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Hands-on Gear Review
Black Diamond Trail Back Review
Cons: Heavy, telescoping style pole is not as packable as others
Bottom line: The BD Trail Back is a great choice for hikers looking for a well priced, no-frills, workhorse pole.
The Black Diamond Trail Back is the winner of our Best Buy award. There hasn't been a whole lot of updates to the pole since last year, and naturally, it held up just fine this year. For $80, you get all of Black Diamond's fantastic pole technology, like the FlickLock lever locks, with slightly heavier materials. The aluminum shaft adds weight but creates a much beefier pole. If you're not counting ounces and need a heavy-duty pole that will last for years, look no further.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Black Diamond Trail Back is back again this year and naturally took our Best Buy award. At $80 the Trail Back is an exceptional pole for just about any use and will last you for years thanks to its durable aluminum construction and heavy-duty locking mechanisms.
Although the Trail back doesn't feature cork handles like the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork or the Leki Micro Vario Cor-Tec Ti we found its handles to be quite comfortable. We would attribute this to the ribbing that is found on them, which was unique to the rubber grips in our review. It was similar to the ribbed foam grips on the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z, which increased comfort on those handles as well. Although comparable to the REI Co-Op Passage we felt that the ribbing and overall ergonomics of the Trail Back made it more comfortable for only $10 more.
Although EVA foam below the handle of poles seems to be a standard feature these days, we liked the functionality and the texture of it, 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.
Locking Mechanism and Adjustability
The Trail Back features Black Diamond's standard plastic FlickLock technology. We've found this to be a tried and true design that lasts for miles and miles. The plastic is thick and heavy-duty, offering no doubt that it might break under all but the harshest of conditions. Some plastic mechanisms like those found on the Foxelli Carbon Fiber Poles are made of thinner plastic, and we think that the Trail Back's design performs a little better.
A newer FlickLock technology has come out since then, the FlickLock Pro, which can be found on both the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork and the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ. However, we believe that the older FlickLock is just fine for most applications, albeit a little heavier and not quite as smooth.
We also found the FlickLock mechanism to perform a little smoother and hold up better than the REI Co-Op Passage locking mechanism, which was the closest competitor to the Trail Back.
This pair of trekking poles weighs in at about 21.4 ounces, which a little heavier than average overall among aluminum telescoping poles on the market. Our other top pick for comfort, the Leki Corklite DSS Anti-shock (18 ounces) weighs about 3 ounces less, but costs considerably more at $220. It is heavier than the REI Co-Op Passage which weighs in at 19.4 ounces but not by that much, and for that weight, you get a more functional locking system and added comfort.
This model is much more massive than any of the "tent pole" style trekking poles, like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z or Leki Micro Vario Carbon, which is to be expected. While you probably won't notice the weight on trail, there are better options, such as the above listed if you're going for lightweight options. However, for the price, you get a lot of great features and durability.
We would consider the 25 inches that the Trail Back packs down to be pretty standard. Across the board of reviewed poles this year, 24-25 inches was the expected length of a telescoping style pole. Although there are shorter poles, you're not going to save much in length unless you swap over to a tent style pole. We found 25 inches to be plenty short to strap to our packs or put inside of a duffel bag. Although it's not as short as a break apart style pole like the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ, the Trail Back still offers a decent level of adjustability.
The Trail Back also packs down 2 inches smaller than the REI Co-Op Passage which came in at 27 inches. If you do want a more compact trekking pole, look at the folding designed poles like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z or the Leki Micro Vario Carbon.
Durability is where the Trail Back excelled. As an aluminum shafted, rubber handled pole, it's unlikely you'll be snapping it or taking chunks out of the handle anytime soon. The FlickLock adjustment has yet to be broken in our testing, and other models with the same adjustment system hold up fantastically. We can't say that they're unbreakable, but we think that other models would break sooner than this Best Buy.
Aluminum constructed poles are tougher than their carbon fiber counterparts, except for the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork which uses a much thicker carbon weave, though the Trail Back is still more durable. The Trail Back is more robust than other aluminum poles in our review, like the Leki Corklite DSS Antishock which featured plenty of tech; however, the anti-shock systems can break, and the Trail Back has a no-frills design that has less moving parts.
We found the Trail Back to be extremely versatile in most categories. This is thanks to its burly, long-lasting design and the ability to attach powder baskets to the tips. Other poles, like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z, offer more for lightweight backpackers and thru-hikers, but for most uses, it's hard to beat the longevity of the Trail Back.
The Trail Back comes with multiple basket sizes to accommodate a variety of mountain sports athletes from climbers, backpackers, trekkers, split boarders, and hikers. As with most three section poles, we wouldn't suggest them for backcountry skiing, as these are better for uphill rather than downhill. They pack down to a pretty average size for a telescoping pole, a little heavier than most, but for that, you get a burly aluminum construction that is bound to last for years. The Trail Back is a great, durable, no-frills pole that will last for years if taken care of properly.
While this award winner is $10 more than the REI Passage ($70), we think that they have nicer grips, better ergonomics, and a tried and true locking mechanism. You can buy nicer poles, but if you're on a budget, the Trail Back will serve you for years to come.
For $80, you get a pole that will last you a very long time. This is a prime reason of why it won our Best Buy award. We think that it's truly hard to go wrong with the Trail Back and that everyone from novices to hardcore hikers will find pleasure in using it.
— Graham Williams & Ian Nicholson
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