Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $100
Pros: Compact, light, good value, extra foam grib below main handle, durable locking mechanism
Cons: Not very long, no longer the most compact or light poles
Best Uses: Hiking, backpacking, peak-pagging, approach climbs
The Black Diamond Trail Compact is our current top pick for a lightweight value trekking pole because it is so compact, light, and a great value. You can save $10 by going with the Black Diamond Trail Back which, if you are taller, is nice because the Trail Back is 6 inches longer. However, the Trail Back is heavier, does not collapse as small, and does not have the extended foam below the main handle. If you want a shock absorber, there is the Black Diamond Trail Compact Shock.
The main competitor is the Leki Trail Trekking Pole which is about the same weight and extends 9 inches longer but does not fold down as small (3 inches longer). We like the Black Diamond locking system more because it seems more reliable and durable but the Leki poles are a little sleeker and cost $10 less. We lean toward the Black Diamond because we like the extra grip, more compact size and and locking mechanism.
If you want the ultimate light and compact pole, check out the Black Diamond Ultra Distance which about half the weight and compacts much smaller. The Ultra Distance is $50 more expensive and does not adjust.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
This is one of the most compact trekking poles out there. It folds down to a small 23 inches and is a great value. This is one of the few trekking poles that fits in a carry on bag (most airlines limit the bag to 22 inches long so these poles fit if packed diagonally). Most other compact trekking poles are 25-26 inches at their smallest which is harder to pack in a your luggage and a little more bulky when attached to the back of a backpack. This is one of the few trekking poles we would recommend for scrambling or easy rock climbing because it is so compact.
We really like the Black Diamond locking mechanism. It is simple and durable. In our experience, the typical "twist tightening" on other poles (like Leki) breaks down a little too fast. As the poles get older, it takes more finesse to tighten them and eventually the tightening mechanism starts to fail. In our experience with the Black Diamond tightening system, this is way less likely to happen.
The wrist attachment is very soft and one of the most comfortable we tested. It has a wide piece of webbing lined with soft and breathable material. We also really like how the foam grip has an extra four inches below the main handle. This comes in handy on occasional steep terrain where you can "choke up" on the pole without having to take the time to shorten or lengthen it.
The trade off for these poles being so compact is that they are not very long. If you are over six feet tall, or like really long poles for the downhills, you may be disappointed in these. At their longest, they are not that long. I am 5' 10" and feel I don't need them any longer but just barely.
While the locking system is our favorite, it is a little clunky looking. There is something nice and streamlined about the twist lock poles like most of the Leki brand poles. That said, we gladly trade the speed and durability of Black Diamond poles for the look and design of the Leki.
There is no anti-shock device in these poles. We don't really care, but many people may want that feature. The problem with anti-shock devices is they generally make the poles longer and heavier. To get the poles back to the weight of a non-anti shock pole, you can buy a carbon fiber version but then the costs really start adding up. For example, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork pole is only an ounce lighter and not as compact for nearly double the price ($140)
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 Compact. 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!
These are ideal for trail walking and traveling. Because they are so compact, they are also great for sierra climbs and scrambles.
These are among the least expensive poles out there. The Black Diamond Trail Back is $10 less expensive but it is not as light, compact nor does it have the awesome extra foam below the handle.
— Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: April 9, 2012
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