Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Review: REI Flash 18 backpack

I walked into the REI store and asked for the lightest weight daypack they had. I was very surprised to discover that it was an REI product, the Flash 18. REI's well known for having fantastic customer service and a nearly lifetime warranty, so in the past their products have always been on the heavy side.

This pack is light and collapses very nicely. So much so that it can fit inside another pack or suitcase and take up next to no room. You can even fold it inside out, remove the foam backing, and thus use it as a stuff sack if you were so inclined. It even features a bladder pouch so that you can drop in a hydration bladder and not have to carry water bottles. For Europe, I didn't bother with a hydration bladder (no way to keep those from gunking up on a long trip), but the back of the backpack has a row of loops so I could hang a carabiner with a water bottle attached to it.

Inside, the backpack features one zippered pocket, and one velcro'd pocket where there's a foam backing in case you stuff the backpack with something sharp and it wants to poke you in the back. The velcro pocket is useful for stuffing big long items like envelopes or pieces of paper. The entire shebang is closed by a drawstring loop enclosure, which is the weakest piece of the entire bag: it frequently jams, and when it jams you have to take your time to tug on the draw string just right so that it untangles. I expect the drawstring enclosure to be the first to fail on this backkpack.

In daily use, the backpack excels. You have to think about it when you put items in, since everything is mostly in one big chamber. But I had no hesitation about putting our valuable documents like rail passes, passports, etc. into the drawstring enclosure, and my wife didn't think twice about sticking her wallet into the zippered compartment. The backpack is essentially theft proof. It's light, and has the requisite hip-belt, sternum strap, and twin backpacks, so that no matter how heavy the load, you're not carrying it just on your back. Because it is so light and so versatile, we found ourselves using it for daily shopping on the trips.

Once home, I found myself reaching for the backpack for an unexpected reason: to run errands on the bike. Because the pack is designed so that I can hang the backpack low on my back, it's actually comfortable to use it to buy a few things and quickly get home. I'm well known for hating to wear backpacks when cycling, and that I'm willing to do so with this pack is no mean recommendation.

If you'd asked me if I'd be willing to pay $35 on a lightweight backpack 3 months ago, I would have said no way. But this pack has changed my mind. Highly Recommended.
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