No doubt, someone at Black Diamond knows how many models of trekking poles they make. But don’t ask me to count, I failed algebra. What is the deal? I mean, you can spend five seasons skiing with one pair of ski poles. They’ll do everything — and can be purchased from your nearest ski shop dumpster. Likewise, can’t I just dumpster acquire a pair of trek sticks? Perhaps.
But wait, you start hiking, walking, running, luggage packing, roller blading (or dating) with sticks — you might see that with such varied applications, pole design can be tweaked in a variety of ways that seem quite appropriate once you’re out there using them. Way better than dumpster gear.
Black Diamond, for example. One parameter that defines trekking poles is they’re used on a vast variation of surfaces. Perhaps you’re on asphalt, rock, or hardpan dirt during that daily power walk. Or you’re even touring glacier ice. First step in making a pole work for varied surfaces is to give you some tip choices. What BD does is provide interchangeable “Tech Tips” in two choices: carbide and rubber. The tips thread in and lock by engaging a wave shaped interface on the pole. This seems to work. We tested extensively with no failures. Beyond the actual tips, BD also provides most poles with the classic “flex tip” that’s friendly (and ultimately replaceable) if you get it wedged in a rock crevice.
After using trekking poles on a hard surface, ever felt a nuanced communication from your shoulders, elbows or wrists? Another trekking pole parameter is shock absorption. At the least, Black Diamond addresses that need by providing comfy straps and soft grip material that’s more forgiving than most ski poles grips. More effectivly, some BD trekking pole models option with a super nice PU shock absorber located on the shaft below the grip. Trekking pole shock absorption is more rocket science than you’d think. Stick just a spring in there, and the rebound does no good and feels mushy or weird. Solution is something with a bit of spring but with a damp, energy absorptive feel that preserves human cartilage. In our testing, BD nailed it. Their shock poles us a polyurethane damper to provide just a hair of pleasant give, while most of the absorption is unnoticeable but proves effective.
All BD trekking poles are adjustable in length (most, widely adjustable, which is somewhat the definition of a trekking pole) using the BD Flicklock system to clamp the sliding pole sections together. We’ve overall been happy with BD Flicklock over the years, but we’re still mystified as to why the brain trust at BD has not yet provided some way of tightening the lock mechanism without the user carrying a screwdriver.
My theory regarding lack of tool-less Flicklock adjustment: BD gear designers need to hike where the trekking pole equipped ladies are wearing nothing more than tissue paper halters and lycra shorts. Those gals don’t have room for tools. Perhaps those designers have been spending too much time with guys who carry repair kits. Poor designers.
Speaking of the X vs Y chromosomes, new for 2012 in the BD trekking pole line are women specific poles. While mostly a color difference, the gal poles do feature parameters such as shorter lengths and grips sized for women.
We tested 5 new 2012 models out of the BD pole riot, but depending on your use and budget any available BD trekkers could be a good choice, not to mention an excellent Christmas present. Isn’t it shopping season?
Women’s Distance FL
At 7.7 oz (218 gr, WildSnow real world weight) per stick, this BD Z-Pole is sweet and packs to a tiny 14.6 inches that’ll easily rest in your airline luggage, or, purse? Grip is sized for gal hands, and the baby blue color is fem, or at least I think it is. Unlike other BD poles, strap adjustment for the Z is done with hook-loop (Velcro). Normally we’d hate that, as we protest against any hook-loop near our hands that catches on everything we do. Thankfully, BD used the type of hook-loop that has almost zero tendency to catch on your gloves and sleeves, kudos for that.
The affordable basic, still provides comfy sized grip with fleece lined straps.
Women’s and Men’s Trail Shock
We found we liked rocking two pair poles: Z-Pole for times when we wanted uber-light for efficient distance or airline luggage, and Trail Shock for everything else. We love the feel of the Trail Shock PU damper, more, we don’t mind the bit of additional weight (about 2 ounces per pole) when our main purpose is a workout.
Trail Ergo Cork
No big deal, but something about cork just feels right on your bare hands.
In sum, Black Diamond trekking poles for 2012 have reached a level of design maturity that is stunning.