Alex Roddie reviews a pair of 4-season aluminium poles from Black Diamond
Black Diamond make some of the nicest poles on the market, and their Alpine Series includes several ‘durable, four-season poles for big loads and big trips into the mountains’.
The Alpine FLZ is a sturdy aluminium pole with cork handles, a comfortable wrist strap and powder baskets included for winter use. It’s available in three sizes:
- 95-110cm (552g per pair)
- 105-125cm (534g per pair)
- 120-140cm (546g per pair – this is the length I tested)
Those aren’t ultralight poles by any means, but they are very strong – more than strong enough to be used as shelter supports. Pyramid shelter users will want the longest length of pole, while if you have a TrailStar the 105-125cm length is probably the most useful. It’s a little annoying that no one size covers 100-140cm for maximum versatility, but that’s an inherent drawback to the Z-fold design.
When collapsed, these poles are nicely compact. The 120-140cm version I tested collapses to only 42cm in length.
You adjust the length with a very strong and well-made latch just above the first joint. Unlike telescopic poles, there’s little risk of the length markings wearing off because they’re close to the top of the pole and won’t get scratched by vegetation or bashed by rocks – my two-year-old BD Trail Back poles are so battle-scarred that you can’t read any of the markings any more! I don’t think this will happen with the Alpine FLZ.
The Alpine FLZ features Black Diamond’s ‘Z-Pole Rapid Deployment System’. Several manufacturers make poles that fold rather than collapse like a telescope, and BD’s solution makes use of a strong Kevlar centre cord reinforced with flexible plastic. The poles are very quick to extend – just pull until the pole snaps into place and the latch engages. It takes about two seconds.
So how do they perform? I’ve been using them for general lowland walks, Munro-bagging, and more demanding walking in the Alps. The first thing I noticed when using these poles is the comfort of the wrist straps. They feel very premium and comfortable against the skin, well padded, with plenty of adjustment room for wearing gloves. The cork handles are also very comfortable and grippy. If you prefer standard handles rather than a more ergonomic shape, it’s hard to beat these.
Collapsing and extending the poles is a dream. Because they collapse down to a very compact size, they’re nicely packable in checked luggage for international travel – something my old Trail Back poles never quite managed. However, the system for keeping the folded poles together could do with refinement. The trekking baskets have cutouts designed to grip each part of the pole, holding it in a loose sheaf, but in practice I found they often fell out with the slightest wiggle, and I usually didn’t bother. (The winter powder baskets have similar – but larger – cutouts.)
When walking, the poles feel stiff and very stable, with minimal movement to the shaft. Z-fold poles sometimes have a bit of play in them, but it’s at an absolute minimum in the samples I used. The white colour looks good too. I have used these poles as shelter supports for my Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid XL, and they work as well as any other pole I’ve used for this job – perhaps a little better, due to their excellent stiffness.
Overall, these are excellent high-end aluminium poles, suitable for everything from summer hiking to winter mountaineering and ski touring. Lighter poles are available, and some people prefer more ergonomic handles, but as standard 4-season aluminium poles go these ones are hard to beat.