The REI Co-op Flash Carbon is the lightest of the women-specific poles that we tested, and it earns a Top Pick Award for its lightness. Not only is it light, but it's easy to adjust the shaft length using the Powerlock mechanism. The grip is comfortable, and the pole collapses to an average packed size. The only downside we found is the pole's foam grip, which has no internal support in the top three-quarters of an inch. It feels loose when compressed forcefully, and seems fragile. Otherwise, it's a very good pole for the price, and a better pole would be significantly more expensive.
REI Co-op Flash Carbon - Women's Review
Cons: Top part of pole grip is loose, may wiggle, could break
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI Co-op Flash Carbon Women's specific poles are very lightweight and weigh less than the REI Traverse. The REI Flash benefits from carbon fiber construction, featherweight foam grips, and a sleek shaft with low profile Powerlock levers.
The REI grips are made of a light, breathable EVA foam that feels comfortable against bare hands. The top part of the grip extends above the shaft by almost an inch, and it is unsupported. While this foam extension at the top of the grip feels soft and well cushioned, it feels flimsy. We are concerned that if you leverage body weight against it, such as on a steep descent or when pushing off when skinning uphill on skis, the top of the grip could break.
The grips are otherwise robust and feel fatter than other grips. One of our reviewers with small hands found them a tad large for her hands. They lack a lower grip extension. This saves weight, but some hikers prefer a lower extension to quickly shift their hands down when ascending steep slopes or traversing side hills. If a lower grip extension is a must-have feature, we would recommend either the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon or the Leki Micro Vario.
The straps can be easily adjusted, even when wearing gloves. To lengthen the loop, pull on the top strap, not the bottom one. The lower strap engages the teeth inside the handle, which grip and hold the loop in place. This design allows you to easily shorten and lengthen the hand loop as needed. The straps are a bit less comfortable than those of the Black Diamond poles, which are padded around the wrist. We also prefer very light Leki straps.
The REI Flash poles are only 13.2 ounces per pair, compared with 17 ounces per pair of the REI Traverse poles. This lightweight gives them an excellent swing weight, or feel.
Locking and Adjustability
The Flash's three telescoping pieces easily slide in and out to lengthen and shorten the pole. REI's Powerlock 3.0 levers differ from those on the REI Traverse. They are simple and quick to adjust and leave enough space to tighten the lever pieces as needed. This helps you get a secure lock, unlike the REI Traverse. They require a tool to adjust, but you shouldn't need to adjust them often when out on hike. Either a Phillips or flathead screwdriver or a Swiss army knife will suffice to adjust the lever tension. The levers stay adjusted, once set, and do not require frequent tightening.
On cold days, we could operate the levers to adjust the pole length even with gloves on, and did not find heavy gloves to present any problems. The telescoping pieces slide in and out easily and can also be moved with gloved hands, even if it's frigid outside.
The adjusting mechanism of the REI Flash differs from that of the REI Traverse, and one of our reviewers found it confusing the first time they tried to adjust the length. There are three pieces, and you first pull the lower, bottom piece out to a stop line. Then you lock down the lower levers. You use the upper two pieces for all further length adjustments. You can pull these apart to the desired length, say 105 cm. There are the numbers printed on the shaft to help you gauge length. They are visible when you pull the pieces apart.
We prefer this type of adjustment. If we wish to lengthen or shorten the poles to go up or down hills, we need only unclip one set of Powerlock levers, move one of the pole shafts, and re-lock the levers. We don't have to adjust two shafts independently to get each to read "105 cm".
The REI Flash poles, with a 23" collapsed length, are average in their packed size. They're larger than the Leki Micro Vario, which pack down to only 16", and similar in size to the Black Diamond Carbon, at 23", or the REI Traverse, at 24". They not the smallest in terms of packed size, but we find them plenty compact for our purposes.
The incredibly low weight of the REI Flash comes at a price — they are less durable and more prone to breaking than a heavier, and sturdier pole. The pole grips present an obvious potential point of failure. The handle inside the pole shaft ends short of the top of the foam grip, so the last half-inch or so of the grip consists of foam only, with no other support. The hollow portion wobbles when one applies too much pressure. When we descend a steep hill, we put more weight on the top of the pole, which can cause the foam grip's top to move.
Not only are the foam grips lose at the top, but the amount of play seems to increase with use. One online reviewer mentioned that, when she tripped and fell onto the pole, the top broke off. Other than the design flaw of a hollow grip top, we experienced no trouble with these poles.
The strap adjustment works well, and the straps stayed at the length we wanted. We found the length adjustment to be quick and easy to operate, and the levers locked in place reliably. We did initially adjust the levers to be fairly tight so that they never loosened while we hiked with them. We used them on snowy, icy trails that had steep sections, and so long as we used the strap for support, and not the top of the foam grip, the poles worked well.
This particular, super lightweight pole isn't as versatile as heavier, sturdier poles. We would not use them for alpine skiing as the lower pole shaft is very thin and could easily break if you hit it with a ski. One of our testers works as a ski instructor, and another used to compete in bump races. Both felt that the pole was too light for alpine skiing.
The loose upper grip would not work well when backcountry skiing either since we push down on the top of the pole when climbing on skis. REI service even says that "these trekking poles are not the built for the torque they may incur from an aggressive alpine skier." However, they'd be okay to use for snowshoeing.
The REI Flash is an ideal pole for backpacking, especially if you want to go ultralight on a longer trip and keep down the weight. They are also great poles for hiking and trail running.
The REI Flash is the lightest pole in this price range. The Leki Micro Vario and Black Diamond Alpine Carbon are both significantly more expensive. The only pole made for women that's less expensive is the REI Traverse.
If you're going for lightweight, the REI Flash pole is the best bet. If you are going on a long trek, for many weeks or abroad, where you want guaranteed durability, you may want to try either the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon or the Leki Micro Vario poles.
The only real downside of this pole is the foam grip. Luckily, REI has excellent customer support. If it failed, REI would replace the pole. We feel that if you want the lightest pole, it's worth trying this one — so long as you don't go to the Himalaya with it!
— Sibylle Hechtel