Overall: Five Stars for an innovative combination of features that add up to – depending on your perspective –a rando race pole with more backcountry versatility than a typical nordic race pole or a fixed-length touring pole optimized for speed. Only reservations would be that nordic race poles and similarly derived rando race poles offer better tip purchase on steep consolidated snow, and the all-encompassing straps on nordic race poles might appeal more to racers who are accustomed to, well, the all-encompassing straps on their own nordic race poles.
Background on product familiarity: I used these over the 2013-14 season for rando racing and training when I wanted a more practical ice tip and basket for natural snow and/or a simpler strap for colder temperatures.
First, the first impressions out of the box: If you are accustomed to typical adjustable-length backcountry ski poles, these will seem absurdly light and stiff to you. If you are instead accustomed to typical high-end carbon fiber nordic ski racing poles – well, actually, they’ll still seem impressively light and stiff to you! The weight is slightly under the nordic race poles I have set up for skimo (although I suspect the swing weight is slightly higher), and the deflection is similarly minimal.
The strap is basic, with the simple adjustment and locking mechanism found on low-end nordic poles and most skimo-specific poles. The foam grips are more akin to a trekking pole, and somewhat thick – for my average-girth hands they were still fine, although they might feel bulky for very small hands. The foam extends down a bit below the grip, but not enough to choke up significantly on boot pack ascents. This omission is somewhat puzzling, since the prior year’s version had the nifty “G’Reptile” grippy zone, which still comes on some other Komperdell models. But you can achieve the same effect with hockey tape (whether on this model or any other skimo or nordic pole).
The ice tip is somewhat thick, akin to a typical composite alpine ski pole. The asymmetrical hollowed-out “basket” both rotates and tilts, which is impressively cool even aside from the potential practical implications for adapting to the terrain.
(By contrast to all this, high-end nordic race poles have somewhat all-encompassing straps that provide excellent support and closure for aggressively pushing off of your poles during, well, nordic racing, but are not very practical for many aspects of skimo – hence all the other skimo-specific poles I’ve seen also have a very basic strap like on the Komperdell. Nordic ice tips are also optimized for, well, nordic skiing, yet are typical for skimo poles. Skimo baskets though seem to vary widely.)
Second impressions, in use: If you are accustomed to typical adjustable-length backcountry ski poles, then you will be amazed by the low swing weight and hill climbing power transmission. If you are instead accustomed to typical high-end carbon fiber nordic ski racing poles, then business as usual (and business is good).
The strap adjustment stays in place, but is a bit annoying to adjust if you’re often switching back and forth between handwear of varying bulk (and also compulsive about optimal fit). I found that I preferred the basic strap over high-end nordic race straps in very cold weather when I would often have to withdraw my fingers back inside my gloves for rewarming. When I was briefly pretending to be a nordic racer with some intense skating, I missed my nordic racing straps, but otherwise I doubt it has much practical difference for skimo.
The ice tip doesn’t have the same bite as nordic-style tips for steep uphills, but it’s also far more normal for pole plants/touches on the descent. The basket’s rotation avoids the excess problem of those old BD three-quarter baskets (if you remember how the truncated portion on those never seemed to stay on the uphill side), and the tilting mechanism also has the right amount of resistance. However, in some unusual “dense” snow conditions, the uphill overhang of the basket sometimes catches a little bit. But the additional surface area is still preferable in unconsolidated snow to driving in far too deep a nordic-style basket (as I’ve experienced previously when I always used nordic racing poles for skimo).
Third impressions, for long-term durability: For nordic ski racing, ski poles are the only equipment item that can be replaced during a race, which speaks to their durability (or lack thereof), and that’s even without metal edges. So if you often breaks poles (or the proverbial anvil in a padded room), then you should probably stay away from all carbon fiber race poles.
Aside from that general caveat for this entire gear category, the only problem I had was a bad batch of plastic in the little orange retainer rings. The clips on many of these rings chipped off, thereby allowing the basket to detach from the pole. Forewarned, I was able to keep mine going with lots of epoxy. For the 2014-15 season, the rings are noticeably thicker with a more flexible resin, which should fix the problem.
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