REI Co-op Flash 22 Review
Cons: Uncomfortable with heavy loads, not durable.
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Best Buy award goes to the product that maximizes performance at a low price. Through months of testing, we found that no feature on the Flash 22 was extraneous. The pocket arrangement, suspension, minimalist frame, and lightweight materials all function well together. While we wouldn't recommend it for loads much greater than around 15 pounds for regular use (although we've carried more in our Flash packs), it can work fine for trail runnning, hiking, mountain biking, climbing, and even commuting, as it fits a 14-inch laptop snugly in the hydration sleeve. For travel, the abundance of pockets and loops makes it perfect to use as a personal bag that can be tucked away in a larger bag when needed.
The REI Co-op Flash 22 scored well compared to other small daypacks, despite its minimalist construction. We try to balance performance and function in selecting our Best Buy award. The Flash 22 is only marginally more expensive than the cheapest pack in our review, but you get mesh stretch pockets, a lid, more comfortable suspension, and more modular attachment points on the outside of the pack. We think that's definitely worth it.
The Flash 22 is a one-size-fits-most pack, but we found that it fit fine on testers ranging from 5'5"/110lbs to 6'5"/225 lbs. We liked that we could cinch it way down and clip the hipbelt around our midsection to stabilize the pack for running, or let out the shoulder straps a bit and place the hipbelt around our iliac crest to take some weight off our shoulders for hiking.
An improvement over the REI Co-op Flash 18, the Flash 22 features more padded shoulder straps, with padding that rolls over the top of the shoulder strap around the top of the shoulder, which keeps the edges of the straps from digging in or pinching. This roll-over also forms the hydration hose keeper and is an excellent example of the thoughtful design of this pack. The hip belt and sternum strap are removable, and we found that both function well. The hip belt is just barely wide enough to sit atop your iliac crest and take some weight, but for a more comfortable carry, look for more padded, wider hip belts.
Ventilation makes for a comfortable pack, and the Flash 22 doesn't ventilate well, unfortunately. Packs with mesh backs ventilate much better. The small profile of the Flash 22, however, means that not much of your back will get sweaty, compared to wider packs.
The Flash 22 has no built in compression straps, unlike other similarly sized daypacks. However, it does have four perimeter loops around the back panel, two upper daisy chains, and one lower loop on each side of the back of the pack. These allow you to add cordage or straps for compression and carrying bulky items, if desired (see Ease of Use section, below, for an example). We loved all these loops for carrying things, but don't expect this pack to be able to compress down well.
Because the pack is so small, we didn't find the lack of compression to cause shifting or slipping during dynamic activities. However, with bulky loads, we did wish for some compression to bring the load closer in to our backs. We added a small bit of cordage to test this out and found that while it works for holding bulky objects, the pack doesn't have a stiff enough frame to compress without buckling.
The foam back panel on the Flash 22 is removable closed cell foam, which can be easily removed for use as a sit pad.
Weight to Volume Ratio
The Flash 22 is an ultralight pack, with thin materials, small buckles and straps, and only the necessary features. It weighs in at a scant 13 ounces for its 23 L volume, for a super low weight to volume ratio of 0.54 oz/L.
It saves weight by allowing you to add on what you need with all the modular loops and daisy chains, but doesn't force you to carry unnecessary bells and whistles. For this price, we would normally expect a very simple pack with few features, but the Flash delivers lots of nice touches that don't add much weight.
We used this pack for running, hiking, and even a trip to New Zealand. We appreciated its pocket design for all these activities, and its light weight and svelte size kept it out of our way when we didn't need it.
For outdoor pursuits, we could usually stuff this pack with all the layers, water bottles, and gear we needed. However, we hesitated to bring this pack snowshoeing, or when we had to carry gear for other people, as it quickly became uncomfortable with heavy loads. This limits it to activities like mountain biking, hiking, scrambling, trail running, climbing, and other generally fair-weather or light-and-fast adventures. We liked the versatility of the Flash 22 over more running-specific ultralight packs, which didn't work as well for things like commuting or longer hikes.
We appreciated the light and flexible frame on the Flash 22 for the freedom of motion it provided. It narrowly edged out most of the other light packs in this review in terms of freedom of movement during our standardized calisthenics testing due to its thin and light shoulder straps. For biking or climbing, this pack stays out of the way and lets you do your thing.
We love the REI Co-op Flash series of packs for travel. The Flash 22 stuffs easily underneath an airplane seat, can be rolled up and stuffed in a carry on for more baggage-restricting airlines, and has two zippered pockets in addition to the main compartment for organization. We strapped it to a car headrest for a couple weeks of camping in New Zealand and used it as our day-to-day gear organizer and closet.
Ease of Use
The REI Co-op Flash 22 benefits from years of design refinements to REI's pack lineup. The mesh stretch pockets are easy to get into and hold things well. The more secure zippered pockets are small, but work well for organizing small gear like headlamps or water filters. While it lacks hip belt pockets, it's easy to slip this pack on and off to get to the zippered or mesh pockets.
The outer attachments on this pack were some of our favorite of the packs we tested. The elastic pole or ice axe holder securely held our 68 cm Petzl Glacier ice axe, but could also run through the loop of our nalgene and stretch over to one of the back panel loops, clipping in to secure a water bottle stuffed in the mesh side pocket.
The outside attachment loops on the Flash 22 can be outfitted with some useful cordage to add functionality for compressing the pack or strapping on bulky items like camera tripods. Here, we used a 30-inch long piece of 3mm cord, a small metal carabiner clip, and a cord lock to add a compression strap. We tied a bowline on one end, then girth hitched the strap to the lower, outside attachment loop. We then ran it through the metal carabiner clip and the cordlock, and tied a double overhand stopper knot to finish it off. We can run this through our gear, the daisy chains, and the other attachment loops on the pack to strap things down or tighten down the main compartment.
The main compartment is equipped for a hydration bladder up to 3L (although 3L of water takes up a lot of space in a pack this small). There are also two small pockets and a keychain clip on the hydration reservoir pocket. We liked these small pockets, but our larger testers had a hard time fitting their hands into them.
For commuting, we were able to slide our 14-inch laptop into the hydration sleeve easily, and we appreciated the two small zippered pockets for holding a notebook and pens. At crowded meetings, we could slip this bag under our chair, while other, bulkier bags just got in the way.
REI uses the same thin ripstop nylon on both the Flash 18 and Flash 22, with some thicker nylon packcloth on the bottom. The outer pocket creates two layers of material on the outside of the pack, and the lid adds another two layers to the top, making this pack able to take a little more abuse than the Flash 18.
Most other packs in this review use much burlier nylon that will probably last longer. Unless you plan on canyoneering or hauling this bag over rock, it will last you years. And if you do tear it up, its simple design makes it easy to patch with some Tear-Aid or Tenacious Tape.
In our hose testing, we found that the top lid of the Flash 22 worked only slightly better than the Flash 18 at keeping out water. Without an included rain cover, and without the structured frame to support one, this pack is alright for short rainshowers, but will get your gear drenched in a long rainstorm. Think of it as being a pack that dries out very fast, and, as a top-loader, works great with a dry bag pack liner or garbage bag to keep your gear dry on a rainy day.
We were blown away by the performance of this pack given its low price. After many years, REI has really dialed in the design and feature set, and we can honestly say that we hope it doesn't change much. At an ultralight weight, it delivers top-tier performance, features that we find ourselves using frequently, and the versatility to accompany day after day in the mountains. All these positive characteristics come at an absolute steal, making this a solid choice for our Best Buy award.
Our Best Buy award winner performs well in all metrics other than durability, and at a lower price that the vast majority of packs in our review. After years of refinement, the Flash 22 offers functional and streamlined features, a remarkably comfortable suspension considering its minimalism, and a useful design, all at a crazy lightweight.
— Dan Scott