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Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Big Agnes Helinox Passport Poles > Test Report by Brett Haydin

BIG AGNES HELINOX PASSPORT TREKKING POLES
Test Series by Brett Haydin
Initial Report - March 24, 2012
Field Report - June 5, 2012
Long Term Report - August 8, 2012


TESTER INFORMATIONAuthor

NAME: Brett Haydin
EMAIL: bhaydin AT hotmail DOT com
AGE: 39
LOCATION: Salida, Colorado, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

I started backpacking in Wisconsin as a youth, being involved in the Boy Scouts programs. As a young adult, I worked at a summer camp leading backpacking, canoeing and mountain biking trips. I now generally take short weekend or day trips in rough, mountainous terrain, although I have extensive experience in the upper Midwest as well. I take one or two longer trips each year, where I typically carry about 40 lb (18 kg). I prefer to be prepared and comfortable, but I have taken lightweight trips as well.




Initial Report

collapsed poles
The Big Agnes Helinox Passport Trekking Poles

Product Information & Specifications

Year of Manufacture:  2012
Manufacturer: DAC (Distributed by Big Agnes, Inc.)
Manufacturer's Website:  www.bigagnes.com
MSRP: $99.95
Listed Weight (both poles): 11.2 oz (159 g)
Measured Weight: 11.2 oz (159 g)
Listed Usable Length: 49.2 in (125 cm)
Actual Usable Length: 49.2 in (125 cm)
Listed Collapsed Length: 14.9 in (38 cm)
Actual Collapsed Length: 14.9 in (38 cm)
Size Tested:
125 cm (also available in 115 cm)
Warranty: All Big Agnes products are guaranteed against manufacturing or material defect.  No stated time limit.

Product Description

The Big Agnes Helinox Passport Trekking Poles are lightweight, collapsible trekking poles intended for "moderate/arduous overnight or day trips" according to the manufacturer.  The Passport series is not adjustable, but rather comes with four segments that lock together with a "Tension Lock" that is built into the internal workings of the pole design.  There is a visible piece of cordage connecting the segments, but the cordage is static so I suspect there is a spring mechanism in there somewhere!  The image below shows a small 0.2 in (0.5 cm) button that releases the tension so the poles can be collapsed again.
release button
Release button for the Tension Lock

The shaft is made of an aluminum alloy made by DAC.  On the poles there is the Helinox logo; Helinox is a brand name of the poles and is distributed by Big Agnes.  The style number, TL125, is also printed on the pole shaft as is the DAC logo and mention that the poles are made in Korea.  The grips are ergonomically-shaped, meaning that they have grooves and shapes that naturally fit the shape of my hand.  The upper portion of the grips are smooth EVA foam that feels nice while the lower portion of the grips have a crisscross pattern.  I'll use the lower section of the grips when I need to "choke down" on the poles during uphill sections of trail.  There is a strap with a Velcro closure on one side and rubber on the other that separates the upper and lower portions of the grips and can be used to keep the poles neatly bundled when they are collapsed.  This strap has the Helinox logo and name stamped on the rubber side. The poles also have a nylon webbing wrist-strap that tapers from 0.5 to 0.9 in (1.3 to 2.3 cm).  The strap also has a soft fleece-like lining on one side that makes it comfortable.

The Passport comes with a micro-basket that measures 1.25 in (3.17 cm) across.  There is a rubber walking tip that covers the carbide tip and is easily removable. The poles do come with a storage sack that measures 16 x 5 in (40.6 x 12.7 cm).  The sack has blue ripstop nylon on the top third, with a mesh middle section and black nylon lower section.  There is a drawstring cord to keep it all together.  When the poles arrived, there was a 3-part hang tag that includes instructions on assembly as well as specific information about these poles, the Helinox brand and generic maintenance instructions.  

Initial Impressions

These poles are nice and light.  I was a little unsure of which size  poles to order, but I am glad I ordered the 125 cm (49.2 in) model.  They are the perfect size for me on flat terrain.  While they aren't adjustable, there is plenty of grip for me to move my hands down on steeper terrain.  The construction is exceptional with no visible flaws and a sleek design.  The poles feel very comfortable in my hands and I found the wrist-straps easy to adjust.  There is plenty of extra nylon webbing should I use the poles with winter gloves on.  The baskets are a bit small for winter travel, but since it is springtime, this shouldn't be too much of a concern.  Of course, the conditions I am likely to experience from now until June could see some spots of deep snow, but I won't judge these based on those conditions.  

One thing I am really excited about is just how small these poles are when they are collapsed!  The small size makes them easy to store and I won't have to worry about knocking my head on them when I store them on the side of my pack.  

Reading the Instructions

I was a little unclear about the sizing for the poles based on the website so I went to a local shop at the suggestion of a Big Agnes customer service representative.  I determined that the larger size was more appropriate for my height and size.  It was nice to have assembly instructions included in the hang tags, but I found the poles pretty intuitive to use regardless.  The maintenance of these poles should be pretty easy.  Aside from wiping them clean if they get dirty, the manufacturer recommends separating the sections and allowing the poles to air-dry.

Trying it out

I took the Passport trekking poles on a short 5 mi (8 km) hike near my home.  I did a fair amount of bushwhacking to get to the top of an unnamed peak.  The poles performed well and held up well under strain.  They did bow a little under pressure on the steep sections, but I didn't feel as though they would break.  I kept the rubber walking tip on for this trip, but I will be sure to try them with and without over the next four months!


Field Report

Field Conditions

poles
Using the poles while snowshoeing up Handies Peak
Over the past two months I have used the Passport trekking poles on two separate backpacking trips (1 and 2 nights respectively) as well as a car camping trip.  My first trip was an overnight in the San Isabel National Forest near Mt Shavano in Colorado. I was stymied by the number of trees downed by winds this past fall. I thought that if I packed in far enough I could snowboard down the mountain. Boy, was I wrong! Dragging a snowboard  along with my camping gear for 2.5 mi (4 km) wore me out and I turned around shortly after starting the following morning. Overnight temperatures barely dipped below 30 F (-1 C) with clear skies and nice views. The trail was full of snow and trees, but I did manage to find a level spot to camp in with a three-season, three-person tent at 10,600 ft (3,230 m). Hey, it was technically spring for these trips!

My second backpacking trip was a 2 night backpack into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado to Lake Como, which serves as a base camp area for several 14,000+ ft (4,270 m) peaks.  The hike in was 4 mi (6.4 km) with an additional 6 mi (9.7 km) of hiking in the basin to Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point.  We camped along the shore of Lake Como at 11,740 ft (3,578 m) in a grassy area.  The terrain ran from crushed gravel to subalpine forests to tundra and a lot of talus slopes.  We did encounter a bit of class III scrambling (intentionally) as well.  We had relatively great weather, but the second night was cut short by graupel and subfreezing temperatures.  Rather than risk a dicey climb on day three, we considered ourselves fortunate and left early.

My other trips were intended to be backpacking trips, but my partner for this hike was not so inclined to hike into the woods so I slept at the trailhead. The camping spot was snow free at an elevation of  10,500 ft ( 3,200 m). The overnight temperatures fell to 40 F (4 C). This hike involved backcountry snowboarding, and despite the snow I used the Passport poles successfully. This trip was a summit of Handies Peak, near Lake City, Colorado.


I have also used the poles on four day hikes. The hikes were anywhere between 2 and 12 mi (3.2 and 19.3 km) and all were in the Colorado Rocky Mountains in similar conditions to my other hikes. Well, the temperatures were a bit warmer than overnight temperatures!  The trails were generally well worn paths with some spots of snow here and there.

Observations

Lake Como
Packing up and heading down after a snowy late spring night at Lake Como.
For the most part I have been very pleased with the Big Agnes Helinox Passport Trekking Poles.  They are remarkably light, which has made my various hiking partners envious!  They also fold up into a small package for easy storage.  The grips are comfortable and I have not experienced any hot spots or blisters while hiking with them.  Yes, I have had that issue with other poles before!

My biggest surprise has been the durability of these poles.  I have used the poles to get me to the top of three 14,000 ft (4,270 m) peaks and frankly I couldn't be more impressed with their performance.  They have been under tremendous strain and frankly I was convinced  they were going to snap on several occasions but not so far.  In fact there are no signs of creases or other stress points.  The lowest segment is pretty scratched up on both poles from the rocks where I climb, but there is no concern there either.  

I admit I was somewhat skeptical of using poles that are not adjustable.  I have found that I adjust pole height rather frequently based on the terrain I am experiencing.  However, I have grown used to the fixed length of these poles.  While not my preference, the trade off in weight for the adjustment mechanisms is worth it to me.  I appreciate that there is a foam grip beneath the true grips that allow me to "choke down" on the poles as I see fit.  

The poles have loosened on me a few times while I have hiked so far.  The button that locks the poles in place seems to be intact so I wonder if this is just a nuance of this feature.  It is nowhere near a chronic issue at this point, but since it has happened more than once I feel it is important to mention.  I'll keep an eye on this as the testing period plays out!  

For the most part, I have not used the rubber tips.  Now that most of the snow is gone on the trails, I will likely use them more; the click click of poles is a distraction to me on hard surfaces!  I still have them and they still attach just fine.

I did use the poles in snowy conditions on a couple of hikes (Handies Peak and the Blanca/Ellingwood route).  The Handies Peak hike was full snow conditions.  In the springtime, the snow in the Colorado high country is quite firm in the mornings due to overnight freezes.  On Handies Peak, there were some sections that were much less firm and the poles slipped right through.  It was nice to know that the depth of the snow was, well deeper than the poles!  It made for a great ride down on my snowboard; 5 hours up, 1 down!  On the other hike, the snow was quickly melting away.  There was not a great freeze overnight and we post-holed quite a bit, but the poles were up to the task regardless.  


Long Term Report

Field Conditions

Over the final two months of this series, I have been on two additional overnight backpacking trips.  This brings my total to 5 nights backpacking as well as 7 other day hikes throughout the testing period. 

My first trip was a solo hike to Blue Lakes near Ouray, CO. This 9 mi (14.5 km) out-and-back hike to high alpine lakes at 11,720 ft (3,570 m) sports excellent views of Mt Sneffels. The terrain was over a good trail through subalpine forests with temperatures between 40 and 75 F (4 and 24 C). The weather was overcast at times, but the rain missed me.

My final overnight backpacking trip was to the Gunnison National Forest near Crested Butte, Colorado for an overnight with my family. Because of our young son, the hike was short at 1 mi (1.6 km) with little elevation gain. We camped at approximately 9,000 ft (2,700 m) along a creek in typical mountain terrain; rocky and in the shade of pine trees!

My day hikes included a trip to the Maroon Bells Wilderness near Aspen, Colorado for a car-camping-overnight-and-summit of North Maroon Peak at 14,014 ft (4,271 m) and several family hikes with my kids in the San Isabel National Forest. The distance of these hikes ranged from 1 - 9.5 mi (1.6 - 15 km). The hikes were in generally mild weather with no significant precipitation and temperatures comparable to my backpacking trips, although at times a bit warmer up to 90 F (32 C).

maroon bells
Hiking across a snowfield in the Maroon Bells Wilderness

Observations

I cannot express how much I really like these trekking poles.  I have been so impressed with the strength of these poles over the past four months.  Truly remarkable!  I have hiked a number of high peaks and in every instance, when I thought for sure the poles would give, they held up.  On the way down from the Maroon Bells, for example, I was exhausted and had clumsy feet.  Despite this, when I planted the poles I knew I could count on them to hold me if I stumbled.  There are a few scratches here and there, but that just gives them character.

I have had chance to use the rubber tips  and they work quite well.  In the mountains, the trail can go from soil to slick rock in an instant so having poles that can get a good grip are important.  The only problem I had with them is that the tip fell off one pole while crossing a snow field.  I like to have rubber tips because they also make it a little more quiet when hiking on hard rock surfaces. The image to the right shows me using them in the snowfield.  This was BEFORE I lost the tip!

I do like the storage bag for at-home storage.  I did not use it while out on the trail since it really isn't necessary.  I have been using a couple of different packs for day hikes and for overnights, but the poles fit in them easily because of the small size.  I did not have any further issues with the locking mechanism during this phase of the test.  Perhaps the issues I had were just user error.  The grips, straps and baskets are in great shape still.  

Summary

These are some of the best trekking poles I have used so far.  Despite a lost rubber tip (which I have replaced already) I plan to use these poles exclusively from now on.  

Pros: Remarkably durable, lightweight, easy to store.

Cons: Only a minor issue with the locking mechanism failing early on.

This concludes my test series.  I would like to send my sincere thanks to both
Big Agnes for their generosity and to BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to be a part of this series.




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