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Hands-on Gear Review

Black Diamond Trail Back Review


Trekking Poles

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Best Buy Award
  • Currently 4.2/5
Overall avg rating 4.2 of 5 based on 2 reviews. Most recent review: July 15, 2016
Price:   $80 List | $80 online  —  Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Excellent locking mechanism, very durable, the ribs on the rubber handle increase comfort and add a more secure feel
Cons:  Heavier-than-average weight, not very packable, average handle comfort among pole in our review
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond

Overview

The Black Diamond Trail Back trekking poles win our Best Buy award, as they have many of the same features as poles that are more than twice their price; they are also comparable in many ways. For example, our Editors' Choice winner, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork, scores only little higher in every category, but is double the price. If you are looking for a solid pole without having to spend a lot of money, look no further.

If you are looking for a similarly performing and priced pole that has a shock mechanism, check out the REI Traverse Shocklight. The Trail Back features a very dependable and easy-to-use FlickLock adjustment mechanism, surprising comfortable rubber grips with nicely textured foam for "choking down", and overall, they offer above average durability. They aren't as light nor as packable as many options, but they are two-thirds to one-half the price. The bottom line is you can buy a better pole, but you can't find a superior pole for a better price.

RELATED: Our complete review of trekking poles

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Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings

Review by:
Ian Nicholson
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Saturday

Performance Comparison


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Dan Whitmore getting a feel for his Black Diamond Trail poles and the glacier fed waters of the North Fork Bridge creek with Mt. Goode and Storm King peak looming above, North Cascades National Park, WA.

Comfort


The comfort category of our performance comparison includes both the grip and the straps and how nicely they felt day after days of extensive use. This pair was slightly above average overall and feature a nicely shaped, smaller-than-average diameter ribbed rubber grip with basic, but pleasant ergonomics. These ribs slightly deform when you hang on to them, both increasing comfort, while also providing a better grip. We thought this was an upgrade from the previous version of the Trail Back, which featured a very plain rubber grip.
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Showing the handle of the Black Diamond Trail Back pole. The Trail Back features a ribbed rubber handle that was above average among models featuring rubber handles but in the middle of the road compared with other poles in our review. We do think the ribs which slightly deformed when held; added to the poles all day comfort and also felt they increased our grip.

We really liked the functionality and the texture of the EVA foam, featured just below the rubber handle. It was great when using these poles on uneven or off-trail terrain or while on long traverses on snow. Among poles in our review, this model featured one of the more comfortable rubber grips in our review and were comparable to some foam grips, but in general, were pretty average when compared to all the poles we tested. We thought this contender was comparable in comfort to the Black Diamond Distance Z and the Leki Cristallo.
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Black Diamond Trail Back pole has a lot going for it, but being super light weight isn't one of those things. At 20 ounces, it's not the heaviest pole, but its far from the lightest.

Weight


This pair of trekking poles weighs in at 20 ounces, which a little heavier than average overall among aluminum telescoping poles on the market. This pair is one ounce heavier than our OutdoorGearLab Top Pick, the Leki Corklite (19 oz), which is also comparable in durability. However, it is three ounces heavier (so some, but not heaps) than our overall Editors' Choice award winner, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork (17 oz). Amazingly enough, the Trail Back weighs the same as its cousin, the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock, (the shock absorbing version of the same pole) and is 2.5 ounces heavier than the similarly priced REI Traverse (also $80 and 17.5 ounces).

This model is much heavier than any of the "tent pole" style trekking poles, like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z or Leki Micro Vario Carbon. While the Trail Back isn't an exceptionally heavy pole, it isn't a very light pole either. In the end, it does have a lot going for it considering its price; however, a below average weight just isn't one of those things.
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Telescoping poles like Black Diamond Trail Back and Alpine Carbon Cork break down to around 24-26" while the folding/tent style poles often collapse 9-11 inches shorter (the three models on the right) making them an obvious choice for climbers, or other activities where your pole must be carried on your back for longer periods of time.

Packability


This competitor packs down to 64 cm or just over 25" in length, which is just barely above average among telescoping style trekking poles and around 7-12" longer than the folding tent pole style poles. Don't let this category be important to you for no reason. While at first, it might appear to be a bummer that the Trail Back poles don't collapse any shorter, they do collapse plenty short enough to strap to the side of a backpack or tuck into an average sized duffle bag or suitcase. If you do want a more compact trekking pole, look at the folding designed poles like the Black Diamond Distance Z or Distance Carbon Z, the Leki Micro Stick, or Raidlight Foldable Trail Poles.
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Despite its $80 price tag after using the Black Diamond Trail Back pole over 100 days (including several off-trail travel days) we think the Trail Back is one of the tougher poles on the market.

Durability


We found this contender to be pretty darn durable. The FlickLock adjustment mechanism is a time proven design that's super easy to adjust and is just plain bomber. The shafts are tough and should stand up to hundreds of days of hiking, backpacking, and mountaineering. While you could certainly break these, we think several other poles we tested are likely to break first.
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Black Diamond Trail Back pole offer several basket options making it a good choice for someone who might want it to use it from everything from day hiking to snow shoeing.

Best Application


Complete with four different sized baskets to put on, these poles are great for climbers, backpackers, trekkers, snowshoers, split boarders, and hikers. We wouldn't recommend them for backcountry skiing, because we don't think they would last super long. They pack down pretty small and are just a good inexpensive, all-around pole. You can spend $30 more and get a shock absorbing version of the Trail Back called the Black Diamond Trail Shock that is also one of the more reasonably priced anti-shock poles.

Value and the Bottom Line


At $80, they are $10 more than the REI Traverse, but the Trail Back have nicer grips, are a lot more durable, and have an easier to use locking mechanism. While you can spend $40 to $80 more on poles and get nicer handles, lighter weight, or better packability, the Trail Back remains a solid and dependable pole at a great price. If you like the Trail Back, but wish it was a little lighter and more packable we think you'd probably find it worth it to get the 12 ounce Black Diamond Distance Z, which is a pretty rad pole and only $20 more.

Chris McNamara's Story
After getting a severe leg bruise, I had to hike to the top of El Capitan. Luckily, as we were driving into Yosemite Valley, the Yosemite Mountain Shop was open. I asked for their cheapest poles and they gave me the Trail. They literally saved my legs that day. I was able to put a lot of weight on my arms on the hike up. Then, when we rappelled the face of El Capitan to rig ropes for filming Steve Wampler's climb, these poles fit easily off to the side of my harness without getting caught in the ropes (the extra shortness was key). When we got to the base of El Capitan, I extended the poles again and used them to walk down to the car. I liked them so much I took them on my next El Capitan climb - something I had never done before. Because they are so compact, I could clip them under the haul bag with out them getting too tangled. When it came time for the East Ledges descent, out came the poles and saved my knees again!

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Black Diamond Trail Compact trekking poles getting ready to the East Ledges descent on El Capitan. Half Dome in the background.

Chris McNamara's Review
This is currently one of the best selling designs out there. It is super compact, light, and a great value (there are not many options that are cheaper). While I like it, I overall prefer the Black Diamond Trail Trekking Pole because the Trail Back is heavier, does not collapse as small, and does not have the extended foam below the main handle. However, if you are taller, you may want the Trail Back as it is six inches taller than the Trail. The main competitor is the Leki Quantum, which is about the same weight, extends longer but does not fold down quite as small. They are the same price. We like the Black Diamond locking system over the Leki because it seems more reliable and durable. That said, the Leki poles are a little sleeker and lighter. We lean toward the Black Diamond because of the locking mechanism but if you are tall or like longer poles, go with the Leki.

Other Versions


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Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork
  • Cost- $160.00 ($80 more than the Trail Back)
  • Weight per pair- 1 lb 1.2oz (.8 oz less than the Trail Back)
  • Usable Length- 25-51 inches (shorter range than the Trail Back by 3 inches)
  • Collapsed Length- 25 inches (same as the Trail Back)
  • 3 section poles
  • Editors' Choice Award winner

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Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork
  • Cost- $120.00 ($40 more than the Trail Back)
  • Weight per pair- 1lb 2oz (same as the Trail Back)
  • Usable Length- 29-55 inches (lowest setting is 3 inches higher than the Trail Back)
  • Collapsed Length- 29 inches (4 inches longer than the Trail Back)
  • Has a nicer, yet angled, cork grip
  • Top Pick for general trekking, because it has one of the nicest overall grips in our review

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Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles
  • Cost- $100.00 ($20 more than the Trail Back)
  • Weight per pair- 1 lb 1 oz (1 oz less than the Trail Back)
  • Usable Length- 25-55 inches (same as the Trail Back)
  • Collapsed Length- 25 inches (same as the Trail Back)
  • Has a nicer grip that extends down longer than the Tail Back
Ian Nicholson

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: July 15, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (5.0)

100% of 1 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
2 Total Ratings
5 star: 50%  (1)
4 star: 50%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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   Jul 15, 2016 - 05:47pm
bcperry15 · Backpacker · St. Louis
These are the best value trekking poles on the market. They are cheap and bulletproof. Black diamond's flick locks work like a champ, and while they're not the lightest poles out there, they're durable and won't lighten your wallet too much. Excellent budget friendly option for anyone.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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