Trekking Poles - BD Alpine Carbon Z poles or Distance Aluminum Poles? For long approaches and backpacking


Original Post
JasonSH · · unknown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 90

Never had carbon,.. its appealing for the lightweight characteristics but having never used or owned a pair I'm apprehensive about picking them up.  We all know aluminum may be a tad heavier but will be burly and stronger.  

Looking for opinions from those used them or have had experience.  Thanks all!

Harry Netzer · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2011 · Points: 125

Carbon is often stronger than aluminum. Aluminum will fatigue and yield and one day you will make a hard plant and the material will break. carbon does not progressively weaken. I've done long distance hikes with both. 

Josh Janes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2001 · Points: 8,418

I've been using BD Ultra Distance Carbon poles since they came on the market. They've seen a LOT of mileage and have been through plenty of pole-snapping terrain. 

It's true that you need to be careful using them: they will handle all the force you can place on them through their length, but CF will snap with relatively little force applied perpendicularly. I'm not sure they are weaker than an aluminum pole - but an aluminum pole will bend and can often be temporarily splinted whereas a CF pole will snap and splinter.

A few basic tips:

1) When not in use don't rest them up against rocks or trees, or lay them on the ground, where you might accidentally step on them or lean into them sideways. Don't put them in your trunk and throw heavy gear on top of them.

2) Be very aware of when you (inevitably and frequently) get the end of the pole stuck between rocks or roots while walking and when you feel this happen, immediately stop moving or simply let go of the pole. This will save you from breaking off the ends of your poles. The faster I'm moving the more loosely I'm gripping the poles and developing the habit of dropping a pole the moment I've stuck the end has undoubtedly kept them from snapping for so many years. This also informs the following:

3) The first thing I do with trekking poles is remove the wrist straps. They are totally unnecessary. If you are traveling on terrain where dropping a pole would mean you might lose it (steep snowfields or moving water), make leashes out of thin cord to replace the wrist straps - but make them just long enough that they allow you to drop (read "let go of without injuring your wrist or thumb") the pole.

Lewis H · · rapid city, SD · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 5

3) The first thing I do with trekking poles is remove the wrist straps. They are totally unnecessary. If you are traveling on terrain where dropping a pole would mean you might lose it (steep snowfields or moving water), make leashes out of thin cord to replace the wrist straps - but make them just long enough that they allow you to drop (read "let go of without injuring your wrist or thumb") the pole.

This is true for me also not wanting the straps so if you want straps for some things like skiing but not for the backpacking part. 

G3 often makes carbon poles with easily removable straps if that is something your looking for.

JasonSH · · unknown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 90

So the consensus seems to be,.. just go with carbon and don't be to lazy about being more careful with them??  haha

I'm thinking I'll go with the alpine carbon poles,... but am I better off going with something with an adjustable lenth or stick with something non-adjustable?  I usually keep my poles around 115-120 (I have a pair of comperdell poles from years ago, fully adjustable)


Josh Janes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2001 · Points: 8,418
JasonSH wrote:

...go with carbon and don't be to lazy about being more careful with them?? ...

That's up to you but at $100+, yeah, I'm going to be careful with them. That doesn't mean I don't use them aggressively.

I like fixed length poles - they're stronger, lighter, and have less parts to break. The BD design has two grip positions - I choke up on mine going uphill and use the top position for everything else.

Since you're considering Z-poles specifically, I recommend keeping the push button clean and dry - and possibly lubricated. It never occurred to me when I got them but after years of use, in mostly very dry environments, my buttons started rusting and getting sticky. Based on reviews on BD's website, I'm not the only one. I rarely collapse the poles down, but it is annoying. For such an impressive product I'm surprised BD cut corners here by not using stainless.

JasonSH · · unknown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 90
Josh Janes wrote:

That's up to you but at $100+, yeah, I'm going to be careful with them. That doesn't mean I don't use them aggressively.

I like fixed length poles - they're stronger, lighter, and have less parts to break. The BD design has two grip positions - I choke up on mine going uphill and use the top position for everything else.

Since you're considering Z-poles specifically, keep the push button clean and dry - and possibly lubricated. After five years of use or so, in mostly very dry environments, my buttons started rusting and getting sticky and based on reviews on BD's website, I'm not the only one. I rarely collapse the poles down, but this is annoying - for such an impressive product I'm surprised BD cut corners here by not using stainless.

They're not stainless?  yeah that's pretty lousy!  For what you pay for them a tiny stainless button makes perfect sense!  Would be great if one could be retro-fitted into place.

Josh Janes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2001 · Points: 8,418

Yeah... I've gotten so much use out of them that I can't really complain; but one day I went to collapse the poles and lo and behold I could not physically depress the button. I needed pliers. Then, when it did depress, it wouldn't pop back out again. Only generous application of WD40 got them to pop back out but they are always sticking now - and it's clearly rust, not dirt. If I used them in more humid environments I'm sure this would be a problem much sooner.

Honestly I've been happy with the poles but I was disappointed by BD's warranty department's response when I asked if they could repair or replace the buttons on my poles: "no".

JasonSH · · unknown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 90
Josh Janes wrote:

Yeah... I've gotten so much use out of them that I can't really complain; but one day I went to collapse the poles and lo and behold I could not physically depress the button. I needed pliers. Then, when it did depress, it wouldn't pop back out again. Only generous application of WD40 got them to pop back out but they are always sticking now - and it's clearly rust, not dirt. If I used them in more humid environments I'm sure this would be a problem much sooner.

Honestly I've been happy with the poles but I was disappointed by BD's warranty department's response when I asked if they could repair or replace the buttons on my poles: "no".

Thats crazy!

Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 582

I'm confused with how people say "you don't need straps." They're not really so much for keeping from dropping them as much as it is for extra support so you don't need to grip the poles as tightly. Is everyone here using them correctly?

Anyway, I use the aluminum Z's you're talking about. Had them about two years now, one got slightly bent from me falling directly on it atry the end of a looooong day. I've broken a lot of carbon poles when I Nordic Ski raced and a few carbon hiking poles in the mountains, but never aluminum. Aluminum poles usually seems to bend instead of snap, and I can bend them back in shape. But that's just my anecdotal experience.

The poles are super light and durable in the few hundred trail miles I've put on them hiking, backpacking and making approaches in all seasons. I switched out the nice rubberized tip for the metal ones that allow snow baskets- I miss the not hearing a clackity-clack when I'm walking on rocks. Other that, I approve. I'm sure you'd be happy with either, though.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
Nolan Huther wrote:

I'm confused with how people say "you don't need straps." They're not really so much for keeping from dropping them as much as it is for extra support so you don't need to grip the poles as tightly. Is everyone here using them correctly? 

Bingo!  If you're not weighting your straps when going uphill, you're not using them correctly. 

JasonSH · · unknown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 90
Nolan Huther wrote:

I'm confused with how people say "you don't need straps." They're not really so much for keeping from dropping them as much as it is for extra support so you don't need to grip the poles as tightly. Is everyone here using them correctly?

Anyway, I use the aluminum Z's you're talking about. Had them about two years now, one got slightly bent from me falling directly on it atry the end of a looooong day. I've broken a lot of carbon poles when I Nordic Ski raced and a few carbon hiking poles in the mountains, but never aluminum. Aluminum poles usually seems to bend instead of snap, and I can bend them back in shape. But that's just my anecdotal experience.

The poles are super light and durable in the few hundred trail miles I've put on them hiking, backpacking and making approaches in all seasons. I switched out the nice rubberized tip for the metal ones that allow snow baskets- I miss the not hearing a clackity-clack when I'm walking on rocks. Other that, I approve. I'm sure you'd be happy with either, though.

Nolan,.. ever use the BD Alpine FLZ poles?  All aluminum...I had looked at those as well.  Was told that they were a tiny bit heavier but you could almost never notice it.

JasonSH · · unknown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 90

Anyone ever use the BD Alpine FLZ poles before?

Charlie Proctor · · Somerville, MA · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 40

I've put a lot of miles on the aluminum z-poles (about 1,000 or so) and have found that instead of bending they will break at the joint. The other issue with the aluminum is that the round section will expand a little at the joint over time resulting in a lot of play which makes them much weaker. I suspect that the carbon version would be stronger and definitely wouldn't develop the play over time. In any case, I think a conventional telescoping pole is stronger in the long run and you should only go with the z-pole design if you're concerned about weight. On another note, when I broke one BD sent me a free pair right away.

JasonSH · · unknown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 90
Charlie Proctor wrote:

I've put a lot of miles on the aluminum z-poles (about 1,000 or so) and have found that instead of bending they will break at the joint. The other issue with the aluminum is that the round section will expand a little at the joint over time resulting in a lot of play which makes them much weaker. I suspect that the carbon version would be stronger and definitely wouldn't develop the play over time. In any case, I think a conventional telescoping pole is stronger in the long run and you should only go with the z-pole design if you're concerned about weight. On another note, when I broke one BD sent me a free pair right away.

When they broke was it within the 1 year warranty timeframe or outside of it?  Just wondering in regards to a timeframe as to how long it took to break and fatigue

splitclimber · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2007 · Points: 5

+1 for using the straps.

Check out the carbon poles at Costco.  Seriously.  

Josh Janes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2001 · Points: 8,418
Nolan Huther wrote:

I'm confused with how people say "you don't need straps."

I'm not trying to convince you to not use straps - they serve a purpose and effectively transfer load to your arm rather than wrist and hand, but in an effort to clear up your confusion as to why some choose not to use them:

1) It makes dropping the poles easier if you get them stuck. Less chance of breaking the poles or injuring yourself if you take a serious digger.

2) I don't like having the webbing around my wrist and also, when used properly, on my palm as well between my hand and the pole grip. 

3) And most importantly, for me, I often use my poles on quite technical terrain where I'm frequently having to free up one hand for scrambling (and thus passing both poles to the other hand). Going in and out of straps frequently can be an annoyance. 

Not an issue of right and wrong - it's personal preference.

Sam Cieply · · Venice, CA · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 10

I made this same decision recently and went for the aluminum z-poles because of the lower cost and durability. They are still very light! Unless you're super serious about being the MOST ultralight possible, don't turn your nose up at the aluminum model.

I should also note that I am slightly klutzy, and was concerned that an errant pole placement or accidental kick would break the carbon pole. I read quite a few disappointed reviews from clumsy hikers who snapped the carbon poles.

Alexander K · · The road · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 130

Alpine carbon cork. Flick lock > z-poles. Very durable, I have 4000 miles of hiking on mine and they are still going strong. Easy to switch out tips as they break.

C Brooks · · Fresno, CA · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 546

I really like the Alpine carbon cork, same as Alex K, thousands of miles on mine, until I lost one of them. If you find one on the Jamapa Glacier of Pico de Orizaba, its mine ~

Andrew Krajnik · · Plainfield, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 253

I also have the alpine carbon cork, and they serve me well. I went with the telescoping design because I wasn't sure if I'd want to adjust the length for uphill/downhill. It turns out I never do, so for my next pair, I'll have to decide if it's worth $20 to save an ounce on the carbon Z.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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