I've been using trekking poles for almost 30 years for lots of reasons, including stability for creek crossings, upper body use for ascending and descending, camera mount platform and general pace making. However, this year I decided to return to the venerable staff in the form of the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff. Why would I change a piece of equipment that has proven useful over and again for decades?
ANS: Off trail travel and scrambling where I need one hand free, and the ability to reach further and deeper during creek and river crossings. Although I've used the staff on a number of trips this year, including the Loowit and Wonderland trails, my latest excursion around Mt. Adams in Washington provided the ultimate test. I spent the better part of a day, almost 8 hours, negotiating the rugged eastern part of the mountain where there is no trail. What I did have to negotiate were steep scree slopes, mounds of rocks and boulders, wild creek and river crossings, thickets and dense trees and steep meadows. I was only able to stride normally in just a few places; otherwise I was scrambling over something, down something, or under something continuously. I used my free hand for scramble aid, veggie belays etc and used the staff not only for balance but as a battering ram when I encountered thick brush. I've used it as a mini pole vault for creek crossings, it's been slammed into the ground on numerous occasions during a scree slide or slip, including longitudinal forces that would have snapped my regular carbon trekking pole(s). It has taken enough abuse over these various trips that I keep wondering how long it's going to last before something gives, but aside from marring of the tape around the bottom and pitting of the copper piece, I've had no problems.
Another selling point for the staff is the ability to break it down into small sections, allowing me to carry it in a side pocket without it sticking up too far past the pack. This proved invaluable on a couple of trips where I biked for positioning and had to stow the staff. I've also mounted a camera on it. About the only thing I haven't used it for is fighting off a cougar or bear, but hopefully I won't have to do that any time soon. If I do I better have a camera mounted on it to capture the moment.
The following video shows how I used the staff to cross the Big Muddy on the east side of Adams. I found a place where the hydraulics looked just good enough for me to cross, and I was glad I had the extra reach of the staff for the center torrent. This sort of situation is where the robustness and extra length of the staff proved superior to trekking poles. One last comment about the staff's utility, the surface is conducive to gripping anywhere which is invaluable when negotiating steep slopes....I have easily adjusted the height of my grip to match the terrain, for instance gripping low when the staff is uphill, and gripping high when downstepping.
Am I giving up trekking poles? Certainly not, for well maintained trail I still like the two hand approach. But for off trail travel, I'll take the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff everytime. Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with ZPacks and purchased this item for full price.
At the end of this fall season (2015) I found that I used this carbon staff on all but two hikes. Click these links to see the staff in action.
Eliot Creek Crossing, the off trail and "unofficial" part of Mt. Hood's Timberline Trail
Mt. Adams Round-The-Mountain off trail time lapse, mentioned in the original review
Willis Wall Year in Review video for 2015, where I also used it for some "selfie" shots. The length of the pole allowed for my entire body to fit in the frame.