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REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review

Three-pound internal frame backpacks with great fit, features, versatility, and value.


Overall Rating: Recommended

The REI Flash 50 and 65 backpacks are not the absolute lightest in their class (that distinction belongs, perhaps, to the Gossamer Gear Mariposa), but when comparing them to their closest full-featured competitor, the Osprey Exos series, they're close. But "close to being" and "having the highest" performance-to-weight ratio (as is required for us to honor a product with a "Highly Recommended" rating are not the same thing. So while the REI Flash packs are extremely good values, they do not set new benchmarks in performance, so for now, they get a very strong Recommended rating from us, and we're confident that these packs will hit a sweet spot for a good number of aspiring lightweight backpackers. They provide a balance of good design, sizing and fit, features, comfort, versatility, and value.

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by Will Rietveld |


REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review - 1
Arriving at a mountain hut after a 7.5-mile ski trip carrying the REI Flash 65 backpack loaded with food and gear for a four-day stay. Awesome snow and skiing, great lodging, wonderful friends, and cool gear - it doesn't get any better than this!

New for spring 2009, the REI Flash backpack series consists of four packs with volumes of 18, 30, 50, and 65 liters. This review focuses on the Flash 50 and Flash 65, two popular sizes for lightweight backpacking, sometimes referred to as "weekend" and "week-long" backpacks, respectively. Both packs are impressively light, versatile, and value-priced. However, they are not quite as light as the recently reviewed Osprey Exos 46 and Exos 58. How well do the new REI Flash backpacks pass our scrutiny, and how do they compare with the Osprey Exos backpacks? Read on to get the answers.



2009 REI Flash 50 and Flash 65


Top loading internal frame backpack with removable frame and top pocket


Flash 50 is 3051 cu in (50 L)
Flash 65 is 3967 cu in (65 L)


Size M Flash 50 and size L Flash 65 tested.
Measured Weight, Flash 50: 2 lb, 9.2 oz (1.2 kg)
Measured Weight, Flash 65: 3 lb, 1.2 oz (1.4 kg)
Manufacturer Specification (size men’s Medium) Flash 50: 2 lb, 10 oz (1.2 kg)
Manufacturer Specification (size men’s Medium) Flash 65: 3 lb, 2 oz (1.4 kg)

  Sizes Available

Men’s and women’s S, M, L

  Torso Fit Range

Men’s Small Fits: 16-18 in torso (41-46 cm), 28-34 in waist (71-86 cm)
Men's Medium Fits: 17-19 in torso (43-48 cm), 31-37 in waist (79-94 cm)
Men's Large Fits: 18-20 in torso (46-51 cm), 34-40 in waist (86-102 cm)
Women’s Small Fits: 15-17 in torso (38-43 cm), 26-31 in waist (66-79cm)
Women's Medium Fits: 16-18 in torso (41-46 cm), 28-34 in waist (71-86 cm)
Women's Large Fits: 17-19 in torso (43-48 cm), 34-40 in waist (79-94 cm)


140d rip-stop nylon

  Frame Material

Contoured perforated HDPE framesheet with two attached tubular aluminum stays


Floating top pocket with water-resistant zipper access and map pocket on the underside, side mesh pockets (four on the Flash 65, two on the Flash 50), large front kango pocket with integrated water-resistant zippered pocket, center-pull hipbelt tightening system, one mesh hipbelt pocket, hipbelt attachment points for accessory cases, two front tool loops, two side compression straps, two bottom compression straps/sleeping pad straps, one top compression strap with security pouch, multiple lash points on top pocket and front of pack, two ice axe loops, load lifters, hipbelt stabilizers, adjustable sternum strap with whistle, 3L internal hydration sleeve with three suspension clips and two hose ports

  Volume To Weight Ratio

74. ci/oz for the Flash 50 (based on 3051 cu in and measured weight of 41.2 oz)
75. 80.6 ci/oz for the Flash 65 (based on 3967 cu in and measured weight of 49.2 oz)

  Maximum Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity

Flash 50: 30-lb estimated comfortable load for an average person carrying the pack all day
Flash 65: 35-lb estimated comfortable load for an average person carrying the pack all day

  Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio

11.6 for the Flash 50 (based on 30 lb and measured weight of 2.58 lb)
11.4 for the Flash 65 (based on 35 lb and measured weight of 3.06 lb)


Flash 50 US$129
Flash 65 US$149


The new REI Flash 50 and 65 backpacks replace the Cruise UL 60 as REI's lightest internal frame backpacks. There are some distinct similarities with the Cruise UL 60 (large front kango pocket), some distinct differences (completely new frame and suspension), and some abandoned features (the Cruise UL 60's unique "Rip and Stick" torso length adjustment and internal compression system are gone).

REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review - 2
REI Flash 65 (left) and Flash 50 (right). The two packs differ mainly in volume; the feature set is nearly identical.

The new Flash 50 and 65 are top-loading and have a removable framesheet and top pocket (to convert them to a frameless backpack), a large kango pocket on the front for stuffing things, and numerous pockets for organization.

REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review - 3
Views of the Flash 50. The front of the pack (top left) has a distinctive kango pocket (with an integrated pocket in the flap) that wraps around the sides (top right) of the pack. Each side has one compression strap. The backpanel (bottom left) has firm perforated padding in the upper shoulder and lumbar regions. The top cap (bottom right) has a map pocket on the underside (with Velcro closure), and the top compression strap incorporates a security pouch with Velcro closure.

REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review - 4
Notable features. The hipbelt has one zippered mesh pocket (upper left) on the right side which is big enough to hold a compact digital camera. The left side of the hipbelt (not shown) has webbing loops for attaching various accessory cases. The kango pocket on the front of the Flash packs (lower left) is basically a large flap on the front of the pack that creates a cradle to stuff gear into, like a jacket, shovel, or wet rainwear or tent. It is connected with one buckle and has a zippered pouch incorporated into it (right), hence the name "kango" pocket (short for kangaroo).

The only difference between the Flash 50 and 65 (other than volume) is in the number of mesh side pockets; the Flash 65 has two mesh pockets on each side (the mesh extension of the kango pocket plus a mesh pocket attached to it), while the Flash 50 only has one mesh pocket on each side (the mesh extension of the kango pocket).

Frame and Suspension System

It's important to note that the Flash 50 and 65 packs have a fixed torso length, so it's important to purchase the correct size (see specifications table). Both packs are available in men's and women's small, medium, and large sizes, and the women's packs are anatomically contoured and fitted.

REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review - 5
The frame in the Flash 65 and 50 consists of a contoured perforated HDPE plastic framesheet with two tubular aluminum stays attached. The framesheet is easy to insert and remove via a zippered pocket accessible from the main compartment.

Although the original contour of the framesheet seemed to be pretty close to the curvature of my back, I decided to dial it in for maximum comfort. It made quite a difference, making the pack feel almost like a part of me. To modify the curvature, it's a simple process of removing the framesheet and having a friend bend the stays (while still attached to the framesheet) on the edge of a counter until they match the curvature of your back.

REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review - 6
Contoured spacer mesh shoulder straps (left) are about 2.5 inches wide and well padded. The backpanel has sewn-on areas of perforated EVA foam padding in the upper shoulder and lumbar regions. The precurved hipbelt (right) is a similar stiff foam surfaced with spacer mesh.


I tested the Flash 50 and 65 backpacks on numerous winter camping trips, several single day backcountry skiing trips, multi-day ski hut trips, and spring backpacking trips carrying loads ranging from 15 to 35 pounds.

REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review - 7
On a four-day igloo camping trip I carried the Flash 65 with 35 pounds of bulky gear inside and attached to the outside. I found adequate room and attachment points for all of it. Our igloo is in the background.

REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review - 8
For day hikes like the Arizona Chiricahua Mounatins (left), I carried 12-15 pounds of gear in the Flash 50 in compressed mode to reduce its volume and move the center of gravity closer to my back. The top pocket and front pocket (with water-resistant zippers) provided lots of convenient dry storage. Spring backpacking with the Flash 50 (right), Dragoon Mountains in Southeastern Arizona.

I found the weight carrying capacity of the Flash packs to be in the moderate range; with a maximum of about 30 pounds for the Flash 50 and about 35 pounds for the Flash 65. When carrying the Flash 65 with 35 pounds of bulky gear, I found that I had to secure the hipbelt really tightly to prevent it from sliding down my hips. Bottom line, these packs are designed to comfortably carry moderate loads; 20-30 pounds for the Flash 50 and 25-35 pounds for the Flash 65.

The only issue I found while using the Flash 50 and 65 is the load lifters slip if the top pocket is tightened over them. The on-trail solution is to make sure the ladder lock buckles on the load lifter straps are outside of the top pocket.

REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review - 9
Although I was not able to test it in this configuration, the frame and top pocket are fairly easy to remove from both packs to create a frameless rucksack with a fixed hipbelt. This minimalist configuration gets the Flash 50 pack weight down to 29 ounces and the Flash 65 down to 34 ounces.


Overall, I was very pleased with the fit, features, comfort, and weight carrying capacity of the Flash 50 and 65. Although they do not have an adjustable torso, it is possible to obtain a very good fit by choosing the correct pack size and bending the backpanel/stays unit to fit the curvature of your back. With the fit dialed in, these packs are very comfortable for carrying moderate loads typical of lightweight backpacking.

The REI Flash 50 and 65 are unique because they have a removable frame. This gives them extra versatility because they can be used as either an internal frame or frameless backpack, albeit not the lightest in either configuration. As a frameless pack, the Flash 65 at 34 ounces is similar in volume to the Six Moon Designs Starlite and Comet packs, and is 4-5 ounces heavier (which isn't bad). But the Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus, at 22 ounces, is the lightweight champ in this category.

REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review - 10
Osprey Exos 46 (left) and REI Flash 50 (right).

Compared to the Osprey Exos 46 and 58, the Flash 50 and 65 packs are 6 and 11 ounces heavier, respectively. The Flash and Exos packs are both full-featured and the features are quite similar. The main differences are in the frame and suspension; the Exos has a tubular peripheral frame that wraps around the hips, a trampoline backpanel, and thinly padded suspension, while the Flash has a removable framesheet with attached stays and thicker shoulder straps. I found both packs to be quite comfortable with moderate loads. There is a big difference in the price tags; the Flash 50 costs $50 less than the Exos 46 and the Flash 65 costs $70 less than the Exos 58. Both Flash packs are an outstanding value.

Bottom line, all of the above mentioned packs are well designed and very comfortable with moderate loads. The choice gets down to the user's preferences and priorities, so there's no substitute for each hiker doing his/her own comparisons and making an informed decision. For an aspiring lightweight backpacker wanting to balance fit, features, comfort, and cost the REI Flash 50 and 65 backpacks are hard to beat.

What's Good

  • Versatile: removable frame and top pocket allow use as an internal frame or frameless pack
  • Three sizes each for both men and women
  • Lightweight durable fabrics and frame material
  • Large front kango pocket is very handy for stuffing a jacket, wet shelter, or rainwear
  • Numerous pockets for organizing and convenient access
  • Water-resistant zippers on top pocket and kango pocket provide dry storage
  • Hipbelt loops accommodate the attachment of accessory cases
  • Fits well (if you choose the correct size and bend the framesheet unit to fit)
  • Comfortably carries moderate loads
  • Outstanding value

What's Not So Good

  • Torso length is not adjustable
  • Load lifters slip when top pocket is tightened over them

Recommendations For Improvement

  • Revise the load lifter straps and buckles so they don't slip


"REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review," by Will Rietveld. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-04-14 00:00:00-06.


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REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review on 04/14/2009 23:57:38 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review

John Adams
(scsjohn) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Thanks. on 04/15/2009 01:53:29 MDT Print View

Once again thanks for a great review.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review on 04/15/2009 08:02:23 MDT Print View

How would these compare to the Granite Gear Nimbus Line in terms of comfort, load stability, and load transfer?

Frank Deland

Locale: On the AT in VA
packs on 04/15/2009 08:15:29 MDT Print View

Another nice review. Perfect timing for me especially as regards to the Women's fit chart. My wife is looking for an internal frame, and I was just in REI yesterday. They print a "Product Info" pamphlet comparing packs.
Others close to the Flash 50:

Osprey Exos 58 3500 cu in 2 lb 3 oz

Others slightly less volume:
REI Venturi 40 2441 cu in but heavier 2lb 11 oz.
Osprey Exos 46 2800 cu in 30 ounces

Dave, The Nimbus Ozone is one sack with an extended color and only two outside pockets which are mesh and along the sides. It also has compression straps. No zippers.
pictures of Nimbus Ozone

Edited by rambler on 04/15/2009 08:36:40 MDT.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
REI Flash Review Knitpick on 04/15/2009 08:16:09 MDT Print View

"New for spring 2009, the REI Flash backpack series consists of four packs with volumes of 18, 30, 50, and 65 cubic inches."

18 cubic INCHES has to be the smallest full-featured backpack in history. IMO, this alone makes these packs rate a Highly Recommended rating.

Other than this small editing error, great review.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review on 04/15/2009 08:29:28 MDT Print View

I really liked the compressions system on my UL Cruise 60, I wonder why they got rid of it?

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review on 04/15/2009 09:03:26 MDT Print View

Backpacker mag gave the Flash 65 an editor's choice award in their March (Gear Guide) issue. Although my opinions about Backpacker are clear from other threads, I trust that they beat the hell out of gear they test. Good to see some corroboration of their findings.

Great review again, Will. Do you ever get to use gear that you are not testing on trips?

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review on 04/15/2009 09:20:49 MDT Print View

Thanks for the review. Our REI UL 45 (Womens Small 40L) has held up well under kid abuse, and the Flash UL is my favorite day/summit pack.

Editing note: the photo captions beginning with "Notable features" and "Contoured spacer" need to be swapped to match the correct photo set. When you fix that, you might as well also correct "Mountatins" in another photo caption.

Mark Thompson
(Melakor) - F

Locale: So-Cal
Great Review on 04/15/2009 09:32:46 MDT Print View

Yet another insightful review by BPL.

Thanks guys and gals.

Tyler House
(tyler_house) - F
REI Flash 50 vs. GoLite Lite-Speed on 04/15/2009 11:04:31 MDT Print View

I bought both recently and ended up keeping the Lite-Speed. Both have similar features and specs (removable framesheet, volume, weight, etc.) and both fit well (with a slight edge to the REI Flash's hipbelt synch-system). I might have kept the Flash had it not been for the great price and the more durable feel of the materials of construction of the Lite-Speed. Also the Lite-Speed seemed less bulky for the volume (due to its intended adventure racing market).

Moosejaw has the Lite-Speed on sale for about $70 right now, which is well under the Flash 50's asking price.

All and all, as in the review, the Flash is a great pack, though not the best for everyone.

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
REI Flash Responses on 04/15/2009 18:05:33 MDT Print View

Hi all. I would like to answer your questions as best I can.

David: The suspension on the REI Flash packs is less cushy and adjustable compared to the Granite Gear Nimbus packs. Basically, the extra weight in the GG Nimbus packs is pure comfort.

Bob: We corrected the error on the pack sizes; the numbers are definitely liters and not cubic inches. We also switched photos 4 and 6 to agree with the captions.

Joe: REI's internal compression system and Rip and Stick torso adjustment on the Cruise UL60 were definitely nice and I hate to see them go. They gave this pack a complete makeover and I would say that the new pack is more versatile. Nice photo of you at Skyline arch.

Matt: Yeah, we are consistent with Backpacker's review on the Flash. I note that they are less concerned about weight, and thus their Editor's Choice award versus our slightly lower Recommended rating.

Best regards,

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: REI Flash Responses on 04/15/2009 18:34:56 MDT Print View

I'd just like to say thanks for the comparison pic with the Osprey Exos.

It would be helpful if BPL chose a "standard" comparison pack, such as the Exos 46 or Aether 60, and shot a picture of each newly reviewed pack sitting next to this "standard". It makes a tremendous difference to being able to properly get a perspective on the real-life size of the pack.

Nikii Murtaugh
(hikingis4me2) - F

Locale: Northeastern Oregon
Female picks Osprey any day of the week on 04/15/2009 19:45:35 MDT Print View

As a female with narrow shoulders, my advice is to make sure the REI Flash fits you in this area and that the pack rides well. I bought a Venus (yes, I know now this was a heavy pack) in 2006 and jettisoned it after less 100 miles for an Osprey Ariel. I haven't looked back. Love my Osprey so much that I recently bought an Osprey Talon for short overnight and weekend trips.

Edited by hikingis4me2 on 04/15/2009 19:53:24 MDT.

Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
REI Flash 50/65 on 04/15/2009 22:27:22 MDT Print View

I'm a short woman with a torso size of 15". I would have to buy the women's small. The problem is that the waist size on the small is 26-31 inches. That's ridiculous! Especially if I want to wear several layers for winter packing, that waist belt is far too small. I'm tired of manufacturers thinking that ALL outdoor women are a tiny size 4. Get real.

If they offered swap-out waist belts, I might consider it. For now, I'll stick with my Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone with FULLY ADJUSTABLE EVERYTHING. It's a few ounces heavier, but it fits!

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: REI Flash 50/65 on 04/16/2009 19:20:45 MDT Print View

I need a pack with just a little more volume for the summer with the ability to carry a cannister. I was in the Saratoga REI the other day and played with the pack. I really liked it. My birthday is next month, guess what I am getting

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: REI Flash Responses on 04/16/2009 21:06:13 MDT Print View

Will, slight nuance, at the lowest end of the Nimbus packs by Granite Gear is the Nimbus Ozone which is the same weight, 3 lbs, as the Flash. It is an extremely comfortable pack, one that I have not yet been able to give up (I have tried 2 lb packs but just have not found one that makes the hike as comfortable as the Nimbus Ozone).

Michael Reagan
(MichaelReagan) - F

Locale: Southern California
RE: REI Flash review on 04/20/2009 10:49:30 MDT Print View

FWIW, I have the REI Flash 18 which is the baby of the line, advertised as a stuff-sack that converts to a summit pack. I use it as a daypack to haul my daily carry stuff around town and for weekly trips to Disneyland (annual passes rock). It's probably the best pack for this purpose that I have ever owned. It's extremely light and comfortable, has internal pockets for organization, and even a hydration sleeve and port for my 1.8-liter Platypus! If one were truly SUL, I'd bet this pack could even be used for summer overnighters.

I can't speak for the bigger packs in this review, but I love my little Flash 18.


Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
"Old" REI Cruise UL 60 on 04/22/2009 13:22:38 MDT Print View

I've looked at the men's Large Flash 65 and my take is that I got the better pack in the 2007 Cruise UL 60 predecessor.

My UL 60 has the original X'd drawstring compressor tunnels that easily and rapidly compress the load with two top drawstrings, one for front compression , one for back. Nice.

Also, and most important, my UL 60 has NO framesheet but, instead, two tubular aluminum stays, and a Velcro attatching shoulder harness/backpad that I can adjust exactly where I want, depending on the amount of clothing I'm wearing, etc..

I've expanded the cargo space of my pack by adding two REI side pockets for items I'll need on the trail like my toilet and water treatment mesh bags. These side pockets have two vertical compartments each and I've never entirely filled them but it's nice to have the space if needed.

So, yes, I'm happier with my "old" REI lightweight pack than I'd be with the Flash 65. Some things are better left alone.

I DO like the floating, detatachable top lid and bigger belt pockets on the Flash 65 but I'm seam-ripping off my UL 60 top pocket and adding plastic ladder buckles to it and webbing straps to my pack. Then I can detatch the lid and use it as a fanny pack for day hikes by sewing two strips of webbing on the underside of the lid for my belt.


Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
Flash 50 on 01/01/2010 21:38:04 MST Print View

I recently bought the Flash 50 after trying the Exos. Both have the volume & features I wanted. I hike LW, not UL. As a wilderness EMT I just don't roll with 2 feet of duct tape & 3 squares of toilet paper for my medical kit. Also I wind up being a pack mule for my wife sometimes due to her lumbar back troubles. So I need a little more room and support than most frameless packs allow.

The things that pushed me towards the Flash 50 were:

- the trampoline back of the Exos puts the load further from your center of gravity and I hate this feeling.

- I have wide, powerful hips & butt from decades of strength training, and I found the bottom edge of the Exos frame digging in a bit back there. Yuck.

- I like the flexibility of stripping down the Flash 50 to a sub-2lb pack as I experiment with lighter tactics.

So far I am happy with the Flash 50.

Ed Collyer
(ecollyer) - F

Locale: East Bay Area
REI Flash 65 on 04/22/2010 10:08:18 MDT Print View

I have had my Flash 65 for well over a year now and it performs well in many categories. I recently went on an off-trail bush excursion in Henry Coe through some of the thickest buckbrush and poison oak i've ever been in. We were crawling on our bellies, rolling ON TOP of trees and there isn't a single tear in the fabric. Since I only have one pack, it is large enough to use on my minter trips with the use of a pulk and for lightweight 3-season trips. It comfortably holds 30 lbs of gear and water. I do wish the pack didn't flop around so much and had a better load stabilization. Overall, I would recommend it to friends.

put put
(putput) - F

Locale: Hawaiian Islands
FLASH 65 sizes? on 05/24/2010 17:49:34 MDT Print View

To Ed Collyer or others who own the Flash 65. How is the fit relative to your torso length? I know the pack is nonadjustable but it comes in SM, MD, or LG. Curiously, it is only listed as fitting a 17" thru 19" torso. I wonder if that is for the size MD or if SM=17", MD=18", LG=19". But that seems like too small a range between the three sizes.

If that is not the case, anyone know what size torso a LG would fit (Please say 21")?

James McDaniel
Flash 65 sizes on 05/24/2010 20:58:15 MDT Print View

You need to look on the description page(at the bottom). They just put the med size on the spec page. They do that with a lot of things.

I contacted them last year requesting that the make their packs to fit larger torso's. I find it a little unreasonable they top out at 20.

Specifications based on size Medium. Specifications for Small and Large torso / waist and hips / base volume / weight are as follows:
Small: 16 - 18 in. / 28 - 34 in. / 3,783 cu. in. (62 liters) / 2 lbs. 14 oz. (1.3 kg.)
Large: 18- 20 in. / 34 - 40 in. / 4,150 cu. in. (68 liters) / 3 lbs. 3 oz. (1.45 kg.)

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Flash 65 for a tall guy on 05/24/2010 23:22:32 MDT Print View

I really like the Flash 65. I'm 6'4" and I think I have a 22" torso but I'm not positive. When it's really loaded up, 40lbs or more, then I did feel like it was a bit short. But my loads rarely get that big now, with 35lbs or less it seems to fit very well, comfortable all day. I removed the lid, the front pocket is plenty big for all my small items.