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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Sleeping Bags > REI Flash sleeping bag - 2013 > Test Report by Brett Haydin

Recreation Equipment, Inc Flash Sleeping Bag
Test Series by Brett Haydin
Initial Report - August 26, 2013
Field Report - November 15, 2013
Long Term Report - January 23, 2014


TESTER INFORMATIONAuthor

NAME: Brett Haydin
EMAIL: bhaydin AT hotmail DOT com
AGE: 40
LOCATION: Denver, Colorado, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)
CHEST: 42 in (107 cm)
WAIST: 36 in (91 cm)

I started backpacking in Wisconsin as a youth, being involved in the Boy Scouts programs. As a young adult, I worked at a summer camp leading backpacking, canoeing and mountain biking trips. I now generally take short weekend or day trips in rough, mountainous terrain, although I have extensive experience in the upper Midwest as well. I take one or two longer trips each year, where I typically carry about 40 lb (18 kg). I prefer to be prepared and comfortable, but I have taken lightweight trips as well.



Initial Report

Flash
Image courtesy of manufacturer

Product Information & Specifications

Manufacturer: Recreation Equipment, Inc
Year of Manufacture: 
2013
Manufacturer's Website: www.rei.com
MSRP: $259 US
Listed Weight: 1 lb 9 oz (709 g)
Measured Weight: 1 lb 9.5 oz (723 g)
Measured Packed Weight: 1 lb 11.5 oz (780 g) = sleeping bag + stuff sack
Color Tested:  Cactus (only color available)
Size Tested: Regular (also available in Long)
EN Temperature Rating: 32 F (0 C) for men
Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty for the life of the product.

Product Description

The REI Flash Sleeping Bag, hereafter referred to as the "bag" or "Flash," is a mummy-style sleeping bag that uses both down and synthetic insulation.  It is lightweight and compresses to a relatively small size.  The outer shell is a ripstop nylon that is treated with a DWR finish to help repel moisture.  On top of that, the sidewalls, toe box and hood all use a waterproof breathable shell fabric.  Hopefully no more cold toes from condensation!

The insulating properties of this bag are what have me so excited.  The sleeping bag contains two types of insulation.  On the top (my chest), the insulation is an 800-fill goose down which has nice loft, held in place by horizontal baffles.  The bottom layer is a PrimaLoft synthetic insulation which still stays warm when wet.  The synthetic layer on the bottom will still provide reasonable insulation when compressed.  Down is lighter than the synthetic insulation, but it isn't great when compressed so putting it on the top is a way to save weight and maximize insulating properties.

The Flash has a full-length zipper on the left side, which pairs up to any REI sleeping bag that has a right-sided zipper.  The zipper is lined with a binding tape to keep it from snagging on the interior fabric.  The zipper has one pull tab that can hang inside or outside the bag as needed.  There is also a draft tube along the zipper so I shouldn't experience any drafts while I sleep.  The hood is sized well with room enough for me to stuff a pillow inside.  There is also a draft collar, or what REI calls a "full-face muffler" that can be drawn in tight when the temperature drops.  There are two different draw cords that can be pulled through the cord lock, one flat and one round so I can tell the difference.  One cord cinches the neck line while the other cinches the top of the hood.

size comparison
Packs small, but I bet it can get even smaller.
The shape of the bag tapers from the head-to-toe, and the legs and toe are cut rather close.  I have a little room to move, but not much.  REI calls it a "performance fit," I call it snug!  It reduces weight, but still follows natural contours of the body.  The interior lining is a nylon, mini-ripstop lining that is smooth yet soft to the touch.  

The bag has a loop of webbing at the top of the hood and the bottom of the toe box to hang the bag.  There is also an REI logo printed on the toe box as well.  Near the shoulder along the zipper, there is another printing of the REI logo, as well as some information about the bag.  On the outside of the bag, there are two sewn-in tags, one which appears to be a required tag by law while the other has random numbers on it.  On the inside of the zipper there is a tag sewn onto the binding tape with care instructions.  The Flash comes with a cotton storage bag as well as a nylon stuff sack.  

Initial Impressions

The Flash seems to be a great summer sleeping bag.  It is light, easily compressed and quite functional.  Looking over the seams, they are expertly stitched with no loose threads to be found anywhere.  The bag came with two hang tags attached to the zipper pull.  One contains the SKU and basic product information, such as name, size and color.  The other describes the temperature rating.  Interestingly, the product has an extreme lower limit of 6 F (-14 C).  I appreciated this tag as it describes how the temperature ratings are determined.  

The bag fits easily in the stuff sack and has plenty of room to be compressed.  The image to the left shows the Flash next to a water bottle for a visual comparison.  I bet it will compress even smaller, but I want to check with the manufacturer first to ensure I don't damage the insulation.  I really like the design overall.  I am only a little concerned about how constricted I might feel.  I am a warm sleeper and oftentimes I have my sleeping bag unzipped, even in near-freezing temperatures.  However, it is noticeably narrower than other bags I own.

Reading the Instructions

There were specific care instructions sewn into the bag.  The manufacturer states that I can wash the bag in a front-loading washer with non-detergent soap.  I'm not sure that I will need to wash the bag over the test period, but I will try and do so.  

Field Report

Field Conditions

Since receiving the REI Flash Sleeping bag, I have been on three backpacking trips, all of them in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  My first trip was an overnight in the Maroon Bells Wilderness near Aspen, CO for a trip to Capitol Peak, one of the most challenging 14,000 ft (4,267 m) peaks in Colorado.  We hiked a total of 17 mi (27 km) along a rocky and sometimes muddy trail through subalpine forests and along tundra and talus slopes.  The weather was great, for gear testing that is.  With overnight lows at 40 F (4 C) and afternoon highs near 75 F (24 C) we saw sunshine, rain and some nice windy gusts... and cows.  Seriously, we saw cows grazing along the trail.  I slept in a two-person, three-season tent alone.

My next trip was a short overnight in the Lost Creek Wilderness near Fairplay, Colorado to do some technical rock climbing with a few friends.  The trail was steep, rocky terrain along a subalpine forest.  The weather was great with highs near 80 F (27 C), lows at 55 F (31 C) and clear skies the whole time.  I slept in a two person tent with my dog, Buster.  


My final trip was a two-nighter with some friends to summit Mt Antero, near Salida, Colorado.  We packed in about 2 mi (3 km) to a nice spot to camp, and then made the final summit push the following day. We camped near 11,000 ft (3,350 m) with temperatures ranging from 50 to 35 F (10 to 2 C).  Our overall distance was 8 mi (13 km) and the weather was partly cloudy but otherwise fine.  I slept in the same two-person tent as before, but with a hiking partner.

Observations

Antero
Sleeping in the Flash on Mt Antero
I have found the Flash sleeping bag to be a good bag for backpacking so far. Generally speaking it has a closer fit than other sleeping bags that I have used recently.  It took me a little bit to get adjusted to the style, but I don't find it bothersome.   While I can't flop my legs around like I am used to, the bag conforms to me in a way that I can still toss and turn with the bag hugging me.  I'm generally a hot sleeper, so on my first two trips, I had the bag partially zipped which made it easier.  While at Mt Antero, it was a bit colder at night so I kept the bag zipped up tight and kept a layer of long underwear on.  I slept just fine - well as good as I sleep in the backcountry!

I do miss having a pillow pocket, however; more than I thought I would.  The hood is nice, but on the smaller side.  While I appreciate the light weight, I can't stuff my pillow inside like I normally do.  A couple of times, I awoke in the night to readjust my pillow arrangement.  

I like the sheen feel inside the bag.  It isn't quite like sleeping on cotton, but overall it is a comfortable.  Sometimes in warmer weather I sweat during the night - did I mention I am a hot sleeper?  However, this bag has been fine in the temperatures I have experienced so far.  

I was curious to see if the bag would feel colder on the bottom with the synthetic insulation.  Frankly I don't notice any difference.  On my first and last hike, I brought along an insulated sleeping pad.  On my second trip I used a non-insulated pad.  I slept just fine in all three set-ups.  My last trip was the coldest so far and while I felt a little chilled at times, it didn't seem to be my backside, but rather just a little on my legs.  

The waterproof fabric has been great so far.  My second backpacking trip was the only one where I had any significant condensation in the tent.  With other sleeping bags, I have felt a little cold by my feet due to the condensation seeping into my bag.  However, while I had condensation in the tent, I felt dry. In the morning when I was getting ready to break camp, I laid the bag out in the sun and it dried off pretty quickly.  

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the bag is its light weight and compressed size.  The included stuff sack is already small, but I purchased a compression sack and was able to get it to half the size.  In fact, the compression sack (a size small) could easily compress more, if it weren't for the limitations of the compression straps.  


Long Term Report

Field Conditions

The weather has been tough since I filed my last report. However since then I was able to take the bag on 3 more trips to the backcountry, each of them overnights.  I also moved across the country during the past two months, and for 9 days I slept in the sleeping bag while my furniture was being shipped.  My first trip was to a hunting cabin near Como, Colorado.  The cabin is located nearly 1 mi (1.6 km) off the road, and because of the season we had to hike our gear through the snow to get there.  The wood burning stove kept the cabin warm, but overnight lows dropped to 15 F (-9 C) where we were at 11,000 ft (3,350 m).  Once the fire died out, the temperature inside dropped to about 40 F (4 C).  The weather was otherwise perfect with blue skies and no precipitation.  I slept in a base layer bottom and a short sleeve synthetic shirt top.  

My second trip was a short out-and-back in the Badlands National Park in the Sage Creek Wilderness area.  I hiked a total of 10.5 mi (17 km) along rocky, dry lands, with some snow here and there.  Overnight, the temperature dropped to 25 F (-4 C) with good cloud cover to help keep the temperatures from dropping any more.  There was no precipitation.  I wore a set of base layers (top and bottom) to bed with dry socks and a beanie hat.  

My final trip was to Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin.  I snowshoed a total of 12 mi (19 km) through a mix of open fields and deciduous forests and stayed at the established campground. The weather was sunny, windy and rather cold.  The high temperature was only 35 F (2 C) with an overnight low of about 20 F (-7 C).  Anticipating the colder temperatures, I brought along a liner as well as down layers just in case it became too cold.  I wanted to test some of the lower limit capabilities, after all.  I went to sleep with the liner and an expedition weight base layer top and bottom, but ended up putting on my down pants and booties late in the evening.

Observations

I am very impressed with the Flash sleeping bag.  Because I am such a hot sleeper, I find the ranges can be extended for me so this is really a good three-season bag for me (as advertised).  On my hunting trip in the cabin, I was certainly too warm to fully zip up when we went to bed, but as the heat from the stove abated I was glad to pull up the covers.  I was completely comfortable in the Badlands.  While I knew I was pushing the limit in Devil's Lake, I was actually impressed with how warm I really was.  My legs do tend to get chilly, so I had expected some chills, but with just a little extra insulation I slept well.

The fit of the bag was a little tight for me at first, which I mentioned in the Field Report, but for me I think this helps to stay warmer on cooler evenings.  I got used to the shape and was able to make my pillow work for some good rest after time on the trail.  

I noticed and appreciated the waterproof fabric a bit more the past two months.  In winter, I always seem to get that build-up of frost inside my tent.  This can then rub off on my sleeping bag and make for some frosty toes.  While I had the same condensation crystals, I do think my feet stayed warmer.  I normally have to wear down booties in the sack but I didn't need them until the end of this series.  

One thing I didn't always like was the zipper.  While it doesn't snag any more than any other sleeping bag I use, the zipper has just one zipper-pull, which wasn't always on the side that I wanted it in the middle of the night.  It was just a minor peeve, but it would be a welcome addition.

Summary

The REI Flash Sleeping bag is going to be my go to bag for the spring and summer from now on.  While it worked for me over a couple of winter outings, there is a difference between comfort level and the extreme lower limit.  But it was good to know that it can work in a pinch!

Pros: Light, highly-compressible, and has waterproof/resistant fabric.  Warm and comfortable fabric.

Cons: Would love to see a pillow pocket and two sided zipper pull.

This concludes my Long Term Report.  I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Recreation Equipment, Inc. for their generosity as well as the folks at BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to be a part of this test series. 

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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Sleeping Bags > REI Flash sleeping bag - 2013 > Test Report by Brett Haydin



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