By Stephen Regenold
Grab onto the foam grip atop the latest ultra-light trekking pole from Black Diamond Equipment and you might wonder where the rest of the pole went. But look down, it's all there. At an insane 5 ounces per pole, these modern-day walking sticks can truly fool you into thinking you're missing a piece of the package.
Credit goes to carbon fiber as well as an innovative, never-before-seen design. The lithe carbon shafts, which borrow tricks from probe poles used in avalanche rescue, are lighter and thinner than anything comparable on the market.
To give some perspective, a couple energy bars you might bring on a hike will weigh 3 or 4 ounces together. It bears repeating: Each Z-Pole, in the largest size, is just 5 ounces, making the pair a scant 10 ounces in the hands or stowed away for later use in a pack.
Beyond their light weight, the poles break down super small. A simple push-button release lets you pull apart and fold the three-section pole. The resulting package is just 17 inches long and fits easily inside a backpack.
On the hike, the poles feel stout, though there is a fair bit of flex. As someone who has snapped carbon-fiber trekking poles in the past (from a different company), the flexibility of the Z-Poles made me a bit nervous. But so far, they remain solid and show little sign of wear.
Black Diamond (www.blackdiamondequipment.com) includes a comfy foam grip on the Z-Poles and straps similar to what's seen on some cross-country skiing poles. Cinch the straps tight and you can hike fast or even run with these poles propelling you and functioning as a second set of legs.
They come in four fixed sizes, from 100 to 130 centimeters, and the poles have threaded, replaceable tips. The baskets are tiny -- these poles are made for the dry seasons only, not winter, as they will plunge deep into snow.
Cost is $149.95 a pair, which is $50 or more above the price of an average set of poles. The extra money is worth it if you're like me and "fast and light" is among your outdoors mantras.
Overall, the Z-Poles have not let me down. Simple, functional, streamlined, and lightweight, they are one of the coolest new products I have seen all year.
--Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com. Connect with Regenold at Facebook.com/TheGearJunkie or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.