Brand: Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI)
Model: Flash 18
Wrong question: Who should get this pack? Right question: Who shouldn’t? Every tester who carried the Flash 65–whether for fast-and-light weekends or long-and-overloaded weeks–thought it worked perfectly for the job. And that’s just the start of its versatility. Rough terrain ahead? A rigid plastic framesheet controls the load, and the back-hugging fit eliminates sway. Long day of trail striding? The wide hipbelt and shoulder straps wrap with gratifying comfort, and the broad backpanel provides welcome cushion and ventilation, thanks to a cover of mesh and foam.
The top-loading packbag (with floating lid) is deceptively large: In Wales, when one tester’s pack didn’t arrive with our baggage, another tester was able to compensate by overfilling the Flash with extra gear. “It swallowed everything without a hiccup,” he said. And the storage options will please organizers and minimalists alike, as the pack has smart but unobtrusive details, like a large shove-it pocket, low-profile lashing loops, and hipbelt pocket–and the whole thing cinches down with quick-release straps for a balanced, streamlined load. The sweet price-to-performance ratio makes it appealing whether you’re buying your first pack or tenth. Bonus: Hydration clips accommodate all major reservoir brands. $149; 3,966 cubic inches; 3 sizes each for men/women; 3 lbs. 2 oz. (men’s reg.); rei.com