Trekking Poles by Black Diamond — Let me (try) and count the ways

Post by blogger | September 6, 2011      

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Trekking poles Black Diamond

2012 BD trekking poles come on women's colors. Distance FL in foreground.

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.

Trekking pole tips, walking stick technology.

Flex tip at top, fits to pole tip (middle of photo). Tech Tips shown to left easily swap.

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.

Black Diamond Z-Pole Women's Distance FL

Black Diamond Z-Pole Women's Distance FL. Packs super small. Traveler's best friend.

Women’s Trail
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.

Black Diamond trekking and hiking pole, cork grip.

Trail Ergo Cork trekking and hiking pole, with bare hands the cork feel nice and seems to be less slippery than plastic. Straps are cush, ergonomic for left and right as with most other models.

In sum, Black Diamond trekking poles for 2012 have reached a level of design maturity that is stunning.

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10 Responses to “Trekking Poles by Black Diamond — Let me (try) and count the ways”

  1. Harpo September 6th, 2011 12:00 pm

    Lou, what do you think of the BD all carbon z poles, especially for winter ski use? I think they are about 8oz for the pair. Any reason not to put snow baskets on them and use them in the winter?

  2. Joe September 6th, 2011 1:24 pm

    Always thought a camera integration would be vital as well… Or possibly some form of iPhone/Crackberry/Droid holder… Simple request although rarely implemented.

  3. Lou September 6th, 2011 1:30 pm

    Harpo, the Z poles are narrow diameter, I doubt they’re strong enough for average skiing use, though you could easily ski with them in a pinch. Worth mentioning that yes, all their trekking poles will take either tiny trekking “basket” or a snow basket. Lou

  4. Steve September 6th, 2011 2:29 pm

    Did I read that wrong, or are you saying that women have a Y chromosome? Watch out though, I passed algebra, but failed biology, so you might not want to rely on my comments.

  5. Lou September 6th, 2011 5:01 pm

    he he

  6. Harpo September 7th, 2011 11:55 am

    Call Bd and had my ? answered. The carbon z is considered too thin and flimsy fir winter use, and doesn’t take regular winter ski baskets. The winter version of the z is as heavy as the other winter poles out there.

  7. nepal September 14th, 2011 1:43 am

    Great info. I like all your post. I will keep visiting this blog very often. It is good to see you verbalize from the heart and your clarity on this important subject can be easily observed

  8. Brian September 4th, 2012 11:38 pm

    What are your thoughts on using trekking poles for backcountry skiing? I would love to purchase one pair of poles and be done with it – if I can get away with it, that is.

  9. Lou Dawson September 5th, 2012 8:17 am

    Brian, most trekking poles work fine for backcountry skiing. Black Diamond even came up with a fold-up that’s strong enough. But for skiing don’t use the lighter weight trekking poles such as the BD Distance. The new BD Z Pole Mountain Series will do both, quite nice. Also, BD is using their Flick Lock Pro latch system on their trekking poles, so again, their regular trekking poles will work fine for skiing with a ski basket.

    BTW, above due to being at summer OR show, thanks JLD!


  10. Brian September 5th, 2012 11:19 pm

    Thanks! That’s great news. I talked to the folks at BD, who said that the plastic ends surrounding the metal tips on trekking poles are not designed for skiing and winter sports in general, but I’m having a hard time imagining why.

    My BD Trail Back poles were great, but I lost them before I ever had a chance to take them into the backcountry for winter sports. You’re right about flicklock being great! I’ll probably just grab another pair of Trail Backs and go for it!

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