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Backcountry Access Scepter Carbon Review

Our favorite backcountry ski pole, combining low weight with great, useful features.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $120 List | $102.49 at Amazon
Pros:  Scraper handle, great locking mechanism, lightweight
Cons:  Secondary grip wears off, doesn't pack small
Manufacturer:   Backcountry Access
By Henry Feder ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 20, 2020
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77
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 10
  • Ease of use - 35% 10
  • Weight - 20% 6
  • Durability - 15% 7
  • Packed Size - 15% 3
  • Comfort - 15% 10

Our Verdict

Backcountry Access has long been an industry leader in backcountry skiing gear, and the Scepter Carbon is another fine contribution, winning our Editors' Choice for backcountry ski poles. It is designed to make your day in the backcountry as easy as possible, with a comfortable grip, scraper to keep snow off your topsheet, and a great powder basket. The scraper handle is unique among backcountry ski poles, and once you use it, you'll wonder how you ever toured without it. The lever locks are easy to operate at transitions, and securely fasten your poles to the desired length. The only downsides to this pole are the large minimum packed size and secondary grip that wears off easily with enough use. The latter issue is not a deal-breaker, but the large packed size makes this pole useless for splitboarders. If you are a skier, this is the best backcountry ski pole money can buy, and it comes at a reasonable price.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

We loved the Scepter's grip, which is ergonomic and features a clever scraper. This grip makes the pole one of the easiest to use and most comfortable to hold in our test. The pole doesn't compact very small, so it's best for skiers. Splitboarders should seek other models that are either more collapsible or foldable. Weight and durability are about average for the group of poles that we tested.

Performance Comparison


The BCA Scepter Carbon in action on the skintrack.
The BCA Scepter Carbon in action on the skintrack.

Ease of Use


The Scepter is a well-engineered backcountry ski pole with many thoughtful design features that make a day of backcountry ski as easy as possible. What sets it apart from all of the other poles in our test is the grip. The grip features a unique design with a large flat scraper on top, helping skiers keep their topsheets free of snow when skinning.


The grip easily hooks onto heel risers, flipping them up and down without much thought. The baskets are stiff enough for this task as well, but the grip is perfect for it. The baskets are a good size and stiffness, large and stiff enough to provide floatation while skinning through deep powder and yet soft enough to bend with the slope angle on firm or icy surfaces. The locking mechanisms are good, but not great. They are easy to operate with a gloved hand, and the mechanism also tightens by hand in the field for micro-adjustments if slipping is encountered. However, the locking lever protrudes slightly, whereas other models in our review feature lever locks that clamp down flush to the pole surface.

The Scepter's handle is designed to provide a scraper for clearing snow off your topsheets when skinning uphill. It also features a very comfortable grip.
The Scepter's handle is designed to provide a scraper for clearing snow off your topsheets when skinning uphill. It also features a very comfortable grip.

Backcountry ski poles are relatively simple tools, compared to skis, tech bindings, avalanche transceivers, and backpacks. We appreciated the Scepter Carbon's simple elegance and low-frills design. There are very few moving parts that can break or cause catastrophic failure. BCA used a simple tweak in standard grip design to produce a real winner here.

The Scepter's powder baskets are perfect for floatation in snow and also for flicking heel risers up and down.
The Scepter's powder baskets are perfect for floatation in snow and also for flicking heel risers up and down.

Weight


The Scepter Carbon is a relatively lightweight ski pole. The lower shaft of the adjustable pole is made of carbon, and the upper portion is made of aluminum. BCA also makes the Scepter in a full aluminum build at a lower price, but weighing several ounces more.


Weighing in at 19 ounces, the Scepter Carbon weighs about as much as other high-performance backcountry ski poles. In ski poles, overall weight is somewhat important, and swing weight is really what skiers notice. When we ski, we use our ski poles to balance our body weight, essentially using them as outriggers to keep our upper body stable. The carbon lower shaft helps reduce the weight of the lower section of the pole, where the basket often prevents the pole from swinging around quickly in response to the skier's turn. We liked the Scepter's light swing weight, both while skiing and skinning.

Durability


The Scepter Carbon suffered no major damage during our harsh testing, with the only noteworthy durability issue being the secondary grip. This is made from a spray-on material that wore off throughout our testing period. We were able to live without this feature and it was not a major failure, but it's worth noting. BCA uses this material probably because it helps keep the pole's weight down. We feel that having a durable and useful secondary grip is more important to a backcountry ski pole than saving a couple of extra ounces.


The carbon shaft didn't show signs of damage, but carbon is generally a weaker material than aluminum. If you bang your poles around, clearing snow off your boots and whacking the snow off your skis, then you might consider an aluminum pole instead.

The BCA Scepter Carbon features a handle with a scraper edge for clearing glopped snow off a skin.
The BCA Scepter Carbon features a handle with a scraper edge for clearing glopped snow off a skin.

Packed Size


The Scepter is a two-section telescoping pole that does not pack down to a very small size. For most backcountry skiers, this isn't a problem, but it will generally prevent splitboarders from using the pole, and it makes it harder to use this pole as a trekking pole in the summer. It also adds difficulty when packing the pole in a suitcase for travel.


BCA makes a three-piece folding pole called the Scepter 4S, designed for splitboarding and four-season use, but it does not have the same handle as the two-section Scepter Carbon, and won't have the same performance attributes.

Some of our favorite backcountry ski poles don't collapse very small  emphasizing that this metric isn't all that important for most skiers. However  it is a crucial aspect for most splitboarders.
Some of our favorite backcountry ski poles don't collapse very small, emphasizing that this metric isn't all that important for most skiers. However, it is a crucial aspect for most splitboarders.

Comfort


We found the Scepter Carbon to be a very comfortable ski pole to use all day. The grip design is truly amazing, contouring to the hand perfectly and allowing a very light grip on the pole, even without a strap as backup. The rubber is also very soft and comfortable on an ungloved hand for skinning on warm days.


Our only complaint in regards to comfort is the Scepter's secondary grip. Whereas other models in our comparison feature rubber or foam grips below the main grip, the Scepter uses a spray-on material that grips just fine, but doesn't insulate your hand from the aluminum upper section of the pole. This is notable on the coldest days in the Rockies where choking up on a pole without insulation from the metal can lead to cold hands.

The Scepter Carbon's grip proved incredibly comfortable on the skin track  shown here in the Lake Tahoe backcountry.
The Scepter Carbon's grip proved incredibly comfortable on the skin track, shown here in the Lake Tahoe backcountry.

Value


The Scepter Carbon is relatively inexpensive compared to other models on the market, and with its high performance, our testers believe this product is worth the money for any dedicated backcountry skier. Much more expensive poles didn't score as well in our comparison. Furthermore, the unique grip that was clearly engineered by backcountry skiers is unique in the backcountry ski pole market. There are cheaper options out there, but for the features and design, the Scepter is a great value. We have had some issues with the BCA warranty program in the past, especially regarding their carbon products, but the performance of this pole is so good that we don't consider that a deal-breaker.

Conclusion


The BCA Scepter Carbon is our favorite backcountry ski pole on the market today. The grip and handle are what sets it apart from the pack, and the rest of the ski pole performs highly as well. It's also relatively lightweight and durable, but it doesn't pack down small enough to be used by splitboarders. It also comes at a great value. If we have to recommend one pole to all of our backcountry skiing friends, this is our go-to.

Sunset laps with the BCA Scepter in hand.
Sunset laps with the BCA Scepter in hand.


Henry Feder