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REVISED (2) OR - Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles - Yi-Jien Hwa

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  • Yi-Jien Hwa
    Well, being a little obsessive-compulsive, and since I m still in line in the editing queue, here s another revision of the review. It s still at:
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 5, 2008
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      Well, being a little obsessive-compulsive, and since I'm still in line
      in the editing queue, here's another revision of the review.

      It's still at:


      Happy editing, oh you lucky editor you! ;)



      February 19, 2008


      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) in the last few months. I'm a
      busy seminary student, but whenever we can, my wife and I hike in
      Kentucky's Red River Gorge. We have a lot of trips planned next year,
      including leading a bunch of youth for a week-long trip, and several
      week-longs and weekends in various national parks. 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).


      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)


      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 some egronomic 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

      The thing that really attracted us to these poles is their extended
      foam grips. They have basic, egronomic 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.

      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 pole it a
      "Flex" Tip 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 = "The poles fully compacted.">>
      <<IMAGE GOES HERE. ALT TEXT = "The poles fully extended.">>


      I've trekked 85 miles (136 km) with these poles 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. Of course
      when one is descending or ascending a big slope, it is still
      worthwhile to extend or contract the poles a little, but this is far
      too much work for Joe Schmoe I-can't-decide-if-I'm-going-up-or-down
      trail. (And those Joe Schmoes of the world are indeed many). On the 10
      miles (16 km) of the Appalachian Trail we walked, and on the main
      section of the Muliwai I was intensely grateful for the simple
      brilliance of 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 them
      altogether. I for one never found them particularly necessary).This
      would give me that much more flexibility when choosing which part of
      the grip I should use for a particular slope.


      Perhaps the defining moment for these poles for me 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 had 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 our 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 is really their version of the lifetime
      warranty that other manufacturer's 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 portion of the pole is the least likely
      to break, being far from the fulcrum of the pole when extended, so
      unless the grip or the handstrap goes, there shouldn't be a problem.


      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. A bit of screwing with them 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).


      In the photos below, the trekking basket and the long carbide FlexTip
      look like they have suffered a year's worth of damage already. The
      main culprit was clearly Pele, the Hawaian goddess who resides in
      Mauna Loa and throws the occasional tantrum of running lava down her
      side, the remainder of whose tantrums chewed them up 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 similarly 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, you can replace them when worn or swap
      the Long Flex Tips for short ones if you like. 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 show, the carbide tips
      are cylindrical with a hollowed-out center--like a crater with a thin
      rim. 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.



      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 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 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.

      Appalachian Trail">>


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


      - Lack of shock-absorbency (you get what you pay 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.


      Yi-Jien Hwa
      Asbury Theological Seminary
      February 19, 2008

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