Trekking Poles Review: Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork, Alpine Cork Ergo, Montem Ultra Strong

Discussion in 'Outdoor World' started by purr1n, Feb 22, 2018.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    So here I am going to compare three different sets of heavy duty trekking poles in successive posts. Why trekking poles? Well, I probably don’t need them as much now as when I started, but hiking poles take a lot of weight off the knees, ankles, and hip joints. On steep downhills, I had some discomfort in both of my knees and my right hip. As I didn’t want to end up with knee or hip replacements when I was 70, so I figured I’d take steps to save my cartilage and bone now. Another factor to consider if how much weight we’re lugging during a hike. Up in the Santa Monica mountains where I hike several times a week, it can get super hot, even in winter. That means carrying up to a gallon of water on half day hikes, in addition to other supplies such as duct tape, first aid, knife, toilet paper, food, etc. Most of the trails I hike can be pretty treacherous, as if truck had dumped a pile of differently size sharp rocks on the trail. No shoe, no matter how good the grip, is going to prevent you from slipping on loose rocks. Trekking poles here offer stability, effectively making us quadrupeds. Poles offer a huge bonus to those with good upper body strength. I’ve noticed that I benefit from poles significantly more than my wife does.

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    Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork

    The first pole I am going to go over is the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork (the red one). The pole is collapsable with the shafts made out of aluminum. At about $100, it’s definitely not cheap. The length can be adjusted from 75-140cm. (General usage of trekking poles will not be discussed here). The Ergo moniker refers to the angled grip which follows the natural angle of fingers in relation to the wrist. I much prefer this arrangement, probably because I am used to it, over that of straight grips. The grip is made from cork, which is also my preference. Foam feels a bit too squishy for me to get a good grip. Foam also gets kind of gross after sweat or wet conditions. However, the area just under the grip is lined with foam to allow the user to choke up (actually down) on the pole when climbing rocks or greater inclines. The nice thing about cork is that it subtly molds to your hands after extended use. The not so good thing is slightly higher cost or in many instances lack of availability with certain models and manufacturers. One last thing I should mention is that the straps are padded and of top notch quality. The design of the straps is unique to left and right hands. I wished there was a red strip or something similar to denote which side was which.

    If one wants to start out with a premium adjustable pole, then this (or the non ergo one) is the one that most people should start out with. The aluminum feels solid. I haven’t bent anything yet - trust me, I’ve gotten this pole stuck deep into gopher holes without accidently snapping it. I actually feel confident enough with its strength that I’ve used it for bushwhacking on trails that I frequent often - I hate running into the same twigs that slap into my face hike after hike. The locks are easy to use and have not failed me (no unintended collapses of shafts at the set length of the pole). The locks can be adjusted with a screwdriver to arrive the at proper clamping force. From the factory, it was set perfectly. Supposedly the locks will loosen over time, but I haven’t had to adjust anything yet after over 160 miles of hiking in the past two months.

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    The downsides to the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork is that they could be lighter; they weigh 510 g (1 lb 2 oz), really not too bad. But this the tradeoff for what seems to be an almost indestructible pole. I am not the type of person who is kind gear. BTW, a few ounces can be shaved off by removing the trail baskets. This might have a more significant effect than we might initially think because the baskets are at the bottom on the pole - think momentum and pendulum effect. The trail baskets are next to useless where I hike because the ground is mostly baked dry and solid and the gopher holes too big for the baskets to catch.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2018
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Black Diamond Alpine Ergo Cork

    The is the white one from the very first photo in the first post. FYI, Black Diamond also makes a non-Ergo model, and also one that is put together like tent poles (instead of sliding pole pieces secured by locking clamps seen here).

    This is almost the ultimate pole and that one that I use for most of my hikes now. I just couldn't go back. The design elements are mostly the same. The grip and straps are the same high quality as those on the Trail Ergo Cork. The uppermost shaft is aluminum, the lower two shafts are carbon. The per pair weight of these pole is 561 g (1 lb 4 oz), which is 21g heavier than the all aluminum Trail Ergo Cork. However these poles feel MUCH lighter. The reason for this is because most of the weight reduction is at the lower parts of the pole! Again, think momentum and swinging pendulum. I actually crossed these poles off my list for the longest time knowing that these poles weren't any lighter than the cheaper aluminum models. I think Black Diamond's marketing people really failed here because they didn't make it clear how weight reduction farthest away from the pivot point makes the most difference in feel (and real effort extended). Everyone who I let borrow these poles loved them.

    The downsides is that they do not feel as robust as the aluminum. Considering their cost, I'm afraid the carbon pieces might shatter or crack. For example, I won't use them for bush wacking. Still, they've held up extremely well considering trails like this. TBH, I'm probably just being extra careful.
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    [​IMG]

    The lock clamps are slightly different from those on the Trail Ergo Cork. They are a little harder to actuate, but the clamp does seem more secure because it is more direct. I figure Black Diamond had to tweak their design to deal with the carbon shafts. Like the Trail Ergo Cork, the clamps are adjusted via a screw. A flat blade in the case as opposed to the philips. One slightly annoying thing is that the bottom clamp tends to pop open by iself. This is because the lowest shaft is tapered, and without a solid clamp, the lock will pop back open. The way around this is to lower the lowest shaft a bit past the tampered area and them clamp it. The of course leaves the collapsed pole a bit longer than necessary. This isn't a big deal as I hang my poles on the back of my Osprey backpack (review pending) when I'm not using them.

    [​IMG]

    So what makes the Alpine Ergo Cork almost the ultimate pole? Where does it fall short? The top of the grips are not the most comfortable when putting the palms of hands over the poles. When going downhill, we want the poles to be longer. There are two ways to effectively do this. Stop and adjust the poles for a longer length. Change grip and put palms over the pole. This is where I think the Leki poles might do a better job. I'll probably grab one of those just to check it out.

    [​IMG]

    One last thing I should point out are the inherent vibration and anti-shock characteristics of the Alpine Ergo Cork poles, at least for me. Due to the particular way I walk and handle the sticks, I get some shock and vibration on the left hand when using aluminum poles. I can deal with it, but it's annoying enough to make me consider poles with anti-shock mechanisms, somewhere I knew I didn't want go (extra weight, too soft, everybody seems to hate them, etc.) The hybrid carbon Alpine Ergo Cork poles do not exhibit this vibration. Think of it like the difference in feelbetween bikes (or airplanes) with alumimum frames and carbon frames.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2018
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Montem Ultra Strong

    Lastly there are the Montem Ultra Strong (yellow poles above). I picked these up because they were cheap ($50) and got good reviews on Amazon. The aluminum construction feels sturdy, but I haven't used them enough to know for if they will last. They feel like a poor man's version of the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork. The cork lined handles (instead of foam) are a bonus, especially given the price. It does feel like a cheaper cork though. The straps don't have any significant padding and are not tailored specifically to left and right hands like the Black Diamond sticks. One minor positive is that they do stow away shorter than the Black Diamonds when collapsed. Weight is around the same ballpark at 544g (1lb 3.2 oz).

    [​IMG]

    The locking clamps aren't as good as those on the Black Diamond. The adjustment is via twist knobs instead of screws. Good in that they can be adjusted without tools. Bad in that they can more easily loosen over time. The clamps needed adjustment from the factory. I had set the poles to my desired length at 110cm and locked the shafts in place with what seemed like a secure clamp. When I put weight on the pole, the shafts collapsed - the clamp didn't hold. So it's a bit trickier to set up and something to be mindful of. It wasn't that hard to deal with. I just had to turn the knobs in a little bit.

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    Bottom line is $50 for something that feels very sturdy.
     
  4. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    Great timing, I've started to look into this myself for this summer.

    And by "started to look into this" I mean "saw black diamond make some and would have gone with those" as I get most of my climbing gear from them.

    Nice to know it would have probably been the right choice, but I might spring for the alpine now.

    Trails are mostly rocks in the dolomites, but there is some soil and mud ones; have you had any experience with these on the soft stuff?
     
  5. fraggler

    fraggler A Happy & Busy Life

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    Good stuff. I got a set of Fizan aluminum poles for both myself and my girlfriend from Massdrop kind of on a whim before I hiked Mt. Fuji. I had never used poles before so wasn't really sure if I needed them. Man, if I hadn't had them, I wouldn't have been able to make it up and back down. My knees already wanted to explode on the way down WITH the poles. I may have had to just roll down or sleep on the mountain without them.

    The Fizan were very nice and light, easy to use, though I do think they were at their tolerances with my use (twist to lock never feels as secure as a lever). Everything around me is flat so I haven't been able to truly test their durability. I think I would take a little more weight next time just to have them feel stronger.
     
  6. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    LOL, I should ask @CEE TEE to send me some gear to evaluate. The three poles above are heavy duty and meant for my tougher Sunday hikes in rough terrain. I tend to do stuff like go off trail too, at least before spring and summer when the rattlesnakes come out.

    I could use lighter weight poles, shoes, and other gear on my short weekday hikes or Saturday social hikes.
     
  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    They are fine in mud or sand. I like to go out and hike right after it rains. Only happened twice this winter. I put the small baskets on the sticks when using them in mud or soft ground.
     
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  8. msommers

    msommers High on Epipens

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    I use the BD foldable carbon poles (FLZ I believe they're called) after trying some of the cheaper ones available. For what I need it's perfect because they're so light. Hikes around here in the Rockies (lets say by Banff since that is recognizable to most) are essentially going up a steep grade and then coming back down. I'm not even old, early thirties and in my late twenties I was noticing my knees getting absolutely destroyed. Having a single light pole folded up on the side of my bag was great on the up's and then quickly snapped together for the way down.
     
  9. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    On occasion, I'll see overweight dudes running down a hill carrying weights. Kudos to them, but it's obvious they don't do this often (their tummies) - and I cringe at what they are doing to their knees, or if they have any cartilage left.

    The BD Carbon FLZs did catch my eye when I was at REI. I figured a little less adjustability (only on the top shaft) in exchange for more compact storage?

    The Massdrop x Fizan Compact look interesting, mainly because of their super light weight.
     
  10. msommers

    msommers High on Epipens

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    I got the FLZs for two reasons:
    - They're incredibly light yet very sturdy and adjustable with ease (I believe they come in different sizes, along with smaller adjustments on each). Moreover, this means that I can adjust it to where it needs to be once and then fold it for storage. Conversely, other designs require the user to adjust things every time they're setting it up because the whole unit is collapsing for storage.
    - They're compact enough that I can fold and strap them to the side of my bag without an end bonking me in the head

    With the flip locks on a previous pair of poles, dirt would eventually get caught in there and the "clamp" was never quite as tight as I would have liked. This is another plus for the FLZ as I just click all the connections together and the flip lock never has to be undone.
     
  11. pandather

    pandather Acquaintance

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    Slightly off-topic but related, do you guys have any good reccomendations for tents that use hiking poles for support? It would be nice to not have to carry tent poles around as I'm wanting to get into backpacking. (I love hiking and camping, but haven't mixed the two, yet.)
     
  12. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Any of the good aluminum ones. The Montem have held up quite well. The Black Diamond Trail for sure. Definitely not ultralight stuff like the Fizan Compact currently sold at Massdrop.
     
  13. msommers

    msommers High on Epipens

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    Most 2-3 person tents these days have really light and strong polls, it wouldn't be my first place to try and save weight...
     
  14. pandather

    pandather Acquaintance

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    My main concern isn't really weight as much as it is space. I have an Osprey Manta AG 20, and don't really want to get a new bag (it doesn't have tent straps on the bottom). Still trying to figure out what I'm going to carry. Just don't have a (lightweight) tent yet. I take it the carbon hiking poles don't work well for support? (would they snap in the wind?) Thanks for all the input guys. :)
     
  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Yeah. Metal will bend and flex a bit and go back as long as it does go not past a certain point. Carbon will snap or shatter after some point, although that point might be higher than the elasticity point of metal.
     

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