Last year REI introduced two new ultralight backpacks, the Flash 50 and the Flash 65 (a few are still available at REI-Outlet). Both became instant hits with customers because of their light weight and removable framesheets which let the packs be reconfigured for different loads and trip lengths. With REI on board, it appeared that lightweight backpacks under 2 pounds in weight had finally broken into the mainstream and were on their way to widespread adoption.
By the end of the year, both the Flash 50 and the Flash 65 backpacks became difficult to find in stock online and in stores as REI began selling off their existing inventory of packs. Unlike other pack manufacturers such as Osprey, Granite Gear, Gregory, and Deuter, REI doesn’t stick with the same tried and true backpack designs year after year, so I was eager to see how they’d improved last year’s exciting and forward thinking models.
This season’s new backpacks, the Flash 52 (women’s) and Flash 62 (men’s) have quietly begun appearing in REI stores across the country in advance of the spring hiking season. There are some pretty serious design changes in the packs including a completely new internal frame suspension system. Last year’s removable framesheet has been replaced by a perimeter frame and a heavily padded ventilated backpad, sadly eliminating much of the versatility of last year’s models.
Rather than dwell on the past and what might have been, I will evaluate the new Flash 62 on it’s own merits in the rest of this review and let you decide whether this is the pack for you.
The new Flash 62 (size medium) has a total storage capacity of 62 liters or 3,784 cubic inches making it a good-sized backpack for weekend or multi-day trips with frequent resupply stops. The bulk of the closed storage is inside the top loading main compartment, but the pack also has a number of other zippered storage pockets, including:
- A top pocket which doubles as a floating lid. There are two zippered pockets inside this as well as a pass through flap that lets you reach through the pocket to access items in the main compartment. This is a nice feature because it reduces the amount of time it takes to reach bulkier items inside the pack. There is an additional zipper at the base of the pack which provides access to the bottom of the main compartment, as well.
- A zippered front compartment that is large enough to stash your rain gear and food for the day. Unfortunately the zipper is water-resistant but not waterproof.
- Two mesh storage pockets on the hips belt, which are obviously not waterproof, but are big enough to hold a compact camera and food bars.
- Two mesh side water bottle pockets.
- An internal hydration reservoir sleeve and dual hydration ports.
- Six external loops (shown above) that can be used to rig up shock cord or lash extra gear to the outside of pack.
- A shovel “open” pocket between the main compartment and the front pocket for storing loose jackets. Very handy. The size of the pocket is controlled by the side compression straps.
- The floating lid pocket which can be raised to make the pack taller and compress bulky wide items against the top of the main compartment (see this post about floating lids.)
- Six gear loops on the top of the floating lid.
There are three primary points of compression on the Flash 62, at the top, sides and bottom of the pack.
- There is a top compression strap that runs over the top of the main compartment, just under the top pocket (shown below.) In addition, to providing compression, it can be used to secure a rope to the top of the pack, which can be further stabilized by the floating lid. This compression strap has a second independent connection to the top of the shovel pocket.
- There are two side compression straps toward the top of the pack that are connected the pack frame at one end and to the sides of the shovel pocket on the other. Not the best design because a full shovel pocket will negate the force that can be applied to compress the sides and back of the load in the main compartment. A better design would eliminate the shovel pocket altogether and replace it with a front mesh pocket that can hold gear but does not interfere with the ability to compress the main compartment.
- The final point of compression are the quick release straps located at the bottom of the pack and intended for attaching a sleeping pad under the main compartment. When used alone, these can be used to compress the bottom of the main compartment by pulling the back of the pack closer to the front. This ceases to be the case however if they’re being used to attach gear to the bottom of the pack. A better design would be to eliminate them altogether and put a second tier of side compression straps on the inside of side mesh bottle pockets.
The 2012 Flash 62 has a perimeter frame, a small diameter tube of aluminum that runs around the periphery of the packbag. As REI describes it, “the design achieves the load-carrying excellence of an external design. It rides close to the body like an internal, only without the added weight of internal support stays and a back-protecting polyethylene framesheet.”
Unfortunately the perimeter frame design does not perform well when the Flash 62 is loaded with more than 30 pounds of gear, and it’s load carrying performance gets consistently worse as more weight is added to it, up to it’s suggested comfort maximum of 45 pounds.
The perimeter frame on the Flash 62 does not form a continuous loop around the periphery of the pack and there is a gap at the bottom of the frame where it attaches to the hip belt. The attachment points are two narrow sleeves on the outside back of the hip belt, on either side of the lumbar back pad. Vertical extensions of the perimeter tubing slide into these sleeves. If someone is wearing the pack correctly with 60-70% of the load on the hip belt, all that weight is focused on those two rods, with all of the force being carried by the bottom of the sleeves.
The bottom of these sleeves is about 3 inches lower than most other backpacks that have a center stay or a framesheet, where the load transfer is distributed across a wider horizontal area such as the width of the lumbar pad or the width of the framesheet. Focusing all that weight on just two points on the hip belt makes the hip belt fail, forcing more of the pack’s weight onto the shoulders of the wearer. This could be mitigated (by transferring the shoulder load back to the frame) if the pack had additional horizontal frame stabilizers, but these are absent in REI’s perimeter frame system.
Even worse, the hip belt on the Flash 62 consistently loosens by itself with heavier loads and slips down the hips, putting almost all the weight on the shoulders. Under heavy load, the frame inserts transfer all of the load to the bottom rear of the hip belt, and not higher up on the “lumbar shelf” of the wearer’s back.
A better design would be to complete the perimeter loop so there’s no gap in the frame and have the hip-to-load transfer occur in or behind the lumbar pad of the hip belt system, not in front of it. That would distribute the load across a wider area and help prevent the back of the hip belt from forcing the front of the belt below the illiac crests.
I’m usually a big fan of REI gear, but the Flash 62 is a shockingly mediocre backpack. Although it’s loaded with features and relatively lightweight (3 pounds), the 62 is not an ultralight backpack as REI claims and does not have the ‘comfort range” of 25- 45 pounds indicated on the product tag attached to the pack. If you buy this pack anyway, my advice is carry 25 pound or less with it, but if that’s all you’re carrying, go get yourself a truly ultralight backpack that weighs under 2 pounds and can carry that kind of load comfortably.
- External gear loops on front of pack for rigging custom shock cord and lashing extra gear
- Hip belt sizing accommodates people with big hips in all torso sizes
- Top compression strap for lashing rope or gear to top of main compartment
- Very poor weight transfer to hips
- Over-rated maximum load recommendation (45 pounds) – no way
- Hip belt doesn’t stay tight when pulled taught
- Annoying plethora of external straps
Features and Specifications
- Anatomically curved shoulder straps with ventilated padding and cooling mesh
- Load lifters and a single haul loop.
- Adjustable sternum strap with emergency whistle buckle
- Forward pull hip belt adjustment
- Mesh covered hip belt with a pair of zippered mesh side pockets and hip stabilizer straps
- Mesh covered ventilated back pad
- Lightweight aluminum frame
- Dual ice-axe loops with elastic shaft holders.
- Quick release straps (non-removable) at the bottom of the pack to attach a sleeping pad.
- Fabric: Ripstop nylon with a PU coating
- Colors: Snot green (porpoise)
- Sizes (Capacity, weight, torso length, hip belt length)
- Small: 59 liters / 3600 cubic inches, 2 pounds 14 ounces, torso 16-18 inches, hips 28″-42″
- Medium: 62 liters / 3783 cubic inches, 3 pounds, torso 17-19 inches, hips 30″-44″
- Large: 65 liters / 3996 cubic inches, 3 pounds 2 ounces, torso 18-20 inches, hips 34″-46″
Disclaimer: SectionHiker.com (Philip Werner) owns this backpack and purchased it using his own funds.
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