The magazine you hold in your hands weighs more than twice as much as one of these airy poles. When our staff passed the sticks around, the most common response was a wide-eyed “Holy #!&!” We were equally awestruck by its smart, avalanche-probe-inspired design that, when broken down, allows the pole to fold into an unusually short, 13-inch-long bundle.
“It’s small enough to stash in a hip pocket for short, scrambly sections,” says one tester. A concealed Kevlar cord runs inside the pole from grip to tip. Push the release button to collapse the pole. To snap the pole back into place, simply hold the first shaft section and pull the molded-foam grip—the inner cord pulls taut, and plastic cones guide the shaft segments together until the release button locks back into place. Length isn’t adjustable, but that means fewer parts that can break, and as another tester notes, “Deploying the Z-Pole is faster than traditional twist or clamp locks.” The Z-Pole series has three poles, ranging from $100 (aluminum, adjustable length) to $150 (carbon, fixed length).
Our favorite is the crazy-light Ultra Distance. Swing weight is nil, and it easily tackled terrain that literally snapped another pole in half during our cross-country traverse of Capitol Reef National Park. Interchangeable tips (carbide and rubber) gripped on hardpack as well as slickrock. Note: Since the Ultra Distances are not adjustable, be sure to get your size (comes in four lengths, from 100 to 130cm). $150; 8.4oz. (100cm, pair); blackdiamondequipment.comLife-Link Guide is a feature-packed Aluminum/Carbon adjustable pole for the year round mountain adventurer. Includes both trekking and ski baskets and a built in avalanche probe. Oval Aluminum upper combined with Life-Link's patented locking mechanism prevents the poles from slipping once adjusted to length. Carbon lower keeps swing weight low. Grips have shock-absorbing foam. Straps are padded for comfort with bare hands in the summer. Carbide flex tip allows the tip to flex under pressure rather than breaking the shaft.