Saturday, 27 February 2010

Black Diamond Traverse ski pole review

I bought these poles a few months back to replace my old hand-me-down, early '90's, pinky/purple ski poles with their funky white baskets and handles. These old sticks had been a great gift from the darkest corner of a friend's garage but they were battered, slightly too short for me and were garnering humorous derision from my friends. With offers of working as a ski guide being made to me (initially for a week, then a whole month) I started looking around for some replacements.

There were several key requirements that needed fulfilling in my new poles:

  • Adjustability - as my skiing progresses I find myself at the top of more and more challenging terrain. The ability to shorten the poles for steep sections means they're less unwieldy when I'm flailing around. Adjustable poles would also mean that I'd only need one pair for all my winter activities and would work for my chosen shelter.
  • Adequate length - most trekking poles open up to about 140cm. Longer poles (shoulder height) are necessary for cross-country ski touring to keep a comfortable and efficient upright posture when 'kick and gliding'. At a smidge over 6 feet (184cm) tall I needed poles that would telescope out to around 155cm.
  • Wrist straps - ski touring requires a comfortable wrist/hand strap. A lot of the time you are holding and putting pressure on the straps as you propel yourself forward.
  • Strong - the poles should be strong enough to handle long days in the mountains (especially when they interface with trees, rocks, other skiers and ski racks on trains) without being heavy. I'll leave the waffer thin, ultralight carbon trekking poles until the summer, aluminium will be the material of choice here.

After some Internet research I found these 2 piece, adjustable Black Diamond Traverse ski poles that looked to fit the bill. You can check out the full specs on the Black Diamond website but suffice to say that they ticked a lot of boxes.

Black Diamond poles use FlickLock cams which are hands down, in my opinion, the easiest and securest way of adjusting poles. They are a dream to use wearing fat gloves in winter. I'm forever having to help friends adjust their 'twist and lock' adjustable poles, notoriously difficult when they get dirty or it's very cold.

FlickLock open...

...and closed.

The Traverse comes in two sizes 95-140cm and 105-155cm. I picked the longer version. Long enough for cross-country skiing, they can be shortened for snowshoesing/trekking and closed short enough to get stowed on the side of my pack if necessary.

Quality wrist straps. Y-shaped strap in a soft but durable webbing sits very comfortably under my palm. The plastic buckle adjusts quickly and easily with gloves on ensuring a snug fit whether I'm wearing just liners or full 3-layer glove system in very cold weather.

While they're not as stiff as the single piece ski poles they've replaced they have been plenty strong so far. When I turned up for my first day of ski guiding I noticed that the lead ski instructors all used Traverse poles. It was comforting to know they are the choice of the pros.

The Traverse poles come with a very comfortable grip with softer rubber areas for grip and harder material in the high wear and anchoring area for the wrist strap. The inside of the grip is fluted to save weight.

There are slim, patterned grips below the main grips. This gives you a secure grip when you have to choke-up during steep side-hilling and up-hill traverses.

The Traverse poles come supplied with Black Diamond's 100mm Powder Baskets (the grey baskets on the right in the below photo) which are great when skiing purely in deep snow in the backcountry. As I'm still spending a lot of time on groomed trails, especially locally, I switched them out to a pair of half powder baskets (on the left) off my old Black Diamond Expedition poles for now. Other baskets are available as spares. The baskets are a pressure fit and required a bit of wrestling to swap them over.

So far the Black Diamond Traverse poles have been nigh on perfect. The fact that they are very competitively priced as well is a huge bonus. I'm sure mine will take a beating during the coming months of guiding that I'll be embarking on soon. It will be a good test for them. I'll let you know if they survive.


Nielsen Brown said...

Where did you get the poles from, the UK? or elsewhere. The flicklocks on the BD poles have had many positive reviews so it is no surprise that you are happy with the poles. BD make great gear, which is why my partner still prefers the BD Betalight over any other tent I have suggested.

Joe Newton said...

Roger - I actually found these poles for sale in a specialised climbing/alpinism shop here in Bergen. Buying them here meant I didn't have to pay shipping but they were weren't as cheap as they are on the BD website though...

The FlickLocks are awesome but add quite a bit of weight over the internal 'twist and lock' cams that are used on the ultralight carbon trekking poles from other manufacturers. However Leki will be using a similar external but very trick looking cam on some of their new poles this year. I still haven't decided on a carbon trekking pole for this year yet.

I like a lot of BD gear and have my sights set on a FirstLight shelter for bad weather/higher altitude ski touring next season.

Anonymous said...


Joe Newton said...

霍斯餓 said..."Trapped in the weak environment, the wise use of the environment".

Dave Sailer said...

I'm glad I saw this. I've have and use their "Traverse" trekking poles, but they keep flickering in and out of existence. It looks like they still offer it as the "Syncline". I really like the simplicity and rigidity of two-section construction. When not using them to keep myself upright, they fill in as giagantissimo stakes for my hammock fly.

Joe Newton said...

Dave - the Syncline would make great trekking poles. They open up to 150cm so for those with pyramid shelters there would be no need to carry extenders/pole jacks. Unfortunately they'd be a pain on aircraft and as I'm doing some flying to get to some hiking this summer I'll have to choose some 3-section poles.