Black Diamond Whippet Review
Cons: Expensive, comes as a single pole, specific use
Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment
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Our Analysis and Test Results
In the niche market of ski poles that also can be used as basic ice picks, the Whippet comes out on top thanks to its removable pick design and stellar ski touring pole performance.
Ease of Use
We love the Whippet's clean and simple design. On the skin track, the pole is a simple three-section telescoping backcountry ski pole. When needed, the ice pick attachment can be quickly screwed into place, where it can be used to add security while booting up steep snow surfaces and to hook trees on icy skin tracks in dense vegetation. On the descent, the pick provides added traction when traversing firm terrain, or potentially as a self-arrest tool.
The telescoping pole sections lock securely with Black Diamond's great FlickLock design. The only downside to this component is the tightening mechanism, which requires a small Allen key to adjust. The ice pick screws into place by hand with a confident clicking sound, and we didn't experience any play in the pick once it was attached. The pole comes with a small rubber cap that covers the screw hole for the ice pick attachment, and if the cap is lost or forgotten, snow may pack into the screw hole. This happened to one tester, who had to use water to get the snow and ice out of their screw hole before the ice pick would attach completely. However, once the pick is in place, it feels solid.
The pick provides adequate traction and security during both ascent and descent. In one steep couloir, we used it to swing into water ice below the snow to make sure we had some traction as we sideslipped through the choke. The pick penetrated ice better than other models that we tested.
The major upside to the Whippet is that it can be used as both a regular backcountry ski pole and also a light ice axe in steep terrain. When being used as a ski pole, its swing weight feels the same as any other backcountry ski pole. The ice pick adds some weight when stowed in your backpack, but you don't have to swing the weight of the pick forward every step up the mountain. This important attribute is a major improvement over past versions of this tool and over other competitors.
The pick component weighs 8 ounces, and without the pick, the pole weighs 9.6 ounces, for a combined weight of 17.6 ounces. That is heavier than any other pole in the review, but since the pick is removable, the Whippet weighs considerably less than its competitors when the pick is not in use. We'd rather carry the 8-ounce pick in our backpacks than on our poles for the ascent.
We have come to expect great durability from Black Diamond ski poles, and this version of the Whippet is no different. The pole shafts are made from strong aluminum in a three-section telescoping design, which is the strongest adjustable ski pole configuration. BD's FlickLock locking mechanisms are made of metal and didn't give us any problems during this test, or any other tests of ski and trekking poles featuring these components. There is very little plastic on the product, which also bodes well in the long run.
The ice pick components are also robust, with a large metal screw and burly twisting mechanism that easily screws by hand. The pick itself is made of steel that easily penetrated water ice in testing. We don't expect the pick to deteriorate anytime soon. One flaw in the design that could be a long-term issue is the use of a small, removable rubber plug for the screw hole in the top of the pole grip. This plug must be removed in order to screw the ice pick into place. It can easily be lost or forgotten, leading to ice and snow buildup in the screw hole, and preventing the pick from fully engaging.
With the pick removed and all sections collapsed, the Whippet packs down to a mere 68 centimeters (26.8 inches) in length. This is good compared to other poles in our review, and it is the smallest packed size of the ski pole/ ice axe hybrids. We also like the removable pick design, which seems like the best design in this category.
The pole sticks out when attached to a backpack, but it packs much smaller than other poles in our review, especially the two-section telescoping poles. It is acceptable for use while splitboarding, though splitboarders will probably want a different set of poles for most tours.
The Whippet is unique in its category because it performs just as well as other ski poles when the ice axe attachment is removed. It features the classic Black Diamond rubber grip shape and design, which we like. The strap is also very comfortable and easily adjustable. The pole has a great swing weight and is a pleasure to use both while skinning uphill and skiing downhill.
When the pick is attached, the pole grip feels the same, but the small weight of the pick is noticeable. Since the weight of the pick is above the grip, the pick acts as a counterweight to the rest of the pole, affecting the swing weight in a small way. When the terrain is steep enough to warrant the use of a whippet, we don't really feel the effects of this change in swing weight. Our minds are focused on the terrain, not our poles. We liked the fact that the pole feels comfortable enough in axe-mode that we can focus on other things, like steep skiing or climbing.
The Whippet is a niche product that will only be used for a handful of days in a ski season, for most backcountry skiers. And, to be clear, this product is designed to replace an ice axe in steep but not overly-technical climbing and ski terrain. If you have an ice axe and a pair of ski poles, you don't need this product, unless you want to save weight. For the price, you get only one pole, but we assume that this isn't a problem because you probably have other backcountry ski poles. Still, it would be cool if BD sold this paired with another pole that isn't a Whippet.
If you are in the market for a ski pole that can also replace your ice axe in steep terrain to save weight, then the Black Diamond Whippet is the best choice. For most users, this is a niche product that will be used rarely.
— Jeff Dobronyi