pack carefully. You can certainly fit one person's share of rock climbing equipment into the Flash 22, though we don't recommend this. The fabric of the Flash will not hold up very well to the sharp edges of both rocks and rock climbing equipment.
The Litus 22 from The North Face, the Editors' Choice Osprey Talon 22, and Top Pick Marmot Kompressor 18 are larger than the Flash 22. This additional capacity gives you some more options. The Flash 22, though, is the same as or bigger than the rest of the packs we tested.
Ease of Use
We like the top-loading, basic design of the Co-Op Flash 22. When you are accustomed to this sort of closure, it is quick and easy to get in and out. Additionally, there are no zippers to freeze up or bind up. A top-loading pack isn't super intuitive, but there is a reason that all alpine climbing packs are top loading of some sort. It is a reliable, convenient way to design a pack. The other pockets of the REI Flash close with zippers and hold just a few things.
Other packs have more organizational options. The total pocket count of the Editors Choice is only one more than that of the REI. Most of them, though, are zippered on the Osprey Talon 22 while the REI pocket count only includes two that have zippers. For the organization of small items, most testers liked zippered pockets over elasticized or envelope style pockets.
The bottom fabric of the REI Flash is strong and similar to the fabric on the rest of the packs, while the sides and top of the Flash are much lighter. The lighter side and top fabric will degrade more rapidly than the bottom. Of course, REI designed the Flash this way to optimize durability while minimizing weight. The fact is that reinforcing the bottom of a day pack isn't as valuable as you might first think. These packs are narrow enough that they don't stand up on their bottoms. Bigger packs can be set on the ground upright, and they won't tip over. Daypacks are almost always set down their sides. There is little difference between the wear that the bottom of the pack sees, as compared to the wear that the sides will see. The exception to this, of course, is in scrambling 'butt scooting'. Dragging your bottom and the bottom of the pack over rocks while scrambling is common, and the reinforced lower section of the Flash 22 will help extend life in this situation.
Only the Top Pick Marmot Kompressor is similar, regarding durability, to the REI Flash. Both are made of similarly thin fabric. All the other packs we tested will last longer than the REI and Marmot. Notably, Osprey and Deuter both make durable models. Our test lasted long enough to scuff 'em all up, but not long enough to destroy any of them. Were we to test for a year, the Marmot and REI might suffer significant damage while the Osprey and Deuter packs are unlikely to show anything more than cosmetic wear.
This is an excellent pack for the occasional or gentle user looking to save some dollars. The thin fabric is the main Achilles of this product, but careful use will minimize the damage and maximize the useful life.
If the value is a function of performance, cost, and durability, the Flash 22 has major pluses in two of those three categories. It is half the price of products that only score a little bit better. It performs better than lots of products that cost the same or even more. However, the durability is limited. To minimize weight at this price range, the thin fabric is a distinct compromise. It is half the cost of the Osprey Talon 22, but in normal use, the Osprey will last more than twice as long. If you are careful, you can defy this ratio.
It was easy to grant the REI Co-op Flash 22 our Best Buy award. While there are compromises made, the performance and cost are optimized just how we like these award winners to be. If you are hard on gear, the value of the Flash 22 may be a little compromised. However, for the casual user, the Flash 22 will last long past the point at which you say "I've gotten my money's worth for this backpack."
— Jediah Porter
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