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 Flash Carbon women's specific poles are very lightweight due to foam grips and carbon fiber construction. These trekking poles pack smaller than other poles and are durable enough to handle a heavy load.
The grips on the Flash Carbon poles are made of a lightweight, breathable EVA foam that feels comfortable against bare hands. 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 feels somewhat flimsy. We are concerned that if you 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. Be fair-warned, one of our reviewers with small hands found them too large. These poles also lack a lower grip extension. This saves weight, but some hikers prefer a lower extension to quickly shift their hands down the poles when ascending steep slopes or traversing sidehills. If a lower grip extension is a must-have feature, we would recommend other options.
The straps are a bit less comfortable than other poles in our review because they aren't padded. This saves weight as well, but on the longest treks with the heaviest loads, our wrists became irritated over time.
The Flash Carbon Women's poles weigh a measly 13.5 ounces per pair. This is almost as light as other 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 this pole does excel in the weight category, certain users will want to use a heavier pole. For folks who will be embarking on a long through-hike, traveling to a faraway destination, or those expecting cross-country and off-trail travel with a heavy pack, we recommend a heavier but more durable aluminum pole with burly lever locks.
Locking and Adjustability
The Flash features three telescoping pieces that easily slide in and out to lengthen and shorten the pole. REI's Powerlock 3.0 levers are simple to engage, quick to adjust, and leave enough space to tighten the lever pieces as needed. This helps you get a secure lock, which is imperative on long hikes and when carrying a heavy pack. The level locks require a tool to adjust, but you shouldn't need to adjust them often when out on a hike. The screw heads take either a Phillips or flathead screwdriver, but you can use any multi-tool or the blunt side of a knife to quickly adjust the tension lever in the field. This should be a rare occurrence, as the tension levers do not require frequent adjustment. That said, simplicity is king. Other poles in our review boast simple tension adjustment mechanisms that can be tightened with a coin or by hand, which we definitely prefer.
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. Only one section of the pole needs to be moved to adjust the length, making transitions quick and easy.
The straps can be adjusted, even when wearing gloves. 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. Other poles in our review feature more intuitive strap adjustment, which you can dial in with greater precision, which we ultimately preferred over the adjustment features on the Flash.
These poles collapse down to 23 inches (58.42 cm). This is made possible by the relatively short pole sections owing to these poles being shorter for women. This is a rad perk of the women's specific poles, as the men's version definitely doesn't pack down as small. The only poles to pack smaller are the poles with a collapsible Z-design, but this design sacrifices strength and adjustable length.
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 aluminum shafts, a more durable material.
As previously mentioned, the pole grips also present a potential point 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. Other than the design flaw of a hollow grip top, we experienced no trouble with these poles and found them to be fairly durable for carbon-fiber poles.
This super lightweight pole isn't as versatile as beefier aluminum poles, but then again, durability is often the trade-off when saving weight. We would not use these poles 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 decent option for snowshoeing.
We wouldn't recommend these poles for longer treks where durability is essential, or for use with heavy backpacks when you require 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. However, the Flash is a great option for day-hikes or weekend backpacking trips on trail.
The REI Flash is one of the lightest poles in this price range. We also love REI's lifetime guarantee, meaning that if the pole breaks during normal use, they'll replace it. These two factors make this pole a good investment.
If you're going for a lightweight women's specific pole, the REI Flash Carbon is your 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 a heavier option. For most day hikes or overnight trips, this is the best choice in an ultralight pole for women which is why we graced it with a Top Pick Award.
— Sibylle Hechtel & Mary Witlacil