CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review

These highly anticipated poles made quite a splash at 2011 ORWM. The Xenon 4 Trekking Poles are light, compact, easy to use and reasonably priced. How did they stand up to testing?

Overall Rating: Below Average

The Xenon 4 Trekking Poles are light, compact, easy to use and reasonably priced. However, they are too flexible to offer reliable support and are prone to breaking.

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by Danny Milks |

Introduction

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review - 1
The Xenon 4 Poles easily stow away alongside a water bottle in this GoLite Jam2.


These four-section collapsible poles weigh 9 ounces (280 grams) and cost $70. This is similar in weight, but half the cost of the nearest competitor, the Black Diamond Ultra Distance Poles, which received a Recommended rating. Can the CAMP Xenon 4 Poles achieve the same results at half the cost? Or are they, as Will Rietveld asked, too good to be true?

Description

There is nothing revolutionary in the design or construction of the Xenon 4 Poles. They are made of four aluminum sections that pull together with the tug of a cord, just like an avalanche probe. The tip is pressed into one end, and a foam grip and nylon strap are attached to the other end. The 120-cm pole is bright orange and weighs 4.9 ounces (140 grams) per pole. A 135-cm length set is also available; it is blue and weighs 5.3 ounces (150 grams) per pole. The poles are available as of April 2011 at a retail price of $70.

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review - 2
Like an avalanche probe, the Dyneema cord and aluminum ferrules are the basis for joining the pole sections (left). A tug on the cord loop, located on top of the grip, eliminates cord slack and pulls the four sections together (center). Pulling the knot over the notch in the plastic cap locks the cord in place, forming a rigid pole (right).

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review - 3
The hand grip is very basic: foam with an unpadded strap and a loop of Dyneema cord (left). The adjustable strap and 8-inch (20-cm) grip allow adjustments in hand placement, which is necessary for a fixed-length pole (center). The foam grips have two small bulges on the top half, which helps the hand maintain a strong grip, and the bottom half has a slight taper (right).

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review - 4
The 50-mm baskets are easily removed with a few twists (left). Tungsten carbide tips are standard (right).

Performance

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review - 5
Kristin and I tested the poles on numerous hikes in the French Alps, Canadian Rockies, and Glacier National Park (pictured).

When I first tried the Xenon 4 Poles, I was more amazed by how flimsy they felt, rather than by their low weight. First off, the pole sections didn't fit tightly together. Each connection has a bit of play, which can be felt by shaking the pole. Second, the sections are made of very light, thin aluminum that is not stiff. This combination of a flexible shaft and three semi-loose connections means that the pole is not at all rigid. The pole bends under a small amount of pressure that, on any other trekking pole, would go unnoticed.

I wasn't sure how well the poles would fare on the trail. I double-checked the packaging and read that the poles were designed for light backpacking and sky running (Italian for high-altitude off-trail running). "Here goes nothing," I thought.

On the second day of testing, Kristin slipped on a patch of slushy snow and the pole snapped under her weight. Her hand was not in the strap and the pole wasn't caught in any hard spot, like rock or ice. She wasn't wearing a backpack or running. She was simply walking and slipped.

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review - 6
I took this pictures just seconds after Kristin fell, to show the hiking conditions (left). The pole snapped in the center, with the internal ferrule being the weak point (right).

Before we had a chance to break the other pole in the field, we wanted to put it through BPL's stiffness test. Unsurprisingly, it did not fare well.

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review - 7
BPL's method for measuring pole stiffness: hang a 25-pound (11.34-kg) bag at the center of a 110-cm section of pole and measure the deflection from horizontal. The general range for lightweight poles is 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) of deflection. The Xenon 4 bent 15 inches (38 cm) before collapsing completely between the chairs.

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review - 8
Upon further inspection, we found that the pole was permanently damaged. The center ferrule was again the weak point (top). The bent ferrule resulted in 4 inch (10 cm) permanent deflection (bottom).

We contacted CAMP, who stated that other users had reported problems with the poles from the first round of production. CAMP supplied us with another set of Xenon 4 Poles to test.

There was no noticeable difference between the old and the new poles. CAMP did not specify what was wrong with the first production run or what they changed in subsequent runs. Kristin and I used the new pair of poles on a number of day hikes. The poles did not break on any hikes, but they also did not feel any stronger than the original set - they still felt alarmingly fragile. For example, I used the poles to help hop over a creek and I nearly fell in as the poles flexed wildly under my weight. I knew how weak these poles were and didn’t want to risk injury by depending on them.

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review - 9
Testing the second set of poles: as I lowered the 25-pound (11.34-kg) bag on the center, I measured pole deflection of more than 10 inches (25 cm) before it collapsed completely (left). As with the first set of poles, the center ferrule was the breaking point (center). The pole was permanently damaged in testing (right).

The rest of the poles' features are a mixed bag. The basket is perfectly sized for hiking and can easily be removed. The wrist strap is unpadded, which saves weight, and is not uncomfortable. Many ultralight backpackers do not use wrist straps, so it is unfortunate that the wrist straps are not removable (unless you fancy a permanent dismemberment by cutting the straps off). I dissected one of the poles after it broke, and found that the wrist strap is held on by a simple zip tie. The foam grip is relatively comfortable, though it is not as easy to hold as other grips that have a more anatomical shape. The grips taper too much towards the bottom half to be very useful. Furthermore, the hole in very top part of the grip, to allow for the plastic cord lock, is uncomfortable to palm.

Comparison

The closest competition, in terms of weight and design, are the Black Diamond Ultra Distance Poles. These three-section collapsible poles, which are also new as of spring 2011, weigh 4.75 ounces (135 g) and retail for $150. They have carbon fiber shafts, interchangeable rubber and carbide tips, left and right-hand specific molded grips, and utilize avalanche connector technology. The poles are available in 100-, 110-, 120-, and 130-cm lengths.

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review - 10
CAMP Xenon 4 - very thin compared to the already minimalist Fizan Compact.

Another attractive option are the Fizan Compact Poles, which are three-section collapsible, adjustable poles that weigh 5.6 ounces (158 g) and costs about $80 for the pair. The Fizan Compact have about the same strength as the Ultra Distance, cost nearly the same as the Xenon 4, and, additionally, offer adjustable length from 58-132 cm, for a weight penalty of only 0.7 ounces (20 g) per pole.

Assessment

CAMP’s website touts that the Xenon 4 Poles are "the lightest trekking poles in the world!" At 5 ounces (140 grams) for the 120 cm length, the poles are not the lightest by any measure. The Black Diamond Ultra Distance poles are collapsible and weigh 4.75 ounces (136 grams). Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4 and Titanium Goat Adjustable Poles, adjustable but not collapsible, are 1.5 ounces (43 grams) lighter. With such a bold claim despite evidence to the contrary, CAMP's credibility is brought into question. It is therefore unsurprising that the poles did not fare well in our rigorous testing.

The Xenon 4 Poles are essentially four sections of a tent pole with a cord lock and handle at one end and a basket and tip plugged into the other end. They are thin, light, and compact. However, they are very flexible and prone to breaking. As such, they are suitable only for hikers who put very little weight on their poles. For the rest of us, it would be worthwhile to invest in more durable poles, such as the Fizan Compact ($10 more) or Black Diamond Ultra Distance ($80 more).

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review - 11
CAMP Xenon 4 Poles in use above Chamonix Valley, looking onto the Argentiere Glacier.

Specifications and Features

Manufacturer CAMP
Year / Model 2011 Xenon 4
Style Four-section collapsible, fixed length
Shaft Material Aluminum alloy 7005
Tips Tungsten carbide
Grips and Straps 8-inch (20 cm) foam grip with nylon strap
Lengths Available (extended/collapsed, in cm): 120/32 (tested), 135/36
Weight per Pole Manufacturer: 4.9 ounces (140 g)
Measured: 5.0 ounces (143 g)
including 0.2 ounce (5 g) removable basket
Features Compact collapsible aluminum poles; internal Dyneema cord; twist style removable 50-mm
basket; adjustable nylon strap; foam grip; available in 120 or 135 cm lengths.
MSRP $70


Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to the manufacturer to review this product under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review," by Danny Milks. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/camp_xenon4_pole_review.html, 2011-11-01 00:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review


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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review on 11/01/2011 13:41:03 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F - M
applaud on 11/01/2011 23:27:09 MDT Print View

i heartily applaud BPL for this type of review ... instead of burying it like other mags/sites

this tells me what NOT to buy, which saves me money and headaches

Roman Vazhnov
(joarr) - MLife

Locale: Russia
Thanks on 11/02/2011 02:27:29 MDT Print View

Fizan poles then.
Will be interesting to read OMM Kamleika Race Smock review

Ismail Faruqi
(ismailfaruqi) - F
wow on 11/02/2011 03:13:20 MDT Print View

this is the first time i see "Not Recommended" rating in a BPL review. I thought "Average" was the lowest.

Brad Walker
(brawa)

Locale: SoCal
Too bad on 11/02/2011 09:53:14 MDT Print View

CAMP seems to make a lot of good stuff, too bad they blew it on these poles. I've been happy with all the other CAMP products I have: axe, crampons, belay gloves, windshirt, some carabiners and quickdraws.

The BD poles are certainly a nice alternative, although hard to justify at full retail compared to the Fizan or GG LTs even. I found them on sale and have been happy with them.

Edited by brawa on 11/02/2011 09:55:55 MDT.

Richard Colfack
(richfax) - MLife

Locale: ARIZONA
New slogan on 11/02/2011 10:31:27 MDT Print View

"the lightest crappy trekking poles in the world!"

Mike Oxford
(moxford) - MLife

Locale: Silicon Valley, CA
Thank you for being honest! on 11/02/2011 13:02:49 MDT Print View

As someone who's 6'6 240 and actively looking to buy a set of poles, thank you for the review and letting the rest of us know what the cons of this set is!

-mox

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Thanks on 11/02/2011 13:44:22 MDT Print View

Excellent review Danny. Ever since we developed the BPL pole stiffness test, I've used this on many, many poles. The original Gossamer Gear Lightek poles (now discontinued) were the most flexible I ever tested with just over 9cm of flex in the test. Most have been less than 5cm. But 15?!? Wow, that is extremely flexible. Thanks for the info.

For comparison, a chart is included in this review for those that are interested:
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/gg_lightrek3.html

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Nice review on 11/02/2011 18:57:50 MDT Print View

This is what I expect from a review. Call it like it is. Light but not really made for trekking either. Thanks Danny for saving us from possible injury, not only bodily, but financially too!

Doug, nice to see you around.

Dan Durston
(dandydan)

Locale: Cascadia
Xenon 4 on 11/02/2011 23:06:18 MDT Print View

Thanks for posting this review. Very good info. I especially like how all the qualitative observations are supported so well with the BPL stiffness test. 38cms of flex (before becoming permanently damaged) is nuts.

John Coyle
(Bigsac)

Locale: NorCal
Camp Poles on 11/03/2011 11:24:13 MDT Print View

Thanks for the review Danny. I'll know to avoid those particular poles in the future. Since you guys get these products free, sometimes I wonder if the reviews are slanted, but it has been my experience that the reviews in BPL are accurate. Based on your earlier review, I ordered the Fizan Compact poles from a company in the UK. I have been very happy with them. A friend of mine told me he wished he had got them instead of his expensive carbon fiber poles.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: CAMP Xenon 4 Pole Review on 11/03/2011 12:44:03 MDT Print View

Ouch! I had to wince at those photos of the failures. I would love to be a fly on the wall at Camp product development when that comes across their desk. I think it is a fair review too. Trekking poles are one item that has a real safety factor: if your pack fails it is one thing, but a broken pole at the wrong time and place could have catastrophic results.


I know there are fixed-length carbon poles out there-- is anyone making fixed-length aluminum poles? The alpine ski industry has cranked them out for decades. They are more robust than most hikers would demand and could be lightened a great deal.

Patricia Combee
(Trailfrog) - F

Locale: Northeast/Southeast your call
Re: wow on 11/06/2011 15:43:55 MST Print View

Actually I think (I might be wrong), but BPL gave the original SPoT unit a not recommended,