This may come as a shock to you, but I haven’t always been the paragon of backcountry wisdom, grace, and general awesomeness that I now am. In fact, I used to hate skiing powder. Shocking, but true.
About, oh, 18 years ago, you would have found me nuking groomers on the longest, stiffest skis I could find. I was also incredibly picky about my ski poles. Back then I used a set of Smith Z-Bend ski poles because I like the tip’s angle of attack when skiing fast and because they had a crazy low swing weight – the speed with which I could swing them forward between turns was really quick because they were super light.
I continued to use them for over a decade until they were finally so dented, bent and mangled they needed to be retired. By this time I had transitioned to skiing exclusively in the back country and I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to say I was probably the only person out there skiing in the back country with bent shaft race poles with powder baskets duct taped to them. It was a good look.
Figure 1: Hut Maintenance Dirtbag Style. Bent shaft racing poles help you carry windows faster.
So, I needed new poles exclusively for back country use. Well, I did what almost everyone I know does and I went and bought a set of Black Diamond Traverse poles. Seriously, those things are everywhere, half the most experienced ski tourers I know carry those things, so it’s not like it’s a foible of the uninitiated like Fritschi bindings used to be. I mean, a few years later when those were bent and seized I went and bought a new set. But why? What do they actually do better other than being the cheapest adjustable poles with a decent locking mechanism?
Figure 2: Wow, they pack down so conveniently, that sure isn’t going to get snagged on anything. (photo: Matt Breakey or Mike Persson, I can’t remember)
Now, like any two segment ski pole, the Black Diamond Traverse a) weighs weigh more than a straight ski pole and b) doesn’t actually compact down very well. I am embarrassed to say that it took me 8 years and two pairs to come to a definitive conclusion:
Two segment poles are stupid.
There’s basically three types of poles:
- 1 segment poles
- Pros: Light, cheap, tough
- Cons: Hope you like the length because they don’t pack down.
- 2 segment poles
- Pros: Um… I guess you can adjust the length for different uses? Is that a thing?
- Cons: Heavy, expensive, delicate, don’t pack down much better than a rigid pole
- 3 segment poles
- Pros: Pack down well (especially the BD Z stuff)
- Cons: Heavy, delicate, expensive
So, as far as I can tell, a two segment pole comes with all the cons of a fixed length pole AND all the cons of a 3 segment pole and has NONE of the benefits of either.
Let’s take a look at some representative samples off MEC’s website:
|1 Segment||2 Segment||3 Segment||3 Segment Cheap|
|Name||Volkl Phantastick 2||BD Traverse||BD Alpine FLZ||BD Expedition|
The Volkl Phantastick is, in my opinion, and therefore in fact, the best looking. It’s also over 100g lighter than anything else and thanks to not being adjustable, it doesn’t get jammed up by being lightly bent or getting some moisture in the tube. So it’s the holy trinity of light, cheap and strong and it’s even purrty to boot.
The BD Alpine FLZ has nice cork grips, packs down to a crazy small 40cm which can actually fit in your pack and is pretty darn expensive and heavy. If you want to save a bit of cash, there’s also the BD Expedition which has a slightly longer packed length, weighs a bit more but is only $97.
Now the 2 segment pole – the BD Traverse. Like I said, I’ve had a couple of pairs of these and the more I look at it, the less I can tell you why. The pole is $89 which puts it squarely between the Phantastick and the FLZ and barely less than the Expedition, but it weighs basically the same amount as the Alpine FLZ.
So, it’s only barely cheaper than the budget 3 segment option, it has all of the fragility that comes with an extendable pole, it doesn’t have the advantage of actually packing down to a length that fits in your pack (or doesn’t stick way above your head strapped to the side of your pack) and it weighs nearly as much.
In the last 8 years I’ve gone through two sets of BD Traverses. At current prices, I would have spent $178 on the two sets. If I was to instead buy a set of the Phantastics AND a set of the Alpine FLZ, I would have spent $10 more. I could use the Phantastics – a far more durable and better skiing option – when touring and then when ski mountaineering or scrambling, I would have had a pole that didn’t stick way above my head where it catches on whatever rock face or snow slope I’m climbing, and it would actually fit inside my pack when travelling.
Personally, I don’t often need an extendable pole, but when I do, it’s because I want something that actually packs down to a manageable size. 2 segment poles don’t do that. When I don’t need something that packs down, then I’m looking for light and durable. 2 segment poles don’t do that.
So in summary, 2 segment poles are stupid and I’ll keep on using mine until they fall apart.