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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Sleeping Bags > REI Flash sleeping bag - 2013 > Test Report by Edwin Morse

REI FLASH SLEEPING BAG
TEST SERIES BY EDWIN MORSE
LONG-TERM REPORT
March 09, 2014

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Edwin Morse
EMAIL: ed dot morse at charter dot net
AGE: 76
LOCATION: Grand Traverse County, Michigan, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 8" (1.73 m)
WEIGHT: 145 lb (65.80 kg)

I started backpacking in 1979 with two weeks in northern Michigan along the Lake Superior shore. My gear was cheap, heavy and sometimes painful. My starting pack weight was 70 lb (32 kg) with food but no water. Since then I have made one-to-two week trips in Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Florida. Now my pack weighs between 22 and 32 lb (10 and 15 kg). I'm slowly learning what lighter gear works.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Recreational Equipment, Inc
Year of Manufacture: 2013
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.rei.com
MSRP: US$259
Listed Weight: 25 oz (709 g)
Measured Weight: 26 oz (737 g)
Other details: The Flash sleeping bag is rated at 32 F (0 C) for men and 41 F (5 C) for women. It is filled with 8 oz (227 g) of 800 fill power down on top and sides and 2.2 oz (62 g) polyester fiber, Primaloft (R) Sport, on the bottom. The shell is waterproof breathable fabric on the hood, side panels and footbox and Durable Water Repellant ripstop nylon on the top and bottom. The bag is light green on the top and bottom while the waterproof hood, sides and footbox are a light grey. The inside of the bag is all black. There is a hang loop on both top and bottom.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

I had several thoughts when I opened the box. The 800-fill goose down insulation on the top, sides and hood is thick and soft. On the other hand the polyester insulation on the bottom is very thin, where my NeoAir will likely provide the insulation. The stuff sack is roomy enough to easily stuff the bag. The storage sack is about half the size I expected, measuring 18.5 in (47 cm) deep with 14 in (36 cm) in diameter. Here is a picture showing the storage sack lying on top of the sleeping bag.
storage sack
storage sack

The stuff sack is 14.5 in (37 cm) deep by 7 in (18 cm) in diameter. The next picture shows both the stuff sack and the color of the green top and the grey waterproof side panel.
stuff sack
stuff sack

The ripstop nylon top and bottom is light green color while the waterproof breathable fabric on the hood, side panels and footbox are a grey color. The next picture shows the 8 in (20 cm) wide side panel.
waterproof side panel
side panel

The inside lining is black mini-ripstop polyester. The plastic coil zipper is backed by wide anti-snag binding tape. The zipper can be opened from either bottom or top. At the top there is a small pocket for the slider. There is a hang loop at the hood and another at the footbox. The required bedding tag is sewn at the bottom of the bag near the 12.5 in (32 cm) high footbox. The next picture shows the bedding tag, the second shows the footbox from the bottom end.
bedding tag
required bedding tag

footbox
waterproof footbox

There is an elastic cord that goes around the inside front of the hood with a cord lock at the right side of the hood. Here is a picture showing the end of the elastic cord and the cord lock.
elasstic cord
elastic cord and cord lock

This allows me to tighten the hood so just my nose and mouth are uncovered.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

The only instructions are on the care tag sewn on the inside of the top, near the top of the zipper. Here is a picture of the care tag.
care tag
REI care tag

Essentially it tells me to wash the bag the same as I wash my other down bags and quilts.

TRYING IT OUT

I have not yet had the Flash sleeping bag out to sleep overnight in a tent. I did spread it on the floor and crawl inside. I was surprised when I zipped it all the way closed it seemed very roomy inside. I pulled the hood tight so there was just room to breathe. I still did not feel restricted.

The jury is still out on whether I will feel restricted, I've used a quilt for the last five years. Perhaps the Flash bag will seem less restricting when a cold wind blows through. With the quilt I have to pull it tight all around to keep the wind out. Is it possible I can be comfortable in the bag with the zipper closed and the hood snug?

SUMMARY

The REI Flash sleeping bag has a lot of features that I'm looking forward to trying out. With colder weather fast approaching this will be an interesting challenge. So far I can see things to like but not many negatives.
Positives:
The two-way zipper,
The hood that can tighten around my face to keep the wind out,
The light weight, same as my quilt but with added features,
Temperature rating, is it good or bad? I do have room to add clothing layers.

Negatives:
I haven't found any negatives yet, perhaps
Temperature rating, is it good or bad? I do have some concern whether I will be warm enough when temperatures get down around freezing.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I've been backpacking three times during the Field Testing. All these hikes were in northwest Lower Michigan.
August 28, 29 & 30, 2013 I hiked the popular Manistee River Trail/North Country Trail loop in the Manistee National Forest. The Terrain is rolling to hilly. The weather was mostly sunny with a low of 65 F (18 C) and a high of 88 F (31 C). The loop is 22 miles (35 km) but I added five miles (8 km) to the south and back for a total of 32 miles (52 km) and two nights out.

I did a three-night hike September 10 through 13, 2013, in the Pere Marquette State Forest, from south of Fife Lake, Michigan to the village of Kalkaska. The terrain was rolling with a few hills. The weather was partly cloudy during the days with wind and rain each night. The first night it rained hard with nearly constant lightening for over four hours. The low was 42 F (6 C) and the high was 89 F (32 C). Total distance on this hike was about 34 miles (55 km). There was a strong and gusty wind all three nights.

I did an overnight hike October 25 & 26, 2013 in the Pere Marquette State Forest. The weather started cool and cloudy with rain and wind most of the night. The second day was cold rain and frequent hail. I had planned on three or four nights out but changed my plans because of mistakes and bad weather. First I forgot to pack the second alcohol fuel bottle so I only had fuel for three meals, then I discovered I had forgotten to pack any coffee. Adding the cold rain was just too much. I've started checking the weather on my cell phone each night and morning. This time it predicted all day rain with a high of 45 F (7 C). The prediction was accurate, the rain did not quit until late in the day. The thermometer I carried showed a low of 35 F (2 C) and a high of 44 F (7 C) while I was out.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

I used a hammock for the August hike because the weather was so warm. I thought it would be easy to spread out the Flash Bag , sit down, swing my legs in and pull the top over me. Actual practice was not quite that easy. Here is a picture where I tried to spread the bag in the hammock.
Flash bag in hammock
REI Flash bag in hammock

I needed a lot of squirming around to get in a comfortable position. Then I found that the Flash bag is just not comfortable on my bare skin. The other two hikes I used the REI Flash bag in a tent on a Therm-A-Rest NeoAir mattress. The first two nights of the September hike were very warm. Here is a picture in my tent early evening the second night.
REI Flash bag partly spread
Flash bag partly spread

I did have to pull the top of the bag over me to keep the wind off. The third night got colder and windier. I stayed warm enough, wearing Merino Wool long johns, a silk top and light Merino Wool socks. I did pull the zipper mostly closed. After using a quilt for several years I found it more difficult to sleep on my side in the mummy style sleeping bag. When I just turn my body inside the sleeping bag my face will be in the side of the hood. When I managed to turn the sleeping bag with me I was OK in warmer weather but when it got colder my back had very little protection.

The one night I was out in October it was cold, rainy and windy. I was just warm enough in merino top and bottom except for my feet. Light weight wool socks still left my feet cold. About midnight I remembered I had put in an old pair of down booties. Finally I was warm enough for comfort. I still woke several times listening to the wind shake the tent and the trees overhead. Here is a picture of my camp a few hours before the wind and rain started.
camp before storm
camp before storm

I tried a few times to use my pillow inside the sleeping bag hood but no go. The hood just is not big enough for the pillow and my head. On the other hand, the hood does fit well without the pillow. When I pulled the zipper all the way up and slightly tightened the hood no cold breeze got to me. Still, there is just not enough insulation to keep me comfortable when the temperature gets down around freezing.

I thought the waterproof areas would tend to hold moisture from condensation inside the sleeping bag as it did years ago when I had spread a rain coat over the bottom of a sleeping bag. This concern has had no basis in my experience with this sleeping bag. There was no condensation I could feel. On the other hand, after packing in the rain and having other wet items in the pack, the outside of the foot box was wet when I got home. I could feel no moisture inside the sleeping bag.

SUMMARY

I have found that the REI Flash sleeping bag is most comfortable in the temperatures I prefer for camping, that is between 40 F (4 C) and 65 F (18 C). The bag lining does not feel good against my bare skin. This is a disappointment, it seems to me that a warm weather sleeping bag should have an interior that feels comfortable on bare skin. When I used a quilt I wore silk long johns to keep bare skin from touching the air mattress. This is probably my best solution when I use this sleeping bag. The temperature rating and the temperature range for which the bag is useful for me is just a factor, neither good nor bad.

The REI Flash sleeping bag has both negative and positive features like every item of backpacking gear I use.
On the positive side:
Light weight,
Hood that closes snugly to keep warmth in and cold wind out,
There is enough interior space to add more layers.

On the negative side:
The inside lining material is not comfortable against my bare skin,
Perhaps impossible but it would be nice if the hood could rotate about ninety degrees so I could sleep on my side.

If the above two negatives could be changed I would consider the REI Flash sleeping bag ideal for 90% of my backpacking. While I'm dreaming about perfection I could ask for the option of more down insulation in the foot box. Both my quilt and my other sleeping bags feel good on my bare arms and legs. The quilt has no hood but there are other problems with sleeping on my side.

This concludes my Field Report.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

Because of our early and severe winter, I have not been out backpacking at all during the Long Term period.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

I have not used the sleeping bag since late October. My planned trip to Florida has been postponed twice because of severe weather between Michigan and Florida.

SUMMARY

At this time I can't add much to the Field Report. When I felt how thin the bottom synthetic insulation is I expected it to be cold. This has not been much of a factor. The exception is if I turn on my side (yes I'm a restless side sleeper), and turn the whole sleeping bag. Then the thin synthetic bottom is at my back and has a few times resulted in a cold back. I use a NeoAir mattress which is warm and comfortable as long as I lie on my back. If the hood could rotate for side sleeping there would be no need to turn the whole bag. The one night I used a hammock the weather was so warm a cool breeze was welcome.

I do like to use a pillow but the hood is too small for my pillow to be used inside. I tried using the pillow outside the hood but I could not stay on the pillow. Would it be possible to add a single layer of fabric, open on one side, to create a pillow pocket outside the hood?

CONTINUED USE

I intend to use the sleeping bag for most of my backpacking. I'm now satisfied that I have sufficiently evaluated how it best fits with my backpacking.

Addendum

I used the REI Flash Sleeping Bag for six more nights while backpacking in the Ocala National Forest in Florida, February 19, 2014 through February 24, 2014. I hiked a total of 53 miles (85 km) before giving up due to heavy rain and predictions of several days more of the same.

Other than frequent rain during the last three days and nights it was my idea of perfect hiking weather. The highest day time temperature was 66 F (19 C). Night time temperatures ranged from 46 F (8 C) to 58 F (14 C). Here is a picture from late the first afternoon.
my bed for the night
ready for night

Most nights I just wore shorts for sleeping. I added a short sleeve tee shirt for the last two nights. I was very comfortable sleeping this way. I know I said earlier the bag lining was not comfortable on my bare skin. I don't understand the difference but this trip it was just fine.

One of the few things I like about hiking in Florida is the big birds let me get close enough for good pictures. When I first saw these two Sandhill Cranes they were too close to get a picture of both.
Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Cranes


At Hopkins Prairie I found thick fog when I got outside in the morning, which explained why the inside of my tent was wet from condensation. I had rubbed the foot box of the sleeping bag against the tent end. This caused no problem with the water proof foot box. I simply wiped the moisture off with a small towel before wiping the moisture off the tent. When I got to the next campsite I was able to hang the tent up to dry before setting up for the night. I hung the sleeping bag up to air out whenever I could.
airing out
airing out

Less than an hour after I got the tent up at Salt Springs I was sitting inside watching the rain pour down outside.

My conclusion is that the REI Flash sleeping bag is close to perfection for me. It provides the right amount of warmth for the weather I prefer. The waterproof panels are in the locations most needed. The hood is snug and warm.

I can see just a few areas for improvement. A pillow pocket outside the hood would be nice. The zipper has a tendency to catch the thin fabric - but only when it is dark and I'm trying to get out in a hurry. A short extension between the hood and the shoulder area would allow the hood to be twisted. This would provide more comfort for those of us who are restless side sleepers.

This finally concludes my evaluation and Long Term Report.
I would like to thank REI and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to use and evaluate the Flash sleeping bag.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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