Adjustable ski poles: K2 LockJaw and Black Diamond Carbon
Ski poles may well just be a mundane necessity in your ski life, but for those of us obsessed with our backcountry ski gear, finding the right pole is akin to dialing in any of the more glamorous pieces of gear: there's fit (grip), ease and security of adjustability, durability, multifunction applications (probe, measuring tool) and the all-important and elusive perfect swing weight.
While a couple of these characteristics are somewhat subjective or personal in nature - grip fit and swing weight - the other details are pretty quantifiable. Here's a look at a couple of new poles on the market that have been making the rounds in the office this season.
K2 LockJaw carbon/aluminum ski pole: In keeping with K2's multifunction theme for their Backside tools, the K2 LockJaw pole offers several cool features to help set it apart from the crowded field of adjustable ski poles. First, the lower shafts (aluminum on the model we tested) are easily joined to form a 200cm emergency probe. Second, the upper shaft (carbon fiber on the model we tested) is marked at 5cm intervals to offer measurement up to 50cm for checking surface snow depth. Third, and most unique, at the base of one grip there's a small bubble inclinometer calibrated to measure between 30 and 45 degrees (highest hazard angle for avalanches).
The pole's adjustment mechanism, a basic cam, is easily opened and closed with gloved hands and has proven to work flawlessly on its factory setting thus far, including on a seven-day hut trip. The mechanism is adjustable without tools should you need to tighten or loosen it.
The all-important grip gets a thumbs up from everyone, and its ergonomic shape is very similar to my all-time favorite ski pole grip on the Life-Link Carbon Pro pole. Straps are adjustable and comfortablebut, personally, I don't use straps. Swing weight gets a general nod as well, though with aluminum lowers, they're not quite as agile as the all carbon model. The carbon/aluminum model comes in at $140 and weighs a respectable 302 grams.
Black Diamond Carbon Probe Ski Pole: BD debuts their new FlickLock Pro mechanism on these poles and it's excellent - a nice upgrade from the previous version. It's easy to work with gloved fingers and there's no adjustment feature to change over time. It has proven flawless in its function thus far, including during a seven-day hut trip experience.
The lower shaft is a 16mm carbon fiber design, while the upper is 17mm aluminum. Like most adjustable poles, the BD carbon pole converts into an emergency probe. At 1.8 meters long it's not quite a replacement for a dedicated probe, but it is better than not having one at all.
BD put some design thought into the grip to create a nice lip on the top to aide in various binding adjustments like flipping heel lifters and locking tech-binding toes. It's a nice touch that helps reduce time dinking with gear and bending over to reach bindings. On the comfort front, the grip is nice and grippy and, although at first grab it seamed less ergonomic than my Life Link Carbon Pros, it has served everyone well. Swing weight is good, and the pole weighs in identically to the K2 at 302 grams and is priced at $130.
Both the BD and K2 poles offer easy and reliable adjustability in the field and solid service for backcountry and resort skiing. K2 gets the nod for adding small features like calibrated length on the upper shaft and the nifty bubble inclinometer. It would be nice to see the inclinometer go down to 25-degrees, but I can see that space dictated the scale. I'd also like to see removale straps, but I think I'm in the minority on this feature.
Basically, you can't go wrong with either model. If you like to measure snow depth and gauge slope angle, the K2 has an edge, but from a durability and touring functionality perspective, both work great.