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REI Co-op Flash 18 Review

A good, grab-and-go bag for smaller users, but not ideal for long hikes or heavy loads
REI Co-op Flash 18
Photo: REI Co-op
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Price:  $40 List | Check Price at REI
Pros:  Lightweight, useful features, flap to cover cinch top, inexpensive
Cons:  Small fit, hip belt not load-bearing
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 14, 2019
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58
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#12 of 14
  • Comfort - 25% 5
  • Versatility - 25% 4
  • Weight - 25% 9
  • Ease of Use - 15% 5
  • Durability - 10% 5

Our Verdict

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 still a good option for shorter hikes around your hometown, 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.

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REI Co-op Flash 18
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REI Co-op Flash 18
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Price $40 List
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Pros Lightweight, useful features, flap to cover cinch top, inexpensiveAdjustable torso length, very durable, great features and pocketsLightweight, easy to access contents, internal organization, fun colorsShockingly lightweight, padded shoulder straps, useful features, packs into own pocketInsanely light, packs up super tiny, fits slightly larger people
Cons Small fit, hip belt not load-bearingRuns a bit small, front stow pocket a bit smallNo hip belt, no padding or support, small side pocketsNo hip belt, small overall size, no back padding - can feel contentsNearly no features, only one big pocket, super thin fabric, can feel contents
Bottom Line A good, grab-and-go bag for smaller users, but not ideal for long hikes or heavy loadsA versatile, durable, and comfortable pack that works just as well on the trail as in townTons of fun colors and just the right amount of convenience and functionality for casual useAn ultralight solution that doesn't cut out all the comfort and featuresA bare-bones ultralight pack for those really dedicated to cutting out ounces
Rating Categories REI Co-op Flash 18 Osprey Tempest 20 Cotopaxi Batac 16L Osprey Ultralight S... Sea to Summit Ultra...
Comfort (25%)
5.0
7.0
6.0
3.0
3.0
Versatility (25%)
4.0
9.0
7.0
6.0
5.0
Weight (25%)
9.0
6.0
8.0
10.0
10.0
Ease Of Use (15%)
5.0
8.0
5.0
5.0
4.0
Durability (10%)
5.0
8.0
5.0
4.0
3.0
Specs REI Co-op Flash 18 Osprey Tempest 20 Cotopaxi Batac 16L Osprey Ultralight S... Sea to Summit Ultra...
Weight (oz) 9 oz 31 oz 11 oz 4 oz 3 oz
Volume/Capacity (liters) 18L 20L 16L 18L 20L
Back Construction Lightly padded back panel AirScape backpanel; large spaced horizontal padding bars covered by large-holed mesh Lightweight nylon Lightweight nylon Lightweight nylon
Hydration Internal hydration sleeve External hydration sleeve Internal hydration sleeve None None
Hipbelt Yes, webbing and removable Yes No No No
Compartments 1 1 1 1 1
Rain Cover No No No No No
Additional pockets 1 8 3 2 0
Outside Carry Options Daisy chain, various small loops Lidlock helmet attachment, trekking pole quick-stow, large stretch front pocket, ice tool loop with bungee tie-off, side pockets, hip belt pockets, sunglasses shoulder stow, bike light loop Daisy chain, 2 side pockets Side pocket Short daisy chain
Whistle Yes Yes No No No
Key Clip Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Materials Ripstop nylon 70D x 100D nylon body, accent and bottom 420HD nylon packcloth 75D-210D nylon (sometimes ripstop; individual pieces may vary) 40D Nylon ripstop 30D ripstop nylon
Notable Features Internal storage pockets, removable back padding, cinch closure cover, removable sternum strap Helmet attachment, trekking pole quick-stow, sunglasses quick-stow, bike light loop, shoulder strap pocket, stowable ice axe loops Side-opening small pocket, internal organizational pockets Packs into its own pocket Packs into its own pocket, carabiner included

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.

Performance Comparison



Exploring an unexpected trail in Iceland with the REI Flash 18.
Exploring an unexpected trail in Iceland with the REI Flash 18.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Comfort


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 minimalist 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.

Fold-over seams help keep pressure points away from your neck.
Fold-over seams help keep pressure points away from your neck.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Versatility


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.

A single daisy chain, ending in an ice axe loop don the back of the...
A single daisy chain, ending in an ice axe loop don the back of the Flash.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Weight


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 types of packs are best for different purposes anyway.

The Flash 18 is thin and light, but without cutting out every useful...
The Flash 18 is thin and light, but without cutting out every useful feature.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

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.

We love the little flap that helps keep unwanted things out of the...
We love the little flap that helps keep unwanted things out of the Flash.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Durability


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.

The bottom of the Flash is thicker, but not ripstop.
The bottom of the Flash is thicker, but not ripstop.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Value


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.

Useful pockets, a key clip, and a place to stash a hydration...
Useful pockets, a key clip, and a place to stash a hydration reservoir make this a pretty versatile bag for a lot of different uses - how many can you dream up?
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Conclusion


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.

We enjoyed our short, lightweight jaunts in the REI Flash.
We enjoyed our short, lightweight jaunts in the REI Flash.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Maggie Brandenburg