Today I would like to share my thoughts on the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff.
I, like I suspect a fair number of people, have been through a number of hiking poles over the years. I think my first pair of hiking poles was the GGLT4’s. They caused me too much frustration, so I switched to the Komperdell Vario 4 poles. They were too flimsy so I switched to the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles. They are really heavy but they are the best trekking poles I have ever encountered. Along the way I tried switching away from using poles, and back to using them, and back to not using them.
I know some hikers that have to use them. I know other hikers that cannot use them. I know hikers that swear they refuse to hit the trail without them, and hikers that have hiked tens of thousands of miles and never used them. In the world of hiking they really are a HYOH piece of gear.
Sometime during the early 2013 season I just gave up on poles all together.
But I still found myself in need of a pole for those times when I would be crossing technical terrain, typically crossing rivers while out scouting new trail routes. I tried using the BDACC but it was just not long enough. I needed something longer than even the Komperdell and able to really be weight bearing while out in the middle of a river. So I asked around, and I look around, and nothing.
When Joe Valesko (owner of ZPacks) and I were at the 2014 PCT Kickoff (adzpctko) we got talking about the carbon fiber staff he built for himself and he mentioned that if I ever wanted one to just drop him an email. A few month later, April I think it was, I got around to sending Joe an email to see if he was still interested in making me one – along the lines of the carbon fiber poles we see in the hiking photos at the zpacks website (no, not this one silly, like this one!) but a bit taller for my needs.
After a few emails talking about how to handle a few manufacturing issues, he went ahead and bought a batch of the carbon fiber rods (a rather expensive investment on his part I am sure) and I sent him some funds to cover mine. A few days after the rods arrived I got a message saying my hiking staff was on its way for me to try out.
I do not have a lot of miles on mine at this point, but so far I have been extremely pleased with it.
In regards to features, there is not much here to explain that the ZPacks website does not go into detail about. You basically have a carbon fiber shaft that breaks down into three (or four, to be technical) sections, which has some cordage inside of it (dyneema) to hold all of the pieces together. During conversations with Joe one of the things I stressed was making sure it would pack down in a short-size, for storage inside of backpacks or on the outside side pockets. The 21.5″ (54.5 cm) of packed length is a pretty good size. It could have been shorter but this would have added weight (significant) as a result of the amount of ferrules it would take to get the max-length and the very short pack length. The numbers just do not make sense.
There is a bit of the dyneema cordage that comes down the top of the shaft. This is necessary in order to give the cordage extra room for when you take it apart as well as to keep the different sections together. I have never had my cordage slip down inside of the shaft, as the rubber cap is a pretty tight fit.
It would just be comical to sit here and put things like the GG LT4’s and/or the LG CP3’s or even the Komperdell poles up against the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff when it comes to the strength of carbon fiber being used, so no need to even go there. The only other product I know of that uses about the same grade/thickness of carbon fiber rods that ZPacks is using is the LuxuryLite BigStik, but it is $45 more expensive and 127.57 grams (4.5 ounces) heavier, so no need to go with that option either. Obviously it would be unfair to compare the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff to the Pacer Poles, as those are such a unique product that nothing can really compare to them.
Staff vs Trekking Poles:
So I am sure a bunch of folks are going to want to know “why use a staff over a traditional trekking pole?”
My question would be, “Why use a trekking pole over a staff?”
I suppose it all comes down to your style of hiking. HYOH. YMMV. All that good stuff. Do you use a hiking poles to thrust you along? Why? Do you use a hiking pole to provide stability? Do you use a hiking pole just because everybody else around you does? Are you a type of hiker that likes having one or two extra ‘legs’?
The simple answer here to these questions is very simple: hike how you want to hike the way you want to hike with what you want to hike. Its not my place to tell you what trekking pole or staff to use, or what works best for you.
I watch people using traditional trekking poles and most the time laugh under my breath because of their apparent total ignorance of how to properly use them. Let me ask you this: should your poles move together in parallel, or should one move forward while the other moves backwards. Watch any group of hikers with poles and you will understand why I ask this. Understand the reason for this anomaly among hikers and you’ll understand why I am pointing this out.
So really, the answer to should you use a ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff or should you use a single or pair of traditional trekking poles comes down to nothing more than you using whatever works for you.
In other words, asking the question “why use a staff over a traditional trekking pole?” shouldn’t even be asked, because there is no right or wrong answer to that question. Again, use whatever works for you.
For me, it is just a matter that I had given up using trekking poles, they just could not meet the needs I had for them. Simple as that. Nothing more than that. For the purposes that I want one with me, I want something that is as light as can be, can be packed down as small as can be (because I won’t be using it 90% of the time) and yet when it comes out to be used, I need to – I HAVE TO – know its going to be as strong and durable as possible to ensure that I remain standing when I need it the most. I also need it to be significantly taller than a traditional trekking pole – when crossing a river, it often gets stuck out four or five feet ahead of me, and then shifts to the downstream side, and back in front, and back to the side, and so forth – the extra length, in order to prod the rocks and ground as I cross a river, is vital. Its thickness and ability to support my weight if I slip on a moss-covered-slippery-as-hell-rock, is also vital. If I am boulder-crossing having something super tough to wedge down as I cross is vital. And, when in really deep snow, having something super tough and this long is soooo nice. But again, YMMV.
For those accustomed to a traditional hiking pole with a fancy cork or rubber grip, there is some getting use to holding onto a straight shaft while hiking. If you are one of those who use your hiking pole as a means of thrusting yourself down, or up, the trail — something I think is bad form, unless you are using pacer poles — a straight hiking staff is not going to be for you. But as I do not use my hiking poles as a means of forward movement, but rather to provide stability, the lack of a fancy-dance grip is utterly inconsequential.
Use As A Shelter Support:
The ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff comes apart at most of the common lengths for most shelters that use a trekking pole. It may not be the exact/perfect height, but it tends to fit, or at least work, for most of the common shelters used by the SUL hiking community. Those being: the full 60-inches, or 52-inches or 48-inches. This makes it worth with the ZPacks Hexamid, ZPacks SolPlex, ZPacks Duplex perfectly. The ZPacks Altaplex is either 2 inches too tall or 2 inches too short, depending on which length of the Staff you have taken apart, but either should be good enough, depending on weather conditions.
It can also work really well with the MLD TrailStar. It will also work with the MLD DuoMID but like the ZPacks AltaPlex, is going to be a couple inches too short or too high for a perfect pitch or weather dependent.
It can also be used with the crazy popular SMD Gatewood Cape.
In other words, pretty much any shelter that can be setup anywhere in the 48-60 inch range is going to be able to use the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff as a shelter support. It may not be “perfect” but I think most of us experienced hikers know that shelter height is usually dependent upon how the weather is. The different heights of the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff allows for this type of flexibility.
These days I have fallen in love with the ZPacks Duplex shelter. When I ordered it I also ordered two dedicated carbon fiber tent poles from ZPacks. I just find it easier to go with dedicated poles. This allows me the flexibility to set up my shelter as a base-camp and then continue to use my Staff the next few days as I am out scouting different routes for whatever trail I happen to be building. For when I am on a thru-hike it allows me to have the staff for other type of things – usually nothing, but sometimes I use it as a way to hold-up the head-end of the shelter, for if I cannot find a good stick for that purpose. It can also be used to help gather water from a river, just tie my cooking pot or water containers onto the end of it, and I can stay nice and dry, or reach water that is down out of reach.
And, at 60-inches, it gives you an extra 5-8 inches of additional length over most trekking poles out there… which makes it nice to get that snake out of the trail that seems to be enjoying a nice day in the sun, and won’t move. A rather risky venture, but I’ll always take a few extra inches for such a time as that. (this is where I would normally insert the standard don’t-be-an-idiot disclaimer)
A lot of folks have expressed interest in having a camera mount for the staff as there is none.
I had originally hoped that the Suluk46 “A-Pod” (a collaborative product between Suluk46 and myself – and the worlds lightest manufactured camera pod for traditional trekking poles) would work but the diameter of the carbon fiber rod was just a tiny bit too large.
So I went into my gear box and pulled out my Pedco UltraPod Mini and my Mini Ball Head Camera Mount and gave them a try, and sure enough, they have proven to work well enough to support my iPhone 6+ for shooting photos and video.
This combo provides a good enough mono-pod for me.
I have not had any issues with the carbon fiber rod, or the ferrules. That said, such things are bound to happen to somebody at some point in time.
Those of us who use cuben fiber shelters probably already carry cuben fiber repair tape.
ZPacks has put together some instructions of how to repair any ferrules that might come loose by using the cuben fiber repair tape.
It is so good of an idea that all Staffs from now on are going to be manufactured this way.
So to bring this to a closure.
As explained, I have been through, used and gave up on, most of the major trekking poles that we hikers tend to use. The BDACC are the only ones I have ever owned that have remained in my backpack. But even they have tended to be left at home, even before I got the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff because they just were not long enough for what I needed a trekking pole or staff for.
The highlights of the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff are, for me, as follows:
- Durable enough to hold my weight should I stumble or fall
- Long enough to do probing through deep river crossings
- Packs down small enough to fit inside my backpacks, even my pocketless backpacks.
- Extra tough carbon fiber shaft that does not snap if it gets stuck between rocks (something that haunts lesser durable trekking poles)
- An amazing price considering the cost of this thickness of carbon fiber and the man-hours to build one of these.
Is the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff going to be for everybody? No, by no means and of course not. But for those of you that are already a “one-pole hiker” like I am, and are looking for something longer and stronger than the current options, the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff is going to be something to buy. Give it a few hikes and I think you will fall in love with it, like I have. It has already saved me countless falls in rivers and crossing really rocking areas, and even while climbing up some rather technical climbs. It is the only pole/staff I take with me anymore. It has my full trust – and that is saying something I rarely say.
In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that at the time this article is published that I am a sponsored hiker of Black Rock Gear, Montbell US, Suluk46, Sun Precautions, Suntactics.