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Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Black Diamond Spire > Gail Staisil > Test Report by Gail Staisil
Test Series by: Gail Staisil, Marquette, Michigan
Updated: March 6, 2007
According to the manufacturer, the Black Diamond Spire Poles have the highest fore/aft stiffness on the market that provides unrelenting support on technical climbs and descents. Features include non-rotating elliptical-shaped shafts and immediate engagement with the Auto Lock Binary System. An elliptical-shaped FlickLock provides easy adjustments on the elliptical-shaped poles. Other features include15 degree corrective angles on the hand grips, dual-density materials on the top knobs, non-slip foam grips with extensions, padded webbing that encircles the entire hand, Short Flex Tips and low-profile baskets. The poles are available in both compact and regular sizes.
When the Black Diamond Spire Trekking Poles arrived at my place, my first thoughts related to the observation that they presented a modernistic-design approach to trekking poles. Even though I knew that the shafts on the three-section poles would be elliptically-shaped, I was surprised that the appearance was so cool and innovative looking. I can't help but think that the matte-silver finish with stylish graphics on the poles also led to my impression. The poles appear to be beautifully finished and there were no flaws to the naked eye.
I was especially interested in some of the features of the poles that I wasn't previously familiar with. The FlickLock adjustment feature on each of the poles was new to me. I have only used the more common types of trekking poles that secure with a twist. The poles arrived with the FlickLocks or levers in the open position. These levers (one on each pole) are located near the bottom edges of the top pole sections and extend about 1.5 in (3.81 cm) to the side of each pole. The end of each lever has a series of Braille-like raised dots that act to prevent slippage when force is exerted on the levers with my thumb.
Before closing the levers, the middle shaft sections of the poles can be adjusted to the desired length just by extending or sliding them. There are centimeter increments listed in graphics on each pole in 5 cm (1.97 in) markings. The markings range from 140 cm (55 in) to 110 cm (43.31 in). After experimenting with the desired length, I closed the lever on each pole. It took a bit of force but I knew they were closed when I heard the final snap sound on each pole. After playing with the levers several times, they seemed to close easier than the first attempt. Maybe I was just more confident in closing them. There is an adjustment screw located on the end of each lever. Those screws were pre-adjusted in the factory but they can be re-adjusted if the tension is too loose or too tight with a quarter or half turn to the screws.
Auto Lock Binary System
When extended, the lower portion of the trekking poles lock in place immediately by an Auto Lock Binary System. There is only one location or hole where it locks located at the top end of the lower sections. In other words, the lower portions of the poles can only be locked in one position when they are extended. To unlock the pole sections, I have to depress the clear soft plastic lock buttons that encase the poles.
The shafts of the aluminum poles are formed in an elliptical shape. The side profile measures about 0.94 in (2.39 cm) while the front profile measures 0.56 in (1.42 cm). This feature reportedly allows the poles to have a tremendous fore/aft stiffness. The lower portions of the poles are also elliptically shaped but they taper down and change to round-shaped sections just above the area where the baskets are screwed in place.
Hand Grips/Padded Wrist Straps
The top sections of the poles have non-slip foam rubber-type material extending almost 12 in (30.48 cm) in length down the poles. The handle portions are about 6 in (15.24 cm) in length and they are canted at 15 degree angles from the rest of the poles. Below the canted portions, the extended portions have the same non-slip material with four indentations for grip.
The top knobs of the handles are made of dual-density materials. The extreme top portions and most of the sides are made out of a softer material and there are harder plastic inserts that cover the area where the webbing for the wrist straps are inserted into the poles.
The padding on the wrist straps encircles my hands completely. Although the webbing allows the straps to be adjusted larger by extending a portion of plain webbing (without the padding), they cannot be adjusted smaller. Being that my hands are on the small side with the largest area of circumference measuring about 8 in (20 cm), the padded strap is very loose around my bare hands. There is quite a bit of open space so even bulky gloves and mittens will likely fit.
The baskets on the poles are very small or low profile. They measure 1.5 in ( 3.81 cm) in diameter. It appears that the baskets are twisted in place. With the basket attachments being round it would be interesting to find out if larger baskets for deep snow, could be used on these poles to make them more versatile. The tips of the trekking poles are encased in Short Flex Tips. The flexible rubber tips encase short carbide tips for grip on rock or ice.
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Black Diamond Spire Poles
January 8, 2007
Locations and Conditions
During the last two months, I've had the opportunity to test the Black Diamond Spire Poles on many types of outings. They included a three-day winter backpacking trip to the Pigeon River State Forest in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and numerous day hikes and ski walking sessions in my local area. Locations ranged from and included conifer and deciduous forest communities with many rock outcroppings to bottom lands and swamps to lakeshores. Elevation ranged from 600 ft (183 m) to over 1350 ft (411 m).
Conditions for the backpacking trip included approximately a foot (12 in/30 cm) of freshly fallen snow, mostly cloudy, with temps varying from 18 F (-8 C) to 37 F (3 C). However, the average temperature for all three days of this trip hovered around 25 F (-4 C). High humidity ranged from 85 percent upward to100 percent. The conditions for day treks and ski trainings were similar. Average temperatures for the entire field period were above average with temperatures rarely reaching below 0 F(-18 C) at night and often reaching above 32 F (0 C) during the day. Overall, it has been very cool, and damp with very little sun and below average snowfall (57 in/145 cm so far this season).
Ease of Use
I have been surprised how easy it is to adjust the poles in the field. The elliptical-shaped aluminum shafts make it easy to extend the pole sections. They can only slide vertically down the pole shafts as they don't rotate or twist horizontally at the same time. That makes the process so much easier than twist-lock type poles.
The FlickLocks are easy to open with the pressure of the palm of my hand. The centimeter markings on the pole make it easy to adjust them to the right length every time. I often have to closely look at the centimeter markings as the tiny metallic gold graphics are hard to see on the matte metallic silver shafts of the poles. Each FlickLock lever closes easily with my thumb. The coldest weather that I have made adjustments to the poles in was about 20 F (-7 C) and so far there hasn't been any difficulty even while wearing fleece gloves.
When they are fully extended, the lower sections of the poles automatically lock in place with the Auto-Lock Binary System. I really like the fact that there isn't any calculation needed for the lower section adjustment. In the past, I have used poles with both middle and lower sections that locked with a twist-lock feature. I was forever trying to get my set of poles adjusted evenly in both sections and oftentimes they weren't exactly alike.
I have found that the easiest way to adjust the padded wrist straps is to insert my hand into one of them and then take the opposite hand to pull on the adjustment webbing cord. I need to pull the cord flush with the top knob as that positions my hand best to align with the finger grooves on the handles
I have been extremely impressed with the performance of the Black Diamond Spire Poles. Once the FlickLocks on the poles have been adjusted, I haven't experienced any slipping of the sections of the poles. This is remarkable because I have used them for many ski walking sessions where I planted the poles rather aggressively as I repeatedly climbed the height of the local ski mountain during training sessions. The stiffness of the poles most likely reduced my energy waste during these workouts. The easy adjustability of the poles has been a bonus for these sessions as I frequently needed to change the pole lengths between repeated intervals up and down the small but steep mountain (elevation is 1357 ft /414 m and has 600 ft/183 m of vertical climb). The Short Flex Tips on the bottom of the poles dug into the terrain and grabbed nicely. Likewise the swing weight of the poles seems to be very balanced. Since the narrowest or smallest part of the elliptical shafts are the fully extended and tapered lower sections of the poles, I would surmise that it has a great deal to do with the efficiency of the swing weight. Although it's fair to say that most poles are the heaviest at the top, the lower sections on a lot of poles are still heavy if a person selects to not extend much of the lower section. With only the fully-extended position option on the Spire Poles, it cuts swing weight dramatically. The adjustability all lies in the middle section. Very cool indeed.
The Spire Poles have also worked nicely during my backpacking trip especially when negotiating navigation through swamp and other wet areas where balancing on hummocks was critical to staying dry. They were also used in areas of dense brush and they smoothly infiltrated their way through the vegetation without getting entangled. Overall, they have provided good balance while bushwhacking.
I have also stowed the poles in my backpack's side pockets and their collapsed length fit perfectly and lay neatly without rotating most likely due to the elliptical-shaped shafts. I used my Granite Gear Stratus Latitude Pack for this trip (4800 cu in/79 L).
During the backpacking trip to the Pigeon River State Forest, I also used the poles layered in tandem to support the center peak of my GoLite Hex pyramid shelter. I normally wrap and tie a thin length of cord around two pole sections for a couple of feet so that they lay staggered and provide enough length to reach the peak of my tarp tent. As a creature of habit, I "guesstimated" the length and tried to put the lengthened "pole" in place. It was obvious that I miscalculated the desired length, so I decided to release the FlickLock on one of the poles to make the overall length longer. I soon realized that I should of opened the Flicklock before I wrapped the length of cord around them (Duh!). The easiest thing to do was to unwrap the cord and start over. That will be a mistake I will only make once and it certainly isn't a negative, just a learning experience.
The foam handles of the poles have been both extremely comfortable and non-slippery. I have used them both with and without gloves and sometimes with my hands partially covered by sleeves that have thumb holes. Even though the poles aren't spring-loaded I haven't noticed any fatigue or soreness in my hands or arms while hiking on rocky terrain. In addition, the 15-degree corrective angle of the poles has really made a difference. My wrists no longer seem to fatigue with my wrists now being in a more neutral position.
For deeper snow, I will need to substitute the low-profile baskets for powder baskets. It hasn't been an issue with less than a foot (30 cm) of snow on the ground, but some of my trips in the long term period should have several feet (1 m) of snow. I recently e-mailed Black Diamond to inquire if the two accessory baskets that they offer will fit the poles (three-quarter baskets and powder baskets).
During the field test period, there hasn't been any issues with the durability or maintenance of the poles. The tension on the FlickLocks are operating perfectly so I haven't had to make any adjustments to the setscrews. After especially wet or muddy days, I have wiped off the poles, baskets and flex tips with a cloth. Because I use them so frequently, I currently store them in my vehicle in the collapsed position with the FlickLocks in the open position as recommended by the manufacturer.
So Far, So Good
I've been quite impressed with the performance of the Black Diamond Spire Poles so far. The easy adjustability, the comfortable corrective-angle hand grips, the nicely padded straps, the dependability of the pole plants, the efficient swing weight and the overall knockout design are all fine features that I love. In the long term period I will continue testing the poles with the addition of snowshoes for long sledge trips and also for snowshoe running. I can't wait.
Picture of tester courtesy of: Roy Krantz
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Long Term Report
Black Diamond Spire Poles
March 6, 2007
Locations and Conditions
During the Long Term Test Period, the Black Diamond Spire Poles were used exclusively during winter snow conditions. Four extended trips included a five-day winter sledge trip to the Kingston Plains and Fox River Trail area in January, a three-day winter sledge trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in February, a three-day snowshoe trip to the Hiawatha National Forest in late February and a four-day sledge trip also to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in early March. All of these areas are located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In addition, I used the poles for dayhikes and snowshoe running outings. Locations ranged from and included conifer and deciduous forest communities with many rock outcroppings to plains, frozen lakes and lakeshore. Elevation ranged from 600 ft (183 m) to almost 2000 ft (610 m).
Conditions for the five-day Kingston Plains trip included approximate snow depths ranging from 8 in (20 cm) to 18 in (46 cm). Precipitation in the form of snow fell daily during the trip. It was mostly cloudy with brief intervals of sun. The winds were mostly northwesterly with speeds up to 25 mph (40 km/h). Temperatures ranged from a high of 20 F (-4 C) to a low of 9 F (-13 C). Humidity levels recorded with my Kestrel meter ranged from 70 percent to 92 percent.
Weather conditions for the second sledge trip lasting three days were cold, cloudy, blustery and extremely windy. High temperature was 18 F (-8 C) and the low temperature was -4 F (-20 C). A brutal northwest wind with gusts up to 45 mph (72 km/h) were experienced with average wind speed being 30 mph (48 km/h). Snow depth ranged from about 16 in (41 cm) near the lakeshore to well over 24 (61 cm) to 30 in (76 cm) inland. There was also significant drifting of snow making travel harsh.
The sled-in trip to the Hiawatha National Forest cabin took place in moderate winter temperatures. The highs were in the 18 F (-8 C) to 25 F (-4 C) range and the lows were in the 9 F (-13 C) to 15 F (-9 C) range. Snow depth was several feet (0.75 m) plus more than 12 in (30.5 cm) of new snow fell during the trip. Winds were easterly and varied from 20 mph (32 km/h) to 30 (48) km/h. Cloudy skies were the norm.
Conditions for the four-day Pictured Rocks trip were also moderate in temperature (18 F/-8 C to 30 F/-1 C) but much precipitation occurred during the second and third day of the trip. Approximately 15 in (38 cm) to 16 in (41 cm) of very wet snow fell, making travel difficult. Wind speeds of over 30 mph (48 km/h) were experienced.
The conditions for day treks and snowshoe outings mostly hovered in the 10 F (-12 C) to 20 F (-4 C) range with the actual lowest temperature being -5 F (-21 C ).
During the long term test period, I've been able to use the Spire Poles quite extensively for many outings. During the latter part of the field test period I ordered powder snow baskets from Black Diamond for the poles so that I could continue using them for my winter sledge trips where the snow was deep. Because they were on backorder, they didn't arrive in time for my January trip. I instead temporarily fastened on a pair of large snow baskets from another set of poles. I first removed the low-profile baskets, then I was able to slide on the large baskets and then use the Spire Poles low-profile baskets to secure or lock the larger baskets in place. This worked rather well and I was pleased with the performance of the poles. Although the snow depth wasn't more than 18 in (46 cm), having larger baskets on the poles preventing the poles from sinking too deep and potentially causing a balancing act.
What worked especially well during this trip, was the padded wrist straps. My winter overmitts are rather bulky but they still fit into the straps quite easily. I was concerned that they would be hard to get in and out of since the straps are wider than most. However, the materials used in the padded straps are soft and they slide quite readily over my big mittens.
At the end of the trip, I collapsed the poles so that I could stash them in the vehicle. Although it looked like water or frozen snow was in the Auto-Lock Binary System, I had no trouble retracting them. The temperature was around 17 F (-8 C) and very windy. The temperatures during the entire trip ranged from a low of 9 F (-13 C) to a high of 20 F (-7 C).
The poles have also been handy for my tarp set-up. In the winter I normally set up my 10 ft (3 m) X 10 ft (3 m) sil tarp in a flying-diamond configuration. Sometimes, I need to pull out the back corner of the tarp for additional height so I often use a couple of dead branches to make an x-shape. I then insert one end of each branch into the snow along the edges of the back corner of the tarp (one on each side of the corner). Instead of using dead branches, I have been able to use the poles in a crossed position. I then fasten one of the tie out cords that is strategically placed several feet above the edge of the tarp to wrap the intersection of the crossed poles before pulling the tarp out further with the cord. The cord is then pulled out to a stake (dead branch).
Prior to my second trip, the BD specific powder snow baskets arrived so I put them on my poles. I got a chance to do some snowshoe running while using the newly-equipped poles so that gave me a bit of confidence that the baskets would work well for longer outings. During running, the pole plants probably exerted more force when I'm ascending and descending than while I am just hiking through the woods. I have continued to use them for snowshoe running throughout the rest of the test period.
During my second sledge trip, the snow was twice as deep as the first trip at 3 ft (1 m) and the new baskets worked well to keep the poles from being lost in the snow. During one part of this trip, I left my sledge for an hour or more and I descended a steep, deep snow-covered ravine to explore some north facing caves along a ledge where I walked on sand, ice and snow. The poles transitioned well on the different surfaces to help keep me positioned upright.
My last two trips involved navigating through deep snow. The poles were actively used to help me pull my loaded sledge through hilly forested terrain in several feet of snow (3 ft/1 m to 3.5 ft/1.1 m ). A few times after I fell down into the deep snow depth, I was able to use the stiff poles to get me back upright from my precarious position. My sledge sunk at times up to 2 ft (0.6 m) through 4 ft (1.2 m) snow drifts so the extra power provided by the poles was a necessary asset to make my way through the forest. With all the extra pressure on the poles the locking mechanisms have not slipped giving me extra confidence.
During the final trip, I also traversed across the icy shoreline of Lake Superior. The shelf-ice was partly snow covered and partly barren "blue" ice. The poles were actively used to keep my balance on the slippery and uneven surfaces and the Short Flex Tips securely held my position on the ice.
During the entire testing period, there haven't been any issues with the durability or maintenance of the poles. The tension on the FlickLocks are still operating perfectly so I haven't had to make any adjustments to the set screws. The FlickLocks continue to open easily with the pressure of the palm of my hand even while wearing gloves or mittens. Closing the FlickLocks also hasn't been a problem. The fact that they haven't slipped out of place is a definite plus. The cold weather hasn't affected the poles in any noticeable aspect. There aren't any signs of cracking on the FlickLocks, the hand grips are still very slip-resistant and the padding and webbing don't exhibit any signs of fraying.
Overall, I have been highly impressed with the Black Diamond Spire Poles. Two features that had repeatedly irritated me about my former hiking poles was the fact that they were hard to adjust evenly due to their twist-lock design and that the adjustments slipped out of place. While I was hiking one of the sections would suddenly retract. The design of the Spire Poles have made these problems obsolete. I dare say that I most likely will ever use my old poles again without an extremely good reason. I've been impressed with the attention to detail on the Spire Poles including the wonderfully easy-to-adjust wrist straps, the FlickLock levers, the Auto-Binary locks, the super comfortable hand grips and the corrective angle of the hand grips.
This concludes my test series for the Spire Poles. Thank You to Black Diamond and BackpackGearTest for allowing me this excellent opportunity to experience testing a very neat product.
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