From helping avoid injury to aiding your balance on rough ground, trekking poles have many benefits. They can even help you walk faster and further. However there are two big drawbacks that apply in particular whenever you're carrying poles in your pack rather than in your hands: their weight, and their collapsed length. Luckily poles seem to be getting lighter and more compact all the time. By these criteria, among the best of the current offerings are C.A.M.P's foldable Sky Carbon and Sonic Alu models.
These are foldable poles with an adjustable size range, so while they may not quite achieve the ultimate lightness of some of the featherweight fixed length poles on the market, they are a lot more versatile for general use by hillwalkers and climbers.
We've had both models on test for several months. As they are essentially the same pole, just built from different materials (hence also a difference in weight and price), we'll cover them both together in this review.
"Quick and easy to adjust, they collapse to a tiny 36cm in length, making them a great choice for both overseas travel and for climbers intending to carry them in their pack while on the route."
Materials, weight and toughness
The Sky Carbon is built largely of carbon fibre. This makes it very much the lightweight option, and on my kitchen scales they come in at 376g for the pair, including wrist straps and small baskets (C.A.M.P quote 377g), a weight that puts them in the running with the lightest adjustable length poles from other manufacturers.
With a shaft made entirely of aluminium the Sonic Alu is the tougher, more durable option. Yes, it's heavier too - but not by a great deal. I make it 448g for the pair including trimmings (C.A.M.P say 450g). For a pair of aluminium poles that is very respectable, and to my mind it certainly doesn't make them too heavy to consider using on climbing days, for instance, when they'll be carried up the route in a pack.
For weight saving, narrow gauge tubing is employed throughout the pole's length. These are by some margin the thinnest poles I have ever used, something that is particularly noticeable at the top end when you're gripping the shaft below the handle. Every other pole in my fairly extensive collection feels fat by comparison to the daintiness of the Sonic Alu and Sky Carbon. As a result, in use there's a considerable flex to the shaft. This isn't in any way a bad thing, but actually gives you a nice springy feel when you're powering along, and a bit of shock absorption when planting the tips. In addition, because of their flex the shafts don't feel brittle despite their thinness, and to date both models have stood up well to the rough and tumble of hill use.
That said, carbon fibre poles are not well known for their longevity, so in the case of the Sky Carbon durability is a relative thing, and I would not be expecting miracles. Very sensibly, on the Sky Carbon C.A.M.P have used harder-wearing aluminium tubing for the bottom section, the thinnest point in the shaft and the one most vulnerable to damage. Still, for heavy winter abuse, or on longer trips where replacing a broken pole would be an issue, the all-aluminium Sonic Alu would be a safer bet. Both poles have a solid, well-built feel, and their only sign of use after several months is the odd scratch in the paint.
The benefit of the folding design versus a more traditional all-telescopic setup is apparent the minute you collapse these poles. With a folded length of just 35-36cm the Sonic Alu and Sky Carbon poles are genuinely tiny, easily stowed inside your pack when you're climbing, and taking up minimal space for travelling. Having used them on the approach to a number of mountain rock climbs this summer and autumn, I've had no issue stashing them in my bag on the routes. Your typical telescopic pole is enormous by comparison. The short collapsed length of these poles puts them on a par with some of the most compact adjustable folding models available. Despite this small packed size, when employed they range in length between 115-135cm. I think that's a pretty decent balance between compactness and usable length.
Locking and adjustment
In order to be as short as possible when collapsed, these poles come in five sections. The upper three are telescopic, sliding into one another, while the lower two pieces are corded. Rather like a washing line, this cord is plastic coated for strength and it does indeed seem pretty tough. Assembling the pole is very quick and easy: as you slide the lowest of the telescopic sections down, the two corded pieces automatically pop into position. This fixed length of pole locks in place via a little sprung button. The length of the whole pole can then be adjusted by sliding the top two telescopic sections, which lock via a single external plastic clip. Compared to an old fashioned twist-lock mechanism this kind of external clip system has several advantages: it is easier to operate wearing gloves, and it's less prone to water ingress, dirt, corrosion and freezing or seizing up. The clip seems robust enough, but if it did break it can be unscrewed and replaced. The length of both the Sonic Alu and Sky Carbon poles can be quickly and easily adjusted from a minimum of 115cm to a max of 135cm. This range seems sufficient to suit most adults, though at the shorter extreme your average all-telescopic style pole is usable at lengths much less than this (they could theoretically be used fully collapsed, after all).
Handles are commonly the least convincing part of walking pole design, and the Sonic Alu and Sky Carbon are no exception. Though a nice texture to grip - soft enough to be comfy without being too spongy - their foam handles are pretty basic. C.A.M.P describe them as ergonomic, but in comparison to really ergonomic alternatives such as the radical Pacerpole their sculpting is not particularly pronounced. Because they lack any kind of grip rest to support the base of the hand, when you're not relying on the wrist strap you have to grip fairly hard, which after a long day could well lead to tired hands. Anyone with large hands is likely to find the handles on the small side too. Some pole designs feature secondary foam grips below the handle, and these are a good idea for people who like to move their hand up and down the shaft as the ground level changes beneath. I do it all the time, so for me the fact that C.A.M.P have not added any sort of shaft grip is a drawback, since it makes holding the shaft less efficient and less comfy, especially in cold weather when the aluminium in particular is icy to the touch. Now winter is here I'll be modifying these poles by adding my own tape.
The fundamental problem - and C.A.M.P are by no means alone in this, it's a pretty universal trend among pole manufacturers - is that for maximum efficiency the handle is best used in conjunction with the wrist loop. With the loop fitted, at least so the theory goes, you get more control over the pole and can push more strongly into it when powering yourself along, without having to over-grip. If you're designing a handle with the assumption that the wrist loops will always be used then perhaps you are less likely to prioritise its loop-free ergonomics. Yet there are compelling reasons for not using wrist loops, and many people dislike them. For the arguments against, see this recent article How to Walk With Poles. Personally I gave up using loops years ago, and I'll cut them off these poles when I get round to it. To be clear, I'm not singling these particular poles out for special criticism here, so much as bemoaning the industry standard; but I will say that if C.A.M.P had made the handles a little better for loop-free gripping they'd have suited me better.
If you are a loop fan (a loopy?), you can of course ignore all this. As far as loops go, I'll concede that these ones are actually pretty decent, being nicely padded and easy to adjust.
The Sonic Alu and Sky Carbon poles both come in their own mesh bag for storage and transit. As standard you get rubber ferrules that slip over the tips (if you really must. But why?), and elastic loops for holding everything together when the poles are folded. In addition C.A.M.P supply you with three sizes of basket - tiny for weight saving, medium for everyday hillwalking use, and large for snowy conditions.
Robust and well built, C.A.M.P's Sonic Alu and Sky Carbon models are superb lightweight trekking poles. Quick and easy to adjust, they collapse to a genuinely tiny 36cm in length, making them a great choice for both overseas travel and for climbers intending to carry them in their pack while on the route. The Sky Carbon has the edge when it comes to weight saving - you're not likely to find many adjustable poles that weigh much less; if durability is more a concern however then go for the Sonic Alu. The handles could be better, but that's a fact with many pole designs, and not a criticism specific to C.A.M.P. For poles of this quality they seem very fairly priced, just £70 for the Alu and £85 for the Carbon. I have no hesitation in recommending them both.
These ultralight, foldable trekking poles, weighing only 450g per pair for the Sonic Alu and 377g per pair for the Sky Carbon, pack down to just 36cm in length and come with a handy storage bag. The ergonomic handles with adjustable leashes guarantee comfort with gloves or bare hands in all conditions. The inner cord is plastic coated for fluid assembly and disassembly and features a micro-adjustable tensioning system to guarantee a tight assembly with each use. The upper segment features a functional locking system that allows the poles to be adjusted from 115 to 135cm with ease and locked securely in position. For the Sky Carbon poles, carbon fibre is used in the 4 upper segments for lightweight rigidity and aluminium is used in the lower segment for critical strength where the poles contact the ground. With three baskets to suit all conditions and durable carbide tips, these poles are the perfect companion for everything from trail running, hiking or mountaineering.
For more info see camp.it