Danny Milks from Massdrop contacted me a few months ago about a new version of Fizan’s compact trekking pole they were producing, and he ended up sending me a pair to use with no strings attached. With one major flaw I’ve found them to be excellent summer poles, and a good discussion point for what works and what doesn’t with trekking poles.
Some context is in order here. For the last four years I’ve almost exclusively used these frankenpoles, which are both fairly light and exceptionally stiff and strong, considerably stiffer than any other summer trekking pole I’ve seen, as well as most winter ski poles. The grips have suffered a bit, for a variety of reasons, but otherwise they’ve held up beautifully. I enjoy being able to chuck them down small cliffs without concern, as well as the rigidity they lend to shelters. After breaking a Gossamer Gear poles on the first day of the 2015 Bob Open I’m hesitant to use anything less bombproof, and 9 oz per hand in summer configuration is an acceptable price to pay for that.
The Massdrop Fizan Compacts are a version of the same poles the Italian company has been selling for quite some time. Mr. Milks himself reviewed them for Backpacking Light back in 2011. They’re a hair over 6 ounces per pole (with straps, without baskets), and made from three sections of a thin 7000 series aluminum alloy. The sections adjust via an internal plastic twist lock. Key features of the Massdrop version are slim EVA foam grips and a strap made from a soft-hand grosgrain webbing. The poles ship with three sizes of basket, which is a welcome and increasingly common detail.
Why are the Fizan Compacts significantly lighter than an otherwise comparable (3 sections of similar length) pole like the BD Trail Pro (claimed at 9 oz a pole)? For one, I do think the internal plastic adjusters are probably lighter than flicklocks, certainly metal flicklocks. Second, Fizan uses thinner wall aluminum, though of a quality which seems just as strong and stiff as most mid model alu poles like the Trail Pro. Last, and most important, I strongly suspect the Fizan grips are quite a bit lighter.
Trekking pole grips are heavy, 2-3 ounces per grip in most cases. This is because the simplest way to make a grip that will stand up lots of use is to have it be entirely cored in plastic, which resists cracking when dropped, is easy to glue to the pole, and will not deform. The Fizan grips still have plastic ends for longevity, but have a slim and light foam grip. Some may find the grips too thin, some may lament the lack of a grip extension (I don’t), and some may find the harder, lighter plastic end less than ideal for palming on steep sections (I do), but I think that a key area of compromise necessary for making a light trekking pole is the grip, and I think Fizan made reasonable choices here.
The BD Alpine Carbon Cork (shown at left, 2013 model) takes the opposite approach. Full features, full durability, and if I pulled the pole apart I would suspect full weight. Gossamer Gear grips (shown at right) are quite light and still the most comfortable I’ve used, but as my custom poles show the lack of a fully supportive plastic end has over years of hard use (especially as a mid pole) a price. These grips are still useable, but replacing them is on my list for this winter.
So what’s the major flaw of the Fizans? The lower section slips, no matter how hard I tighten it. This only happens roughly every 200th pole plant, and they only slip an inch or so, but it is consistent and it is annoying. Danny said this was the first he’s heard of the issue, and perhaps my pair had locks or lower shafts slightly out of spec, but I find it hard to not default to my inherent suspicion of twist locks, based on the many troublesome poles I’ve seen in the hands of hiking companions over the years.
So what would I do if I had to revise my frankenpoles, or combine them with the Fizan’s, to make an even better version? First I’d figure out a way to integrate the smallest possible plastic plug or cap into the Gossamer Gear grips, making them more durable without adding much weight. Second, I’d make them two sections, with slimmer flicklocks than anything BD has thus far made (the slick shafts of the Fizan’s are both functional and aesthetic). I’d probably make them totally out of aluminum, as durable-enough carbon seems to have little weight advantage in this application, and I’d make that alloy high strength and a bit thicker than the Fizan tubes. Trekking poles with essentially no give or flex in use has firmly become my preference, I think it is both more efficient on trail and more confidence inspiring off trail. I’m not sure I’d sell too many, as they’d be expensive while not being prodigiously light, but I’d like having one pair of poles to do almost everything.
Edit: Massdrop sent me another pair, this time the production model Fizan is custom making for them. I’ll report back on the presence or absence of the slipping issue.