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Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Black Diamond Contour Elliptic > Test Report by Tom Callahan

BLACK DIAMOND CONTOUR ELLIPTIC CARBON TR
TEST SERIES BY TOM CALLAHAN
LONG-TERM REPORT
September 29, 2008

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

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Tom Callahan
EMAIL: tcallahanbgt AT yahoo DOT com
AGE: 49
LOCATION: Seattle, Washington, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 170 lb (77.10 kg)

For the past 20 years I have lived off and on in Washington State, backpacking in the Cascade Mountains. I get out regularly on day hikes and multi-day trips and usually try to include a good off trail scramble. During the winter I get out snowshoeing at every opportunity. I also enjoy glacier climbing, summiting prominent peaks like Mt. Rainier (14K ft/4K m) and Mt. Baker (10K ft/3K m). My pack weight will range from 15 - 50 lbs (7 - 23 kg) depending on the season and the length and type of trip.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Black Diamond
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.bdel.com/index.php
MSRP: US$149.95
Listed Weight: 1 lb 3 oz (536 g)
Measured Weight: 1 lb 2.8 oz (530 g)
Listed Collapsed Size: 25 in (62.5 cm) - confirmed
Listed Usable Range: 27 in (68.5 cm) to 55 in (140.0 cm) - confirmed

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The poles were shipped in a plain cardboard box. Inside the poles were packaged as they would be for retail sale with a wrap around cardboard holder. This cardboard holder was printed with product information, basic description of features and functions and color images. This makes for an appealing display compared to just loose poles with hang tags. However, this retail packaging prevents a buyer from being able to hold the poles to get a feel for the grips, weight and balance of the poles. Inside the cardboard holder was an instruction pamphlet.

Full View of Poles w/ Powder Baskets
Full View of Poles w/ Powder Baskets


These poles are made of aluminum and carbon fiber and are very light. The handle grips are made of a soft foam and the top of the handles are composed of a harder plastic. Directly below the foam grips is a grip extension composed of 5 1/4 in (13 cm) of thin, non-skid type coating on the pole.

Handle View
Handle View


The wrist straps are nylon webbing with a Nubuck foam padding. This foam padding has an extension section that covers where the two nylon straps attach to the handle, providing the full 360 deg feature. The straps are easily adjusted by pulling the wrist strap webbing to loosen or the tag end to tighten. With the strap at the correct length, a snug pull on the straps locks them in place with a friction wedge system.

The poles came with trekking baskets installed which are 1 1/2 in (4 cm) in diameter. So these are quite tiny looking and it has me wondering how much difference they really make in comparison to having no baskets at all. The poles also came packaged with powder baskets that are 4 in (10 cm) in diameter and look to be an appropriate size. The Flex Tip extends 3 in (7 1/2 cm) below the basket. The very tip is made of a different material than the poles, I'm presuming some type of durable metal.

Each pole is constructed in 3 sections which are locked in place by 2 FlickLock mechanisms. The FlickLocks work by means of a flip out arm and cam mechanism. Popping the arm out loosens the cam allowing the pole sections to slide past each other. Locking the arm down causes the cam to hold the pole section in place. The swing arm locks securely in place with a reassuring click. The cam mechanism tension is adjusted by means of an adjustment screw. This function is described well in the instruction booklet.

FlickLocks
FlickLocks


The pole sections have graduation marks printed on them every 5 cm from 100 to 135 cm. These markings are quite small and not easy to read. The numbering marks are only 2 mm (0.08 in) high. In addition to the length markings, the lower pole section has a label that indicates STOP so the pole section is not pulled all the way out. However the upper section does not have a STOP label. I intentionally pulled a pole section all the way out and it slipped back in very easily.

TRYING IT OUT

The pole sections are easily adjusted using the FlickLock mechanism. The flip out arm of this mechanism is a nice, beefy plastic that can be operated even when wearing gloves. These devices hold the pole sections very firmly in place, even when exerting strong downward pressure on the poles.

The elliptic shaft does indeed provide increased fore and aft stability as advertised. The lateral stability also looks to be quite good. When side pressure is applied, the pole flexes but does not appear even close to failing.

The sculpted foam of the handles fits my hand very well, providing a very sure and comfortable grip. The wrap around padding of the wrist straps adds to the comfort of these poles in my hand. The wrist straps adjust very easily and provide a range of fit. This is especially important for those outings when I am wearing gloves for start of the day, then pulling the gloves off as things warm up, therefore needing to tighten up the wrist straps. The grip extension composed of the non-skid type coating feels like I'm gripping sand paper and is not very comfortable at all. I am also concerned what this abrasive coating will do to my gloves.

Neither the packaging nor the instruction booklet contains information on how to change out the baskets. I was aware of the short instructional video on the Black Diamond web site. Following that guidance it was very easy to remove and replace the trekking baskets, simply applying pressure and twisting. The powder baskets were a different matter, though. I could get the powder basket nearly all of the way on by means of twisting and pressure, as demonstrated in the video. However, I could not get the powder baskets to "pop" on the last bit (this was easily done with the trekking baskets). It was just too snug. I measured the hole in the center of the powder basket and it was 14 mm (0.55 in). The hole in the trekking basket is 16 mm (0.63 in). This seems to be just enough difference to keep the powder baskets from completely seating in place. I'll continue to work on this and will provide follow up in the field report.

Baskets and Flex Tip
Baskets and Flex Tip

TESTING STRATEGY

I'll be using these for all my snow shoe and hiking outings. Due to this year's exceptionally large snow pack here in the Pacific Northwest my favorite trails will have lots of snow on them into the beginning of summer.

During the testing period I'll be out on at least 2 day hikes each month and 2 multi-day trips. All these outings will be in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. A typical day will involve 6 to 10 miles (10 to 16 km) of trail. Trails (those that are free of snow) will be a mix of mud, dirt and rock. Daily elevation gain will be around 3,000 ft (900 m). I'll also be doing a little off trail scrambling on rocky terrain during the testing period.

SUMMARY

These look like a well made and very functional pair of trekking poles. I really like their light weight and balance. The foam grip and wrist strap construction should be very comfortable, even after long days on the trail. I'm not really keen on the sand paper grip extension and am curious to see how I like that during field testing. I'm still stymied by the inability to fully seat the powder baskets. Hopefully I will be able to resolve that during the coming months of use.

This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be amended to this Initial Report in approximately two months. Please check back then for further information.

Thank you to BackpackGearTest.org and Black Diamond for the opportunity to test these trekking poles.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I used the poles for a cross country ski trip, 4 overnight trips and 2 day trips. Here's the particulars from these outings.

Cascade Mtns, Monte Cristo Rd, 17 mi (27 km) round trip (RT) cross country ski outing, 1,000 ft (300m) elevation gain carrying a day pack with 20 lbs (9 kg).

Cascade Mtns, Ollalie Lake overnight at 3,800 ft (1,200 m) followed by ridge hike to top of Granite Mtn the next day with a high point of 5,600 ft (1,700 m). Full pack of 50 lbs (23 kg). 10 miles (16 km) RT on packed snow the entire trip except the first mile out of the trailhead.

Olympic Mtns, Lena Lake overnight at 3,600 ft (1,100 m) before summit of the south Brothers peak. Carried full pack of 50 lbs (23 kg). Hiked on packed dirt trail with elevation gain of 3,000 ft (900 m) and 10 mi (16 km) RT.

Cascade Mtns, day hike up Mt Pilchuck, 3,000 ft (900m) elev gain, 8 mi (13 km) RT, packed snow entire way. Carried a day pack with 18 lbs (8 kg).

Cascade Mtns, day hike up Mt Si with 3,400 ft (1,000 m) elev gain, 8 mi (13 km) RT. Packed dirt trail the whole way. Very light pack, less than 10 lbs (5 kg). Did this as a combination rapid hike/trail run.

Two day climb of Mt Rainier. I used the poles for the portion of the climb from the Paradise Visitor Center up to Camp Muir. Elevation gain between these two points was 5,000 ft (1,500 m). I was on snow the entire time, starting out in hard, packed snow which turned to soft snow later in the day. On the return trip (after a successful summit!) I encountered mostly soft snow conditions. I carried a 50 lb (23 kg) pack on this portion of the climb.

Cascade Mtns, overnight at Melawka Lake with 4,500 ft (1,400 m) elevation gain. Carried a 50 lb (23 kg) pack, 10 mi (16 km) RT on a packed dirt and rock trail. On the next day scrambled to the base of Kaleetan Peak, an additional 2,000 ft (600 m) elevation gain on snow and rock before hiking out.

Two day climb of Mt Baker in the north Cascade Mtns. Used the poles for the trek to high camp, elevation gain of 4,000 ft (1,200 m), hiking time 2 hrs, pack weight 50 lbs (23 kg). The trail was mostly packed dirt with some snow, mud and cobble rock. Return to trailhead the next day after successful summit climb.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Prior to my first use in the field I was able to resolve the trouble I had fully seating the powder baskets. I was able to fully seat them but it took some effort. I used my workshop vice, opening the jaws enough to allow the pole tips to fit through and hold the edge of the powder baskets. I then applied significant downward pressure on the pole and the baskets clicked in and were fully seated. Seating the powder baskets required significantly more pressure than was needed to seat the trekking baskets. I was glad to have these baskets properly seated before heading out. Due to the deep and lingering snow pack here in the NW this year, I encountered plenty of snow when I began testing in mid-May.

In the field the poles met or exceeded my expectations during testing. My first outing of with poles was a great cross country ski trip to an area I usually hike. The poles worked fine as cross country ski poles. For me with a height of 5' 10" (178 cm) they were just long enough and at full extension provided the support and stability I needed. For someone taller or who likes a longer pole for cross country skiing, these poles may not be long enough.

On my backpacking trips on snow the poles provided excellent support. The poles were stiff enough to allow me to apply full pressure while wearing a loaded pack. During my trip up Granite Mtn I was off trail on steep 45 degree slopes for part of the day. The poles provided great grip on the packed snow of these slopes. I think this is from the length of the FlexTip as well as the teeth in the powder baskets.

Out on Packed Snow
Out on Packed Snow


I was equally pleased with the poles on the packed dirt and rocky trails encountered during testing. The poles provided sure support on uneven terrain. These poles were also very useful during stream crossings when I had to walk on wet, slippery rocks. On my outing where it was more of a trail run, the poles fully supported me as I plunged down the trail, even in the steepest of sections. While the poles would flex a bit, at no time did I even approach a point where I thought the poles might fail. Also, the pole sections stayed firmly locked in place, no slippage at all.

Descending from high camp on Mt Baker
Descending from high camp on Mt Baker


In addition to the sure and solid support provided by the poles, they were very comfortable to hold. The shape of the handles fit my hands very well and the neoprene grips were very comfortable even on long days on the trail.

On my trips during this testing period I have encountered a range of temperatures such that I have used the poles with thick mitts, lighter gloves and bare hands, sometimes all on the same trip. I found that the straps adjusted very easily to accommodate the different wrist thickness, depending on what I was wearing. The padding on the straps was very comfortable which was especially nice when I was not wearing gloves.

Because I traveled on varied terrain I was often adjusting the pole length. The FlickLock mechanism worked very easily, even when wearing gloves. The FlickLock mechanism held the pole sections securely in place, as noted above. I did find the length numbers stamped on the poles very difficult to read and ended up just adjusting the poles by feel to even them out rather than a specific length.

I did not like the non-skid lower grips on these poles. This grip surface was extremely rough when I initially received the poles. This roughness did soften as a I used the poles, but not to the point where these lower grips were comfortable to hold. On my very first outing with these poles I had to cross several areas of avalanche debris composed of rocks, trees and large branches. To negotiate this terrain I would go into my normal scrambling mode, carrying both poles in one hand, leaving my other hand free to grip the tree branches and rocks. In this manner, when I carry two poles in one hand, I grab the poles by the lower grip. In this instance the non-skid coating acted like sandpaper causing severe abrasion on the poles. On this day the lower grips quickly wore completely through the pole coating and down to the carbon fiber material in several places. I was really surprised how quickly this happened after such brief use of the poles in one hand. So far the lower grips have not worn down the pole shaft material such that I am concerned the strength of the poles has been compromised.

Example of Pole Abrasion
Example of Pole Abrasion


SUMMARY

I have been very pleased with these poles. The elliptical design provides very solid and sure support under varying conditions. This has been especially important while I've been on rough trails with a full pack. The grip design and weight of the poles make them very comfortable to use on long days. At the end of the field testing here are my pros and cons with these poles:

Pros: strong support, comfortable grips, easy to adjust length of upper and lower pole sections

Cons: abrasive lower grips, length graduations difficult to read, difficult to seat powder baskets.

This concludes my Field Report. The Long Term Report will be amended to this Field Report in approximately two months. Please check back then for further information.

Thank you to BackpackGearTest.org and Black Diamond for the opportunity to test these trekking poles.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During long term testing I used these poles on 6 day trips and 2 overnight backpacking trips in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Average elevation gain on all these trips was about 3,000 ft (900 m) per day. Pack weight on day trips was around 15 to 20 lbs (7 to 9 kg). On the overnight trips my pack weight was around 45 lbs (20 kg). The trails I encountered were mostly packed dirt. However on one of my overnight trips I ascended about 1,500 ft (900 m) of boulder field on the way to my high camp. While in the field I used the poles for an average of 6 hours per day.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Boulder Field Terrain
Boulder Field Terrain


The poles continued to perform well during long term testing. Whether I was on a day trip with a small pack or on an overnight with a full pack, these poles provided outstanding support on a variety of trails. While almost any pole may do well on hard packed, well established trails, when I was on boulder fields I was able to fully appreciate the strength of these poles. In this terrain I was carrying a full pack through an area where large and irregular boulders which created very difficult footing. While the poles are not visible in the picture above, it provides an example of the terrain. I was able to confidently place significant pressure on these poles to keep my balance and safely negotiate this rough terrain. I also continued to appreciate the comfortable fit of the handles on this and other trips.

As I began using these poles I set the FlickLock tension screw just to the point where it held the pole sections in place securely and still made it easy to lock in place. I found out that I had set this just a bit light because on some of my more aggressive trips with full pack I did experience a little pole slippage. The tension screw is slotted to accept either a flat head or phillips screwdriver. However I found that a screwdriver was not really necessary and with the FlickLock released, I was able to adjust the tension screw with just my fingernail. The screw would need only about a half turn to increase the tension such that it held the pole sections adequately in place and it was not difficult to close the FlickLock mechanism.

Stitching Failure
Stitching Failure

During the latter part of long term testing, on one of the poles, the stitching on the flap of wrist strap that provides full coverage came undone. I could not tell if the stitching wore away or if the stitching just came loose at a stitching endpoint. Because this occurred towards the end of long term testing I did not try to return to Black Diamond for repair. Instead I stitched it back up using a strong nylon thread I keep in my emergency repair kit. This repair has lasted through several outings now.

Stitching Repair
Stitching Repair


The problem with the abrasive lower grip, noted in the Field Report, continued through long term testing. I did very limited scrambling where I held the poles in one hand by the lower grip. Each time I did this the poles would rub and abrade, though. By the end of long term testing this lower grip had either worn smooth to the point it was not really a functional grip, or it had completely worn away the coating, down to the carbon fiber material. This wear is difficult to adequately capture in a picture and is shown below. Fortunately this continued wear has not compromised the strength of these trekking poles.

Lower Grip Wear
Lower Grip Wear


As noted in the Initial Report and the Field Report, the pole length graduation marks were very difficult to read because they are so small. During Long Term testing I gave up on setting my pole length according to these marks and set my pole lengths just by feel. This worked adequately howeever, I would have preferred to have larger, more readable marks to use to set the pole lengths.


SUMMARY

In summary I have been extremely pleased with these trekking poles. They provide outstanding support while on rough terrain and while carrying a full back pack. The elliptical design provides very stiff and strong support in the fore and aft direction. I also found these poles to provide extremely strong lateral support. The FlickLock mechanism provides a quick, easy and secure means of securing the pole sections. I much prefer this to the twist-lock mechanism I have used on other trekking poles because the FlickLocks provide a firm click when locking in place and are easier to do when wearing gloves. The hand grips of the poles fit my hand well and were very comfortable while out on the trail. The light weight of the poles also added to their comfort during the course of a long day.

I was very disappointed with the abrasive lower grips. These were not comfortable from the very start and were actually quite destructive when holding the poles together in one hand by the lower grip. I was also surprised about the stitching failure of the wrist strap material. Fortunately this was easily rectified with a 10 minute stitching repair. The small type of the pole length graduations marks was another area of disappointment. I was frustrated these were so hard to read and wished the pole length increments had been marked with a larger, more readable numbers.


CONTINUED USE

I will continue to use the Black Diamond Contour Elliptic Trekking Poles as my primary poles, for both hiking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Now that testing is completed I plan to cover the rough lower grips with tennis racket handle tape. This will provide a much more comfortable grip, especially when scrambling and holding both poles in one hand. This little bit of grip tape will add negligible weight to the trekking poles.

This concludes my Long Term Test Report. Thank you to BackpackGearTest.org and Black Diamond for the opportunity to test these trekking poles.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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