REI Flash Review -- Ultra-Light Backpack

Increasingly, I’m professing fondness for outdoors products that are trimmed down, simplified and devoid of anything superfluous. A case in point is REI’s new Flash UL Pack.

This minimalist day pack, which weighs 10 ounces and costs only $25, is made of lightweight and water resistant silicone-infused nylon. It has no frame, an un-padded mesh harness, and only one large compartment with a hydration sleeve and small mesh pockets inside. There isn’t a zipper or tab of Velcro on the product, and it’s actually more of a sack than a pack.

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But it does its job of comfortably hauling 10 to 20 pounds of gear in the backcountry. REI specs the pack as providing about 1,000 cubic inches of capacity. This is enough space for any type of day hike; I even used it on a carefully under-stocked overnighter.

REI designed the Flash UL Pack to be turned inside-out and used as a sleeping bag stuff sack. This allows you to pack your sleeping bag in the Flash UL Pack and then stuff the entire package inside a larger backpack used on extended trips. Then, while out in the wilderness, you’ll have a small pack at your disposal to use for day hikes where the main backpack would be overkill.

Deep in Utah’s Escalante-Staircase National Monument, where I recently tested several products from REI’s new line of ultra-light backpacking gear (www.rei.com/lightfast), I came to respect the Flash UL Pack’s simplicity. At camp, after erecting the tent and throwing my gear inside, I packed some basics in the Flash UL Pack and went exploring.

It was comfortable on long hauls over the desert backcountry. Loaded with a big water bladder, two cameras, lunch, first aid, map, compass and some rain gear — probably around 20 pounds of equipment — the pack did not feel at all burdensome. It even held up to some hardy abuse in the region’s deep, abrasive slot canyons.

Of the other new equipment I tested, I liked REI’s UL 30L Pack ($85), which is a full-scale backpacking model with a panel frame system to support loads up to about 30 pounds. It’s made of the same silicone-infused nylon as the Flash UL Pack, and its features are similarly skimmed down. It weighs 2.5 pounds when empty and has enough capacity to sock away about 2,000 cubic inches of gear, which is enough space for a five-day trip if you pack really mean and lean.

For a tent, I tested the two-person REI Quarter Dome UL, a $219 model that weighs just less than 4 pounds. The tent sets up easy and feels strong and durable, though I used it for only a couple nights. Its design, which includes vestibules, a light rainfly and a reinforced floor, is well thought out and efficient. It’s not overly spacious, but for two tired backpackers at the end of a 15-mile day through the desert, it felt cozy, safe and just like home.

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