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REI Co-op Flash 18 Review

A simple pack that's easy on the wallet, ultralight, and super popular
REI Co-op Flash 18
Photo: REI Co-op
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Price:  $40 List | $19.93 at REI
Pros:  Affordable, minimalist design, lightweight, super packable.
Cons:  Few features, thin shoulder straps and hip belt.
Manufacturer:   REI
By Dan Scott ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 13, 2019
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67
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 16
  • Comfort - 25% 5
  • Weight - 25% 10
  • Versatility - 25% 6
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7
  • Durability - 10% 4

Our Verdict

We've owned a Flash 18 since the pack debuted in the late 2000s. We've used it in most environments under most weather conditions, ranging from day hikes to long, multi-pitch climbs and everything in between. Its low price, super low weight, and superb simplicity mean that we'll likely own a version of this pack for a very long time. This pack is a minimalist's dream and scored highly in weight and versatility. With a simple top-loading design opening into a single compartment, this pack remains comfortable during a myriad of activities. It's less hiking specific than any other we tested, but it can most certainly transition between activities. This is an especially good choice if you're on a budget and need a pack to take you from urban life to the mountain then to the crag. This pack climbs well due to its narrow profile and is an excellent option for multi-pitch days and summit attempts.

Compare to Similar Products

 
REI Co-op Flash 18
This Product
REI Co-op Flash 18
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award  
Price $19.93 at REI$139.00 at REI$180.00 at REI
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$89.95 at Amazon
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$139.95 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Affordable, minimalist design, lightweight, super packableComfortable, stabilizes heavy loads, thoughtful design, modular, recycled fabricsComfortable, ultralight, versatile, effective featuresTons of features, fully adjustable, comfortable, well ventilated, separate hydration compartmentGreat range of motion, excellent external carry, durable, well-executed side access
Cons Few features, thin shoulder straps and hip beltNon-adjustable frame, only decent ventilationLacks ventilation, lots of cords, steep learning curveRuns small, side mesh pockets are debatably smallNo lower compression straps, not water-resistant
Bottom Line It makes sense that this model is so popular, considering its low price tag and weightA function-over-form backpack for carrying big loads in any conditionsThis daypack transitions seamlessly from running to scrambling or winter travel, all the while staying comfortable and easy to useTime tested and a top pick for versatility, this pack wins our Editors' Choice awardWith durable fabric and a comfortable carry, this pack is stellar for mountain adventures
Rating Categories REI Co-op Flash 18 REI Co-op Traverse 35 Salomon XA 25 Osprey Talon 22 Black Diamond Bolt 24
Comfort (25%)
5
10
10
9
9
Weight (25%)
10
7
9
7
6
Versatility (25%)
6
7
5
9
7
Ease Of Use (15%)
7
8
9
7
8
Durability (10%)
4
9
7
7
8
Specs REI Co-op Flash 18 REI Co-op Traverse... Salomon XA 25 Osprey Talon 22 Black Diamond Bolt...
Weight (ounces) 9.07 53.69 15.25 27.44 33.13
Measured volume (liters) 17.89 48.34 29.4 22.56 25.8
Back Construction Simple foam pad Spring steel Vented EVA foam Vented, contoured OpenAir back panel for airflow
Hydration Internal hydration sleeve Internal hydration sleeve Internal hydration sleeve, 2 included 500ml soft flasks Externally accessed sleeve, holds up to 3L, bladder not included External hydration sleeve
Hipbelt 3/4" webbing removable 3D Contoured hip belt Thin webbing, nonremoveable Broad, padded, with pockets Padded, with pockets
Number of pockets 2 9 10 9 7
Description of Pockets 1 main top loader, 1 outer zippered 1 main top loader, 1 outer flap with nylon/stretchy-mesh, 1 outer zippered, 1 top lid zippered, 1 top lid mesh, 2 side stretchy mesh, 2 hip belt 2 front stretch, 2 front flask pockets, 2 front top-of-shoulder stretch, 2 front zippered, 1 main roll-top, 1 large back stretch mesh with clip 1 main compartment zippered, 1 stretchy mesh shoulder strap, 2 waist zippered, 2 side stretchy mesh, 1 back stretchy mesh, 1 top zippered, 1 open hydration reservoir pocket behind back panel 1 top-loader main, 1 zippered lid, 2 side stretchy mesh, 1 raincover pocket (raincover isn't included), 1 hipbelt pocket, 1 outer crampon/stuff pocket
Materials Nylon Recycled 200D ripstop nylon, recycled 400D Oxford packcloth 82% Polyamide, 18% Polyethylene Nylon 210D ripstop
Outside Carry Options 1 exterior daisy chain Ice axe loop and bungee holder, 12 attachment loops along bottom and sides of pack perimeter double-cinched cord for poles/axes, pole carry on front or back Bungee helmet tab, Blinker light patch, ice axe loop and bungee holder, front-side pole carry bungee loops Trekking pole lash points, ice axe attachments, daisy chains, bike light clip
Whistle Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Key Clip Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Other Notable Features Removeable foam back panel doubles as sit pad, removeable sternum and hip belt straps Uplift compression straps really tighten down the load, included raincover Running-vest style suspension, comes with soft flasks which fit into strap pockets on chest Blinker patch, front-side pole carry loops Swing-arm suspension
Weight : Volume (oz/L) 0.51 1.11 0.52 1.22 1.28
Weight : Volume Ranking Ultralight Midweight Ultralight Midweight Midweight

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison


Check out the REI Flash 18 for one of the most versatile packs we tested, at a price you can't refuse. It carries light loads securely, is easy to stuff and dump out quickly, and can easily find its way on all but the most gear-intensive adventures.

The Flash is the daypack of choice for this Great Dane.
The Flash is the daypack of choice for this Great Dane.
Photo: Jeremy Bauman

Comfort


This pack sits comfortably on your back as long as you don't overstuff it. Due to the frameless back panel, it is easy to overload, causing the back paneling to round. The shoulder straps are thin and breathable but are the first source of discomfort when weighing this pack down with anything over 10-15 pounds. Unlike the very similar Flash 22, the shoulder straps are not padded, which turns out to make a big difference in comfort. This is an essentials-only type of pack. If you want a pack to carry more gear more comfortably, look for packs with more robust suspension

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The Flash is a one-size-fits-most pack, but we found that across a range of torso sizes, from a 5'5" tester to a 6'5" tester, we could cinch the suspension down tight on the shoulders for bouncy trail running, or let some out and get the weight at least partly on the hips for hiking. When cinched down, it didn't bounce and hugged the torso well, making it ideal for long runs.

One useful tip is that you can remove the light padding in the back of the back and use it as a cushion on your lunch break. If you happen to be looking for a little more structure in the back paneling, you can easily replace this foam with a stiffer version. Even a Sam Splint works great (and then you're doubly prepared).

Weight-to-Volume Ratio


You can't beat the low weight and low price of this bag. Weighing just nine ounces, it has a super low weight to volume ratio of 0.51 oz/L. Other packs provide more features, but only rarely does a pack match the Flash 18's low weight.

Ultralight packs are great for light loads, but don't offer much...
Ultralight packs are great for light loads, but don't offer much ventilation or stability.
Photo: Dan Scott

Versatility


Due to the lightweight, minimalist design, this pack has versatility beyond a typical daypack. One of our testers ran the Grand Canyon from rim-to-rim and back with a version of this pack and found that it worked well.

The Flash 18 also works great for bike commuting or climbing and packs down to about the size of a softball. This small size makes it easy to bring on longer backpacking trips or travels as a separate daypack. In this scenario, it can be used as a stuff sack inside a larger pack, and then removed to use as a summit pack when needed. If you don't plan on using it this way, then perhaps you should consider if this feature is worth the loss of comfort and ease of use.

The top loading design lets you accommodate bulky items that can be...
The top loading design lets you accommodate bulky items that can be hard to pack into panel loading designs.
Photo: Brandon Hatle

Ease of Use


The Flash 18 is a relatively simple pack but has what you need for many different adventures. It is hydration compatible and also comes with an external pocket including a key clip for stowing smaller items. It has a daisy chain fixed to the outside for extra external carry options, such as clipping your shoes on. There are four perimeter loops next to the back panel that you can clip things to, or use to secure cordage for extra lashing options. The base of the daisy chain has a loop for an ice axe, and you can connect the top with a ski strap or Velcro loop.

This pack is simple: just one zippered outer pocket plus the main...
This pack is simple: just one zippered outer pocket plus the main compartment. However, it gets the job done.
Photo: Dan Scott

The waist belt offers some stability, but the thin webbing becomes uncomfortable with heavier loads. The sternum strap does come equipped with a whistle. However, on larger torsos, it does not lower enough on the shoulder straps for a proper fit and can make you feel as though you're being choked. The good news is that both of these features are detachable. Unlike past versions of this pack, this model has nylon carry loop at the top. This makes it slightly easier to clip into the anchor if used for multi-pitch rock climbing.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

A 14-inch laptop will fit into this pack. However, the bag does not provide much protection for any device, other than a thin foam pad. While it is hydration compatible, a three-liter bladder takes up most of the space in the small bag.

Durability


This year's Flash 18 performed surprisingly well in our hose test. The fabric shed water well, but of course let in drips through the cinch top. The cinch flap kept contents dry for a little while, but we think of this pack as being more ideal for drying quickly than keeping things dry.

We also lightly tested how much snow can work its way in through the gap created with the drawstring. During our test, the pack remained snow free, but more rigorous activity in a harsh storm would almost certainly allow snow and ice to come through.

Whether an avid hiker, or just playing around in the mountains, the...
Whether an avid hiker, or just playing around in the mountains, the Flash 18 is ready for anything.
Photo: Ryan Kenney

Through months of testing, including bushwhacking through dense foliage in Red Rocks National Conservation Area, the pack survived without noticeable wear. On a side note, however, one tester hauled an older version of this model up 90 feet on the Diamond of Long's Peak. It scraped its way up, snagging along the way, and eventually arrived at the belay battered and torn, but was still usable. For what it's worth, that version and the newest version seem to be made of the same material. The Flash packs are also remarkably easy to repair, having very simple construction. Just clean it up, slap on some tape, and it's good to go.

Value


The Flash 18 is the least expensive of the packs reviewed, but also the least durable for rigorous backcountry conditions. We find that it provides the excellent value for the dollar. Not only is this pack super versatile and lightweight, but it is also backed by the REI 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Conclusion


For the weight and price, this specialized and compact pack deserves your attention. The super simple design is ultralight and very inexpensive. Other packs are more durable and supportive of heavy loads, but for smaller missions and for tucking into the corner of your bigger bag, the Flash 18 is unique.

Dan Scott