REI Flash 45 Backpack

REI Flash 45 Backpack Review

The REI Flash 45 backpack is another iteration of REI’s Flash line of gear (which includes sleeping bags and pads as well as backpacks).  Its geared as a lightweight pack perfect for weekend trips or extended trips if you are an ultralight enthusiast.  This pack stands out for three reasons – its weight (just over 2 lbs.), the tubular aluminum frame (similar to Osprey frames) and its cost ($129.00 – seriously this thing is dirt cheap).  Hopefully these three things make this pack from REI a winner.

I have been a big fan of REI packs for a while.  I’ve used one of their 30L day packs for the last 8 years and its still preforming like a champ.  I also consistently recommended the Flash 65 and Flash 62 packs to new backpackers due to their low cost, good support and light weight.  The Flash 45 continues this trend.  The frame on this pack is very similar to the way Osprey designs their frames (in fact you can think of this pack as the knock off version of the Osprey Exos 48).  The frame is a perimeter frame with a sheet of mesh stretched tightly across the back to allow your back to breathe.  REI takes this one step further and includes padding in key locations to try and improve the comfort of this pack as it rides on your back.  This setup, while not being as ridged as the Osprey version does a good job of transferring the load to the hip belt.  The hip belt is sufficiently padded and has a couple nice big pockets to stow gear.  There is also a nice, zippered shoulder strap pocket that works well for holding a small snack (but its not big enough to hold a phone or GPS).  I put 25 lbs. into this pack and it was pretty comfortable.  I wouldn’t recommend more weight than that to maintain a level of comfort but if you needed to throw some extra weight on for a small push the pack can accommodate it.

The main section of the REI Flash 45 is a traditional, single, large pocket with an internal sleeve for a hydration bladder.  Its easy to pack and has an adjustable drawstring collar that can expand a bit to hold extra gear.  On the outside there is a single, large mesh pocket that spans the entire width of the pack.  This is a little different than traditional outside stuff pockets. Normally they are divided into three sections – two water bottle pockets and a large main stash pocket.  If you are OCD about organization the single pocket might bother you – I’m undecided on if this matters to me or not.  The head pouch is also fairly standard – a single large pocket on top (that includes a key clip) with a small mesh pocket on the underside to hold things like a wallet.

Overall this is a pretty traditional backpack that has a lot of well refined features.  Unfortunately there are a few things that I don’t like about this pack.  The biggest downside to this pack is the semi ridged nature of the frame.  While it does a good job transferring load to the hip belt the back panel is prone to some pretty substantial flex that causes the pack to ride lopsided.  This is especially true if you are using a water bladder.  I loaded the pack to what I considered about 75% of its max capacity and still experienced the back panel bowing out enough to cause the Flash 45 to rock back and forth with each step I took.  This is pretty much a deal breaker for me.  The second thing I don’t like is the extensive use of mesh.  While it keeps the weight down, and I normally don’t mind mesh, the mesh used on this particular pack feels very flimsy and I’m concerned about its durability.  The third thing that bothers me about this pack is best summed up in a picture.  Take a look below and you can see that, when the main compartment of the pack isn’t loaded to capacity the head pouch falls down exposing the main compartment of the pack.  Even in a light rain you could potentially soak your entire pack’s contents.  This is a serious design flaw that could dramatically sabotage a trip. I also don’t care for the ice ax loops on this pack – they work but seem a little janky.

REI Flash 45 Backpack Back and Top

Take a look at the gap between the top pouch and the edge of the back in the left picture. The floating lid is synched as far down as it can go but the main compartment of my pack is still exposed (see the red fabric poking out). This pretty much guarantees that your stuff will get wet if it rains. On the right you can see the back panel bulging out in this photo. For a pack loaded to 75% of capacity this is unacceptable and extremely uncomfortable.

Conclusion:

While this pack isn’t perfect you can’t beat the price.  If you need a cheap, lightweight pack that will do the job take a look at the REI Flash 45 backpack.

REI Flash 45 Backpack