Neither ultralight nor ultraluxe, the REI Co-op Flash taught our tester to find bliss in moderation.
I don’t get warm fuzzies when I reach for my Flash 52, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it. This pack has steadied me as I shimmied across cliffs, and carried my filthy-wet gaiters when I couldn’t bear to touch them myself. It’s helped me reach distant campsites that seemed beyond my range.
It doesn’t caress me or make me feel like a goddess—but it never abuses me. And honestly, I’ve come to think that being unoffensive is a backpack’s best quality.
I used to expect a lot more. For years, my quest for total comfort had me pinballing between radically different styles of packs. When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2003, I coveted the impossibly light, cottage-built packs that I saw on other hikers. But as incredibly light as they were, those stripped-down sacks lacked metal supports, cushioned hipbelts and virtually every other load-supporting feature favored by conventional pack designers. I bought one, thinking that the weight I’d save would erase the soreness in my legs and feet. Instead, that flimsy pack only created new pains in other places, like the muscles in my neck and shoulders. Even the fabric sawed into my skin until calluses formed.