REI Flash 45 Backpack Review
REI has a new version of the Flash 45 and Flash 55 available. Read our review of these exciting new Ultralight backpacks.
The REI Flash 45 is a lightweight backpack with an adjustable, ventilated frame that’s perfect for weekend backpacking trips or more technical day hikes. Weighing just 2 lbs 14 oz in a size L, (a women’s specific version is also available) it’s a surprisingly comfortable and functional backpack capable of carrying 30 pound loads. If you’re in the market for a lightweight pack, I’d definitely give the REI Flash 45 a look. It has several innovative design features that enhance its comfort and utility well beyond similarly sized top loading backpacks from Osprey, Gregory, and Deuter, but at a lower price.
Specs at a Glance
- Frame: Internal frame
- Adjustable length: Yes
- Capacity: M (45L), L (47L)
- Weights: M (2 lb 12 oz), L (2 lb 14 oz)
- Torso Range: M (18″-20″), L (19″-21″)
- Hip Belt Length: M (32″-42″), L(34″-44″)
- Fabric: 420 denier ripstop nylon
- Gender: Mens (Women’s-specific, also available)
- Click for complete specs
Internal Storage and Organization
The REI Flash 45 is a top loading backpack with a floating top lid that can be raised higher if you need to overload the pack. The floating lid has an external zippered pocket with a key fob and is generously sized to store maps, hats or gloves. The pack has two mesh side water bottle pockets and a rear mesh stuff pocket for storing loose layers or wet gear that you want to segregate from dry gear inside your pack. It is hydration compatible with an internal hydration pocket and a central hang loop for hanging a bladder, with dual hydration ports above the shoulders. Two large mesh hip belt pockets complement the storage available.
If you don’t want to hike with the top lid, it is removable, which can help streamline the pack. In this configuration, you’d close the top of the pack using the draw string closure at the top of the main compartment, while tucking the rear lid straps down into the rear mesh pocket to keep them out-of-the-way.
Side Water Bottle Pockets
The Flash 45 has unusual side pockets that are designed for to hold water bottles. Unlike other backpacks, they’re not on the sides of the main compartment, but closer forward, over the wings of the hip belt where they wrap around your hips. This makes it easier to pull them out and replace if you have limited shoulder mobility or shorter arms. It also places your water squarely on your hips for optimal carrying efficiency, the guiding principle that motivates the overall design of the pack.
The bottle pockets work well with tall 1 liter plastic bottles and Nalgenes, but are harder to use with soft bottles that doesn’t have a rigid or round shape like the Platypus Duolock or a 1 liter SoftBottle. An additional snap is provided to help hold bottles in place and is easy to re-snap while wearing the backpack.
Despite their convenience, these dedicated side bottle pockets can’t be used to hold cylindrical objects, like tent poles or a tightly rolled tent, that are lashed to the side of the pack. With this pack, you’ll want to pack most of your gear inside the main pack bag: something to consider if you like to pack extra stuff into side pack pockets.
Compression and External Attachment System
The REI Flash 45 has two tiers of compression, both diagonal to help pull the load closer to your center of gravity. The bottom tier has an extra pulley-like strap system which helps prevent heavy loads from pulling you backwards. Combined with the pack’s load lifter straps, it helps align the pack angle closer to your natural, slightly forward-leaning stance.
Called the “Uplift”system (note orange buckle above) it helps prevent the heaviest items in your pack from drooping behind your butt and below your waist where they can throw you off-balance. It’s also quite simple and lightweight. While it’s eye-catching, I don’t think it’s really that necessary on a low volume backpack like the Flash 45, which has a fairly shallow pack bag, and would be more suitable on a 60+ liter pack which has a much deeper main compartment.
As noted previously, the lack of full width side pockets makes it difficult to securely last tent poles along the sides of the pack. There are however, 4 gear loops (two front and two rear) along the bottom of the pack that you can hang gear from, say a sleeping bag, pad, or tent, using cord loops or webbing to secure it in place. I’m not a huge fan of carrying heavy gear below the bottom of a pack bag like this because it can throw you off-balance, but the capability is there if you need it.
Frame and Suspension
The Flash 45 has an adjustable frame so you can dial in a custom fit that matches your torso length. The adjustment system uses a rip-and-stick style velcro system that let’s you easily raise or lower the shoulder strap height. It’s a very lightweight but effective fit system, similar to one used by Osprey Packs.
A wrap-around balloon style frame gives the Flash 45 pack stiffness, while maintaining torsional flexibility. In addition to two vertical segments, there are three cross pieces at the bottom, middle, and top of the back panel that keep the pack bag from collapsing, while driving the load down into the hip belt.
The Flash 45 frame is covered with a ventilated mesh to help wick perspiration away from your back with a wide air channel over your spine and convoluted foam padding along the sides to improve air flow. There’s a thin lumbar pad at the base of the back panel, which is also ventilated for enhanced comfort.
The wings of the hip belt are aggressively pre-curved and wrap around your hips to enable effective load-to hip-transfer. The fit is really great and there’s no slip at all, even on squarish man hips like mine. I think the fit of the hip belt rivals that found on Osprey’s AG backpacks, but at a fraction of the weight and cost. Beefy seatbelt-sized webbing and a large-sized plastic buckle make it easy to adjust the fit of the hip belt, while providing a secure fit.
The REI Flash 45 is an innovative lightweight backpack with an adjustable length frame that weighs under three pounds. It’s also a remarkably comfortable backpack that’s designed to pull loads close to your center of gravity so they can be carried more efficiently and with less effort. An aggressively pre-curved hip belt locks the hip belt in place so it can’t slip down your thighs, while ventilated mesh keeps it cool and comfortable. Specialized side water bottle pockets make it easy to reach and replace water bottles while you’re still wearing the pack, a highly desirable feature for fast paced hikes and backpacking trips.
I’ve reviewed many iterations of the REI’s Flash Backpack product line over the years, but I’m really quite impressed with the Flash 45 and think it’s an excellent value. If you’re looking for an affordable lightweight backpack that can carry up to 30 pounds, try on the Flash 45 and take it for a spin. The fit and carry of the REI Flash 45 Pack will help you understand what a great fitting backpack should feel like.
- Adjustable ventilated frame
- Side water bottle pockets put the load squarely on your hips for maximum carry efficiency.
- Side water bottle pockets are every easy to reach.
- Rear “uplift” straps help pull bulky loads closer to your hips unlike conventional compression straps or load lifters.
- Pre-curved hip belt wraps securely around the hips
- Wire balloon frame provides excellent stiffness and load transfer without being heavy or uncomfortable
- Placement of side water bottle pockets makes them impossible to use for carrying tent poles or other cylindrical objects.
- Mesh water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets, and rear stretch pockets are relatively fragile mesh and likely to rip.
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REI Co-op entered the world of ultralight backpacking in a big way with the release of their Flash 55 pack a couple years ago. For a reasonable $199, the Flash pulls out all the stops: ample storage, removable features including a top lid and compression straps, and a modular design that’s extremely customizable. After a challenging four-day trek through the Grand Canyon wearing a fully loaded Flash, we’re happy to report that it performed well across the board, and we think its versatility makes it a capable choice for everyone from weekenders to ultralighters. Below we break down the REI Flash 55’s overall performance. To see how it stacks up, see our article on the best backpacking packs.
Table of Contents
The REI Co-op Flash 55’s claim to fame is its Packmod system: a variety of compression straps and organizational features that can all be removed to shed significant weight. Fully accessorized, the 55-liter women's model comes in at 2 pounds 10 ounces (the men's version in a size medium is the same weight). And in its pared-down state without the top lid, compression straps, and hipbelt and shoulder pockets, it weighs 2 pounds 3 ounces. This weight makes the streamlined Flash competitive with some our favorite ultralight models, including the Osprey Lumina 60 (1 lb. 14 oz.), Granite Gear Crown2 60 (2 lbs. 5.8 oz.), Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 (1 lb. 12 oz.), and Osprey Eja 58 (2 lbs. 8.5 oz.). And the best part, in my opinion, is that shedding all the Packmod features doesn’t impact the Flash’s support or carrying comfort in any way.
I’ll start off by saying that I’m usually hesitant to max out a pack’s capacity and weight recommendation. However, for our trip into the Grand Canyon, I made some sacrifices: I didn’t weigh every item on my scale, I packed comfy camp shoes, and I didn’t skimp on warm layers given the questionable forecast. I also hauled a rope along for assistance on a notoriously technical section of the route, which added another several pounds. However, despite the full 35-pound load (about 5 more pounds than REI's maximum recommended weight), the Flash carried wonderfully. The pack felt evenly balanced and the padded hipbelt and internal steel frame proved to be light but stiff, lending ample support. Any time the Flash felt slightly top-heavy, I simply readjusted the load lifters on the shoulder straps and carried on comfortably. Given its on-trail performance, I’d venture to say that the Flash would probably be able to haul up to 50 pounds without too many sacrifices.
Without removing any accessories, the REI Flash 55 is fully featured with ample organization options. The pack features a sizable top lid with a zippered compartment, front mesh pocket that allows easy access, and a cavernous bucket-style main compartment. In addition, its wide, side dump pockets easily fit trekking poles and water bottles—and they’re even tilted at an angle to make retrieval quick and easy. While some of my colleagues needed help grabbing their bottles from hard-to-reach side pockets, I was able to remove mine with little effort. However, if you instead prefer to use a hydration bladder, the Flash has two openings that allow you to drape the hose over either the right or left shoulder.
As far as the Packmod system goes, REI included removable pockets in two key places: two hipbelt pockets are the perfect size for carrying bars, Chapstick, sunscreen, and other necessities, while a single shoulder strap pocket easily stows a smartphone. This latter pocket seemed a bit unnecessary to me—I found it more annoying than useful—but I loved the convenience of the hipbelt pockets. Stripped down, the Flash does lose significant storage space, but that’s to be expected with any lightweight pack. On the bright side, you can opt for any number of the removable features without sacrificing or keeping them all. For example, eliminating the brain and side compression straps while keeping the hipbelt and shoulder pockets saves 4.5 ounces and still leaves enough room for gear and easy-to-reach necessities.
Closure System and Straps
I’m a sucker for roll-top closures: they allow you to compress your pack down to better fit the size of your load. The Flash’s collar in particular extends quite far, allowing plenty of space for bulky gear, and can be easily snugged to make the pack more compact. If you’re using the pack’s top lid, simply roll and buckle the roll-top, then adjust and tighten the lid using two buckles along the front mesh pocket. If you choose to forego the lid, you can secure the roll-top in the same fashion—the buckles are interchangeable on the pack, so there are many options for configuration. In addition, a hook-and-loop strap cinches down over the roll-top, which proved to be especially helpful for carrying a climbing rope.
In addition to the multiple closure options, the REI Flash 55 also features four compression straps for securing extra gear. Depending on what you’re carrying, the straps can be moved up or down along daisy chains at the sides of the pack, or they can be removed entirely to cut weight. Further, REI added a bit of a performance tilt with an ice axe attachment loop at the bottom of the pack. All things considered, both the attachment options and top closure system are well-constructed, easy to use, and highly customizable.
Build Quality and Durability
The Flash’s body uses relatively thin 100-denier ripstop nylon, which is on par with other lightweight packs we’ve tested. However, REI added ultra-durable 420-denier nylon to the bottom to help combat against sharp rocks when setting the pack down. It’s worth noting that we’ve gotten a few tears in our Osprey Exos 58 (which also uses 100-denier fabric on most of the body), but we haven’t yet noticed any holes on our Flash. That said, it’s always important to take extra care with such thin fabrics.
One of my favorite additions to the pack’s construction was the seam-taping along the water-resistant top lid and shoulder strap pocket, which helped protect against light precipitation. I tested these features during sustained rain in the Grand Canyon and was pleasantly surprised that the items in my pack’s lid stayed dry—not to mention, this upped the protection for gear I stored below in the main compartment. That said, the lid is not waterproof nor is it meant to withstand heavy storms. In other words, make sure to use a pack cover or waterproof any essential gear and electronics before heading out.
The REI Co-op Flash 55’s backpanel and hipbelt allowed plenty of airflow thanks to generous use of mesh. Even on warm days in the desert during rigorous hikes, I didn’t experience any sweating. Additionally, the padded foam added significant comfort and support in places where I really needed it: along my mid-back, lower back, and hips—something I can’t say for many other ultralight models. All in all, I liked REI’s choices in materials: the minimal use of padding helps keep weight down but doesn’t sacrifice any carrying comfort or breathability. My only complaint is that the shoulder straps didn’t ventilate nearly as well as the backpanel and hipbelt, but I happily traded this for the added cushioning.
Fit and Sizing
The REI Flash comes in women’s extra-small, small, and medium, and my women’s medium fit my torso and hips very well. That said, the Flash 55 isn’t highly adjustable like some of its competitors. For example, the Granite Gear Crown2 60 has a customizable two-piece hipbelt that uses Velcro to tailor the fit, while Gossamer Gear offers the option to purchase the hipbelt for their Mariposa pack separately so that you can choose the right size for your waist. REI simply offers the Flash 55 in three separate sizes depending on your torso length and hip/waist size. In the end, it’s important to choose the best-fitting pack for your particular frame, which in this case might mean going into a store to try before you buy.
Other Versions of the REI Co-op Flash
We tested the women’s Flash 55 for this review, which REI also makes in an almost identical men’s version. The only major discernible differences between the two are in the pack’s fit, including torso length and waist/hip measurements. Apart from the 55-liter Flash, REI also makes the lightweight pack in daypack models (18 and 22 liters) and in a 45-liter design. The Flash 45 ($159) retains most of the features of its larger sibling, but comes in a different colorway, sacrifices some of the Packmod features, and doesn’t have the roll-top closure that we love.
What We Like
- At $199, the Flash 55 is one of the best values on the market, especially given its reasonably low weight, superb quality, and high level of comfort.
- Extremely customizable: keep the lid, compression straps, and hipbelt and shoulder pockets on for more storage or strip them off to shave 7 ounces.
- Even when pushed 5 pounds past the recommended weight, the Flash 55 was extremely comfortable.
- Compression straps and attachment loops allow you to tighten your load and attach extra gear to the outside of the pack.
What We Don’t
- You can’t adjust the hipbelt size or torso length, so it’s important to nail the fit before buying.
- While the Packmod system is unique, I found the addition of the shoulder pocket to be unnecessary.
- The top lid is water resistant, but I wish the rest of the pack offered some protection from the elements.
The Flash 55 puts REI solidly on the ultralight map. In this category, another one of our favorite packs is Granite Gear’s Crown2 60, another highly versatile model that’s still impressively functional and well-featured (see our in-depth review here). Like the Flash 55, the Crown2 is customizable with a removable backpanel and top lid, features large front and side mesh pockets, and includes a roll-top closure. We also love the Crown2’s adjustable hipbelt, which can be easily tailored to your waist. That said, we found that the pack’s lightweight frame and thin shoulder and hipbelt padding suffered under a typical 35-pound load—a weight that the Flash 55 managed with ease. For virtually the same price and similar weight (the women’s Crown2 comes in 4.2 oz. lighter than the fully accessorized Flash), we give the nod to the Flash 55 for its superior carrying comfort on the trail.
Another popular pick among the ultralight crowd is Osprey’s Eja 58 (and men’s Exos 58). Like the Flash 55, the Osprey has a solid feature set including a strippable lid and side compression straps. During testing, one area of concern with the line was durability: the 100-denier pack body of our men's Exos suffered multiple tears from granite and rough rocks. The Flash 55 features a similarly thin build, but we appreciate the extra-durable 420-denier nylon on the bottom (the Exos/Eja uses 210D underneath). Further, the Eja lacks hipbelt pockets and has noticeably less padding along the hips and shoulders, but only clocks in 1.5 ounces lighter than the Flash. All told, we prefer the more feature-rich (and $21-cheaper) Flash that carries a load better and can be stripped down if we need to shave weight.
Gossamer Gear’s Mariposa 60 is our favorite ultralight pack this season for its durable Robic nylon build, impressive organization, and solid suspension. After a thorough round of testing, we had few complaints with the Mariposa: namely, the SitLight pad along the backpanel was prone to bunching and we would have liked a few more cinch straps to secure external gear. However, the Mariposa 60 comes in at an impressively light 1 pound 12 ounces (for a small frame with small belt, comparable to my women's medium Flash 55)—a whopping 14 ounces lighter than the fully featured Flash. You do sacrifice two exterior pockets with the Mariposa, but we think it’s the most complete ultralight pack on the market and worth the extra $71.
Another pack to consider is Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Southwest 3400. Right off the bat, the Southwest is in a different stratosphere price-wise at $355. But for the extra money, you get a tough Dyneema construction that offers superior water and tear resistance, similar carrying capacity, and a feathery 2-pound weight. It’s true that the Hyperlite is lacking some of the organization options of the Flash, and it doesn’t have anything resembling the unique Packmod compression system. But the no-nonsense durability and built-in weather protection make it a favorite among thru-hikers and ultralight backcountry explorers. In the end, each has their appeals, but we think the REI’s significant cost savings, all-around ease of use, and carrying comfort are an enticing combination.
A final pack to have on your radar is REI’s own Trailbreak 60, which slots in as the company’s budget offering at $149. Impressively, the Trailbreak manages to retain most of the features we look for in a competitive backpacking design, including ample storage (six exterior pockets plus external attachment points), an adjustable torso, and an all-in weight of 3 pounds 11 ounces (around 1 lb. heavier than the Flash). However, the entry-level model comes with its fair share of compromises, including less cushioning (read: less comfort for big loads and long distances) and inferior ventilation. And the Trailbreak is only offered in one size (in both men’s and women’s versions), which makes it harder to dial in fit. All in all, we like the Trailbreak for those just starting out, but the Flash is much more well-rounded option for $50 more.
Editor’s note: We usually provide a live price comparison table below our outdoor gear reviews, but the Flash 55 is sold exclusively by REI Co-op. You can see the Flash 55 page here and support us in the process. Thanks!
Last year, REI made a serious push into the ultralight market with the Flash Air tent. This design checks the right boxes for a UL shelter with thin fabrics, a non-freestanding construction, and a hybrid single-wall build. But from our experiences with the Flash Air 2 while backpacking in Patagonia, what stood out was its user-friendly nature: the tent is easy to set up, spacious inside, and convenient for two backpackers with a pair of side doors and vestibules. It’s also a standout value at $299. Below we break down our experiences with the Flash Air 2. To see how it stacks up, see our article on the best backpacking tents.
Table of Contents
Weight and Packed Size
With a packaged weight of 2 pounds 8.2 ounces on our scale (0.2 ounces more than what’s listed), the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 qualifies as a proper ultralight design. And if you hike with trekking poles, you can trim away another 3.4 ounces by using them in place of the included straight tent poles. Either way, the Flash Air’s weight is on par with a number of popular models, including Big Agnes’s Tiger Wall UL2 (2 lbs. 8 oz.) and Fly Creek HV UL2 (2 lbs. 4 oz.), Nemo’s Hornet 2P (2 lbs. 6 oz.), and REI’s own Quarter Dome SL 2 (2 lbs. 14 oz.). You can go lighter with a shelter like the sub-2-pound Zpacks Duplex or Hyperlite’s Echo 2, but those utilize Dyneema fabrics that greatly increase their prices. Considering that the REI costs half as much as the aforementioned Zpacks while still offering good livability and a well-rounded feature set, we think its 2.5-pound weight is a true accomplishment.
The Flash Air’s included stuff sack measures 16 x 7 inches and is forgiving enough to allow for less-than-perfect packing. Design features like a minimalist pole structure, hybrid single-wall construction (meaning the rainfly is connected to the tent body), and thin materials help keep everything compact, and we never had an issue fitting it in our bags (which ranged from 55 to 63 liters). As with weight, its packed size compares favorably with big sellers like the Big Agnes Tiger Wall (18 x 5.5 in.) and Nemo Hornet (19 x 5.5 in.). And if space is a real concern, you can always divvy up the carrying duties with your partner or store the poles and stakes separately from the tent body/fly.
Livability and Interior Space
Generous interior dimensions are a common strength of REI tents, and the Flash Air 2 continues the trend. Listed at 88 inches long and 52 inches wide (like all tents, the actual floor dimensions are a bit less), it’s roomy enough to fit one 20-inch, standard-width pad and one 25-inch-wide mat side-by-side without any overlap. Moreover, our group used both regular and long sleeping bags and quilts and didn’t have any issues with our feet or heads touching either end. To be clear, it’s still fairly snug width-wise for two backpackers, and you won’t be able to squeeze two 25-inch pads without some overlap, but that’s a common backpacking tent complaint.
For its roofline, like many non-freestanding and trekking pole-supported shelters, the Flash Air has a tall peak height that slopes quickly downward at both ends. This does limit livable space to a degree, although they’ve positioned the tallest point toward the head end of the tent, which retains an open feeling when you sit up. In addition, there’s plenty of space above your head (and along the sides with the near-vertical walls) while sleeping to avoid the claustrophobic feeling that we’ve experienced with other low-slung models. However, due to the low ceiling on the foot end, it’s not possible to comfortably sleep head-to-toe with a partner.
Without exception, trimming away weight in a tent will lead to some compromises in terms of durability. In the case of the Flash Air, you get a 15-denier (D) nylon floor that will require some gentle care to avoid developing holes over time. If you’ll be camping on any type of rough ground, it’s a good idea to either pick up the Flash Air 2 Footprint or use some form of ground cloth (Tyvek or Polycro are two proven options). The same 15D nylon is used on the bathtub portion of the floor and rainfly, while the mesh sections of the tent body are 20D. All told, the fabric thicknesses are pretty standard fare among UL tents, and there are plenty of designs that go even thinner—the 7D floors on Big Agnes’s Platinum line is one example. And it’s worth noting that no part of the tent felt especially flimsy or vulnerable—even the thin DAC poles and stakes didn’t strike us as anything to be concerned about.
Our trip to Patagonia in late January/early February was in the heart of the austral summer, but we experienced enough bad weather to get some early impressions of the Flash Air’s protection. The tent is well-appointed for 3-season conditions with a full-coverage rainfly, raised bathtub floor, and a solid, pole-supported structure. We had no issues with water leaking throughout a full night of rain, and it held strong and wasn’t flapping around at all in light wind. In fairness, we stayed in pretty protected campsites—a common theme in Patagonia where the winds can be particularly harsh—but the tent struck us as one we could trust in moderate conditions. One small issue we did experience was that the rainfly doesn’t fully reach the ground and the bathtub floor sits fairly low, so we got lightly coated in dirt as wind blew through one evening. But this is typical among mesh-heavy UL backpacking tents and far from a deal-breaker.
Moisture build-up is a weak point with single-wall designs, and the Flash Air is not immune to this. It’s enough of a concern that REI includes tips for keeping dry on the tent’s product page, including being selective with your campsite and not storing wet gear inside. Moreover, they’ve done a nice job limiting the single-wall sections to only the very center of the tent. Mesh covers the entire side walls above the bathtub floor, and the open material even stretches over portions of the roof. You also get deployable vents in the rainfly above each door that are sufficiently protected to stay open in light rain to create a chimney-like effect. Thus far, it seems to be working as we haven’t woken up to condensation dripping off the walls—something we experienced far too often with Tarptent’s Double Rainbow.
Vestibules and Storage
We love the convenience of a two-door-and-vestibule design, and that holds true with the Flash Air. With 16.8 square feet of vestibule space split evenly on either side, there’s just enough ground area to lay your pack down without having to block access to the door or lean it against the tent walls. You certainly can find larger vestibules—REI’s own Quarter Dome SL 2 has 21.5 square feet—but we found the Flash Air to be sufficient for our uses (and importantly, it compares favorably to most other designs in its weight class).
Interior storage, however, is really lacking. You get a single triangular pocket right next to the door on each side. Not only is it small—a map or headlamp is about all you can get in there—but the open shape and floppy structure hurt its usefulness. We think they would’ve been better off attaching a couple large hanging rectangular mesh pockets to the end walls.
Set up and Take Down
Where the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 really sets itself apart in the non-freestanding market is its user-friendly set-up process. We’ve found most shelters require a lot of practice to get everything taut and looking right, but we got an almost perfect pitch with the Flash on our very first effort. REI connects written instructions to the stuff sack, but here’s a quick breakdown: stake out the gray cord that’s connected to the bottom of the tent and insert the short pole into the sleeve and grommet at the foot end. Then, attach one angled hubbed pole into the sleeve under the vestibule and connect either your trekking pole or one of the included straight poles into the base of the plastic hub (repeat for the other side). Finish it off by staking out the vestibule, attaching the remaining rainfly cords at the corners, and tightening it all up. All told, the whole process can be completed solo in about five minutes.
For those transitioning from a traditional freestanding or semi-freestanding tent like REI’s Quarter Dome SL, there can be a short learning curve. But the tradeoff in weight savings is worth it—the Flash Air 2 saves you 6 ounces compared with the SL 2 while offering much more floor area—and REI really did a great job making the process as intuitive as possible. One set-up-related complaint we had was that the small pole on the foot end fit very tightly into the sleeve and grommet, requiring quite a bit of force to connect. The fabrics did seem to loosen up a little over time, and it’s worth noting that you can just leave that pole in place when breaking down the tent to avoid that step in the future.
Other Capacity: REI Co-op Flash Air 1
REI has launched the Flash Air line in two capacities to start: the $299 2P model we tested and a Flash Air 1 that costs $50 less. Opting for the 1P gets you a similar hybrid singe-wall build but in a trimmed-down form. Interior space shrinks from 28.7 square feet to 21.3 (the 88-inch length remains, however), there’s only one side door and vestibule, and packaged weight drops to 1 pound 10.5 ounces. For solo backpackers considering the two options, it’ll likely come down to whether or not the 13.5-ounce weight savings are worth the sacrifice in interior space.
What We Like
- REI’s lightest tent yet is a winner: it’s well-made, roomy inside, and truly ultralight at 2 pounds 8 ounces all-in.
- Very intuitive set-up process for a non-freestanding tent that is quick and easy to master.
- With two doors and vestibules, 28.7 square feet of floor area, and near-vertical side walls, the tent fits two backpackers pretty well.
- At $299 for the Flash Air 2 (the Flash Air 1 is $249), it’s an excellent all-around value.
What We Don’t
- Minimal interior storage: the two triangular side pockets are small and rather flimsy.
- As with all single-wall tents, moisture build-up can be an issue. That said, REI did a nice job with ventilation by including a lot of mesh in the tent body and deployable roof vents.
- The Flash Air is undoubtedly light, but it still can’t match alternatives like the Zpacks Duplex, Big Agnes Fly Creek, or Nemo Hornet.
|REI Co-op Flash Air 2||$299||2 lbs. 8 oz.||28.7 sq. ft.||15D||42 in.||2||1P, 2P|
|Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2||$400||2 lbs. 8 oz.||28 sq. ft.||15D||39 in.||2||2P, 3P|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2||$450||3 lbs. 2 oz.||29 sq. ft.||20D||40 in.||2||1P, 2P, 3P, 4P|
|Nemo Hornet 2P||$370||2 lbs. 6 oz.||27.5 sq. ft.||15D||39 in.||2||1P, 2P|
|REI Co-op Quarter Dome SL 2||$349||2 lbs. 14 oz.||28.7 sq. ft.||20D||38 in.||2||1P, 2P|
|Tarptent Double Rainbow||$299||2 lbs. 9.8 oz.||30.6 sq. ft.||30D||40 in.||2||1P, 2P|
|Zpacks Duplex||$599||1 lb. 3 oz.||28 sq. ft.||1 oz./sqyd||48 in.||2||1P, 2P, 3P|
We’re happy to see REI jumping into the ultralight world, and especially with such a quality product and great price. In terms of competitors, it’s a pretty crowded market that spans mainstream and cottage brands, but one of the more popular models is Big Agnes’s Tiger Wall. In parsing out the differences, the Tiger Wall has a semi-freestanding design that sets up a little easier than the non-freestanding Flash Air, but comes in at the same 2 pounds 8 ounces and has a similar two-door-and-vestibule layout. Both tents also utilize thin 15-denier fabrics along their floors, but the REI is slightly roomier inside and wins out in price by a substantial $100, which is enough to give it the edge for us.
Sticking to the Big Agnes brand, their Copper Spur is our current top-rated backpacking tent. We tested the latest HV UL2 model alongside the Flash Air, and the two designs were our clear favorites on the trip. Each have their respective strengths: The Copper Spur goes up very quickly with its freestanding build, its pole structure creates an open-feeling interior, and the tent is feature-rich with tons of storage, good ventilation, and high-quality materials used throughout. Where the REI beats the Copper Spur is in weight (by 10 oz.) and price (by $151), plus it’s not far behind in build quality and ease of use. We think the majority of backpackers still will prefer the familiarity of the Copper Spur’s proven freestanding build and airy interior, but the Flash Air is a great example that going ultralight doesn’t have to involve a ton of compromises.
Another well-known alternative is Nemo’s Hornet. At its launch, this tent captured a lot of attention as it was able to match the Big Agnes Fly Creek in weight while offering the convenience of two doors and vestibules. This holds true today, and it’s still a weight leader at 2 pounds 6 ounces (2 oz. less than the REI). But unless you want a double-wall build for its pole structure and better ventilation, we think the Flash Air is the superior all-around design. It’s more spacious inside (the Hornet is even snugger than the Tiger Wall above), has larger vestibules, packs down smaller, and costs $71 less. There was a time when the Hornet felt like a class-leader, but the Flash Air is now the superior option in our eyes.
Before the Flash Air, REI’s lightest two-person model was the Quarter Dome SL 2. This tent in many ways mirrors the Big Agnes Tiger Wall above with a semi-freestanding build, thin materials (15D on the floor and fly), and two side doors. As with the Tiger Wall, the Quarter Dome is a better ventilator, and its pole structure makes the tent feel more open than the Flash Air. But the SL can’t match it in weight, while not offering any more in the way of floor area. If you’re weighing the two REI tents, the Quarter Dome has a more familiar set-up process and better storage (both interior and vestibule), but the Flash Air wins out among ounce-counters.
Moving more into the cottage tent industry, the Tarptent Double Rainbow arguably is the Flash Air’s most direct competitor. Both tents cost $299, use non-freestanding constructions, and weigh about the same (the REI is lighter by around 2 oz.). In addition, their hybrid single-wall constructions make them a little more prone to moisture build-up, although from our experiences, we’ve found the REI a better ventilator. The Flash Air also is a more refined product in general: the materials have a higher-quality feel, and the Double Rainbow requires you to either seam seal it yourself or pay an additional $35. Availability can also be a little hit-or-miss with the Tarptent, which is fairly typical among smaller outdoor brands. In the end, both are solid options, but the REI strikes us as the more complete product.
Among dedicated ultralighters, the Zpacks Duplex has developed a serious following. The tent is a pretty common sight along the PCT and AT and for good reason: at 1 pound 3 ounces (not including stakes), it’s one of the lightest two-person tents made. Zpacks pulled this off with a trekking pole-supported, non-freestanding design, hybrid single-wall build, and by using ultralight Dyneema fabric. This comes at a serious cost, and at $599, the tent is double the price of the REI. In addition, the Zpacks requires much more practice to nail down the set-up process, and its Dyneema materials don’t breathe well. These sacrifices are worth it for many thru-hikers and minimalists, but the Flash Air’s more user-friendly set-up and approachable price make it a strong alternative.
Editor’s note: We usually provide a live price comparison table below our outdoor gear reviews, but the Flash Air is sold exclusively by REI Co-op. You can see the Flash Air 2 page here and support us in the process. Thanks!
Other than the size I still loved everything else about the pack. On our drive back to Gainesville, FL we decided to stop at the REI in Atlanta. Can I just say that REI has an amazing return policy?! They took back my wet, muddy, used backpack and gave me a brand new one in size medium with no questions asked! One of the employees even took the time to load it up with some weight so I could walk around the store with it to make sure that the medium was the correct size. When I returned it the backpack was also on sale so they gave me a credit for that which I used to buy a new orange mesh camping chair. So now I have another new backpack, a mesh chair, and REI will continue to get my business!
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