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.
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 due to foam grips and carbon fiber construction. They also pack smaller than other poles, and can handle a heavy load.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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