REI Co-op Flash Insulated Review
Cons: Narrower than other bargain pads
Our Analysis and Test Results
Hands-On Review of the Flash Insulated
The comfort, weight, packed size, and price of the Flash are on point.
We were pleasantly surprised by the high level of comfort from the Flash. One of the biggest differences we noticed between the Flash and other sleeping pads of similar weight was the way the air chambers are engineered. Many sleeping pads essentially have one large chamber that contains the full air volume of the pad; the Flash is broken up into a waffle pattern, which keeps high pressure in one place from creating a bounce in another.
When we initially climbed onto the Flash, the waffle pattern made the pad feel too thin, and our knees and elbows poked through to the ground. Once we were situated and laying down on the pad, the feeling of being too thin disappeared. Having the full weight of our body on the Flash, be it on our back or side, kept us from pushing through to the ground.
The non-bouncy feel from the baffles (which slow down air transfer) makes for a pleasant night's sleep. Inevitable shifting and adjusting didn't create excessive bounce, which is a huge bonus. Throughout the testing period, the only negative we noticed was the narrow cut for our legs.
Weight and Packed Size
Our regular length Flash Insulated came in at 16.3 ounces, which is just a touch heavier than advertised. For the price and level of comfort, it is unlikely you will find a lighter weight sleeping pad. That being said, if you are looking for an ultralight sleeping pad, there are certainly lighter options on the market. Making the choice to go lighter than the Flash may bring with it a sacrifice of comfort.
To attain such lightweight, the Flash utilizes 30 denier polyester fabric throughout the entire pad. This material is thin, light, and packs down quite well. The dual fiber insulation is also quite packable, as the Flash packs down into a stuff sack, making it one of the smaller packed pads tested. If you're used to packing along a closed-cell foam sleeping pad, the Flash will absolutely disappear in your backpack.
The Flash Insulated has a stated R-value of 3.7, which implies it should be a solid three-season sleeping. Our testing revealed excellent insulation that does have its limits. To start with the positives first, the Flash consistently kept us comfortable during a summer in the Colorado high country as well as on a few bikepacking trips around Flagstaff during a bit of a cold snap. On a recent supported bike trip around the White Rim Trail, we had an unexpected temperature inversion while camped by the Green River, and the Flash was a bit outgunned. We woke up with ice on the inside of the tent and a pretty cold backside. That said, the temps were probably in the mid-20s, and had we planned a bit better, we probably would have brought something with a burlier R-Value.
The Flash is prime for most backpacking and thru-hiking applications where you want something warm when the weather goes rogue but not something that is ultra-warm all the time. We found the Flash to be comfortable in the 40s and 50s and able to stretch it down into the 30s from time to time. If you're heading out to sled dog race the Iditarod, this is absolutely not the pad.
Ease of Inflation
The small air volume and dual valves make the Flash pretty dang easy to inflate, even without a pump sack. It took us one minute and fifteen seconds to go from fully packed to inflated and ready to use. This was a relaxed pace test where we didn't huff and puff; we just unpacked and inflated at a pace that didn't get us dizzy. We were initially frustrated at the omission of a pump sack, but after getting to know the Flash, we realized it really isn't needed. It inflates so quickly from lung power alone that it's probably not worth the extra money to buy a compatible pump sack. If you are heading into high altitude areas and are worried about huffing and puffing, the Exped Schnozzle pump sack is compatible and worked great to fill the Flash.
While we generally liked the Flash this shouldn't be considered a highly durable sleeping pad. Firstly, it didn't come with a patch kit as most sleeping pads do, and our experience in the outdoors has taught us that you will eventually have to patch your sleeping pad, even if you use a ground cloth and never abuse the pad. Secondly, the 30 denier polyester fabric used throughout the pad is relatively thin when looking at other more durable sleeping pads. We didn't have any issues with our Flash through the testing phase but have read many reviews of individuals stating the laminated waffles can develop micro-tears. Our advice would be to get a solid patch kit and know how to use it no matter what sleeping pad you end up using.
At the current retail price, the Flash is excellent value. While it might not be the outright best buy, it has fantastic performance for a pad that costs less than a Benjamin (if you hit the REI 20% off sale), and let's be honest, it's all about the Benjamins. If you are weight conscious when it comes to outdoor gear and don't want to shell out the better part of two Benjamins, this is the best choice currently on the market.
The REI Flash Insulated pad is exceptional. We didn't experience any of the durability issues even though we thrashed it. Our main gear tester for this year weighs the better part of two hundred pounds, and if anyone could pop this thing, he could. What we did experience was a lightweight, comfortable, and packable sleeping pad that we would definitely recommend to a friend.
— Brian Martin
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