The REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles are ultralight, adjustable carbon-composite trekking poles aimed at backpackers and hikers.
To get us a closer look, REI sent Man Makes Fire a review unit. This is what we learned:
REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles Review
In some ways, this review is also about whether — and when — you actually need trekking poles. Some backpackers and hikers are die-hard trekking pole users while others, even aging backpackers, still don’t use trekking poles.
So if you’re looking for a first set of trekking poles, this review might be particularly useful. If you’re looking to upgrade your trekking poles to an ultralight carbon-fiber set, read on, too.
The REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles, first and foremost, are made of a lightweight carbon composite. REI says its carbon composite is a bit stiffer than than typical carbon fiber materials. The Flash Carbons weigh in at just 14.8 ounces, making them one of the lightest sets available. In general, the less weight you have to lift and swing over miles of backpacking or hiking, the better.
The REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles are adjustable in length from 41 inches to 55 inches, making them suitably short or long for most men. The women’s version ranges from 35 to 47 inches long. The men’s collapse down to 27 inches while the women’s collapse down to 23 inches. The women’s weigh 13.2 ounces.
REI’s Powerlock 3.0 locking mechanism lets you easily adjust the length. Over a dozen miles, which included rain and snow, the locks stayed put, without slipping.
REI’s lever locks, by the way, are made from aluminum and they’re anodized in a sweet reddish-orange color. The color doesn’t affect performance in any way, but hey, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I like a splash of color and appreciate the design effort.
REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles Review: Usability
The Flash Carbons have a breathable EVA foam grip that REI says can accommodate a wide variety of hand sizes and positions. I have fairly large hands and the grips fit fine. The straps are plenty long, even over gloves, and they adjust to let you dial in the amount of fit and support you want.
To set the height, start by sliding the bottom section down to a marking that says, “Extend to Here.” Simple enough. The next section is marked out in centimeters, so once you determine the height you like best, you can easily return to it.
One nice feature of carbon materials is its ability to absorb vibration. I tested these poles side-by-side with an aluminum pair, and the Flash Carbons transferred less vibration when walking over rocky ground. The difference wasn’t huge, but it was noticeable — and maybe only noticeable because I was actively paying attention to it.
As for strength, the REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles seem pretty durable, but they aren’t the thickest carbon trekking poles out there — hence the light weight. In addition, aluminum trekking poles tend to be more durable for off-trail use. If you’re very hard on your gear or plan to seriously lean on your trekking poles in the brush and among rocks and holes, check out aluminum options.
For me, the Flash Carbons felt light and nimble. I used them over rocky ground and on packed backpacking trails, so I never sank the tips up to the minimal lightweight baskets while on the trail. On a lake shoreline test in wet muddy sand, they seemed to hold weight pretty well, though.
REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles: When Do You Need Trekking Poles?
I’ve been slow to get on the trekking pole bandwagon, despite youngsters who swear by them and aging backpackers who wouldn’t leave home without them.
On a trip to the Eagle Cap Wilderness in August, I spent much of the backpacking trip assessing whether I needed or liked using the Flash Carbons. I still have mixed feelings about trekking poles in general. Occasionally I liked the rhythm you can develop with trekking poles, but I also like to have my hands completely free while I’m backpacking and hiking, too.
As for improved balance, 90% of the time, I didn’t get much out of using trekking poles. Luckily, though, my overall balance and stability with a backpack is still pretty good. I expect that as I age, I’ll start erring toward trekking poles more often. In fact, if you’re looking for a great gift for an aging backpacker, a first set of trekking poles could make a fantastic backpacking gift idea.
There were a few different situations where I appreciated the REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles. The first is stream crossings when you’re trying to avoid dunking your boots or falling in. While stepping on dry rocks, wet rocks and half-submerged logs, it is massively easier to navigate a stream crossing with trekking poles. Much much easier. Without poles, I had to pay very close attention. With trekking poles, I could almost hit autopilot and just step across.
I also appreciated the Flash Carbons when I was going down very steep trails with a full backpack. The trekking poles helped me put the breaks on, so to speak, and soften the downhill pressure on my knees. Some backpackers have reported appreciating trekking poles for steep uphill sections, too, especially for big steps, but they didn’t do much for me.
After it snowed a couple inches, the Flash Carbons let me cruise down a snow-covered rocky trail with ease. I know I would have placed each boot with more care without the poles, but, for better or worse, the poles increased my confidence going over slick areas.
REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles: Worth the Weight?
I’m torn. While the REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles are super lightweight, are they worth carrying while backpacking? For me, right now, they can be helpful but they’re not transforming. I have no doubt that if I fast-forward several years and I’m still backpacking, I’ll want trekking poles.
Of course, if I go backpacking in rattlesnake country, I’ll definitely take trekking poles.
But there is one situation that could spark me to use trekking poles: ultralight tarp-style tents. Many tarp tents let you use your trekking poles for support instead of using dedicated pole structures. The downsides are that they require more effort to pitch than the best freestanding backpacking tents, but the weight savings can be worth it if you know where you’re going and what you’re doing.
If you truly don’t need or want trekking poles, the pros and cons of tarp tents don’t usually work out for most recreational backpackers. But if you’re carrying trekking poles anyway, you can let that weight serve double-duty for your shelter.
REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles Review: The Verdict
If you’re new to trekking poles, you have a tough choice: Go with an ultralight set of trekking poles or standard aluminum ones? The REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles weigh just 7.4 ounces each while the REI Co-op Passage Trekking Poles weigh 10 ounces each, which is about average — but the price point is quite a bit lower, too. Either way, the price-to-value ratio of the entire REI trekking pole lineup is excellent. You get a great blend of quality for the price. If you’re very hard on your gear and want to go off-trail, stick with the aluminum REI Passage poles. If you’re concerned about vibration and weight and might want to try ultralight tarp-style shelters, go with the Flash Carbons.