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75282REPOST (2) - BLACK DIAMOND TRAIL TREKKING POLES - YI-JIEN HWA

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  • Yi-Jien Hwa
    Mar 12, 2008
    • 0 Attachment
      Hi Again Roger,

      Here it is again. About the pole tips: I think we may be talking about
      different things with regard to the trekking pole tip. I meant that
      the body of the tip (not it's point) was worn... and indeed looks like
      having gone through a year (or more) of wear. I tried to clarify
      that. The tips look still pretty good to me.

      I did in fact run it through Word's spelling/grammar check this time,
      and last... but it's amazing how one or two little things always
      manage to slip through!

      The updated html is still at:

      http://tinyurl.com/32t68b

      Tell me if you need any more corrections.

      Best,
      Yi-Jien

      ----

      BLACK DIAMOND TRAIL TREKKING POLES
      BY YI-JIEN HWA
      OR
      March 13, 2008

      TESTER INFORMATION

      NAME: Yi-Jien Hwa
      EMAIL: yijien AT alumni.bates.edu
      AGE: 27
      LOCATION: Wilmore, Kentucky
      GENDER: M
      HEIGHT: 6' 1" (1.85 m)
      WEIGHT: 160 lb (72.60 kg)

      I backpacked a few times in high school and college, but only got
      "into it" (ok, I'm a little obsessed) last year. I'm a busy seminary
      student, but whenever we can, my wife and I hike in Kentucky's Red
      River Gorge. Thus far, we've hiked Isle Royale, Hawaii's Big Island
      and Smokey Mountains. Being relatively new, we're still figuring out
      all the ropes and trying to cut weight, but right now I normally pack
      between 40-55 lbs (18-24 kg).

      PRODUCT INFORMATION

      Manufacturer: Black Diamond
      Year of Manufacture: 2007
      Manufacturer's Website: <<HYPERLINK GOES HERE - "http://www.bdel.com"
      LINK TEXT = "Black Diamond">>
      MSRP: US$ 79.95
      Listed Weight: N/A
      Measured Weight: 1 lb 2 oz (501 g)
      Minimum Length: 25"/63 cm
      Maximum Length: 55"/140 cm.

      PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

      Having considered many different poles on the market, there are three
      things that really attracted me to these poles: their competitive
      price, extended foam grips and locking system. They have basic,
      ergonomic foam grips on the top of the poles, but as can be seen in
      the pictures, they also have another 6" (15 cm) of extended foam
      padding. The advantage is that in theory at least, one would need to
      adjust the poles less on changing terrain. The other really neat thing
      about the BD poles is that in lieu of the traditional twist-lock, BD
      has their own FlickLock mechanism. As the name suggests, adjusting the
      poles is as simple as flicking and relocking a lever--which is far
      less mechanical effort than twisting and locking/unlocking.

      As it is stated in the production information, the poles contract down
      to a manageable 25"/63 cm and extend up to 55"/140 cm. I'm 6' 1"/184
      cm and I use my poles at 49"/125 cm. When descending continually, I
      extend them a little, maybe to 53"/135 cm on steep slopes. The poles
      also come with an adjustable handgrip, what BD calls "our new
      360-degree padded webbing for all day comfort." (In practice, it is
      not quite 360 degree when the webbing is fully-extended, but that's a
      minor detail). The poles also come standard with a 1.5"/4 cm in
      diameter trekking basket. While BD's website says that the pole
      "features... both a low-profile, non-snagging trekking basket and a
      winter-specific powder basket," it was shipped to me with only a
      trekking basket. I can only conclude that what they meant by
      "features" was that it could in fact feature both, if one is willing
      to cough up the additional USD$4.95 for a powder basket. I'm not sure
      why they call the tips of the poles "Flex" Tips because I have never
      been able to make them flex, but they are indeed long (3" or 7.5 cm)
      and made of carbide (the hardest kind of tip available). Black Diamond
      also makes a shorter version of these poles called the "Compact" which
      extends up to 49" or 125 cm, and has smaller grips for smaller hands.

      <<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 3" IMAGE CAPTION = "Minimum
      length">>
      <<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 4" IMAGE CAPTION = "Fully
      extended">>

      INTRODUCTION

      My first backpacking trip with my wife was to Isle Royale on a
      weeklong loop. What a trip it was. Maybe it was sitting at that dock
      at McCargoe Cove, watching the morning mist gently float over the
      waters, and hoping in vain for what sounded like a moose in the brush
      to produce a live moose. Maybe it was walking along the majestic
      Greenstone Ridge, or chilling out in the 50 degree F (10 C) waters of
      Merritt Lane. Maybe it was eating dinner over Tobin Harbor bathed in
      gold by the setting sun. Whatever it was, a new passion was birthed at
      Isle Royale in August of '07.

      However, there were some ergonomic and economic issues with this new
      passion. I started with 55lbs (25 kg) that trip; and by the end of the
      2nd day, my knees felt like a pair of rusty hinges from grandpa's
      shed. At the ripe old age of 26, I limped the last few miles of our
      second day (a good 12 miles/19 km), feet, knees and shoulders burning.
      That evening, I cut a sapling as a walking stick; and while the
      sapling (to which I am eternally grateful) didn't make it through the
      rest of the trip, my knees did. Many conversations later, we decided
      that what our new passion needed was some legs, well, at least two
      more apiece. After a lot of shopping and research, we decided that
      Black Diamond's (henceforth BD) Trail poles best fit our needs and our
      budget.

      FIELD USE

      Since we got them, I've trekked 85 miles (136 km) through a foot and a
      half (half a meter) of snow on top of the Appalachian Trail in
      December, and across lava fields, tropical forests, and black sand
      beaches in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Muliwai trail in the
      Big Island. I found almost immediately that the extended grip is a
      brilliant idea. It's a matter of physics: while I could indeed use my
      poles at their full length while climbing up steps or steep slopes,
      using the lower grip reduces the pivot required--often to none--and
      saves energy. Instead of having to exert strength in straightening the
      poles from an angle while ascending, you can just dig them in
      vertically, and use them like a convenient stair railing. When I
      descend or ascend a big slope, I find it still worthwhile to extend or
      contract the poles a little, but on more undulating terrain, the
      extension of the grips were great. Case in point was the10 miles (16
      km) of the Appalachian Trail and the main section of the Muliwai we
      walked. These trails made me intensely grateful for BD's extended grips.

      My one grouse about the grips is that I often found myself wanting to
      use the section in between the hand hold and the extended grip. The
      supports for the bottom of the hand are not that bad for this purpose,
      but they could be a bit more comfortable. I wonder whether it would
      have been possible for BD to design the lower part of the hand grip
      (where it meets the extension) to be equally comfortable as a rest for
      one's forefinger. (Or perhaps BD might consider eliminating it
      altogether. I for one never found the lower part of the hand grip
      particularly necessary). This would give me that much more flexibility
      when choosing which part of the grip I should use for a particular slope.

      <<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 6" IMAGE CAPTION = "Extended
      foam grips">>

      Perhaps the defining moment for these poles was on my first trip with
      them. Noticing an ice puddle in front of me, for some reason, I
      inanely decided to step on it rather than around it. I promptly did a
      little jiggle worthy of the Cartoon Network and almost landed on my
      butt save for the one trekking pole that got a decent hold. Under
      about 210 lbs (95 kg) of me and my pack, the pole flexed as I slid--it
      really hardly winced considering what I was putting on it--and I
      managed to somehow clamber back my balance. Not being particularly
      worried about the poles at that moment, I can't say for sure, but I
      think they bent about 20-30 degrees. I'm no Hulk Hogan, but at their
      greatest extension I can only get a 5-10 degree flex from these poles
      with my bare hands. At the length I normally use them at, 49"/125 cm,
      they don't bend to my hands at all. These things are really solid.
      Essentially, they are big, thick cousins of tent poles.

      Nevertheless anything will break, and so BD sells replacement parts on
      their website at very, very reasonable prices. I do think that BD
      should be a little more generous on its warranty--only a year in
      comparison with other leading manufacturers who mostly offer a
      lifetime warranty--but at those prices, which are scarcely more than
      buying a new basket (US$ 6-8) and are less than what most
      manufacturers charge for a new carbide tip, I'm not too worried. As I
      see it, BD's spare parts are really their version of the lifetime
      warranty that other manufacturers provide. Considering that one has to
      shell out for shipping the poles back to one's manufacturer and then
      wait to get back one's poles, BD's spare parts on order really doesn't
      seem so bad. The only caveat is that they do not sell the upper
      portion of the pole with the grip. This is understandable, as one
      would then be able to order all the parts from them and make one's own
      pole. Nevertheless, this upper portion of the pole is the least likely
      to break, being far from the fulcrum of an extended pole, so unless
      the grip or the hand strap goes, there shouldn't be a problem.

      <<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 5" IMAGE CAPTION = "Three
      sections">>

      The FlickLocks are great so far. I have not seen any slippage
      whatsoever--except for once when I didn't lock them properly, hardly
      the pole's fault! Of the two sets of poles that we purchased, one set
      of poles had FlickLocks that seemed a bit too tight when we got them
      from the retailer. This was fairly easy to fix; and messing around
      with the FlickLocks gave me confidence that they should be easily
      field maintainable. As with all great devices, the mechanism is simple
      and elegant--the only detachable parts are the screw, the lever and
      the hub. Although it is true that flick-locking and unlocking the
      poles is relatively easier than the standard twist-lock mechanism, the
      flicks do require a bit of strength and practice to master.
      Nevertheless, even with shell gloves, I have been able to work the
      FlickLocks just fine. (I have found BD's advice to unlock the poles
      with one's thumb commendable. It works better than using a forefinger,
      except in certain unusual situations).

      <<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 7" IMAGE CAPTION = "Locked and
      unlocked">>
      <<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 1" IMAGE CAPTION = "FlickLock
      parts">>

      In the photos below, the trekking basket and the long carbide FlexTip
      look like they have suffered a year's worth of wear already. The main
      culprit was clearly Pele, the Hawaiian goddess who resides in Mauna
      Loa and throws the occasional tantrum of running lava down her side.
      The whole of Hawaii is formed by Pele's tantrums, and her more recent
      outbursts chewed up the body of the FlexTips (and especially the
      trekking basket) better than Lassie could. However, as can also be
      seen in the pictures, structurally they are still very much sound.
      Beat up, but ok otherwise.

      The carbide tip itself also shows some wear from all those rocks,
      volcanic and otherwise, but nothing out of the norm. While writing
      this review, I e-mailed BD to check, and they said that the tips of
      the poles are changeable, so I could replace them when worn or swap
      the Long FlexTips for short ones if I so desired. However, BD sells
      their Flex Tips for almost the same price as the lower shaft, which
      also comes with the tip (BD verified this), so for a few cents more
      one could get a new shaft and tip. As the pictures below show, the
      carbide tips are cylindrical with a hollowed-out center--like a
      crater. As long as I was careful, the tips had no trouble clawing on
      to anything I wanted to use as a pivot: slippery logs, algae-covered
      rocks in flowing streams, ice and even tree roots. As I said at the
      beginning, "Flex" Tips seems a misnomer, but flex or not, they have
      done their job with aplomb.

      <<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 2" IMAGE CAPTION = "Long FlexTips">>
      <<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 8" IMAGE CAPTION = "You can see
      the wear here on the carbide tips">>

      CONCLUSIONS

      These poles are by no means fancy: they are not the cheapest poles,
      but they are close. However, the only feature that they really lack is
      shock-absorbency. Trying out poles with this feature at the store was
      not convincing to me, as I was not sure that the pogo-stick effect
      would really be beneficial on the trail. Having said that, after using
      these poles a little longer, especially straight up and down over a
      thousand feet of switchbacks on the Muliwai trail to Waimanu, I do see
      the benefits of a shock absorbency system. Using the poles for a long
      day of backpacking, especially with a lot of elevation change, hurts
      my elbows and wrists. Thus far, however, it is not bad enough a
      problem that it is anything more than an irritation. At the price
      point, especially if it is possible to get them on sale like I did,
      the feature set of these poles is more than satisfying to me.

      The most important thing that I have yet to mention about these poles
      is that since I started using them, I have not felt a single twinge or
      untoward sensation in my knees. My balance with a big pack has
      improved dramatically--fording rivers is no longer as iffy an affair.
      These trekking poles have saved a huge amount of work for my calves,
      not to mention that knee operation a few decades down the line. There
      are a lot of other choices in the market out there, including high-end
      carbon fiber poles (half the weight or less), fancier versions that BD
      sells with elliptical shafts and an even more convenient locking
      devices; but these poles are very solid, have beautiful features like
      the Flick Locks and the extended grip, fit the budget, and get the job
      done with grace. I recommend them highly.

      <<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "IMAGE 9" IMAGE CAPTION = "On the
      Appalachian Trail">>

      THINGS I LIKE

      - Great, solid construction.
      - Very strong poles.
      - Stellar locking system.
      - Extended grips that reduce work on hilly terrain.
      - Long-lasting carbide tips provide great grip.
      - Cheap spare shafts will keep you in business till the grips go.

      THINGS I DON'T LIKE

      - Lack of shock-absorbency (but I got what I paid for).
      - Black Diamond's short, one year warranty.
      - The bottom of the hand grip could be better designed for more
      flexibility in using the extended grips.

      SIGNED

      Yi-Jien Hwa
      Asbury Theological Seminary
      March 13, 2008
      www.xanga.com/yijien



      This report was created with the BGT Report Generator.
      Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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