REI Co-op Flash Carbon - Women's Review
Cons: Grips are flimsy, lever-lock adjustment is difficult, not durable
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The women's REI Flash Carbon poles are very lightweight due to EVA foam grips and carbon fiber construction. These trekking poles pack smaller than other telescoping poles, but the grips and adjustment mechanism may not prove durable enough for overly heavy use.
The grips on the Flash Carbon poles are made of a lightweight, breathable EVA foam that feels unbelievably comfortable against bare hands. However, the top part of the grip extends above the shaft by almost an inch and is unsupported. While this foam extension at the top of the grip feels soft and well-cushioned, it also feels somewhat flimsy. We are concerned that if you were to leverage body weight against it, such as on a steep descent or when pushing off while skinning uphill on skis, the top of the grip could break.
That being said, the grips are otherwise robust and feel fatter than others. They could be a great option for those with arthritic hands, as the grips are very plush. Be fair-warned, one of our reviewers with small hands found them too large. However, for most folks, this likely won't be an issue. These poles also lack a lower grip extension. While this does save some weight, many hikers prefer a lower extension to comfortably and quickly shift their hands down the poles when ascending steep slopes or traversing sidehills. With flick-lock length adjustability, this normally wouldn't be an issue but adjusting the length of these poles is fairly challenging. If a lower grip extension is a must-have feature, we would recommend other options.
The straps are less comfortable than other poles in our review because they aren't padded. This saves weight, but on the longest treks with the heaviest loads, our wrists became irritated over time.
The Flash Carbon trekking poles weigh a measly 13.5 ounces per pair. This is almost as lightweight as poles in our review that offer no length adjustability. This impressive weight is a product of carbon-fiber shaft construction, lightweight locking mechanisms, foam grips, and a smaller overall length. The feather-weight of these poles gives them an excellent swing weight, meaning they are a breeze to move forward with each step.
While these poles do excel in the weight category, the weight-savings comes at the cost of durability. For folks who plan to hump heavy loads into the backcountry across technical terrain, embark on a long through-hike, or for people wanting trekking poles for travel to a faraway destination, we recommend a heavier but more durable aluminum pole with burly lever locks, or a more durable folding pole.
Locking and Adjustability
The Flash Carbon features three telescoping pieces that slide in and out to lengthen and shorten the pole. This should be easy, but REI's Powerlock 3.0 levers proved difficult to engage or adjust, vacillating between either too tight or not tight enough. One of our reviewers was unable to adjust the poles when transitioning between uphill and downhill hiking without the use of a key for leverage. Prior to the next hike, our lead reviewer had to tighten the adjustment screws with a screwdriver so the lever locks would bind tight enough to hold the shaft in place. These fickle goldilocks made it hard to trust the poles on long hikes, and meant that we always took a multi-tool with us for field adjustments. Other poles in our review boast simple tension adjustment mechanisms that can be tightened with a coin or by hand, which we definitely prefer.
While the adjustments on these poles initially proved somewhat fickle, many of the adjustments — from the straps to the lever-locks — can be adjusted while wearing gloves (as long as your lever-locks aren't too tight!). The strap is held in place by a small wedge with teeth, and when you pull it upwards, the teeth release. After pulling the strap to the desired length, you can pull the teeth back into place, thus securing the strap length. However, the strap adjustment wedge has the tendency to pop-out unless you are weighting the grip straps, which proved rather annoying. Other poles in our review feature more intuitive strap and length adjustment for greater precision in fit, which we preferred over the adjustment features on the Flash.
These poles collapse down to 23 inches (58.4 cm). This is made possible by the relatively short pole sections owing to these poles being shorter for women. This is a great perk of the women's specific poles, as the men's version doesn't pack down as small. These poles fit nicely on the side of a large backpack and don't stick out too far when strapped to the side of a day pack. Still, if you want your poles to fold up and fit inside your pack for technical climbing and scrambling, reach for foldable trekking poles instead.
The incredibly low weight of the REI Flash comes at a price — they are less durable and more prone to breaking than a heavier but sturdier pair of aluminum poles. This is largely due to the carbon construction of the shafts, which are slightly more prone to snapping than shafts made with aluminum, a more durable material.
As previously mentioned, the pole grips and lever-locks also present potential points of failure. The handle inside the pole shaft ends short of the top of the foam grip, so the last half-inch of the grip consists exclusively of foam without any additional support or reinforcement. The hollow portion wobbles when you apply too much pressure. When descending a steep hill, you put more weight on the top of the pole, which could cause the top of the foam grips to snap off. Not only are the foam grips lose at the top, but the amount of play seems to increase with use. Further, the fickle lever-locks may prove flimsy with time. Other than these design flaws, and the usual scratches and scuffs from heavy use, we experienced little trouble with these poles and found them to be somewhat durable for carbon-fiber poles.
This super lightweight pole just isn't as versatile as beefier aluminum poles or more burly carbon poles, but then again, durability is often the trade-off when saving weight. We would not recommend using these poles for extended backpacking trips with a heavy pack when you want a burly pole construction. For alpine climbing or more technical objectives where packability is king, these wouldn't be our preferred trekking poles — we would reach for poles that collapse to a smaller length. We also would not use them for alpine skiing as the lower pole shaft is very thin and could easily break should you hit it with a ski. Further, the loose upper grips would not work well when backcountry skiing because you push down on the top of a pole when climbing on skis. That being said, these are a great option for day-hikes, light peak bagging, snowshoeing, and weekend backpacking trips on a trail.
The Flash Carbon is one of the lightest poles in this price range and is the lightest women's specific pole in our review. Despite some durability concerns, we love the excellent return policy at REI, so if you have an issue within a year of purchase, they'll take care of you. These two factors make this pole a good investment.
If you're looking for a lightweight women's specific pole for day-hikes or weekend backpacking trips, the REI Flash Carbon is a decent bet. If you require durability for extended backpacking trips or trekking abroad, however, you may want to try a heavier option. For most day hikes or overnight trips without much off-trail travel, this is a decent option in an ultralight pole for women.
— Mary Witlacil