REI Co-op Flash 3-Season Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
It was clear early on in our testing that the Flash 3-Season wouldn't be winning any awards this year. From the moment we plopped down, there was a notable lack of cushioning, and visible gaps in insulation that we imagined would create some gripes. While we were generally quite comfortable on the Flash, we found ourselves wanting a touch more warmth on chilly fall nights and enough cushioning for occasional side sleeping.
When testing sleeping pads, some components are immediately apparent such as pad thickness and the structure of baffles being supportive enough to handle side sleeping or areas of increased pressure. The Flash 3-Season simply does not have enough thickness or necessary structure to support side sleeping without contacting the ground underneath the pad. While the Flash is significantly more comfortable than a plain old closed-cell pad, pushing through to the ground just doesn't cut it these days. That being said, if you are strictly a back or front sleeper, the Flash does seem capable of keeping one suspended off the ground.
More than once during testing, we woke up in the middle of the night and slipped a closed-cell pad underneath to take the edge off (add for a bit more warmth), which greatly enhanced the comfort of this pad.
Weight and Packed Size
At about 16.6 ounces, the Flash 3-Season isn't exactly a heavyweight; in fact, the weight and packed size are respectable. Some pads offer more warmth and comfort with less weight, but for the relatively low cost, the Flash is pretty light. There is a bit of a catch-22 in having a lightweight and packable pad that isn't really capable of seeing you through a rugged backcountry adventure, though, and it begs the question, why not make it a bit warmer, a bit more comfortable, and a touch heavier? Catch-22s aside, the packed size is excellent; smaller than a standard Nalgene bottle and able to disappear in the bottom of your pack.
There is a critical flaw in the Flash 3-Season insulation pattern. While the quilted baffles are pretty comfortable when lying flat on your back, the laminated spaces have no insulation, leaving only the individual quilted baffles with the responsibility of providing all of the heat retentions. This design might not be so ineffective if the pad were a bit thicker and the baffles had more overlap though the way it stands, heat seems to escape through this pad easily.
The listed R-value is 3.2, which is right where it should be for survivability over three seasons. Over the cold nights we spent on this pad, our testers universally agreed that the 3.2 might be a bit generous. Not only for comfort reasons, but for warmth, we ended up having to supplement this pad with a closed-cell foam pad to make it through a few colder fall nights (in the mid-30s) without chattering our teeth out.
Ease of Inflation
The Flash 3-Season is in the minority of sleeping pads that ship without a pump sack. As the pad isn't very thick, it does inflate quickly through lung power but leaves the user with an inevitable hyperventilation buzz. While we don't mind the buzz too much, ultimately, moisture-filled breath will lead to pad degradation and create a potential for mildew and mold inside the pad.
When we hurried, it only took about a minute to inflate the Flash to its most firm setting. While the dual valves don't feel as substantial or durable as some tested this year, they proved to be leak-free and do a nice job retaining our hard-fought lung-powered inflation efforts.
Over the multi-month testing period, the Flash 3-Season held up quite well. The downside of our testing process is the relatively short amount of time to expose durability issues with sleeping pads that should last for years. Our testers noted the relatively fragile feeling rubber comprising the inflate and deflate valves and material that doesn't feel especially resilient. Upsides include REI having an excellent return/repair policy and downsides being a greater potential to be left with a flat pad in the backcountry.
The Flash 3-Season is priced at a fair discount compared to our award-winning sleeping pads, but this doesn't mean it is a great value. If you are simply looking for a pad to get you out the door and a high level of durability or comfort aren't critical, the saved dollars could be spent on a nicer sleeping bag or other comfort/warmth boosting items. That said, with a relatively low level of comfort and the Flash's propensity to let cold seep through, your money may be better spent on the thicker and warmer pad offerings on the market.
The advertised weight, r-value, and attractive quilted baffle design drew us into this pad. We had high hopes for a low-cost alternative to some of the more expensive lightweight insulated pads on the market. Ultimately, we found the Flash 3-Season to be too thin and cold to be a highly recommended alternative to the top pads. If you're looking for an entry-level option and aren't planning any big expeditions, this could be worth checking out.