I’ve used the more conventional Mountain King trekking poles before, but the Trail Blaze is something altogether different and exciting for lightweight aficionados.
Mountain King Trail Blaze trekking poles
Price: £79 (pair)
Weight: 250g (pair) for 120cm length
Materials and Construction
There’s no huge secret here – the Trail Blaze is essentially a beefed-up tent pole with a handle and tip. Mountain King are based in Newcastle where they import the raw aluminium tube and carry out the rest of the manufacturing themselves – things like cutting, anodising and sticking the handles on – this gives them the ability to precisely specify the materials used, from adhesives to the aluminium alloy. From the ground up: the tip is the standard carbide, with a ferrule capable of accepting various baskets, the included mud baskets or larger snow baskets for winter use. I prefer to use them without a basket at all, but that’s just me. The four pole sections join like a tent pole or avalanche probe, with a length of cord running internally to emerge through the top of the handle. All joins feel surprisingly solid with little play, and in the event of breakage or excessive wear it’s easy to replace just the problem section by untying one knot. The handle is soft foam with a mesh cover which compresses just enough to provide comfort without losing contact and feedback. They feel great with sweaty hands too! The cord runs through a notch in a plastic cap on the top of the handle – pull the cord to seat the pole sections until a knot appears, this is then held captive by the notch and the excess cord secured under a Velcro strap just below the handle. It’s a simple system that works well, though the protruding plastic cap makes ‘palming’ the pole (useful when going downhill) a bit more uncomfortable than with other handle designs, but it’s not a huge problem. A hand strap is essential when using poles in a Nordic style with the poles used for propulsion (see below), and these are comfortable and practical. However – my hands change size when I’m wearing gloves, and the non-adjustable straps don’t accomodate this. In reality I’m more likely to use a sturdier, heavier pole in winter conditions where the chance of a stumble and accidental shockloading is higher, so it remains to be seen whether this becomes a real issue. Everything about the materials and construction suggests quality engineering and real world research and development – the kind of thing you can easily achieve with a small, niche business like this.
Features and Usage
The Trail Blaze is aimed at runners, the kind of runner than competes in long distance, weight-critical events like the Marathon des Sables and needs poles for stability on insecure ground rather than as crutches – the shafts are 11mm thick and really not designed to be heavily weighted. In fact, there’s a disconcerting flex in the poles which takes some getting used to, but no indication of weakness or instability. The low weight makes it easy to get into a rhythm, pushing the poles behind you to aid forward propulsion in a Nordic Walking style then bringing them forward to give a degree of support on tricky terrain. They’re available in several fixed lengths – 110cm to 130cm in 5cm increments – which means you’ll need to do some measuring to find your required size. The lack of adjustment means there’s no locking mechanism to slip at an inopportune moment or refuse to loosen when you need to get on the bus, but you’ll need to be sure you’ve got the right length from the start. The low weight, coupled with the small pack size (35cm for the 120cm pole), has to appeal to lightweight backpackers as well as adventure racers, or those that only want to use a pole on particular sections of a route. Packed down they’ll fit into a trouser pocket (just), with the sections held together with the same Velcro strap that secures the cord excess. Over time the cord might stretch, the knot move or a section bend – instead of throwing the pole away or resigning it to the back of the cupboard it’s a simple matter of removing the toggle from the end of the cord, dismantling the pole and fixing the problem (reknotting or replacing a section) or simply send it back to Mountain King to deal with. They’re only in Newcastle after all.
Best of all – you can buy the poles in black, blue, magenta, green, yellow, red, grey, aqua, orange or harlequin – with each section a different colour!