Nothing gets me excited for summer like unearthing my box of backpacking gear. For years, I’ve been pretty devoted to my old, trustworthy stalwart of a pack, so I was skeptical about trying something new. But when given the opportunity to test out the REI Flash 60 pack for women, I realized after only a few minutes on the trail that my longtime loyalties to my old pack were over.
The Flash 60 is more than a pound lighter than my previous go-to pack, and lighter as well than many of its counterparts from other brands. This was obvious the moment I swung the Flash, fully loaded, onto my back. And by fully loaded, I mean it: I tend to bring all sorts of superfluous goodies on my backpacking excursions, including copious snacks, a good book or two and, of course, my travel Scrabble board.
As someone who spends more time running trails than hiking them, I’m used to multiday-excursion packs feeling like a ton of bricks on my back. But the Flash 60 is exceptionally lightweight, as well as adept at compressing and balancing the load. The padded hipbelt and shoulder straps sit comfortably, making it feel almost like a day-hiking pack. And yet, I could cram in some 35 pounds of gear without it feeling unwieldy.
Miraculously, this is all accomplished without sacrificing user-friendly features. In fact, this pack is decked out in thoughtful design innovations that had me thinking, Of course! I wish all backpacks had this.
The first is the large, J-shaped zipper on the main compartment. This zipper allows quick access to just about anywhere inside the pack, including the very bottom. Hopefully you’re not inclined to stash quickly-needed things like rain pants in the middle depths of the main compartment—but if you do make such a rookie error and then get caught in an unexpected spring squall in the high country, the J zipper is a lifesaver. (True story. I speak from experience.)
My next favorite design novelties are the pack’s load-compression straps. Unlike most packs that seek only to squish the goods in toward your back, the compression straps that run diagonally along both sides of the Flash also bring the pack’s contents upward, eliminating that heavy-pack-bottom sag that wreaks havoc on lower backs. I appreciated that relief all the more by the end of a long day on the trail.
I’m a big fan of all the external pockets on this thing. There’s the usual zippered lid, along with cavernous, stretchy mesh pockets on either side (yes, your big wide-mouth water bottle will fit), zippered pockets along the hipbelt (yes, your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera will fit), a spacious vertical-zip compartment on the front (yes, your travel game board will fit—though I recommend using this easy-access space for something more practical like, say, rain paints), and even an extra, open stash pocket behind it that’s perfect for stowing things like a wet tarp.
Additionally, lash points on the bottom can hold extra gear, and sets of cinching loops (that tuck away when not in use) can tether trekking poles, an ice axe or other tools.
Just a final note: Like most packs, the Flash 60 doesn’t come with a water reservoir. However, it’s made to accommodate one with an internal sleeve, designated hydration-tube ports, and even a handy dandy little tube holder clip on the right shoulder strap.
Shop the women's REI Flash 60 pack at REI.com.