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Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Black Diamond Contour Elliptic > Test Report by Jennifer Estrella

Black Diamond Contour Elliptic Carbon Poles

Test Series by Jennifer Estrella

September 26, 2008

Skip to my Initial Report- May 12, 2008
Skip to my Field Report- July 16, 2008

Skip to my Long Term Report- September 26, 2008

Personal Information

Name:  Jennifer Estrella
Age:  33
Gender:  Female
Height:  5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)
Weight: 140 lb (64 kg)
Email address: jennksnowy at yahoo dot com
City, State, and Country: Orange County, California, United States

Backpacking Background

I started taking overnight backpacking trips four years ago in the Uinta Mountain Range in Utah. I found myself taking entirely too much gear. I am finding out slowly how to minimize my needs and not require extra luxuries. My previous outdoor experiences consisted of 4-wheel-drive camping in primitive areas and day hiking. I use a four season convertible tent or a three season tent for my shelter. I plan to take more trips, increase my duration, and reduce my two to three day backpack base weight down from 17 lb (8 kg).

Initial Report

May 12, 2008

Product Information

Manufacturer: Black Diamond
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Model Tested: Contour Elliptic Carbon
Manufacturer Website: www.bdel.com


Color/Material: The upper pole shaft is silver with blue and black graphics and is constructed of carbon fiber. The lower pole sections are constructed of aluminum. The wrist straps are black on the outside and gray mesh on the inside. The dual density foam hand grips are black.
Use: Trekking and snowshoe poles for all-season travel.

Size Available: Regular Collapsed size 25 in (63 cm). Regular Usable Range: 27 in-55 in (69 cm-140 cm)

Manufacturer Stated Weight: 1 lb 3 oz (536 g)

Measured Weight of Poles:

Pair: 1 lb 3 oz (536 g)
Each: 9.50 oz (269 g)

Measured Weight of Powder Baskets:
Pair: 1.40 oz (40 g)
Each: 0.70 oz (20 g)

Warranty: One year
MSRP: $149.95 USD


Poles in Packaging

 

The manufacturer indicates on their website that these poles are sleek, light and stiff. These poles are classified as a high-end, year-round trekking and snowshoe pole. They are designed with an elliptic shaft (double the fore/aft stiffness of a traditional round pole) plus the added boost of carbon fiber in the upper section. The 360-degree padded Nubuck straps and dual-density grip tops are indicated to provide all-day comfort, variable hand positioning and steep descent control. The manufacturer states that the dual FlickLocks featured on the poles offer a secure, jackrabbit-fast adjustment with zero slippage, and can be easily operated-even with gloves on.

Product Description

The Contour Elliptic Carbon Poles are very nice to look at. All my Black Diamond products that I own (climbing, hiking) have always appeared to be made of high quality materials with good craftsmanship. These poles do not differ. These are not traditional round shaped poles; the shafts are definitely elliptical in shape. When I look at the upper section of the pole at a side view they measure approximately 1 in (2.5 cm). If I rotate the pole and look at them from what would be the front only approximately 0.75 in (1.9 cm) of the pole can be seen.

The lower shafts of the poles are constructed of aluminum and are silver in color with black markings with 5 cm (2 in) increments ranging from 100 cm (39 in) to 135 cm (53 in). There is a stop indicator on this pole section. This indicates where the poles should be adjusted in each section at the maximum length. The lower section is held in place with the FlickLock mechanism. The upper portion of this section has a diameter that is 5 cm (2 in) that tapers down to 4 cm (1.6 in) near the plastic where the basket threads on to the pole.

The middle sections of the poles are aluminum that is silver in color with light blue graphics. The poles are marked in light blue to indicate the height settings of the poles. These marking begin at 100 cm (39 in) and end at 135 cm (53 in) with 5 cm (2 in) increment markings within that range. There is no stop indicator on the upper pole section. This pole section is secured in place with a FlickLock mechanism, the same as the lower pole shaft. The diameter of this pole section is 5.5 cm (2 in).

Poles extended to my liking.

The top shaft of the pole is constructed of carbon fiber fabric covered coated with epoxy. The upper 13 cm (5 in) of the shaft (just below the hand grip) is 6.75 cm (2.7 in) in diameter and has an adhesive placed on the pole that sort of reminds me of non-skid safety tape or a fine grain of sandpaper. The adhesive is black in color and I assume it is to prevent one's hands from sliding while using the section of pole below the hand grips for assents. The section of the upper below the black adhesive is 6.5 cm (2.6 in) and the color scheme is as follows: light blue fading to silver, and then fading to gray with black and white graphics. I like the color scheme of these poles; I think they look really sharp. This is probably because blue is my favorite color.

The FlickLocks are attached to the lower ends of the top and middle pole sections. This is Black Diamond's patented locking system. The FlickLock is an external camming mechanism. When the lever is closed it squeezes the pole shafts together to form a joint stronger than the tubing itself. The manufacturer recommends to open the lever on the FlickLock by pushing it open with the user's thumb. The FlickLocks are closed by pressing the lever completely closed.

The tension of the FlickLocks can be adjusted by tightening or loosening the adjustment screw. The manufacturer suggests releasing the FlickLock if the poles are going to be stored for a period of time. The FlickLocks seem slightly tight to clamp them closed and to release them. My previous set of Black Diamond poles that had FlickLocks on them seemed to get easier to close and release over time. I will not be adjusting the FlickLocks just yet, because I am hoping that they will become easier to open and close over time.

My hand placement on the grip felt natural and in a neutral position. The black foam on the grip feels dense but has a soft, velvety feel. The hand grip measures approximately 13 cm (5 in) long. The circumference of the hand grip measures 10 cm (4 in) in the middle section. The hand grip has a small molded ridge that serves as a resting place for my index finger. There is also a larger ridge towards the base of the hand grip that serves as a resting place for my pinkie finger and the ulnar side (pinkie side) of my hand. The top knob of the pole is made of a plastic material.

FlickLock open

FlickLock in the open position.

Pole grips

Pole grips and non-slip adhesive grip extenders.

The padded hand straps measure 3.5 cm (1.4 in) in width (at the widest point) and they taper toward the adjustment straps. The padded hand straps have a velvety feel on the black material that is not exposed to the hand. The inside of the padded straps have a gray mesh material. I am assuming this is to help promote some moisture wicking.

The poles have 4 mm (0.16 in) carbide tips and small plastic baskets measuring 3.81 cm (1.5 in) in diameter. The poles have Long Flex Tips which measure (from the base of the basket to the tip) 3 in (8 cm) long.

The poles were supplied with both the low-profile trekking and powder baskets. The powder baskets appear to be exactly the same as the ones that are available for sale separately. They are a multi-functional basket with a round shape. There is an inner ring of teeth on the underside for biting into the snow. The wide outer ring is for use in deep powder snow. They measure 10 cm (4 in) in diameter.

Top of powder basket

Top of powder basket.

Bottom of powder basket

Bottom of powder basket (inner ring of teeth).

Initial Impressions

I referenced the manufacturer's website prior to receiving the poles. There is some general information on the characteristics of the poles and some more detailed specifics. There is a PDF download of the instructions for use. These instructions were also accompanied with the poles I received. There is also a video clip with instructions on how to change out the baskets.

I found the website to be informative, but it did not do these quality poles any justice.

I am very impressed so far with the poles. They are light weight and are very comfortable to grip. Right now the FlickLocks are a little tight and take some effort to open and close them. Also the pole shafts are a little tight to extend and collapse them. But, this can be expected with a new product. Hopefully they just need some use and breaking in.

Right now I am not too keen on the sandpaper feel of the upper section of the pole just below the handle. I can see the intent of the manufacturer to add something that weighs less than a full grip extension to prevent the user's hands from slipping off when using this section for ascents. However, it is just so rough on my hands plus it scratched my wedding band.

 

Pole basket and tip

Pole trekking basket and tip.

Field Report

July 16, 2008

Testing Locations

During the past two months the Contour Elliptic Carbon Trekking Poles were used on two backpacking trips and two day hikes in the following locations:

San Jacinto State Park, California: This was a two day solo trip. Camp was set up in at approximately 9,000 ft (2,743 m). The high temperature for both days was around 58 F (14 C) and the low was recorded at 39 F (4 C). This was a 6.5 mi (10 km) trip. It was short because of the difficulty finding the trail.

San Bernardino National Forest, California: This was a two day backpacking trip. Camp was located at Limber Pine Bench at 9,300 ft (2,835 m).The temperatures ranged from 67 F (19 C) to 40 F (4 C) with enough wind to keep the mosquitoes away. The trip had an elevation gain of 3,680 ft (1,122 m) in 6 mi (7 km) for a total of 12 mi (19 km) for the trip.

Heading into the wilderness

Millcreek Canyon, Utah: The poles were used on a sunny 5 mi (8 km) day hike. The temperature was around 67 F (19 C). The starting elevation was recorded at 5,600 ft (1,707 m).

Neffs Canyon, Utah: This was a sunny 3 mi (5 km) day hike with lots of rattlesnakes on the trail. We had to turn around because we did not want the dogs to get bitten by the snakes. The temperature was recorded at 78 F (25 C).

Performance in the Field

During the field testing phase I had the opportunity to test the carbon poles in snow covered, wet, and dry mountainous terrain. I used both the regular trekking baskets and the powder baskets during this testing period.

I found no difficulty removing the trekking baskets and placing the powder baskets on the poles. I am familiar with the installation and removal of the baskets from already owning a set of Black Diamond trekking poles. I did not get to encounter fresh fluffy powder with the powder baskets. The snow was already settled or iced over. However, the powder basket inner ring of teeth did an excellent job of gripping on the hard packed/ice crusted snow.

The poles are stiff and they did not seem to bend while the tips were lodged in rocks or in packed snow. The FlickLocks did not slip or become loose while twisting or putting weight on the poles while they were planted in snow or on dry land. The poles have been exposed frequent twisting motions as I hiked in the snow and had to cross over rocks that had snow around their bases. I also had to put my weight on the poles (for stability) while hiking along snowy traverses.

With use the FlickLocks have become easier to release and close. There was no struggle after the first day of using the poles to open or close the FlickLocks. They are at a perfect adjustment right now.

The Long Flex Tips of the poles have lessened the amount of snagging and catching debris on the trekking basket. I actually like the longer tips than the standard tip on my other Black Diamond poles.

I have not noticed any hand fatigue or pain when using the poles. My wrist is in a neutral position when the poles are properly adjusted. I have the poles set so that my elbows are at a 90 degree angle or less while hiking. There seems to be minimal vibration with these poles. The hand grips are comfortable and I like the molded features on the grips. I think the molded grips help keep my hand from sliding and in a more anatomically correct position. The grips did become slightly wet on an overnight trip and they appeared to dry quickly. The adjustable wrist straps are comfortable and did not cause any chaffing on my hands. I can wear gloves with the poles after adjusting the wrist straps which is quite easy.

During descent I used the top plastic portion (knob) of the hand grip to have a palming hand placement. I found this hand placement to be comfortable while descending. While climbing uphill I briefly used the anti-slip grip area of the poles and I found it to be too abrasive on my hands and too uncomfortable. My gloves stick to the anti-slip grip.

I found these poles to be wonderful and ideal for my use while hiking and backpacking. The only flaw I have determined at this point is the anti-slip area that serves as a grip extension located in the upper pole section below the handle. That area just has to go. It brushes against my clothing (has put fuzzies and abrasion marks on my clothes) and is very rough on my delicate hands. It also scratches items including metal. When I hold the poles together with one hand I hear the sound of the anti-slip rubbing together. It sounds like I am sanding drywall. I would absolutely love these poles if they were without the sandpaper type material.

I have not needed to clean the poles, adjust the FlickLocks, or perform any maintenance at this point. I am able to extend the poles easily and lock/unlock the FlickLocks with no struggle.

Long Term Report

September 26, 2008

Testing Locations

During the past two months the Contour Elliptic Carbon Trekking Poles were used on two backpacking trips and one day hike in the following locations:

Mt. San Jacinto State Wilderness, California: This was a two night trip on the Marion Mountain Trail. The daytime temperature was around 80 F (27 C) with a night temperature around 55 F (13 C). There were storm clouds and thunderstorms in the area. Lucky for us the we missed the rain showers. The camp elevation was at 9,850 ft (3,000 m).

Another two night trip was taken in this same area at Buckthorn Camp. We stayed there for two nights as we climbed the peak on Saturday. The weather was great, with highs of 75 F (25 C) with a slight cooling breeze.

Whiting Ranch Regional Park, Southern California: This was a day hike of about 6 mi (10 km). There was approximately 1,200 ft (366 m) of elevation gain and loss. The trail was mostly dirt and some small rocks. This park suffered from a fire late last year and has only been open since July of 2008.

So Cal Tippy Top

Performance in the Field

During the last two months of testing the Contour Elliptic Carbon Trekking Poles were used in snow free conditions with some exposure to water when crossing streams. Mostly the trekking poles have been used on dirt trails with some rocks and on rock boulder fields.

The grips are starting to show some wear on the foam handles. The foam is starting to flake/split away in some areas. The pole baskets have some wear on the plastic from general hiking use, and this wear has no impact on the performance of the poles. The tips appear to be in good condition with no wear noted. The shafts of the poles have cosmetic scratches on the paint and the extended grip is becoming smooth in areas. I have not encountered any wear issues with the wrist straps.

I have mixed thoughts on the extended tips. Sometimes I find that they catch more easily on vegetation and get stuck in rocks more easily. I have not noticed what functionality the flex tips actually offer since I did not notice any actual flex. The tips seem to grip well, I especially noticed this on rocks and boulders. I noticed that the poles do seem to dampen hand vibration when hiking in boulder fields.

I frequently use t he top plastic portion (knob) of the poles while descending. I found that using a palmar hand placement was very comfortable and required less energy than gripping the poles. During the last two months of testing I attempted to refrain from using the anti-skid grip area of the poles while climbing uphill, just because I do not like the sandpaper feeling. The anti-skid grip still brushes against my clothing and has damaged the fabric of my wool and cotton clothing. My hands did not excessively sweat while placed on the hand grips in temperatures that I would consider to be very warm or on the verge of hot.

I still have not noticed any hand pain or soreness from my hand position while using the poles. I think they offer a good anatomical hand placement position. Plus the grips feel comfortable and I think the ridges provide a more proper hand placement. There is an indicator on the one pole of an "L" below the words "Black Diamond". I am not certain if this is to designate right and left. But, I have used each pole in both hands with no discomfort. I generally have the pole marked with the "L" in my left hand.

When using the poles on a rock outcrop to reach a mountain summit, I was very impressed that the poles would become lodged in the rocks and the FlickLocks did not open, even with twisting pressure when attempting to get the poles dislodged. The FlickLocks have not required any maintenance or adjustments during the last two months of testing. At no point did the poles slip or slide from their set position. Even while walking the poles are still easy to adjust. There really is no effort into opening and closing the FlickLocks. The only issue I have when adjusting the poles is that I am having difficulty reading the adjustment increment numbers. I think it is mostly due to the poor contrast with the numbers and the small size. I would like to see larger numbers printed on the poles and a darker color. Maybe I am just getting old. There are wear marks on the poles where I normally keep them adjusted, so that helps.

All in all I am very happy with the Contour Elliptic Carbon Trekking Poles. I would like to see this pole design in a full carbon pole or even this same set of poles available in a compact version for a more lightweight option. The poles were stiff enough to support my weight when I slid and almost toppled over a few times. They also supported my weight while hiking around in boulder fields. These poles adjust very easily and keep their set adjustment. I would like to see more durable foam grips and a substitute material for the anti-skid extension grip.

Things That Rock:

  • Stiffness of the poles
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable grip
  • The FlickLocks do not slip
  • Ease of adjustment

Things That Are So So:

  • The anti-skid grip extension needs to go
  • Grip is starting to show signs of wear

Remarks

This concludes my reporting of the Black Diamond Contour Elliptic Carbon Trekking Poles. Thank you Black Diamond and backpackgeartest.org for providing me with the opportunity to test the Contour Elliptic Carbon Poles.

 



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