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Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Black Diamond Alpine CF > Raymond Estrella > Test Report by Ray Estrella

BLACK DIAMOND ALPINE CF TREKKING POLES
TEST SERIES BY RAYMOND ESTRELLA
LONG-TERM REPORT
March 07, 2007

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

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrella@hotmail.com
AGE: 46
LOCATION: Huntington Beach California USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 210 lb (95.30 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over the state of California, and also in Washington, Minnesota, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho and Utah. I hike year-round, mostly in the Sierra Nevada, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. As I start my 4th decade of backpacking I am making the move to lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or fiancée Jenn.


INITIAL REPORT

Product Information

Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment Limited
Web site: www.blackdiamondequipment.com
Product: Alpine CF (carbon fiber) Trekking Poles
Year manufactured: 2006
MSRP: N/A
Length (compacted) measured: 63 cm (24.75 in)
Length (extended full to "stop" mark) measured: 133 cm (52.5 in)
Weight stated (pair): 17.8 oz (505 g)
Warranty (from supplied pamphlet): "We warrant for one year from purchase date and only to the original retail buyer that our products are free from defects in material and workmanship."

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Product Description

I received the Black Diamond Alpine CF Poles (hereafter referred to as the Alpines or poles) wrapped in the cardboard retail display package seen above. The sides and back of the packaging tout the wonders of the FlickLock system in three languages. Inside of the package was a six-language pamphlet describing the use and care guidelines.

I have been using Black Diamond Expeditions (with aluminum sections) for the past three years. I bought them because of the FlickLock system. I take them on every trip that snow is in the picture as I have come to trust their non-slip abilities.

The first thing I noticed after unwrapping them was how light they are. This is thanks to the carbon fiber used to make the shafts, which come in three sections that telescope out for adjustment and compaction. The two lower sections are just clear coated. The weave of the carbon fiber fabric is visible through it. (This is noticeable as the lines in the photo below.) The upper section has had silver paint and the Black Diamond name and logo applied.

The lower and middle sections have adjustment marks applied in 5 cm (1 in) increments from 100 cm to 130 cm (39 to 51 in). A "stop" is printed 1.5 cm (0.6 in) above the last mark on both sections. The carbon fiber shafts seem to be very sturdy. I have adjusted them to my normal length and flex the poles. They seem stiffer and stronger than my other poles.

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Attached to the lower ends of the top and middle pole sections are the FlickLocks. In the picture above one of them is in the open position, the other is closed. The body of the FlickLock wraps around the shaft, and when open offers little resistance. When the curved lever is rotated in to snap against the shaft a cam action tightens the body of the lock, securely holding the sections of shaft in place.

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At the top of the Alpines is a double grip made of what feels to be very high density foam or neoprene-like material. As I have large hands the grip feels a bit narrow to me, but I expect to be wearing gloves much of the time these poles are in use which may make the point moot. A lower grip is added below the anatomical upper grip. This is to allow use on a suddenly climbing section of trail where adjusting the poles shorter may not be warranted. Instead I just slip to the lower grip until that part is past, and then back to the upper grip. A soft rubber palm-cap tops the grip. This light gray rubber also goes across the front of the grip where my index fingers ride.

The wrist straps are made of black nylon exteriors with a light grey open weave material on the inside. This material is covering a thin piece of dark gray open-cell foam. The strap has been cut in a way that the strap curves around and past itself at the top to protect my wrists from the attachment straps rubbing. The straps feel very comfortable.

A knurled locking plug is in the back of the grip. The adjustment strap runs over and back under it. Lifting the strap upwards allows easy adjustment. When pressure is applied to the strap downward (like when it is in use) it holds the strap in place.

At the business end of the Alpines is a hard plastic tip with a press-in, replaceable carbide point. The carbide is concave instead of knurled at the tip. A set of small trekking baskets came with the poles. It looks like they may be made to stay on even when accessory baskets (3/4 or powder) are used.

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I will look forward to getting these poles into the field in both California and Minnesota.

This concludes the Initial Report of the Alpine CF poles. The following constitutes the first two months of use.


FIELD REPORT

Field Conditions

Minnesota November: Buffalo State Park: 34 F (1 C), winds 18 mph (29 kmh) Maplewood State Park 19 F (-7 C), Itasca State Park 24 F (-4 C). All of the trails in Minnesota tend to be packed dirt (or snow covered) in hardwood forests. Itasca has some pine trees in the mix.

California December: 20 mile (32 km) dayhike with about 1500' (460 m) of gain. Three days later was a 26.2 mile (42 km) one day climb of Mount San Jacinto (11499'/3505 m) with 5000' (1524 m) of gain.

I used the Alpine CFs in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah for one week in December. The temperatures there ranged from 5 to 28 F (-15 to -2 C). There was about 3' (1 m) of snow, with some fresh powder a couple of the days.

Observations

The first thing I did with the poles was to take them on a day-hike to Buffalo River State Park in Minnesota. One of the trails there follows an old abandoned road, the tar of which has long since deteriorated, leaving the aggregate exposed. I figured this would be as good an area as any here to test the sharpness of the carbide. There is a small rise at the beginning of it, as close to elevation gain as I can find in this flat country.

The tips bit as solidly as any poles I have used, and better than a couple. I did not encounter any skipping out from them.

I did not wear gloves and pushed at a fast enough pace to start sweating after a couple of miles (3 km). The sweat on my palms was added to by the tears I was wiping off my face due to the strong cold wind that was getting past my sunglasses. The grips of the Alpines did not get slippery from this. It is a noted improvement to the grip on my Expeditions. One thing that was very apparent is the small diameter of the grips made my hand cramp a little. While my hands are not overly large they are long and when holding the grip my fingers are touching the other side of my palm.

Another thing I noticed is the vibration that takes place as I plant the tip. The shaft vibrates like a tuning fork and I can feel it quite well. It makes no noise while this happens, indeed these are the second quietest poles I have ever used.

In Maplewood and Itasca State Parks the trails get a bit of up and down looping around or by lakes, so I got to use them more aggressively there. They worked wonderfully. Here is a picture of them leaning against a bat house near Cataract Lake.

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I took them back to California for a few big day-hikes. Again I noticed the vibration when planting on the predominately rock surfaces of the areas I hike. The poles are very strong, much stronger than the other carbon fiber trekking poles I use most of the time. While climbing through a couple of scree fields on the way to the summit of San Gorgonio I always worry that I am going to snap a pole as it slides between the large chunks of granite. But the Alpines do not budge. They also do not get their baskets ripped off like all of my other poles in these situations. I love the basket attachment used on Black Diamonds poles.

Speaking of baskets, I put the optional powder baskets on them when I went to Utah for a week of snowshoeing with my hiker-girl. (I finally found one, yes…) They work very well for packed snow, but for two days I was in Utah's famous fluffy powder that the baskets just disappeared into. I also have the optional ¾ baskets from my Black Diamond Expedition poles that I put on for one day. The ¾ baskets have almost as much surface area as the powder baskets, but are made of a stiffer material and have longer, sharper teeth on the bottom middle ring to bite into packed snow. Mine are pretty torn up from rock as these are what I use for mountaineering trips. I will undoubtedly put them on the Alpines for good once this test is over.

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This is because I love these poles in the snow. They are going to become my winter poles. The vibration does not manifest itself in snow. They are lighter and seem just as strong as the Expeditions. And with a glove on the narrow grip does not bother me as much. (The Expeditions have a narrow grip too, as do Jenn's BD Elliptical Spire poles.) I hit some iced over sections of trail and the Alpines bit into it wonderfully. While I am using them right now on all hikes for the purpose of testing, these are going to be the only winter hiking and mountaineering poles for me once the test is over.

As had been the case with my Expeditions, the FlickLock system works wonderfully. I have had no slippage during use with the Alpines. They are very easy to adjust. On my compression-nut adjusting style poles, I leave them set at the length I use them at the most to avoid the hassle of adjusting them. With the Alpine I do not mind collapsing them back down, or changing the length for even minor adjustments.

And as I mentioned earlier the straps of the Alpines are very comfortable, much more so than my Expeditions. I think Black Diamond has a winner with this design.


LONG-TERM REPORT

Field Conditions

Since the Field Report I have used the Alpines in San Jacinto State Park and Forest a few times. All have been in snow up to 2.5' (0.76 m) deep or on ice, with the occasional bare rock at the summits. Temps during use have been between 25 and 45 F (-4 and 7 C)

They were used in the San Gorgonio Wilderness in March. The temps were between 20 and 32 F ( C) on ice and snow up to 3 ft (3 m) deep.

They have also been used in Minnesota for snowshoeing where the temps have got down to a chilly -20 F ( C).

They have also been used in Utah, once on 60 in ( 2 m) of fresh snow.

Elevations have ranged from 400 to 11000 ft (100 to 3500 m)

Observations

I love these poles! I have had so many people ask me about them and marvel at their light weight. Dave is getting jealous, as he is using the same Black Diamond Expedition poles as I had used the past three seasons, which I liked very much too, these just blow them away. I have noticed that the Alpines are available at retailers and on BD's web site now. If I had to give these back I would run out and buy another pair, I like them so much.

On one hike up the Devil's Slide Trail in the San Jacinto Wilderness the Alpines made it possible to not scrub the hike. I knew that the area had received snow and thought that it should not be deep enough to need snowshoes and figured I could punch through it to the trail below. When I got to the trailhead I received a bit of a surprise. The snow on the lower, steepest third of the 9 mile (14.4 km) (one way) trail was frozen ice. As I was not planning a summit trip I had left the crampons at home. I decided to go for it and used the Black Diamond Alpines to push my self up the trail. At some points my legs were only holding me upright and all of my propulsion was coming from my arms pushing on the Alpine poles. The tips bit securely into the ice and I had no slips from them.

On a winter speed-climb of Mount San Jacinto (we had to be back in Huntington Beach by 4:30 PM) I was cranking back down the trail with my crampons off and slipped on a patch of snow-covered ice. I caught myself, but in doing so stepped very hard on the tip and basket section of the Alpine CF. I had to keep my weight on it so as not to take a fall, but I was cringing waiting to hear the "crack" of breaking carbon fiber. It pushed the basket over a couple of threads and I heard a creaking noise, but I could find no damage to the pole. I even flipped it upside down and pulled at the end to see if I could hear any cracking that would tell me of damage to no avail. Here is a picture on the way up.

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I still can not get used to the narrow grip. I have my gloves off a lot of the time as I am always hot when climbing. It really makes my hands cramp if I am using a gripping hold instead of a wrist strap supported hold. (I use the grip more in winter as it allows positive plants in crusted snow and ice.)

These poles have many thousands of frequent-flyer miles now as I have been taking them from California to Minnesota and Utah and back again every month. The baggage guys must scratch their heads at them. But I love using them. I wish that they made these in the 140 cm length that the Expeditions are offered in. It would be perfect for use with skis as these are just a bit too short for descents in fresh snow. Here is a pic of them in Utah.

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On the trip to climb San Gorgonio Peak the sun warmed the snow to the point that the return back down was quite slippery. This led to some unintentional boot-glissades that if not for the Alpines would have ended badly, or at least wetly… The snow baskets worked very well on this trip that saw some deep snow in places, as this picture attests to.

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My thanks to Black Diamond and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test these great trekking poles.

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This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.

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