Hands-on Gear Review

REI Co-op Flash 18 Review

Best Buy Award
Price:  $40 List | $39.95 at REI
Pros:  Affordable, minimalist design, lightweight, super packable
Cons:  Difficult access during activities, thin waist belt and shoulder straps
Bottom line:  A simple pack that's easy on the wallet, ultralight, and super popular.
Editors' Rating:   
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Weight (ounces):  10oz
Measured volume (liters):  18
Back Construction:  Simple foam pad
Manufacturer:   REI

Our Verdict

If you're looking for a lightweight pack that can accompany you on just about any mission you can dream up, AND you're on a budget, then look no further. For just under $40, the REI Co-op Flash 18 receives our Best Buy Award and is by far the lightest and most minimal product in our review. This pack is a minimalist's dream and scored the best of all the packs in weight and versatility. With a simple top-loading design opening into a single compartment, this pack remains comfortable during a myriad of activities.

Color Updates
The Flash 18 is one of REI's best-selling daypacks, and to keep it fresh they have a constantly rotating cast of colors, like the sunny yellow pictured above. The grey and yellow version that we reviewed is no longer offered, however, the technical specs of this pack remain the same. If you see a color you can't live without, grab it now, because that hue may not be offered next season!

The Flash 18 is an awesome lightweight pack that is less hiking specific pack than any we tested but can most certainly transition between just about all of your activities, especially 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 a great option for multi-pitch days and summit attempts.

Looking for More Space in Your Flash?
This great daypack is also available in a larger size; the REI Co-op Flash 22 has more space in your pack for whatever adventure you may be on.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Daypacks For Hiking and Travel


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Jediah Porter

Last Updated:
Friday
May 4, 2018

Share:
As one of the most versatile packs we tested, and with a price you just can't refuse, the REI Flash 18 walks away with as our Best Buy award winner.

Performance Comparison


The Flash is the daypack of choice for this great dane.
The Flash is the daypack of choice for this great dane.

Features


The Flash 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 shoes. There are four perimeter loops that you can clip things to, or use to secure some cordage for extra lashing options. The base of the daisy chain has a loop for an ice axe; connect the top with a ski strap or velcro loop. If climbing is your thing, you should take a close look at the Arc'teryx Cierzo 18.

The front bottom  and side view of this pack. Notice the vertical daisy chain that terminates in an ice axe loop. The daisy can be used to secure a blinker light or you can rig straps  bungees  or cordage to the four perimeter loops as seen in the right photo.
The front bottom, and side view of this pack. Notice the vertical daisy chain that terminates in an ice axe loop. The daisy can be used to secure a blinker light or you can rig straps, bungees, or cordage to the four perimeter loops as seen in the right photo.

Unfortunately, both the sternum strap and waist belt have pluses and minuses. The waist belt offers a little bit of 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.

The side opening front pocket was a really convenient place to store items while traveling. Just be sure to watch your back!
As you can see  the main compartment now features two small stuff pockets sized perfectly for a phone or keys.

Weight


You can't beat the low weight and low price of this bag! Weighing in at just 10 ounces, it is a great little guy to have in your arsenal, even if you never use it for an actual day hike. It is the lightest pack we reviewed. If going ultra-lightweight is your thing, you should be sure to look at the Granite Gear Virga 26, which is somewhat of a bigger version of the Flash 18. Both packs are essentially just tubes with straps. The Virga, however, feels much bigger than the Flash and would work for quick overnight ultralight trips if needed.


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 this pack, 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 lbs. This is an essentials-only type of pack! If you want a pack to carry more gear more comfortably, try our Editors' Choice winner, the Osprey Talon 22.

Hikers who prefer a little more access and a bit more comfort should look at the Osprey Daylite or Deuter Speed Lite. Both of these packs have more features, a front-loading design, more accessible to external pockets and more comfortable straps.


One useful tip is that the light amount of padding in the back panel can be removed, and it provides an excellent cushion to sit on during 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, or even a Sam Splint works great (and then you're doubly prepared!). This approach also works well with the Virga 26.

As you can see  the Flash has much wider  but more flexible shoulder straps. Our reviewers preferred these over the thin straps of the Arc'Teryx Cierzo.
As you can see, the Flash has much wider, but more flexible shoulder straps. Our reviewers preferred these over the thin straps of the Arc'Teryx Cierzo.

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 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 so it can be brought 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 for use as a summit pack when needed. If you don't plan on using it in this manner, then perhaps you should consider if this feature is worth the loss of comfort and ease of use. Other packs like the Osprey Daylite and Deuter Speed Lite are nearly as light as the Flash but offer better features, comfort, and ease of use.

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

Durability


Unfortunately, due to the drawstring closure on this pack, and even with the small flap designed to cover the opening, the Flash 18 was the least weather-ready pack we tested. During our 24-hour water test, the fabric seemed to shed water well; however, out of all the packs we tested, the Flash's contents were the most soaked at the end of the testing period.

We also lightly tested the ability for snow to work its way in through the gap created with the drawstring. During our test, the pack remained snow free, but surely with more rigorous activity snow and ice would come through.


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 ft 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.

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

Ease of Use


Since this pack features a top-loading design similar to many backpacking packs, it is easy to load and held all of our ten essentials during a pack test. There's not a whole lot of bells and whistles to this bag, which keeps it lightweight but does sacrifice some comfort and organizational features.


A 13-inch laptop will fit into this pack; however, the contender itself does not provide much protection to any devices. While it is hydration compatible, a 3-liter bladder takes up a ton of space in the small bag, and once the bag is loaded, the inside smaller mesh pocket is hard to access.

The top flap is an improvement over past versions of the Flash. We also really like that the pack can be opened or closed with a simple pull thanks to the fixed slide pull.
As you can see  the main compartment now features two small stuff pockets sized perfectly for a phone or keys.

Best Application


The options are pretty endless with this pack when you start balancing weight, price, and versatility. This pack is perfect for day hikes, grocery shopping, a school and gym bag, multi-pitch rock or ice climbing, and we love using it as a stuff sack inside larger packs (and then using it during summit bids).

Value


The Flash 18 is the least expensive of the packs reviewed, but also the least durable for rigorous backcountry conditions. We find it to provide the most value for the dollar. Not only is this pack super versatile and lightweight, but it is also backed by the REI 100% satisfaction guarantee. Coming in at just under $40, the Flash 18 is our pick for the Best Buy award winner.

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 more supportive of heavy loads, but for smaller missions and for tucking into the corner of your bigger bag, the Flash 18 is unique.
Jediah Porter

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Most recent review: May 4, 2018
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (4.0)
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