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REI Flash 60 Women’s Backpack Review

The REI Women’s Flash 60 is a ventilated multi-day backpack that’s lightweight but doesn’t lack for features or convenience. Weighing just 3 lbs and 5 oz, it has an adjustable-length frame and women’s-specific shoulder straps and hip belt that will fit comfortably across your chest and mold around your curves. REI also sells a lower volume version of this pack, the REI Flash 45, in both men’s and women’s-specific models.

Specs at a Glance

  • Gender: Women’s
  • Weight: 3 lbs 5 oz (size small)
  • Frame: Internal
  • Ventilated: Yes
  • Adjustable: Yes
  • Exterior Pockets: 8 + main compartment
  • Bear canister compatibility: vertical
  • Torso range: 15″-19″
  • Hip belt range: 26″-42″
  • Sizes: XS, S, M
  • Materials: 100-denier nylon ripstop body and 420-denier nylon fabric bottom
  • Max recommended load: 35 lbs

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Flash 60 is laid out like a conventional multi-day backpack with a top lid, large main compartment, open front stuff pocket, and side water bottle pockets. It has two mesh hip belt pockets and a zippered pocket on the outside of the stuff pocket that’s great for storing odds and ends that you need to keep track of.

Slanted water bottle pockets make it easy to reach water bottles while you're wearing the pack.
Slanted water bottle pockets make it easy to reach water bottles while you’re wearing the pack.

The top lid or brain has a large roomy pocket. That’s where I like to keep a few extra snacks and my hygiene kit. The top lid is floating and attached to the pack using straps, so you can raise it up if you need to overstuff the main compartment or pile more stuff on top of it. The lid is well-shaped and doesn’t slide backwards down the back of the pack, like some top lids do, even when it’s packed full. There’s a second mesh pocket on the underside of the hood with a key fob. This is where I store my first aid-kit, out-of-the-way, but still easily accessible.

Topdown view into main compartment and open front stuff pocket
Top-down view into main compartment and open front stuff pocket

The main compartment is large and has an internal hydration pocket, with ports over each shoulder to run a hose. There isn’t a separate sleeping bag compartment, but I’m good with that and don’t really see them as necessary on a 60L pack, although they can be useful on larger ones. In addition to top access, the main compartment has a J-shaped zipper that runs around the stuff pocket and provides access deep into the main compartment so you don’t have to unpack everything to pull out something stored in the bottom of your backpack. I probably wouldn’t use this much because I line my backpack with a trash compactor bag to prevent the contents from getting wet in rain, but I could see its utility for travel or if you hike in a drier climate.

The side water bottle pockets are large enough to hold Nalgene bottles and are easily reachable when I’m wearing the pack. They are made with a lighter weight mesh though, so durability might be an issue if you hike off-trail a lot. If you’re not careful, items stored in the side pockets can fall out when you bend over. My advice would be to keep loose items in closed storage and just use the side pockets for water bottles that are easily noticed if they fall out.

Hip belt pockets are mesh covered
Hip belt pockets are mesh covered

The hip belt pockets are made with the same mesh and large enough to store snacks, a compass, or a cell phone. I prefer hip belt solid pockets, because they’re more durable, water, and moisture resistant, but there’s an easy workaround for that: wrap sensitive electronics in sandwich baggies when it’s damp.

The front stuff pocket is large enough so that I can store my crocs and rain gear in it. It also has a drain hole at the bottle to facilitate the drying of wet gear. I keep my map, bandana, and PLB in the zippered pocket on the front of the stuff pocket, so they’re quickly accessible. This is a great place for a pocket and really adds to the pack’s utility,

Backpack Frame and Suspension

The Flash 60 is a ventilated backpack with a suspended mesh back to keep your back cooler and help dry perspiration more quickly. While the back of the pack is slightly curved to create a cavity behind the mesh, it’s not large enough to interfere with packing, which can be an issue with some ventilated backpacks.

It's easy to raise or lower the shoulder strap yoke to increase or decrease the torso length
It’s easy to raise or lower the shoulder strap yoke to increase or decrease the torso length

The frame is also adjustable so you can adjust the torso length to fit your measurements exactly, even if you’re between sizes. To lengthen the torso range, you lift the shoulder strap yoke which is connected to the pack with velcro; to shorten it, you lower the shoulder pad yoke. It’s so easy to do and lightweight, you have to wonder why all backpacks aren’t set up this way.

The hip belt and shoulder pads are pre-curved to fit “the” female chest, while the hip belt is flared to provide a better wrap over the tops of female hip bones. There’s a modest lumbar pad at the back of the hip belt to prevent it from slipping and to direct the load to your hip girdle. But it’s barely noticeable and quickly forgotten. The hip belt also adjusts with a pull-forward mechanism which makes it easy to tighten.

Zippered external pocket on the front of the stuff pocket
Zippered external pocket on the front of the stuff pocket

The Flash 60 has load lifters, which help pull the load closer to your back so more of the weight is on your hips and not your shoulders. They work in conjunction with the aluminum wire frame, that has a top cross-piece for additional stiffness.

Backpack Compression and External Attachment System

The Flash 60 has a unique “Uplift” compression system that pulls the contents of the main compartment up over the hip belt, raising your center of gravity, and pulling the load closer to your back so you can carry a heavy pack more efficiently. It’s really remarkable.

But the straps used to implement the Uplift system aren’t really set up to attach gear to the side of the pack like more conventional compression straps. For instance, to secure long objects like tent poles in the side pockets. While you can “kind of” make them work that way, the diagonal orientation of the strap is not as secure as a horizontal strap would be.

Lots of external attachment points
Lots of external attachment points

There are straps at the bottom of the pack however that you can strap a tent body or sleeping pad to. This is a nice feature, often left off lightweight backpacks, but very handy. In addition, there are two ice axe loops, trekking pole tip grips, and upper tool keepers to secure tools and poles.

Comparable Women’s Backpacks

Recommendation

The women’s REI Flash 60 is a great pack.  I’m very impressed with the features and overall fit, considering its modest price. But it wasn’t until I had the pack loaded with weight and items that I felt the benefits of the simple compression system.  REI really did an excellent job creating a torso hugging fit, while maintaining a wide, top loading, easy to access pack. When you add in the fact that the Flash 60 has an adjustable length frame and ventilation; it’s available in torso sizes down to 15″, and has female-specific shoulder straps and a hip belt, it should definitely be on your short list of lightweight women’s backpacks. I think you’ll be impressed.

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Last updated: 2018-09-02 21:08:32

REI provided the author with a backpack for this review.

Beth Zimmer is an expert backpacker who’s backpacked all over New England and Eastern Canada, with a long list of hiking accomplishments to her name. She’s section hiked the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail, climbed the New England Hundred Highest and the New Hampshire 200 highest (mostly bushwhacks), redlined the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles), and climbed the White Mountain 4000 footers several times over. Beth also teaches GPS and off-trail navigation classes as a volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club and is co-chair of the New Hampshire Excursions Committee, which oversees all volunteer hiking and leadership training activities. When she’s not hiking and backpacking, Beth resides in New Hampshire where she can usually be found sipping coffee and planning her next adventure.

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