Black Diamond has contributed some of the best poles to the marketplace over the past decade for both trekking and backcountry skiing. As a long-time user of the Black Diamond Carbon Distance Z-poles it was no surprise that I gravitated toward BD when looking for a new set of backcountry poles. While excellent in many ways, the Pure Carbon ski poles just don’t quite live up to the standard set by the Carbon Distance poles.
If you look at any ultra marathon or mountain-running race, you’ll notice that most of the time most of the competitors are using BD Carbon Distance Z-poles. They really are the standard (except in the particularly gnarly races in Europe where sometimes burly Leki poles become more popular as racers are more happy to schlep the extra 100g-per-pole for their near-indestructibility). The Carbon Distance pole is an excellent marriage of light weight, good strength, and functionality – at this time, there is no one in the market that beats it.
With the Pure Carbon, BD has utilized its expertise from building mandrel-wound carbon poles for a variety of purposes and applied it to a 2-section extendable ski pole. The carbon construction is stout, there is a minor amount of flex that makes the pole forgiving without feeling whippy or soft. The extra carbon fiber used in the layup also adds great durability. Banging off rocks or trees doesn’t phase them – in fact on a resort day when a young child ran into me at the front of the lift line and I planted a pole out front to stop myself from running straight into a passing chair, when the metal frame of the chair smacked squarely into the planted pole – knocking the tip free of the hard-pack below with resounding ‘thwack’ – there was no visible damage or noticeable effect to the pole. I have no concerns about the durability of these poles.
Part of the reason for the burliness of the construction may be this – carbon loves to resist tension, it hates to resist compression. The process of mandrel winding and the high compaction that can be imparted to the layup helps somewhat, but in general using overlapping sections with a compression device does not play to carbon’s innate strengths when you want adjustability in a carbon. Due to this fact, BD has clearly spent a lot of time working on their compression device. The FlickLock Pro is nothing if not an elegant solution – low profile and lightweight, with a small flat-head screw that allows adjustability in the clamping force. The adjustability is key for two reasons: 1. When I received my BD poles, the tension on the clamp was low enough that pole-planting to stand my poles up in firm snow while fastening ski leashes around my boots was enough to make the lower portion of the pole slide up a couple centimeters or more; and 2. In addition to not holding the lower portion well enough, the lack of tension at the clamp also allowed it to open up while skiing through trees, which was quite a surprise when I went to plant my pole coming out of the trees and the lower portion was back up the mountain somewhere.
After retrieving the missing lower and adjusting the FlickLock to its greatest tension when I got back home (at least as far as I was willing to turn the screw), the poles will maintain their length on just about anything other than a hard plant on ice. And, I don’t expect that I’ll have the lock opening on a run anymore allowing the lower to fall out. The downside is that the increased tension makes opening the FlickLock with gloves on much more difficult. While I rarely adjust my poles out on the mountain (I typically leave them at 125, only lengthening them for a long, flat tour in, or shortening for a steep ascent with skis on my pack), the weight gain for adjustability makes me want this feature to be easier to use any time I like. Otherwise the BD Vapor at less than half the weight of the Pure Carbon is clearly the better choice.
The other feature that leaves me scratching my head is the pole grip assemblies (a standard ski grip at the top with a secondary sleeve positioned about 10cm below on the upper portion of the pole). There is a great deal of unnecessary weight here. Sure, if you are a free-rider and aren’t worried about weight because you’re carrying 4-5kg per foot up the mountain (skis, bindings, boots), who cares about an extra 80g per pole when you’ve got that much mass going on? If you’re a ski mountaineer or general back-country tourer, the weight just doesn’t seem to justify itself. The two-piece molded plastic with rubber over-mold of the grip could easily be paired down to a hydrophobic foam with a high-friction skin on the outer surface, and the rubber sleeve below could be functionally replicated in a number of ways that would save significant weight.
How heavy are they? 292 and 299 grams respectively for the two poles. When comparing the BD Pure Carbon pole to something like the Dynafit Broad Peak pole, which is about 2/3rds the weight (190g per pole, claimed) and has a fantastic adjustable locking mechanism that ensures your pole will never collapse unintentionally, the Pure Carbon just isn’t a standard-bearer for the category like the Carbon Distance Z-pole.
And, I’ll certainly admit that I may be applying an unreasonable standard here. If you don’t demand that BD make this an industry-leading pole, then you have a solid – if overweight – pair of poles in the Pure Carbon. The hang-up for me is that for the same price you can grab a pair of Dynafit Broad Peaks, or even the freeride Chugach which is $30 less and 40g a pole lighter, and have better security in your adjustment. (The down-side of the Dynafit adjustable poles is that the pole can only be adjusted on even 5cm increments. If you are dialed-in with an odd length like 137cm, you’d have to choose between 135 and 140cm with Dynafit.)
BLACK DIAMOND PURE CARBON SKI POLES
Weight: 600g claimed, 299g & 292g measured w/ powder baskets attached
Length: Adjustable form 95-145cm
Key features: FlickLock Pro, Touring grip, Interchangeable baskets, 100% carbon construction
Pros: Strength/durability, adjustability, solid feel
Cons: Weight, swing-weight, length compression in use