I just got back from a sweaty and slippery hike along one of the many forested paths on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. The trail wound up, down, and around, over tree roots, across granite boulders, through muddy tracks, and up steep cliffs. Fortunately for me, I carried my Black Diamond Ultra Mountain Carbon Trekking Poles. They kept me steady and balanced, and allowed me to keep up with my “mountain goat” friend.
A number of years ago, I learned that trekking poles (aka hiking poles or, as I like to call them, “sticks”) provide more stability and help burn more calories since the hiker uses both arms and legs. I was intrigued, especially about the calories, but hadn’t yet invested in a pair of poles. We were hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains around Lake Tahoe, when we passed a couple, clearly in their late 80s who were briskly hiking up the trail with the aid of trekking poles. When I asked about the poles, the woman said to me, “Oh, I never hike without them. In fact, I ‘m not able to hike unless I use trekking poles.”
I was sold. We purchased two sets of Leiki poles and, after a few hikes through particularly steep or slippery terrain. I understood what the old woman was saying. Hiking poles make it easier to navigate difficult trails and, because they made me hike faster and used my arms and my legs, they gave me a better work out.
Poles Fit for Travel
However, I’m a travel writer and my sturdy Leiki poles wouldn’t fit into a carry-on, even completely collapsed down. When RFT Editor Anne Weaver and I got an assignment to travel to Alaska that would include hiking on glaciers, I knew we needed to find hiking poles that were short enough for travel yet sturdy and Black Diamond came to the rescue.
I spoke to the experts at Black Diamond and, after asking about the terrain we’d be traveling in and the type of hiking we’d be doing, they recommended we try two poles from their “Z” series, their super-compactable poles. The Z series poles come from technology developed for avalanche probes. A three-section shaft conceals an inner Kevlar cord and innovative speed cones allow the Z poles to snap and lock into place with a single pull.
I opted for the super-light Ultra Mountain Carbon Trekking Poles ($169.95). My Black Diamond representative told me these carbon poles have both lightweight construction without the sacrificing beefy sturdiness of heavier poles. He was right. The Black Diamond Ultra Mountain Carbon pole is incredibly light (my 110 cm pole weighs in at a featherweight 1 pound 2 ounces); yet it feels exceptionally solid and steady. I have no hesitation putting my entire weight on these poles, even on muddiest hills, and trusting that the 100% carbon fiber construction is super strong. These poles are so sturdy they’re rated for backpacking, trek/day hike, expedition, touring, and split boarding (a type of climbing snow boarding).
The Z technology allows me to quickly collapse the poles down into a short 15 inches, perfect for an airline carry-on or for a day pack. The push button allows me to quickly deploy them in seconds and, another push of the button, releases the pole for compact storage. In contrast, my Leiki poles can be nearly impossible to collapse down and reassemble; requiring a complicated twisting to get them to lock properly. In fact, more than once I’ve had to return my Leiki poles to the equipment store where I purchased them to get assistance from the staff to get them put back together!
Ultra Mountain Carbon Trekking Poles come with Trekking Baskets and Compactor Powder Baskets as well as rubber tips that can go over the installed carbide Flex Tech Tips for different conditions. It makes the Ultra Mountain truly a four-season pole. The baskets have locking mechanisms that help keep the sections of the pole organized when the pole is collapsed. I’d also like to see some kind of locking mechanism that would keep both poles together (though a small Velco strap does the trick for me).
These poles feature lightweight Mountain Series EVA foam grips that are comfortable. They also have non-slip foam mini grip extensions for when you need secure choke-ups. The thick, padded moisture-wicking straps are breathable and, unlike some trekking pole straps, don’t rub even when the going gets sweaty.
Unlike some poles, the Black Diamond Ultra Mountain Poles come in fixed lengths, dependent on your height. For women, this pole is available in 100, 110, 120, and 130 cm and the website features an easy-to-use sizing chart. The collapsible lengths run from 14-18 inches, depending on the size you choose.
The poles also look great. They come in attractive black and red stripes (what they call carbon and lava).
The second poles we tested was the Black Mountain Women’s Ultra Mountain FL Trekking Pole($139.9). These poles also feature the Z-Pole technology for easy compatibility, but instead of the single push button, they have a FlickLock® Pro, that easily opens and just as easily snaps into place to lock the pole and gives 20 cm of adjustability. This four-season pole has many of the same features of the Ultra Mountain Carbon—the same breathable foam grips and mini-grips and padded strap, winter/summer baskets and tips, and the same sturdy reliability. These poles are rated for the same wide range of activities as the Ultra Mountain Carbon. However, instead of 100% carbon, this pole is made of 100% aluminum, which makes it slightly heavier (3 ounces more).
The pole comes in lengths from 95-110 cm (14 to 16 inches collapsed), making is easily packable, even in day packs. It comes in a flashy and fun purple (Amethyst) pattern.
Real Bottom Line: If you want to be steadier and stronger on the trail, use trekking poles. If you want all-season poles that are easy-to-use and are small enough to travel with, choose the Black Diamond Z-series. We love these poles for their lightweight, yet sturdy construction, their super-fast Z-technology, and how convenient they are. You can bet the Black Diamond Ultra Mountain Carbon Trekking Poles and the Black Mountain Women’s Ultra Mountain FL Trekking Poles will be a permanent part of our travel gear no matter where we go. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor, Photos Anne Weaver, RFT Editor