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REI Co-op Flash 18 Review

This pack's low durability is offset by its great price and decent feature set.
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $40 List | $24.99 at REI
Pros:  Lightweight, cheap, ice axe loop
Cons:  Fragile, wimpy shoulder straps
Manufacturer:   REI
By Ian McEleney ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 15, 2019
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47
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 11
  • Comfort - 25% 3
  • Climbing Utility - 25% 5
  • Durability - 20% 3
  • Versatility - 20% 6
  • Weight - 10% 9

Our Verdict

Even though the REI Co-op Flash 18 isn't explicitly designed for rock climbing, we included it in this review because it's popular and our daypack testers suggested we give it a shot. We're glad we did too, because this pack fulfills most of the roles of a rock climbing daypack, but at less than half the price of the other options. At just 10 oz, the Flash is the lightest weight pack we tested and compresses down tightly to be stuffed inside a crag pack or overnight rucksack. The ideal use for the Flash is on straightforward multi-pitch routes. Its low weight and simplicity make it perfect for long face climbs or moderate splitter cracks.

For these reasons, it took home our Best Buy award. Take care though, because its low weight comes at a cost in durability; the 140-denier nylon it's made of is fragile and susceptible to abrasion. However, with a low price tag, many shoppers may be able to overlook these deficiencies. We recommend this bag to casual climbers searching for an affordable multi-pitch daypack, just be sure to avoid chimneys or hauling.


Compare to Similar Products

 
This Product
REI Co-op Flash 18
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award    
Price $24.99 at REI$99.00 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$69.95 at Amazon$80 List$58.27 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
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Pros Lightweight, cheap, ice axe loopLight, stylish, comfortable, versatileComfortable, easy to packSimple, great zippered pocket, streamlinedDurable, sleek, stylish
Cons Fragile, wimpy shoulder strapsExpensive, no emergency whistleHeavy, below average durability, no emergency whistleLimited attachment points, easy to drop stuffUncomfortable shoulder straps, no external carrying options
Bottom Line This pack's low durability is offset by its great price and decent feature set.This light and comfortable pack is an expensive but durable choice for multi-pitch climbing.Comfortable but at or below average in most other ways.This simple pack does what you need with nothing extra.This classic is still going strong, though you cannot carry anything on the outside of the pack.
Rating Categories REI Co-op Flash 18 Patagonia Linked Pack 18L Petzl Bug The North Face Route Rocket Black Diamond Bullet
Comfort (25%)
10
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3
10
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8
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8
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7
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6
Climbing Utility (25%)
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5
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9
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7
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7
Durability (20%)
10
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3
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8
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6
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7
Versatility (20%)
10
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6
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6
Weight (10%)
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6
Specs REI Co-op Flash 18 Patagonia Linked... Petzl Bug The North Face... Black Diamond Bullet
Capacity (Liters) 18 18 18 16 16
Measured Weight .6 lbs 1.23 lbs 1.1 lbs 1.1 lbs 1.1 lbs
Padded back? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fabric Type 140d nylon 940D Cordura Ballistic nylon 400d nylon 420D nylon 420d nylon, 1260d ballistic nylon
Whistle? Yes No No Yes Yes
Accessory Pockets? One external zip, two internal open One external zip, one internal zip One external zip, one external open, one internal zip One external zip One external zip, one internal zip
Outside Carry Options? Daisy chain and ice axe loop Top carrying handles, 2 external daisy chains Top strap, one daisy chain External daisy chains No
Hip Belt Yes, removable Yes, removable Yes Yes, removable Yes, removable
Hydration System Compatible Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Key Clip? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

We hesitated to include this pack in the rock climbing daypack review because it's not designed specifically for rock climbing. However, the popularity of the Flash 18 at the cliffs and among our climbing testers forced us to consider it. In the end, we were impressed with how useful it is and the significant value it offers.

Performance Comparison



Many of our testers liked how comfortably the Flash climbed.
Many of our testers liked how comfortably the Flash climbed.

Weight


The Flash 18 is the lightest pack in the rock climbing daypack review, at 10 ounces (283 grams). The next lightest pack in our test weighs a few ounces more. That difference could let you carry an extra runner or quickdraw, or more snacks.


For these reasons, the Flash is our favorite choice for difficult face climbing routes without chimneys or hauling. Minimalists can cut the total weight an additional 2.5 ounces, by removing the foam back pad, hip belt, and sternum strap.

Counting ounces with our trusty Weigh Max.
Counting ounces with our trusty Weigh Max.

Durability


Durability is this pack's greatest weakness. It is made primarily of 140 denier, polyurethane-coated, ripstop nylon. This is substantially weaker than the fabrics of the other packs in our review. The ripstop checkerboard pattern does help prevent tears from spreading but doesn't add any abrasion resistance. The polyurethane coating is supposed to bolster abrasion resistance but is also included on other packs we tested, so it isn't a unique advantage. This pack has a thin grab loop, and we'd hesitate to trust hauling from its thin shoulder straps for very long. Although those shoulder straps are the most ventilated, they're also the most fragile.


If you strictly use this pack for face climbing, it should survive. Beware of chimneys, laybacks, offwidths, or any other pitches where it might scrape along the rock. When packing, we'd recommend you do not place anything firm against the fabric, like approach or climbing shoes, as this could exacerbate wear and tear. We suggest anyone who prefers to haul their daypack on strenuous pitchest to select a bag that's designed with this in mind.

This damage is from 2 pitches of careless chimney climbing.
This damage is from 2 pitches of careless chimney climbing.

Climbing Utility


Although this pack is not intended specifically for rock climbing, it has many features we like in a climbing daypack. Like the many of the packs we tried, it is hydration system compatible. It has a zippered external accessory pocket that can be a little tricky to use when the pack is at max capacity. It also has two internal drop-in pockets (one with a key clip) that are a good size for a headlamp or candy bars. Its back pad, hip belt, and sternum strap are also all removable to customize it to your needs. Additionally, the sternum strap buckle doubles as an emergency whistle—a safety feature we wish was included on all rock climbing daypacks.


Our testers all think this pack is a great size for holding most things we need on a multi-pitch outing (including approach shoes) without undue difficulty. The Flash has a relatively sleek exterior. Our testers found as long as they were careful to tuck the drawstring into the pack there was minimal snagging.

The pack turned inside-out to show the interior pockets. A webbing and velcro strip (in blue) is the best way to hang multiple brands of hydration bladder.
The pack turned inside-out to show the interior pockets. A webbing and velcro strip (in blue) is the best way to hang multiple brands of hydration bladder.

It loses points in climbing utility for a few reasons. There are a few possible configurations for hauling—you can clip a carabiner to the grab loop, through the hydration hose port, or the daisy chain—but none of these locations are particularly strong. Besides, it's unlikely the 140d nylon body could withstand much hauling. This cost it a few points in the climbing utility category.

All you need to attach an ice axe is a carabiner.
All you need to attach an ice axe is a carabiner.

Versatility


Within rock climbing, the uses of the Flash are fairly limited; it's only tough enough to handle straightforward multi-pitch routes without hauling or high abrasion potential. Outside of rock climbing though, this pack's uses are almost limitless. The thin fabric isn't a problem for low abrasion activities like hiking, mountain biking, or skiing.


This pack is also small and compact, making it extremely packable. You can turn it inside-out and use it as a stuff sack inside a larger overnight backpack. After setting up camp, turn it back right and use it as a daypack for backcountry adventures. It was the best pack in our test for this purpose. The light, simplistic design was appreciated by our testers for casual urban occasions as well.

This is a tester favorite for carrying to an alpine basecamp.
This is a tester favorite for carrying to an alpine basecamp.

Though many of the packs in the review can be rigged to carry an ice axe, this is one of only a few models with a built-in ice axe loop. However, it can only comfortably hold one ice axe, limiting its alpine utility. It also lacks practical external carry options. Though the eight pocket daisy chain can be used to attach things to the pack, it is challenging to meaningfully secure those items.

Comfort


Some of the suspension system's qualities on this pack make evaluating its comfort difficult. The ventilated shoulder straps are more breathable than any of the others we tried, but they're also thin, offer little padding when carrying a heavy load and easily roll and twist. Although we like that its foam back panel is removable, the foam is flimsy and not very useful as a 'sit pad', as REI suggests.


When actually on the rock (and if loads were modest) our testers think this pack is quite comfortable. Many didn't notice they had it on - under those circumstances. Overall, this award winner is comfortable with small, malleable, loads but can get unpleasant when asked to carry anything heavy or pointy.

Packed to the gills (as shown here) is the comfort limit with this pack.
Packed to the gills (as shown here) is the comfort limit with this pack.

Value


The biggest reason to consider the Flash is the price tag. It's less than half the price of many of the other packs in this review. We've even seen this pack on sale for as low as $25. Let your climbing habits guide your purchasing decision though. Many climbers don't climb multi-pitch routes all that frequently, and when they do, they usually don't carry a pack every time. We also know most climbers hate chimneys and avoid hauling at all costs. Therefore, many shoppers probably don't need a pack as strong as some of the high-end options. Try to calculate how often you will use a climbing daypack and whether it's worth spending the extra money for a premium bag, or saving it on the functional but delicate Flash.

Conclusion


Lighter and lighter climbing gear is all the rage today and was one reason we liked the 10 oz Flash so much. It fulfills all the roles of a daypack, transporting 18 liters worth of gear comfortably within a compact space. The primary weaknesses are durability and the absence of a strong haul loop. Although dedicated adventure climbers are probably better off with one of the sturdier climbing daypacks, most casual multi-pitch climbers will be happy with the Flash 18, and we're pleased to give it our Best Buy award.

The light weight of the Flash is appreciated on routes with long approaches and descents  like the North Ridge of Mount Conness in the High Sierra.
The light weight of the Flash is appreciated on routes with long approaches and descents, like the North Ridge of Mount Conness in the High Sierra.


Ian McEleney