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Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Big Agnes Causeway Helinox poles > Test Report by Carol Crooker

BIG AGNES PASSPORT SERIES HELINOX TREKKI
TEST SERIES BY CAROL CROOKER
LONG-TERM REPORT
December 05, 2011

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Carol Crooker
EMAIL: cmcrooker AT gmail DOT com
AGE: 52
LOCATION: Phoenix, Arizona
GENDER: f
HEIGHT: 5' 10" (1.78 m)
WEIGHT: 165 lb (74.80 kg)

For 11 years I've backpacked about 30 days each year, usually in Arizona and the western mountains on trips that lasted 3 to 6 days. Weather has varied from 107 F to a low of 0 F (42 to -18 C). My three-season base pack weight varies from about 8 to 12 pounds (4 - 5 kg) and my winter base pack weight is about 18 pounds (8 kg). I normally use a tarp for shelter. I also packraft (backpacking that includes travel by raft) and apply the same lightweight principles I use backpacking.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

IMAGE 1
Manufacturer photo.
Manufacturer: Big Agnes
Year of Manufacture: 2011
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.bigagnes.com
MSRP: US$134.95
Listed Weight: 17 oz (482 g) for the pair
Measured Weight: 17.1 oz (485 g)
Max/Min length: 57/25 in (145/64 cm)
Trekking pole boots: 0.5 oz (14 g) for the pair
Other details: shock absorber, groove lock, standard trekking basket, long foam grip, carbide tip, three sections

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The Causeway poles look like a standard set of collapsible trekking poles. They are three-section and include a shock absorber. The grip is EVA and extends more than two hand widths down the shaft. The locking mechanism appears to be a typical twist lock with one difference. There are grooves on the top pole section every 5 cm and matching grooves on the middle section. When adjusting pole length, the middle section seats into the groove on the top section to create, "positive mechanical engagement for absolute security without exposed buttons or levers." There are no grooves on the lowest section.

The poles adjust easily and the grooves make it easy to set a specific length. Another feature that is different from other adjustable poles I've used is the length markings. The middle section is labeled from 105 to 145 cm. The lower section is marked from 0 cm at the "stop" then -5 cm, -10 cm and -15 cm. These markings make it simpler to set a specific pole length (when used as a tent pole) than other poles I've used where both poles sections need to be set to the required length marking.

The pole grips have less defined lower (where the hand would rest if gripping the pole) and upper ridges (which falls between the first and second fingers). I am concerned about the smaller lower ridge because of the way I hold my poles. I don't use the more typical grip where the hand comes up through the strap. I place my hand down through the loop of the strap and rest the heel of my hand on the bottom of the strap and hold onto the bottom ridge with my thumb and forefinger. I will be checking during testing to see if the bottom ridge is defined enough to keep my hand from slipping off.

The poles came with boots on each tip. They are substantial and look like they can be used when using the poles for city walking. I will take the poles out for a spin on my neighborhood streets and sidewalks to test the boots out.

The straps are simple webbing with a section of softer material added where a hand will rest.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

The poles arrived in a cardboard sleeve with a description, specifications and instructions printed on it. The instructions included advice to keep the middle section longer than the lower section for more stiffness and to take apart the poles after wet conditions to allow the sections to dry.

Since the three pole sections are about the same length and the 0 cm mark on the lower section is right at the stop, what the first instruction means in practice is that the lower section should not be set at the 0 cm mark if a stiffer pole is desired. During testing I will note whether the poles feel stiff enough with the lower section at 0 cm.

TRYING IT OUT

The poles arrived in time for me to put them in my luggage and fly to Maine for a backpacking trip. The first time I used them was leaving the trail head at the start of a five-day trip. I will make a few comments and leave other observations for the Field Report.

The poles extended easily and felt secure once tightened. The strap and grip felt comfortable. The poles felt balanced--not too heavy at either end.

I could hear a rattle in one pole early on the first day of my trek after I changed the length. It sounded like something had come loose and was sliding around. I did not take the poles apart during the trek to investigate. After collapsing the poles at the end of the trip the rattle stopped. I am in the process of investigating when the rattle happens and will report on what I find in the Field Report. For now, I want to mention that when the poles are set at 120 cm (47 in), one pole has more play than the other. When I hold that pole by the grip and shake I hear noise like the fit is not tight. I do not hear the same noise with the other pole.

SUMMARY

The Causeway poles have a nice appearance and features but one pole sometimes has an unidentified rattle.

What I like so far:
- Grooves for adjusting length.
- 0 cm length marking on lower section.
- Full length is 145 cm (64 in) which will work well with shelters requiring longer poles.

What I don't like so far:
- Rattle in pole.
- I am concerned that the ridges on the grip are too small.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

IMAGE 4
Lots of granite on top of East Bald Pate.
June 26-30, Grafton Loop Trail in central Maine
This was a 40-mile loop hike that went up and down over seven peaks with the western half of the loop through pine forest and the eastern half through hardwood forest. The trail included dirt, rocks, slabs of granite, and a few wood or steel ladders. Elevation varied from 720 to 4170 ft (219-1271 m).
The weather was sometimes sunny and sometimes overcast with a few sprinkles thrown in. The high for the trip was around 80 F (27 C) on the first day and the low for the trip was 52 F (11 C) on the cooler fourth day of hiking. Overnight lows were also in the low 50s F (11 C).

July 16, South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona
Three mile day hike on steep, rocky trail. Elevation around 1200-1800 ft (366-549 m). Temperatures around 90 F (32 C).

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

As I mentioned in my Initial Report, I took the Causeway poles out of the packaging and set off on a five-day hike of the Grafton Loop in Maine. This trip was an excellent test of the poles. Easily over two-thirds of the hike involved uphill or downhill trekking with many very steep sections. Trail surface went from moss to dirt to rocky dirt to solid granite. The tungsten carbide tips gripped extremely well on solid granite and did just as well on the other surfaces.

IMAGE 1
Grooves to guide length adjustment.
I set the Causeway poles to 115 cm for long uphills, 120 cm for rare flat sections and less steep downhills and 125 cm for steep descents (45, 47 and 49 in). The Causeway poles were quick and easy to adjust and held their length even when I put my full weight on them. For quick climbs or descents, instead of changing pole length I shifted my hands to either the extended grip to shorten the poles or to the top of the handle to lengthen the pole. The extended grips were easy to hold onto and are a nice feature. The top of the handle has less surface area than other poles I've used but it felt comfortable for the short periods I had my hand on top.

The grip felt small in my long-fingered hands, but I rarely hold onto the grip alone (without my hand in the strap) so this did not affect performance for me.

By the end of the trip I wished for a slightly wider strap. As I mentioned in the Initial Report, I rest the heel of my hand on the straps when I hike and I put my full weight on the poles at times when descending. Wider straps would have been a little easier on my hands.

I used the poles as tent poles each night. The handles picked up a little extra mud because of the cut out design but, on the other hand this may have helped the handles stay in place in the dirt.

IMAGE 3
Pole handle.
The first day of the Grafton Loop hike was mostly uphill, it was hot and humid and I'd arisen at 3 a.m. my time after a long flight crossing three time zones. I'm sure these factors exacerbated my frustration with the shock absorbers. Still, to be on a long uphill climb where energy on every pole plant is wasted compressing the shock absorber, was frustrating. I didn't feel any benefit from the shock absorbers on the descents either. Some trekking poles have the option to disable shock absorbers but I wasn't able to do that with the Causeway poles. According to the manufacturer specifications, the shock absorbers add an ounce (28 g) of weight. My preference would be to save the weight and go without shock absorbers.

About an hour into this first trip with the Causeway poles, I shortened the poles and one pole developed a rattle. It sounded like something was loose inside. I decided to wait until after my trip to take the pole apart and investigate. Post trip, I found that something would come loose in one pole when it was shortened to 115 cm. The piece remained loose at any shorter settings. If I reset the pole to 120 cm, the piece no longer rattled unless I adjusted the pole from 115 cm to 120 cm while holding the pole upside down. In that case, I would hear the loose piece slide as I turned the pole right side up, then the piece apparently "seated" and no longer rattled around. If I shortened the pole from 115 to 120 cm upside down and then kept it upside down while removing the handle section, I could see something loose at the end of the pole (the handle end). When I kept watch as I upended this section, the piece moved a fraction of an inch and "seated" and no longer made noise. The other pole does not rattle.

IMAGE 2
Lower section length adjustment markings.
I kept the lower pole section set at 0 cm for my Grafton Loop trip. Later, for a day hike, I set the lower section at -10 cm and lengthened the top section 10 cm to compensate. The poles have a better, stiffer feel set this way.

It has been a hot summer here in the desert and I haven't been day hiking. It is finally beginning to cool down and soon I'll be able to do more pole testing locally.

SUMMARY


What I like so far:
- Grooves for adjusting length.
- 0 cm length marking on lower section (but I would suggest making it -5, 0, +5, +10 cm so that when set at 0 cm the poles are nice and stiff).
- Full length is 145 cm (64 in) which will work well with shelters requiring longer poles.

What I don't like so far:
- Rattle in one pole.
- I would prefer more defined ridges on the handle for a more secure grip.
- Straps would be more comfortable if they were wider.
- Shock absorbers add weight and waste energy for me.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

IMAGE 1
I fell on pole and broke it.
October 5-9, West Canada Lakes Wilderness in the Adirondacks in east, central New York
This was a beautiful 45 mile (72 km) loop hike in the region of the highest lakes in the Adirondacks. Elevation was about 2400 ft (730 m).
The sun was out the entire trip with a low of 34 F (1 C) and a high of about 70 F (21 C). There were multiple creek crossings and two river crossings. The trail was often very muddy but sometimes dirt covered with leaves.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The Helinox poles did their job for the first part of this journey. There were 9 creek crossings on the second day. I was able to keep my feet dry using the poles and some careful stepping or jumping from rock to rock, sometimes putting my full weight on the poles. Many parts of the trail were deep in mud and my technique was to walk on the edges where the mud was sometimes more solid and more shallow. I often had my feet on the edge but my body leaned toward the center of the trail because of thick brush and trees. I would support myself on the poles as I side stepped along.

IMAGE 2
Lengthened, it was useful for another 38 miles.
Twice a pole shortened while in use on the second day. Both times it was the tip section that did not hold. I had noticed when I adjusted the poles for trekking after having had them longer or shorter for my tarp, that it was difficult to tighten the tip section with gloves on. I could hold onto the plastic adjuster rings or the grip when tightening the upper two sections. The slippage did not occur when I had my full weight on the poles, but when I was just hiking along. For the remaining three days of the trip I carefully checked to make sure each section was tight after adjusting the poles in the morning and the poles held their length.

Disaster struck on the second day. Proud of keeping my feet dry during the 9 creek crossings that day, I decided to see how far I could rock hop across the 100 foot (30 m) wide Cedar River before I had to get my feet wet. I slipped on the second rock and fell into the shallow water, landing on one of the poles and breaking it. Dang!

I assessed the damage once I got to the other side. The pole had broken about two finger widths above the bottom of the extended grip. That was a lucky break. The Helinox pole is long enough that I could extend it to just the right length when I gripped the new top of the pole. I used the broken pole for the remaining 38 miles (61 km) of the trip by gripping the small section of handle remaining, or the pole itself. I was grateful that the pole has a large diameter just below the extended grip.

I mentioned in an earlier report that the handle of the poles was small but that I didn't mind because I rested my hand on the strap. I changed my mind on this trip; I would prefer a larger grip. Also, the seam on the strap rubbed a spot on my thumb raw. I think a slightly longer "comfort section" on the strap would have put the seam above my thumb and prevented the rubbing.

Once I returned home, I called Big Agnes to see about getting my broken pole repaired. The woman in customer service was very friendly and helpful. I sent in my broken pole and the other pole (which had the rattle I mentioned in the previous report). Big Agnes e-mailed me when they received the poles and gave me a call when the broken pole was fixed with a price quote. The price to repair the pole was a very reasonable $20. Both poles arrived back home about 2 weeks after I sent them out. Both now rattled when set at 115 cm with the lower section set at 0 cm. A 115 cm length could still be achieved by setting the mid section at 125 cm and the lower at -10 cm.

I called Big Agnes and said that I didn't mind the rattle since there was an easy fix, but wondered what the cause was. Drew at Big Agnes was very helpful. He said he'd look into it and call me back. He called me a few days later to say that all the poles he tried rattled between 115 and 110 cm. He thought it was probably part of the shock absorber and that he would report the problem to the manufacturer.

I was really pleased with the attitudes and helpfulness of the small staff at Big Agnes.

SUMMARY

IMAGE 3
Deep mud!
These are solid, three-section collapsible poles.

What I like:
- Grooves for adjusting length.
- 0 cm length marking on lower section (but I would suggest making it -5, 0, +5, +10 cm so that when set at 0 cm the poles are nice and stiff).
- Full length is 145 cm (64 in) which works well with shelters requiring longer poles.
- Friendly and helpful customer service.
- Tips grip well on rock.
- Held up on tough trails.

What I don't like:
- Rattle in poles if set to 115 cm with lower section at 0 cm.
- I would prefer a larger diameter handle with more defined ridges for a more secure grip.
- Straps would be more comfortable if they were wider and comfort section was slightly longer.
- Shock absorbers add weight and waste energy for me.

CONTINUED USE

The Causeway poles are heavier than I'd like but fill a niche in that they collapse small and extend long. I will use them in the future when I fly to a backpacking location, especially if I am using a shelter that requires longer poles.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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