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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Average weight, just okay grips
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
The Black Diamond Trail Back Trekking poles win our Best Buy award because they have are close to as good and have many of the same features as poles that are $40 to $60 more expensive. For example, our Editors' Choice winner, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork, is lighter, has better grips, and scores a little higher but is almost 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. If you want a rubber grip be sure to check out the $100 Leki Quantum.
We love the FlickLock locking mechanism and nice ergonomically shaped grips with quality foam on the Trail Back. The Trail Back is a solid versatile pole that will last most people hundreds of days of enjoyment. Black Diamond improved the grips this year from a basic rubber handle to a nicely shaped EVA foam handle with a nice area to choke down on. While they weren't the nicest handles we tested, they were a little above average. The Trail Backs are a few ounces heavier than many models we tested, but again they are only two-thirds the price.
RELATED: Our complete review of trekking poles
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
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. The Black Diamond Trail Back was slightly above average overall and features a nicely shaped, smaller-than-average diameter foam grip with decent ergonomics. We thought this was an upgrade from the previous version of the Trail Back that featured a rubber grip. The Trail Back uses a similar grip on the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock ($140) but didn't feature the additional foam below the handle and obviously not the shock absorption system.
Among foam gripped trekking poles the only pole that was far nicer was the Leki Carbonlite, but that pole literally costs $100 more. Except for users with big hands, most of our testers like the Trail Back better than the Komperdell C3 Carbon Compact which had a much larger diameter and bulkier feeling grip.
A small amount of testers complained about chafing on their hands during hotter hikes, this tended be be more of a problem with rubber handled grips more than foam or to an even lesser extent, cork. We thought that the Trail Back chaffed less than the lighter weight Black Diamond Ultra Distance but still not as much as a cork gripped pole like the Leki Corklite, Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork or the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork. The Trail Back certainly has nice and above average grip comfort considering its $80 price tag, and is nicer than the similarly priced REI Traverse and there might not be poles that we think are more comfortable in its price range. If you are using your poles for more mountaineering applications or don't mind a rubber grip and are willing to spend $20 more, we do like the Leki Quantum ($100) which handles better.
The Black Diamond Trail Back weighs in at 20 ounces, which a little above average overall among aluminum telescoping poles on the market. The Trail Back is one ounce heavier than our OutdoorGearLab Top Pick, the Leki Corklite (19 oz) in which it is comparable in durability to, and it is four ounces heavier than our overall Editors' Choice award winner, the Black Diamond Carbon Cork (16 oz). Amazingly enough the Trail Back weighs the same as its cousin the 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). The Trail Back is much heavier than any of the "tent pole" style trekking poles like the Black Diamond Ultra Distance, Distance FL or Leki Micro Stick. While the Trail Back isn't an exceptionally heavy pole, it isn't a very light pole either, but it does have a lot going for it, at an excellent price. Below average weight just isn't one of those things.
The Trail Back 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 then 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.
We found the Black Diamond Trail Back 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.
There is not a whole lot we don't like about these poles, especially since Black Diamond upgraded the rubber handles to foam grips last year. The Trail Back poles are slightly heavier than average, being two ounces heavier than the similarly priced REI Traverse, but compared to the Traverse we liked the grips better on the Trail Back as well as the adjustment mechanism and think they are just plain more durable.
These poles are great for climbers, backpackers, trekkers, snowshoers, split boarders, and hikers. We wouldn't recommend these for backcountry skiing because we don't think they would last super long. You can buy four different sized baskets to put on them. 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.
At $80 they are $10 more than the REI Traverse, but have nicer grips and are a lot more durable and have an easy-to-use locking mechanism. While you can spend $40 to $60 more on poles and get even slightly nicer handles and lighter or stronger shaft sections, the Trail Back remains a solid, functional pole without all the frills, but enough to make most folks happy.
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
Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles
— Ian Nicholson
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 9, 2014
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