The Black Diamond Traverse is one of our all-time favorite backcountry ski poles, and takes home our Best Buy Award for 2020. It's a durable, aluminum two-section pole with great grips and locks. If you don't need a pole that packs small, then this pole has everything that you'll need in the backcountry, and it does it for a great price. We've been using this pole for years, banging snow off tree branches on the skin track and even taking them inbounds for pounding bump runs, and haven't run into a durability issue yet. These are solid overall poles for backcountry skiers, and they cost less than the high-end options.
Black Diamond Traverse Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Awesome primary and secondary grips, good locking mechanisms, durable
Cons: On the heavier side, doesn't pack small
Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Year after year, we are impressed by the Traverse, and that's probably because it hasn't changed that much. A comfortable grip, strong lever lock, and durable aluminum shaft sections make this a great pole for the everyday backcountry skier.
Ease of Use
The beauty of the Traverse lies in its simplicity. It features an excellent grip and handle design, with a large rounded area on top for pushing down on steep sections of the skin track. Above the forefinger of the grip, the handle creates a small hook, which is useful for everything from locking tech toepieces to lightly gripping the pole during smooth ski descents.
Below the handle, there's a large rubber secondary grip that is very useful while traversing or sidehilling up steep skin tracks. The lever lock is made of plastic, but it is thick and we've never broken one. It can be tightened by either a flathead or Phillips screwdriver, and we've also tightened them in the field with a car key and a credit card. The powder basket is wide enough to provide floatation in powder, yet flexible and easy to use when the skin track gets steep and firm.
The Traverse weighs in at 21 ounces per pair, which is on the heavy side of all backcountry ski poles. This weight can be attributed to the solid aluminum shafts. In the end, our testers thought that the heavier shafts were not too much of a big deal, considering that they are much more durable than carbon shafts.
Other poles on the market feature an aluminum top shaft, including the grip, and a carbon lower shaft. This saves weight overall and also helps keep weight down towards the tip of the pole. A pole with a lighter tip will be easier to flick and swing forward when turning, leading to lighter swing weight. Our testers noted that the Traverse has a heavy, sluggish swing weight. This used to be unnoticeable, but with all of the lightweight, carbon poles on the market today, we can now clearly feel the difference between the Traverse and more lightweight options. This only matters if you know the difference. Most backcountry skiers will feel just fine when skiing downhill with the Traverse in hand.
Our testers have been using the Traverse for years, putting them to heavy use banging snow off tree branches and scraping out kickturns when ski guiding. Among backcountry professionals, the Traverse is legendary for its durability. These things can take a beating for seasons on end and show only surface scratches.
Most of the pole's strength comes from its construction. The shafts are made from aluminum, and the plastic lever locks are low-profile and don't snag or smack against other objects too much. Even the grip and handle can take a beating and show only scratches. We have put these poles through the wringer and can attest to their multi-season durability. In some cases, excessively harsh use has led to the lower pole section becoming slightly bent. For these cases, BD sells lower pole shaft replacements.
The downside to the Traverse is its large packed size, although this is primarily an issue for splitboarders and not skiers. It collapses down to a minimum length of 37 or 41 inches, depending on the pole size chosen. The two-section telescoping design doesn't leave room for any smaller compacting.
Most backcountry skiers don't need a pole that can pack small. They use an average length pole for the ascent, a short pole for the descent, and a long pole for Nordic-style pushing and skating on long approaches or roads. The Traverse features 50 centimeters of length adjustability, which is unheard of. In the Tetons, where we need short poles for mega-steep descents, and long poles for pushing out miles of flat trail back to the parking lot, we appreciate the massive amount of length adjustment. Because the Traverse can't be compacted below about 41 inches, we don't recommend it for splitboarders who want a pole that can be stowed on the outside of a pack.
We love the Traverse's handle and grip. The grip features a comfortable rubber that is easily used by both gloves and bare hands. The handle is ergonomically shaped for pushing down against the top, and the hook feature above the forefinger of the grip is genius. We can hold the pole with a completely open hand without dropping it.
We also love the Traverse's secondary grip. It features a long, rubber patch that can accommodate an entire hand, and it also features two rubber gaskets on either end of the secondary grip that provide extra leverage to the thumb and forefinger. This secondary grip is our favorite on the market, and while it may add a few ounces to the overall design, we have come to expect nothing less from backcountry ski poles. It truly sets the standard for secondary grip design, which is important in places like the Tetons where you'll climb three or four thousand feet just to get to the top of your first ski run. Even in smaller backcountry areas, the secondary grip is awesome.
The Traverse isn't the cheapest pole in our review, but it's also far from the most expensive. It provides high-level performance at a price most skiers can afford, which is why we give it our Best Buy Award. It is hard to find a feature that the Traverse lacks. Besides its legendary durability, Black Diamond has an excellent warranty program. Should anything go wrong with your poles, BD will be there to support you and replace the poles if necessary.
The Black Diamond Traverse provides excellent performance, thoughtful features, and a time-tested design at a reasonable price, winning our Best Buy Award. It's not a lightweight pole, and it doesn't pack down very small, but in every other regard, it is a great product. For the majority of backcountry skiers who need a pole that will perform well on the ascent and descent, and need their equipment to last a long time, the Traverse is their go-to.
— Henry Feder