The REI Flash 18 is a sort of in-between bag that's light and packable enough you can bring it in your luggage but has a lot more features than ultralight options. As a small, top-loading bag without a weight-bearing hip belt, it's not meant for long day hikes with heavy loads but is a good option for shorter hikes around home, heading to the gym, or as a day bag on a longer backpacking trip. If 18 liters isn't enough for you, the Flash is also available in a 22-liter size.
REI Co-op Flash 18 Review
Cons: Small fit, hip belt not load-bearing
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI Co-op Flash 18 is the lightest, non-ultralight pack we tested, at just 9 ounces. It's made of ripstop nylon and features a top-loading cinch top design with a removable back pad.
The Flash has a thin, removable back panel that helps protect your back from the edges and hard surfaces of your gear a bit. While it's nothing like the super comfy padding of some of the fully-loaded models we tested, it's a marked improvement over the paper-thin construction of ultralight, packable models. It can also double as a sit pad when you want to take a break or have reached your destination. The shoulder straps aren't padded but do have some very light internal support as well as a design that takes the seam away from the insides of the straps, thereby alleviating some of those pressure points. The Flash also has a webbing hip belt for stabilization and a sternum strap, both of which can be removed.
The Flash has a good amount of pretty useful features that we think make this pack versatile beyond just a short day hike. A single exterior zippered pocket, several interior organizational pockets, and a key clip are handy for just about any adventure. This bag is also hydration compatible, with a dedicated pouch, loop, and hole at the top. There's also a daisy chain and ice axe loop for attaching gear that can't quite fit inside, as well as an emergency whistle on the sternum clip. Our favorite feature for this particular bag is the small flap that covers the hole at the top of this cinch-style bag. This flap helps deter water and debris from entering your bag and is something many other cinch-top bags lack.
Though it's not as impressive as the ultralight models, which each weigh less than 4 ounces, the Flash 18 isn't much more. This bag tips the scales at just 9 ounces, including all the removable straps and pads that you could leave behind to save weight. With no internal frame or extra padding to make it heavier, the Flash saves you some precious ounces. That being said, you're also sacrificing some comfort and durability compared to larger, beefier models. But we think these packs are best for different purposes anyway.
Ease of Use
As a top-loading pack, this bag can be tough to stay organized in or to dig out that last granola bar all the way at the bottom without completely upending the whole thing. And while we found the outer zippered pocket easy to get to while hiking, our main testers are also right-handed, and swing the pack around to the right side. Folks who tend in the opposite direction might not be so in love.
One feature we found incredibly easy to use is the cinch top itself. REI designed this with handy pull loops that mean you never have to pinch the plastic clip to open or close this bag. Much easier than the traditional cinch of other packs though. Though the Flash is sold as a "unisex" bag, we found it to be a fairly small fit, especially if you don't want to tighten it all the way up to the base of your neck. Taller or larger users may be happier with a larger option though.
REI doesn't disclose the thickness of the Flash 18's fabric, but to us, it feels somewhere around 70-100D of ripstop nylon. This seems incredible in comparison to the paper-thin feel of the several ultralight models we tested. But next to the beefy 210/420D of others, it's significantly less impressive. We also noticed that while the bottom panel is a bit thicker, it's also not ripstop. We didn't have any issues during our testing, but we wouldn't recommend dragging this pack across granite if you can help it.
Retailing at one of the lowest prices of any model we tested, the Flash 18 is a pretty useful little bag. We think it brings pretty good value to the table for what it is. Though if you're on the hunt for a serious day hiking pack this probably won't cut it. But if this simple bag is what you need in your life, we think it's money well-spent.
The REI Flash 18 threads the gap between big, feature-filled daypacks and tiny, packable ultralight packs. It cuts out framing and a lot of padding but keeps a host of useful features that come in handy for just about any adventure. If that in between stage sounds like what you want, then the Flash might be the perfect fit for you.
— Maggie Brandenburg