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Are carbon fiber trekking poles reliable?
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christopher smead
(hamsterfish) - MLife

Locale: hamsterfish
Are carbon fiber trekking poles reliable? on 05/17/2012 18:57:58 MDT Print View

I've been checking out the black diamond trekking pokes with cork handles and carbon fiber shafts and I'm thinking of pulling the trigger.

Are carbon fiber poles as strong as the aluminum ones?
I'm hard on poles. I broke 4 pairs before settling down with the older black diamond flick locks that have lasted me 20 trips now, so I'm a bit nervous to switch. Any thoughts?

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Are carbon fiber trekking poles reliable? on 05/17/2012 19:34:19 MDT Print View

"I broke 4 pairs before settling down with the older black diamond flick locks that have lasted me 20 trips now, so I'm a bit nervous to switch. Any thoughts?"

I'd do some serious analysis of why you are breaking so many poles before purchasing carbon fiber poles, or any other new poles for that matter. There must be something you are doing, and it would be worth your while to figure out what it is and alter your technique before proceeding. If you correct your technique, carbon fiber poles should work just fine, and they will definitely be much lighter. Breaking them frequently, however, is a very expensive habit. My GG LT4's have lasted me for 5 years now and are no worse for the wear, which is not unusual on this site judging from the comments in other threads on the subject. You can do it too, Christopher.

Chad "Stick" Poindexter
(Stick) - F

Locale: Wet & Humid Southeast....
carbon poles on 05/17/2012 19:49:52 MDT Print View

Oohhh...I love my LT4's, but I have only had them about half a year and put about 170 miles on them. They have worked beautifully, although I am not "hard on my gear." The first trip I used them on it took me a couple hours to get used to using them (because they are so much lighter) like I did my aluminum poles and now I use them as normal.

I have never broke any poles yet. I have wore 2 pair of the Outdoor Product (Wal-Mart) flick lock poles out though...)

I agree though, if you are routinely breaking poles I wouldn't go with carbon poles simply because they are so expensive. How is it that you are breaking so many?

Daniel Cox
(COHiker) - F

Locale: San Isabel NF
Re: Are carbon fiber trekking poles reliable? on 05/17/2012 21:33:22 MDT Print View

"I'm hard on poles"

That should answer your question. Carbon Fiber poles are plenty reliable for most people. Not people who abuse gear.

You'd be better off just buying two cheap Walmart flick-lock poles, and only be out 15 bucks when you destroy it. Plus they are bough individually.

There's a thread in MYOG about taking these and removing scree baskets, grips and wrist straps and replacing them with foam for a 7oz pole.

I'd think this is a better option than snapping a $100 dollar CF pole.

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
yes on 05/17/2012 21:33:34 MDT Print View

the bd carbon corks are reliable. much more so than the sul carbon ones like lt4's. putting enough tork on any pole will break it, so watch for getting the tip caught between rocks or deep in spring snow. IMO the lightest poles are great for relatively strait forward use on trails. For more rugged off trail use or winter/spring use get the alpine corks.

Ben F
(tekhna) - F
REI on 05/17/2012 21:42:23 MDT Print View

I don't think they really carry carbon trekking poles anymore, and I had heard they were putting the ones they still had on sale to get rid of them. Probably tells you what you need to know about durability. I could be wrong though.

Edited by tekhna on 05/17/2012 21:42:57 MDT.

christopher smead
(hamsterfish) - MLife

Locale: hamsterfish
Carbon fiber poles on 05/17/2012 22:26:22 MDT Print View

The first 3 sets I broke were all cheapo poles with shocks I got off eBay. Then I broke a pair of Rei ascents. Both within 100 feet of each other on the first trip!
Yes I put tons of pressure on them and walk more like I have 4 legs. Kinda weird, but that's how I roll ;)

The Black Diamond aluminum flick locks are still going strong after 5 years and 20+ trips. But weight savings and cork handles kinda excites me.

Anywho...So am I hearing this right? Carbon fiber pokes are more shatter probe than the aluminum ones?

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 05/17/2012 22:27:05 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 06/17/2015 10:35:25 MDT.

christopher smead
(hamsterfish) - MLife

Locale: hamsterfish
Thanks ! on 05/17/2012 22:47:55 MDT Print View

Alright it's decided. I'll stick with my trusty BD aluminum flick locks.

Thanks guys!

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
abuse poles? on 05/18/2012 00:31:01 MDT Print View

they should take abuse ... instead of yr knees ...

whats the point of going lighter if you cant use them confidently on the terrain you want ...

carl becker
(carlbecker) - F

Locale: Northern Virginia
Re: abuse poles? on 05/18/2012 07:07:06 MDT Print View

That is alot of breakage. Either poor quality poles or abuse or combination of. I have LT4's and love them. My history is if I can't break it I lose it. So far Murphy has not stuck.

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
My Carbon Leki's on 05/18/2012 08:10:01 MDT Print View

I made the mistake of bringing my carbon fiber poles in the terrain park this winter while skiing and completely busted one of my poles in half. Before I did that I had probably had around 700 miles on them and have been completely satisfied.

(Note: A guy I work with has a hobby of working with fiberglass. He was kind enough to fix the busted pole by inserting another carbon fiber piece from an old gold club on the interior, and then pasting fiber glass to the outside of the shaft.)

Jim Larkey
(jimlarkey) - MLife

Locale: NoCO
Re: Are carbon fiber trekking poles reliable? on 05/18/2012 09:28:50 MDT Print View

I've used aluminum poles for over 15 years never broke one...fractured the BD carbon fiber pole in 18 months.
FWIW, below is the reply from BD on the BD Alpine Carbon Fiber Cork Trekking Pole fracture, image shown on the following thread:


Thank you for your patience.

It is difficult to tell exactly what caused the failure but the pictures are consistent with a common mode of failure for carbon trekking poles that have been scored from rock damage and then loaded in a 3 point bend scenario near the point of damage. The lower pole sections are constructed with unidirectional wraps of carbon fiber, laid up in varying directions with a small glass fiber content added for reinforcement. It is the nature of carbon fiber to fail similar to the circumstances in this case where there has been some form of previous damage. Another point to note, if the trekking pole baskets were removed (due to the wear on the threads), allowing additional damage to the lower section from scree, and for the lower shaft to be broken from leverage. The purpose of the trekking baskets is to minimize penetration of the lower section into scree, softer ground, or manmade obstacles like foot bridges.

In reference to the “brooming” effect, fiberglass is a different material and exhibits a different set of failure modes relative to carbon fiber. Brooming is also a result from a linear fiber orientation, and our poles are built with many layers of opposing fiber orientations to gain stiffness and strength.

We do not believe that this could be stress corrosion cracking for the following reasons:

· Carbon is very corrosion resistant and should not be subjected to a severely corrosive environment in this application. What would be driving corrosion related cracking if the poles were cared for properly?

· Typically, to drive stress corrosion cracking, the part must be CONTINOUSLY subjected to high tensile stress (This is why this is seen in press-fit parts, riveted parts, pressure vessels, retaining rings)

The nature of this failure is more likely related to the fiber orientation in the layup and damage (nicks, scratches, etc) that are on the surface. There are many circumferential wraps of carbon in these poles, and it likely broke along the boundary of one of these wraps at some point of weakness cause by a scratch or ding in the surface. This failure mode is very typical of a pole that had a deep scratch (like that from a ski edge, or rock) which may have weakened it in a specific spot.

It’s important to note that we don’t put the level of engineering into trekking poles that you may be thinking. We look to hit targets for strength, stiffness, and durability while hitting cost targets and aligning the product life expectations to constraints of the given materials. Performance with regard to these targets is evaluated through a lot of lab and field testing, and iterating on the layup, wall thickness, and fiber orientations to optimize these constraints. These poles (with millions sold and very low rates of return) show that we have done ok by evaluating these using these empirical (not overly theoretical). The lower shaft section is replaceable inexpensively, so we can accommodate the occasional failure in the very damage prone area of the lower shaft that is subject to damage. These are available directly from us on our website here or by phone at (801) 278-5533."

BTW, BD was reasonable on an adjustment......and I'm still using BD CF poles, just a little bit smarter on their weaknesses.


Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
don't fall on 05/18/2012 09:30:08 MDT Print View

My experience is similar to Tim's. I thru-hiked the PCT with a set of C.F. REI branded poles and liked them a lot. On the AT I slipped on a patch of ice in the Smokies and bam! Broken pole. I now use the lightest titanium pole that Leki sold at the time I was looking for a replacement.

In a snowshoe group raffle this past weekend my wife won a pair of interesting poles made by MSR, their Surelock UL-2 model. They're aluminum but quite light --- the pair weighs 14.8 oz (419g). My titanium no-shock-absorbing Leki's weight 15.1 oz for the pair.
These MSRs are an interesting design, just two sections rather than three, so doesn't collapse very small (claimed to 27", I measure at 31"), but it has an easy-to-use push-button approach to adjusting the height: a series of eight holes spaced at 2" intervals, the push-button can click into any one of these.

So you don't get complete control of adjusted height, just to a 2" granularity; I suppose that for some people or for some tent or tarp setups this could be awkward (such as my Lightheart designs tent), but assuming it remains as easy-to-use after a lot of miles and is as reliable as it feels, it could be a nice third alternate to the flick lock or twist-to-tighten locking mechanisms. Might not be tall enough for taller hikers (max length of 55"), but at about $90 for such a light pole --- and their special type of snow baskets are included in that price along with normal trekking baskets --- not bad IMO.

Sorry, didn't mean to turn this into a mini-review, but in any event I now stay away from c.f. poles, from having been a strong advocate earlier.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Are carbon fiber trekking poles reliable? on 05/18/2012 12:07:48 MDT Print View

I have a pair of Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles and they are stout and reliable, but they are only an ounce lighter than a pair of Black Diamond Trail aluminum poles (18oz vs 19oz), both with the small baskets installed. The cork handles are okay, but not that much different than the foam ones on the Trail model.

The only real advantage I can see is that stout carbon poles won't corrode when beach hiking and I've seen some real damage done to aluminum poles by marine conditions.

I've looked at the truly ultralight carbon poles and I wouldn't take them for a stroll to the grocery store. I want 100% reliability when I go off balance and need that pole to hold me up and not drop me in a fast running stream or over a 1500 foot drop. I think the Black Diamond Z Poles are toys. Any fiber column is going to be fragile when scratched deeply or pushed up against a sharp edge.

To be fair, an aluminum pole will probably bend beyond repair under the same conditions, but will probably get you home. I can't imagine any pole of reasonable weight surviving a hard fall unscathed with a average sized hiker smashing it into sharp rocks.

It comes down to the same weight:durability issues as other gear, but there is the safety factor.

Edited by dwambaugh on 05/18/2012 12:08:22 MDT.

Seth Brewer
(Whistler) - MLife

CF vs. Alum on 05/18/2012 12:42:14 MDT Print View

I started got about 400 miles into my thru-hike of the A.T last year and had 3 failures within one week of some UL Carbon poles -- had my old Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Aluminum ones sent to me (already had about 200 miles on the BD poles) and used them for the rest of the trip without a single issue ! Still have the BD's and use them for heavier / longer trips and for winter camping with snowshoes. For NH and Maine I used my BD poles like two extra legs and vaulted over stuff, put my whole body weight on them to lower myself down big rocks, etc....I love them for trips that I expect to put some heavy use on.

I do have carbon fiber poles also -- but they are reserved for my SUL trips simply because all my tents require a pole, and I use it very gently when I'm carrying such a small load. If you are heavy on your poles AT ALL then stick with the aluminum ones and save yourself the aggravation !

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
CF's Lateral Weakness on 05/18/2012 14:10:13 MDT Print View

CF poles are, regardless of the lay of the fibers, weak in lateral stress (hits to the sides of the poles).

The very best CF poles have a "spdier weave" of fibers that interweaves them on diagonal pattern, sort of like Maypole dancers interweaving their ribbons.

SWIX is the only company I'm sure does this but many others may also do it.

A good way to protect CF poles is to put good duct tape (like Gorilla Tape) on the bottom 8" to 12" of the pole. This will protect it from nicks that weaken it and create stress points.

I think some CF walking pole manufacturers offer a light aluminum "armor" on the bottom shaft.