The Xenon 4 Poles easily stow away alongside a water bottle in this GoLite Jam2.
These four-section collapsible poles weigh 9 ounces (280 grams) and cost $70. This is similar in weight, but half the cost of the nearest competitor, the Black Diamond Ultra Distance Poles, which received a Recommended rating. Can the CAMP Xenon 4 Poles achieve the same results at half the cost? Or are they, as Will Rietveld asked, too good to be true?
There is nothing revolutionary in the design or construction of the Xenon 4 Poles. They are made of four aluminum sections that pull together with the tug of a cord, just like an avalanche probe. The tip is pressed into one end, and a foam grip and nylon strap are attached to the other end. The 120-cm pole is bright orange and weighs 4.9 ounces (140 grams) per pole. A 135-cm length set is also available; it is blue and weighs 5.3 ounces (150 grams) per pole. The poles are available as of April 2011 at a retail price of $70.
Like an avalanche probe, the Dyneema cord and aluminum ferrules are the basis for joining the pole sections (left). A tug on the cord loop, located on top of the grip, eliminates cord slack and pulls the four sections together (center). Pulling the knot over the notch in the plastic cap locks the cord in place, forming a rigid pole (right).
The hand grip is very basic: foam with an unpadded strap and a loop of Dyneema cord (left). The adjustable strap and 8-inch (20-cm) grip allow adjustments in hand placement, which is necessary for a fixed-length pole (center). The foam grips have two small bulges on the top half, which helps the hand maintain a strong grip, and the bottom half has a slight taper (right).
The 50-mm baskets are easily removed with a few twists (left). Tungsten carbide tips are standard (right).
Kristin and I tested the poles on numerous hikes in the French Alps, Canadian Rockies, and Glacier National Park (pictured).
When I first tried the Xenon 4 Poles, I was more amazed by how flimsy they felt, rather than by their low weight. First off, the pole sections didn’t fit tightly together. Each connection has a bit of play, which can be felt by shaking the pole. Second, the sections are made of very light, thin aluminum that is not stiff. This combination of a flexible shaft and three semi-loose connections means that the pole is not at all rigid. The pole bends under a small amount of pressure that, on any other trekking pole, would go unnoticed.
I wasn’t sure how well the poles would fare on the trail. I double-checked the packaging and read that the poles were designed for light backpacking and sky running (Italian for high-altitude off-trail running). "Here goes nothing," I thought.
On the second day of testing, Kristin slipped on a patch of slushy snow and the pole snapped under her weight. Her hand was not in the strap and the pole wasn’t caught in any hard spot, like rock or ice. She wasn’t wearing a backpack or running. She was simply walking and slipped.
I took this pictures just seconds after Kristin fell, to show the hiking conditions (left). The pole snapped in the center, with the internal ferrule being the weak point (right).
Before we had a chance to break the other pole in the field, we wanted to put it through BPL’s stiffness test. Unsurprisingly, it did not fare well.
BPL’s method for measuring pole stiffness: hang a 25-pound (11.34-kg) bag at the center of a 110-cm section of pole and measure the deflection from horizontal. The general range for lightweight poles is 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) of deflection. The Xenon 4 bent 15 inches (38 cm) before collapsing completely between the chairs.
Upon further inspection, we found that the pole was permanently damaged. The center ferrule was again the weak point (top). The bent ferrule resulted in 4 inch (10 cm) permanent deflection (bottom).
We contacted CAMP, who stated that other users had reported problems with the poles from the first round of production. CAMP supplied us with another set of Xenon 4 Poles to test.
There was no noticeable difference between the old and the new poles. CAMP did not specify what was wrong with the first production run or what they changed in subsequent runs. Kristin and I used the new pair of poles on a number of day hikes. The poles did not break on any hikes, but they also did not feel any stronger than the original set – they still felt alarmingly fragile. For example, I used the poles to help hop over a creek and I nearly fell in as the poles flexed wildly under my weight. I knew how weak these poles were and didn’t want to risk injury by depending on them.
Testing the second set of poles: as I lowered the 25-pound (11.34-kg) bag on the center, I measured pole deflection of more than 10 inches (25 cm) before it collapsed completely (left). As with the first set of poles, the center ferrule was the breaking point (center). The pole was permanently damaged in testing (right).
The rest of the poles’ features are a mixed bag. The basket is perfectly sized for hiking and can easily be removed. The wrist strap is unpadded, which saves weight, and is not uncomfortable. Many ultralight backpackers do not use wrist straps, so it is unfortunate that the wrist straps are not removable (unless you fancy a permanent dismemberment by cutting the straps off). I dissected one of the poles after it broke, and found that the wrist strap is held on by a simple zip tie. The foam grip is relatively comfortable, though it is not as easy to hold as other grips that have a more anatomical shape. The grips taper too much towards the bottom half to be very useful. Furthermore, the hole in very top part of the grip, to allow for the plastic cord lock, is uncomfortable to palm.
The closest competition, in terms of weight and design, are the Black Diamond Ultra Distance Poles. These three-section collapsible poles, which are also new as of spring 2011, weigh 4.75 ounces (135 g) and retail for $150. They have carbon fiber shafts, interchangeable rubber and carbide tips, left and right-hand specific molded grips, and utilize avalanche connector technology. The poles are available in 100-, 110-, 120-, and 130-cm lengths.
CAMP Xenon 4 – very thin compared to the already minimalist Fizan Compact.
Another attractive option are the Fizan Compact Poles, which are three-section collapsible, adjustable poles that weigh 5.6 ounces (158 g) and costs about $80 for the pair. The Fizan Compact have about the same strength as the Ultra Distance, cost nearly the same as the Xenon 4, and, additionally, offer adjustable length from 58-132 cm, for a weight penalty of only 0.7 ounces (20 g) per pole.
CAMP’s website touts that the Xenon 4 Poles are "the lightest trekking poles in the world!" At 5 ounces (140 grams) for the 120 cm length, the poles are not the lightest by any measure. The Black Diamond Ultra Distance poles are collapsible and weigh 4.75 ounces (136 grams). Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4 and Titanium Goat Adjustable Poles, adjustable but not collapsible, are 1.5 ounces (43 grams) lighter. With such a bold claim despite evidence to the contrary, CAMP’s credibility is brought into question. It is therefore unsurprising that the poles did not fare well in our rigorous testing.
The Xenon 4 Poles are essentially four sections of a tent pole with a cord lock and handle at one end and a basket and tip plugged into the other end. They are thin, light, and compact. However, they are very flexible and prone to breaking. As such, they are suitable only for hikers who put very little weight on their poles. For the rest of us, it would be worthwhile to invest in more durable poles, such as the Fizan Compact ($10 more) or Black Diamond Ultra Distance ($80 more).
CAMP Xenon 4 Poles in use above Chamonix Valley, looking onto the Argentiere Glacier.
Specifications and Features
|Year / Model||2011 Xenon 4|
|Style||Four-section collapsible, fixed length|
|Shaft Material||Aluminum alloy 7005|
|Grips and Straps||8-inch (20 cm) foam grip with nylon strap|
|Lengths Available||(extended/collapsed, in cm): 120/32 (tested), 135/36|
|Weight per Pole||Manufacturer: 4.9 ounces (140 g) |
Measured: 5.0 ounces (143 g)
including 0.2 ounce (5 g) removable basket
|Features||Compact collapsible aluminum poles; internal Dyneema cord; twist style removable 50-mm|
basket; adjustable nylon strap; foam grip; available in 120 or 135 cm lengths.
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to the manufacturer to review this product under the terms of this agreement.