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REI Co-op Flash 18 Review

Best Buy Award
Price:   $40 List | $39.95 at REI
Pros:  Light, cheap, ice axe loop
Cons:  Fragile, wimpy shoulder straps
Bottom line:  This pack's low durability is offset by it's great price and decent feature set.
Editors' Rating:   
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Capacity (Liters):  18
Measured Weight:  .6 lbs
Padded back?:  Yes
Manufacturer:   REI

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.

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 $40 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.


RELATED REVIEW: The 10 Best Climbing Packs


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Ian McEleney

Last Updated:
Thursday
November 23, 2017

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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


In the following sections, we dig into the details of the Flash's score and explore some of its unique attributes.

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. The next lightest pack in our test, the Arc'teryx Cierzo 18 weighs three 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.

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.

Durability


The checkerboard pattern of the 140-denier ripstop nylon on the REI Flash 18 is good at preventing punctures from tearing wider but doesn't enhance abrasion resistance.
The checkerboard pattern of the 140-denier ripstop nylon on the REI Flash 18 is good at preventing punctures from tearing wider but doesn't enhance abrasion resistance.
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 tried, like the 400d Mountain Hardwear Hueco 20 and 630d Patagonia Linked, so it isn't a unique advantage. This pack lacks a true haul 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 pitches select a bag that's designed with this in mind, like the burly Metolius Mescalito.

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 very full. 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 exterior pocket is easy to access when the pack isn't full.
The exterior pocket is easy to access when the pack isn't full.

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.

Versatility


The Flash is one of the easiest packs to attach an ice axe to  all you need is a carabiner.
The Flash is one of the easiest packs to attach an ice axe to, all you need is a carabiner.
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 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.


Though many of the packs in the review can be rigged to carry an ice axe, this is one of only three models, along with the Arc'teryx Cierzo 18 and the Trango Ration, 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.

The shoulder straps on the REI Flash (left) and Trango Ration (right) are the most breathable in our review. Either are a good choice for sweaty climates or sweaty climbers.
The shoulder straps on the REI Flash (left) and Trango Ration (right) are the most breathable in our review. Either are a good choice for sweaty climates or sweaty climbers.

Best Applications


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. We caution using it for routes with coarse rock or sustained chimney pitches where the delicate materials could quickly get thrashed. Hauling should also be avoided. Nevertheless, we can imagine lots of great places to employ this pack. The technical face climbing of the bolted, multi-pitch, mecca El Potrero Chico come immediately to mind.

This is also an excellent pack for non-rock climbing applications. Our testers loved its minimalist design on short day hikes or for running around-town errands. The Flash is also one of the few daypacks we tried with an ice axe loop to strengthen its credentials as a suitable mountaineering summit bag.

Value


The biggest reason to consider the Flash is the price tag. At $40, 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, most shoppers probably don't need a pack as strong as the $79 Patagonia Linked. 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 $40 Flash 18, and we're pleased to give it our Best Buy award.

Out for a multi-pitch climbing day in Red Rock Canyon with the Flash 18  which climbed well.
Out for a multi-pitch climbing day in Red Rock Canyon with the Flash 18, which climbed well.

Other Versions and Accessories


The Flash series of packs is also available in 22, 45, 60, and 65-liter capacities with the 22L version, aside from the 18L, being of the most interest to multi-pitch daypack shoppers.
Ian McEleney


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