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REI Co-op Flash Carbon - Women's Review

A lightweight and durable pole for women.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $140 List | $139.00 at REI
Pros:  Lightweight, packs small, easy to adjust length
Cons:  Top part of pole grip is loose, may wiggle, could break
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Sibylle Hechtel ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 10, 2019
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60
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SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 13
  • Comfort - 20% 4
  • Weight - 20% 8
  • Locking and Adjustability - 15% 6
  • Packed Size - 15% 7
  • Durability - 15% 6
  • Versatility - 15% 5

Our Verdict

The REI Co-op Flash Carbon is one of the lightest of the women-specific poles that we tested. 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. It's a very good pole for the price, and a better pole would be significantly more expensive.


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Pros Lightweight, packs small, easy to adjust lengthLightweight, packs compactly, comfortable grip, easily disassembledComfortable, easy to adjust, small packed size, light, versatileComfortable, durable, great locking mechanismTough, comfortable, great locking, several tips and baskets
Cons Top part of pole grip is loose, may wiggle, could breakExpensive, may be less durable than some aluminum modelsExpensiveRelatively heavy, doesn't pack as small as othersNot as light or packable as other poles
Bottom Line This is the lightest women's specific pole on the market.A high-performance, easily packable and lightweight pole that comes with great features, including comfortable grips.With its short size, lightness, easy adjustability, and cozy grip, the Micro Vario is a Top Pick.Comfortable and durable women's specific poles for the heavy user.The Alpine Carbon Cork is a comfortable pole that will last a long time.
Rating Categories Flash Carbon Leki Micro Vario Carbon Women's Micro Vario Carbon Alpine Carbon Cork Alpine Carbon Cork
Comfort (20%)
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Weight (20%)
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Locking And Adjustability (15%)
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Packed Size (15%)
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Specs Flash Carbon Leki Micro Vario... Women's Micro... Alpine Carbon Cork Alpine Carbon Cork
Measured Weight Per Pair (Ounces) 13.2 oz 16.4 oz 16.0 oz 17.0 oz 17.0 oz
Shaft Material Carbon Carbon Carbon Carbon Carbon
Min Length (inches) 23 in 15.5 in 15.5 in 23 in 24 in
Max Length (inches) 47 in 47 in 51 in 51 in 51 in
Pole Design Collapsible Foldable Foldable Collapsible Collapsible
Grip Material Foam Foam Foam Cork Cork
Locking Mechanism Powerlock 3.0 Speed​​Lock 2 Speed​​Lock 2 External Lever Lock FlickLock Pro
Shock absorbing? No No No No No
Baskets? Tip Attachments? Yes, tips and baskets Yes, tips and baskets Yes, tips and baskets Yes, rubber tips, trekking baskets, powder baskets Yes, carbide tips, trail baskets and snow baskets (sold separately)

Our Analysis and Test Results

The REI Co-op Flash Carbon Women's specific poles are very lightweight due to foam grips and carbon fiber construction. They also pack smaller than other poles, and can handle a heavy load.

Performance Comparison


Sibylle testing poles while hiking up Ptarmigan Mountain (12 498 feet) in December. She has the Leki Micro Vario pole in her right hand and the Flash Carbon in her left.
Sibylle testing poles while hiking up Ptarmigan Mountain (12,498 feet) in December. She has the Leki Micro Vario pole in her right hand and the Flash Carbon in her left.

Comfort


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 too large. They also 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 other options.

The Flash poles lack the lower grip extension just below the main grip that is present on other poles.
The Flash poles lack the lower grip extension just below the main grip that is present on other poles.

The straps are a bit 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 got irritated over time.

Weight


The REI Flash Women's poles are only 13.2 ounces per pair. This is almost as light as other poles in our review that offer zero length adjustability. This impressive weight is a product of carbon fiber shaft construction, lightweight locking mechanisms, foam grips, and a smaller overall length. This lightweight gives them an excellent swing weight, meaning they are a breeze to move forward with each step.


While this pole excels in the weight category, though certain users will want to use a heavier pole. For those embarking on a long through-hike, expecting cross-country and off-trail travel with a heavy pack, or traveling to faraway destinations, a heavier but more durable aluminum pole with burly lever locks is recommended.

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 are simple, 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 hike. Either a Phillips or flathead screwdriver or a Swiss army knife will suffice to adjust the lever tension. The levers do not require frequent tightening. That said, other poles offer tightness adjustment with a coin or by hand, which we 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 lower shaft lengthens to this "extend here" point  locks in place  and then the upper section adjusts to a desired length.
The lower shaft lengthens to this "extend here" point, locks in place, and then the upper section adjusts to a desired length.

The straps can be adjusted, even when wearing gloves. The strap is held in place by a small wedge with teeth, and when the strap is pulled upwards, the teeth release. After pulling the strap to the desired length, the teeth can be pulled back into place, securing the strap length. We prefer other strap adjustment mechanisms on other poles in the review because they are more intuitive and can be adjusted with more precision.

Here are three types of adjusting levers: the Speedlock on the Leki Micro Vario (top)  the quick lock on Cascade Mountain  and the Powerlock 3.0 on the REI Flash Carbon (bottom).
Here are three types of adjusting levers: the Speedlock on the Leki Micro Vario (top), the quick lock on Cascade Mountain, and the Powerlock 3.0 on the REI Flash Carbon (bottom).

Packed size


The REI Flash Women's poles collapse down to 23 inches. This is made possible by the relatively short pole sections, and the men's version 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 pole will fit nicely on the side of a large backpack, and won't stick out too far if strapped to the side of a day pack. Still, if we wanted our poles to fold up and fit inside out pack for technical climbing and scrambling, we would reach for other options with a z-design.

Here are five of the poles we tested  the Cascade  REI Flash  REI Traverse  Black Diamond Alpine  and Leki Micro Vario. They are collapsed to give a length comparison.
Here are five of the poles we tested, the Cascade, REI Flash, REI Traverse, Black Diamond Alpine, and Leki Micro Vario. They are collapsed to give a length comparison.

Durability


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. This is largely due to the carbon construction of the shafts, which are slightly more prone to snapping than aluminum shafts, which bend more.


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 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 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.

Here Claire uses the Flash Carbon poles. The breathable EVA foam grips are comfortable both with and without gloves  and you can lengthen the adjustable wrist straps to accommodate bulky gloves. Claire (at barely 5' tall) has tiny hands and wished the bottom bump were a bit higher for her hands. They work better for larger hands.
Here Claire uses the Flash Carbon poles. The breathable EVA foam grips are comfortable both with and without gloves, and you can lengthen the adjustable wrist straps to accommodate bulky gloves. Claire (at barely 5' tall) has tiny hands and wished the bottom bump were a bit higher for her hands. They work better for larger hands.

Versatility


This 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. Furthermore, 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. However, they'd be okay for snowshoeing.


We also wouldn't recommend these poles for longer treks where durability should be valued highly, or for use with heavy backpacks. If we need poles to approach an alpine climb or technical objective, we would reach for poles that collapse to a smaller length.

Value


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.

Conclusion


If you're going for a lightweight women's specific pole, the REI Flash 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 a heavier option. For most day hikes or overnight trips, this is the best choice in an ultralight pole for women.


Sibylle Hechtel