Thursday, April 07, 2016

Gear Closet: REI Flash 65 Backpack

Everyone knows that REI is one of the best sources for finding outdoor gear for our various adventures. But, not everyone realizes that the company produces its own line of gear, much of which compares very favorably to equipment made by some of the more well known brands in the industry, and usually sells for  less money too.

At the start of the year, REI announced that it was actually revamping its gear line up in an effort to streamline the number of products it produces and to make it easer for consumers to understand what they are buying and what items worked well with one another. With that in mind, the gear retailer launched its Flash and Traverse line of products this spring, both populated with equipment that is designed to work well with one another.

The flagship product for the Flash line up is the new Flash 65 backpack, which is designed for lightweight travel and backpacking excursions. The pack brings some interesting features to the market that will make it an attractive option for many outdoor enthusiasts.

As the name of this pack implies, it has about 65 liters of storage depending on which size you go with. The small version clocks in at 63 liters, while the large goes as high as 67. That's quite a bit of capacity for just about any trip, although it does provide some room to bring a few extra amenities if you like.

Like most backpacks, the Flash 65 provides access through the top, which is the traditional approach of course, but can make it annoying to access things that are buried deep inside. But the designers of this pack also added access through the side too thanks to a large zipper than runs down the length of the pack. This makes it very convenient to get to the things you really need without disrupting the entire system.

In addition to the main storage compartment, the Flash 65 also includes a large stuff pouch on the outside that I found useful for storing a spare pair of shoes or wet gear that you don't want inside the bag. There is also another large zippered pocket on the front of the pack, as well as traditional storage in the pack's lid too. Two more pockets can be found on the thickly padded, and very comfortable, hipbelt as well.

One of the key innovations that the Flash 65 brings to the table is REI's proprietary UpLift compression system. By pulling on the compression straps you're not only cinching the load inside the pack into a smaller space, but you're also lifting it upwards, making it easier to carry over longer distances and rough terrain. And when this compression system is combined with the Packnit back panel, it makes this a pack that is comfortable to wear with plenty of ventilation to help keep you from overheating on the trail.

Other nice features of this pack include gear loops for carrying tools such as ice axes or trekking poles, hydration compatibility, an adjustable torso for dialing in just the right fit, and thickly padded shoulder straps that are surprisingly comfortable to wear.

And as an example of how the Flash 65 pack works with other items in the Flash line, it is designed to integrate with the Flash 18 daypack, adding extra capacity and the ability to easily carry an additional pack as needed. The new Rhyolite Rain Jacket has also been designed to accommodate the Flash 65 by moving the hand pockets up to a height that places them above the pack's hipbelt and the shoulders were made without seams to prevent the shoulder straps from causing discomfort.

If there is one issue I have with the Flash 65 its that it is a bit on the heavy side. REI says it is meant for lightweight backpacking and travel, but the pack itself tips the scales at more than 3.5 pounds. That's not completely awful, but it's enough to take this pack off the list of those who count their ounces when setting out on the trail. There are definitely lighter options available if you're someone who is weight conscious with your gear.

The Flash 65 carries a price tag of $199, which makes it competitively priced for its capacity and feature set. Other than the fact that it is a bit on the heavy side, it is a wonderful, comfortable, and versatile pack that will serve you well on many outdoor adventures. And when paired with other items in the Flash line-up, it becomes part of a gear ecosystem that is designed to make things easier for consumers. In that area, it more than succeeds.

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