REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review

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

Recommended

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 |

Introduction

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.

Specifications

  Year/Model

2009 REI Flash 50 and Flash 65

  Style

Top loading internal frame backpack with removable frame and top pocket

  Volume

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

  Weight

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)

  Fabrics

140d rip-stop nylon

  Frame Material

Contoured perforated HDPE framesheet with two attached tubular aluminum stays

  Features

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)

  MSRP

Flash 50 US$129
Flash 65 US$149

Description

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.

Performance

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.

Assessment

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

Citation

"REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/rei_flash_50_65_pack_review.html, 2009-04-14 00:00:00-06.

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REI Flash 50 and Flash 65 Backpack Review
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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
(BigEarth) - F
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.