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Preview: Ultimate Direction FK Poles || 4-oz fixed-length carbon

All things being equal, fixed-length trekking poles will be lighter, stronger, and less expensive than telescoping or foldable models like the Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Poles or Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles.

Yet there is currently only one off-the-shelf fixed-length pole that is suitable for backpacking: the Black Diamond Vapor Carbon 1 Pole. For a pole to be “suitable,” I would insist that it have carbon fiber or aluminum shafts, cork or foam grips with extensions, and a high-quality replaceable carbide tip.

In spring 2018, Ultimate Direction will enter this market niche as well, with the new FK Pole. It will retail for $125 and weigh a feathery 4 oz (for 115 cm). Seven sizes will be available, in 5-cm increments between 100 and 130 cm.

The Ultimate Direction FK Poles: fixed-length carbon fiber shafts with extended foam grips and replaceable carbide tips.

The carbon fiber shaft is 20 mm in diameter at its top, compared to 15.4 mm for the Carbon 1 and 13 mm for the Carbon Z. As a result, the FK Pole is exceptionally strong and stiff. The lower 30 cm are wrapped with Aramid fabric (i.e. unbranded Kevlar) for abrasion-resistance.

The one-piece foam grip includes a lower extension, which I consider a must-have. When hiking on steep trails with big steps and when off-trail, I frequently choke down on the pole shafts. The straps can be removed and reinstalled, though not quickly.

Mud baskets and snow baskets will be included.

The only part of the FK Pole that I question is the tip. It’s replaceable and made of carbide, but until field use proves otherwise I’m skeptical of non-Black Diamond or non-Leki tips after my CMT tips eroded to useless nubs after less than two-hundred miles.

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15 Responses to Preview: Ultimate Direction FK Poles || 4-oz fixed-length carbon

  1. Richarf August 13, 2017 at 7:53 am #

    I’m not a fan of foam grips. Plastic even less. But really, fixed length seems just wrong. Some tarp and tarp tent solutions depend on variable height which have nothing to do with it’s hiking height.

    • Andrew Skurka August 13, 2017 at 9:19 am #

      Would agree with you on plastic, as well as rubber. I have a slight preference for cork or faux cork, but foam is fine.

      Re height, indeed, if your shelter requires a pole of a certain height, or a pole with a range of heights that is beyond the practical range of your fixed-length pole, then these poles aren’t for you. As one example, my High Route Tent would be incompatible with my fixed-length pole height of 115 cm, requiring me to carry pole extenders or to have some other solution. Ditto for MLD SoloMid.

      • richard August 13, 2017 at 9:41 am #

        My kids have a scooter with foam grips. It has been outside for a few months and the grips are dirty, possibly mold, and if I had to guess the edges of the individual cells have hardened so the grip is just not very satisfying. YEP, a couple tents like the SMD Luna Solo, ZPacks Hexamid, BPWD Lair all use variable height to regulate the conditions in the tent. My Montem cork poles weigh 10oz and cost $50 for a pair.

        I’ll make one other observation… Last Jan I was hiking in the Big Cypress with knee height water for nearly 5 miles with uneven trail of rocks, boulders and debris.With one false step my poles saved me from a faceplant, however, were no longer adjustable and so using them for my tent was not going to work. So the poles did half their double duty. Lucky I was also carrying a hammock. Unfortunately because my boots were 10 years old the soles detached and I had to finish the last 2 miles without soles.

        Thanks

    • Eli August 13, 2017 at 12:53 pm #

      You can buy a pole jack to make a fixed length pole the correct length for a shelter.

      • Andrew Skurka August 13, 2017 at 3:49 pm #

        Yes, you can, but with a pole + jack system you can’t use the pole to change tension on the shelter. For instance, the optimal pole height for the High Route Tent is 50 inches (127 cm). But if it’s pitched higher off the ground or closer to the ground than this “optimal height,” the optimal pole height changes, too. Also, when the fabric is damp or wet, it stretches. So it’s convenient to have some adjustability so that you can account for different pitches and so that you can eliminate sag from the panels.

        • Andrew Skurka August 13, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

          BTW, ditto for other fixed-shape shelters, especially double-wall models.

  2. PackmanPete August 13, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

    Long fixed-length poles are real bad for hitch-hiking situations. Just saying. Otherwise, being a tarp guy, I prefer them. Also, is it just me or does everyone else wish these trek poles had better top handles on them for down hill use. Leki handles are about the best. Mountainsmith makes a cane type pole which works great downhill, but without a grip on the shaft, it makes them worthless uphill. I emailed them and advised they should put a grip on it, just like their monopod pole. Got a nice email back saying they would pass it on to engineering, but the poles are still the same. IDK. They’re idiots.

  3. Buzz August 14, 2017 at 8:59 am #

    Good review. My thoughts:

    As Andrew noted, a fixed-length is automatically lighter, stronger, and less expensive than folding, because all of the complex ‘build’ is in the folding mechanism and is eliminated. Notably as well, they are much more durable, because that same mechanism is where poles tend to fail.

    UD also makes the “FK Tarp”, and like all tarps, fixed lengths works fine erecting this.

    The drawbacks IMO to fixed length is first transportation – If you’re driving to a TH none of it matters, but if you’re flying you have to put these in a cardboard tube (avail anywhere) as Checked Baggage. But note that all poles have to be checked – they can’t be Carried on anyway (unless they’re hidden inside a pack and you don’t get caught).

    The main drawback to me is none of that – it’s that if you’re climbing 5th class you can’t carry anything in your hands, they have to go on your pack, and they can snag when in a chimney. This issue probably doesn’t apply to most people.

    I’ve always thought the available trekking poles were terribly cheesy, and have used Nordic (skiing) racing poles for years, and these are a major improvement. The bigger diameter is an absolute game-changer: increasing the diameter increases the strength by the square of the increase, and increases the stiffness by the cube of the increase! IOW, the standard diameter poles ALL companies have been making are absolutely stupid. They all are terrible design, no matter what the price or features. Think bike frames – bicycle companies went to large diameter tubes 10-20 years ago because they obviously vastly stronger and stiffer for a given weight. The outdoor industry was painfully slow to follow.

    • Andrew Skurka August 14, 2017 at 9:07 am #

      Not a “review,” just a preview. I’d love to review them, though — When are you going to set me up with a pair?

    • Mordecai August 14, 2017 at 11:57 am #

      Maybe mention your affiliation?

      Since we have you on the line, any chance you could use your influence to turn down the font size on the ULTIMATE DIRECTION fastpacks? For the hiking community, its a bit much. I personally can’t really consider most UD products for all the obnoxious branding.

      • Andrew Skurka August 14, 2017 at 2:57 pm #

        Speaking on behalf of Buzz…

        Buzz is UD brand manager and long-term friend of mine.

  4. Sean August 14, 2017 at 10:06 am #

    Are these 4 oz per pole or for the pair?

    • Andrew Skurka August 14, 2017 at 10:38 am #

      Per pole

      • Sean August 14, 2017 at 10:46 am #

        10-4, thanks.

  5. Adam September 17, 2017 at 6:45 pm #

    Any idea when these are coming out?

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