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Hands-on Gear Review
Black Diamond Trail Back Review
Cons: Heavier-than-average weight, not very packable, average handle comfort among pole in our review
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
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
The Trail Back (displayed below in blue) didn't score the highest overall, as seen in the cahrt below. It did impress us, however, with its price-to-performance ratio.
In the following text, we dissect the Trail Back's performance in each scoring metric.
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.
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.
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.
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, or the Leki Micro Stick.
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.
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!
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.
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork
— Ian Nicholson
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: July 15, 2016
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