Review: Massdrop x Fizan Compact Poles

Summary
Fizan’s Compact 3 poles are a 3-piece ultralight aluminum trekking pole with good twist lock adjustment, okay grips, a low weight (5.7oz per pole) and reasonable durability. Now that Massdrop has teamed up with Fizan, the Compact 3 poles are available at an impressively low price of $60/set which substantially undercuts all other lightweight poles. While slightly better and/or slightly lighter pole options do exist at much higher price points ($125 – $190), most lightweight hikers will find the good functionality and unbeatable value offered by the Compact 3’s to be irresistible.

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Usage
I used these poles almost daily from July to September including most of my Great Divide Trail thru-hike and a few other trips afterwards including trail running. In total, my usage of the Compact 3’s covers about 90 trail days and 2000 kms.

Intro
Fizan’s Compact 3 trekking poles have been around for about 6 years, but they’ve become much more popular over the past two years after Fizan began collaborating with Massdrop to offer an updated version at a substantially lower price. At a discounted group-buy price of $60 USD, the Massdrop x Fizan Compact 3 poles are far more affordable than any other poles in the ultralight category, and thus could be a great buy if they work similarly well.

Nearly all trekking poles perform well at their core function of assisting a hiker’s walk down the trail. Thus secondary factors like cost, weight, adjustability and grip comfort are really what distinguishes a great pole. These secondary factors are the focus here.

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Weight
As an ultralight pole (3-7oz ea), the Compact 3’s compete with popular products like Gossamer Gear’s LT4/5 poles, Ruta Locura’s Yana poles, Locus Gear’s CP3 poles and Black Diamond’s Distance Carbon Z Poles.

While some hikers disagree, I find the weight of a trekking pole is extremely important. I notice a massive difference in usability and enjoyment between a featherweight pole like Gossamer Gear’s LT3 (2.8oz/80g ea), and a much heavier pole, like Black Diamond’s Alpine Carbon Cork (8.5oz, 237g ea). I find weight differences are much more noticeable with trekking poles than most other gear, as you are actively handling this weight while moving down the trail.

Of course heavy poles also tend to be much stronger, which sets up the most fundamental consideration in trekking pole selection: Do you want a light pole that is delightful to use but easy to break? Or a heavier pole that takes more effort to swing down the trail but might survive that time you land on it?

Generally speaking, the lightest trekking poles (e.g. GG LT3’s) start at just under 3oz, but most folks want adjustable poles so they can be tuned to the terrain, transported more easily, and used to pitch a tarp/shelter. The lightest adjustable trekking poles start at about 4oz per pole, which are twist lock, 2 piece carbon poles like Gossamer Gear’s LT4’s and Ruta Locura’s Yana Poles.

From here, opting for the additional compactness of a 3 piece pole adds about 0.5oz (e.g. Gossamer Gear LT5‘s, Ruta Lucura’s Yana Three Piece). Further indulgences like flick lock adjusters, and tougher thick walled carbon bring that up to at least 5.3oz (Locus Gear CP3), and you can go all the way to 8.5oz or beyond if you want the beefiest carbon and an opulant grip like the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork. Three or four piece aluminum poles can be 12oz or more. A final option are collapsable, but non-adjustable poles which assemble somewhat like tent poles and avalanche probes – the most notable example here is Black Diamond’s Distance Carbon Z-poles but also see CAMP’s Xenon 4’s.

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Compact 3 poles equipped with the small included baskets

Circling back to the Fizan Compact 3’s, these poles proudly list their claimed weight on the shaft (158g or 5.6oz), and further declare they are the “world’s lightest”.  The validity of this “world’s lightest” claim depends on which poles you compare them to, but it does seem they are the lightest adjustable, aluminum poles. You can get lighter non-adjustable aluminum poles (Camp’s Xenon 4’s @ 140g each) and lighter carbon poles (many) but it does appear that every other adjustable aluminum pole is heavier .

On the scale, my Compact 3’s were moderately heavier than claimed at 173-174g (6.1oz) each (with straps, no baskets), which is consistent with several other reviews of these poles (see Section Hiker, UL and Comfortable, Engearment). Removing the straps saves 11g, while adding the included boots (11g ea) or baskets (3g / 6g / 14g each for small / medium / large baskets) can make the poles as heavy as 185g. I normally hike without straps and baskets, so the poles were 162g / 5.7oz in my normal configuration. At this weight, they are appreciably lighter than a mainstream pole like the BD Alpine Carbon Cork, but noticeably heavier than a lightweight like the GG LT4’s.

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The poles collapse to 23″ (60cm) which is handy for some tent pitches like the TarpTent Saddle 2

Adjustability
Like several other very light adjustable poles, the Fizan Compact 3’s employ internal twist locks to adjust the pole over a range of 60cm – 132cm. Importantly, I found the twist locks of the Compact 3’s to be superior in several ways over poles from Gossamer Gear and Ruta Locura. First, the Compact 3 twist locks have a small protruding tab that drags inside the pole to add friction, so that regardless of how loose the twist lock is currently set, it is possible to tighten it up. With a pole the GG LT4’s, if the twist lock has been loosened too much it’ll spin perpetually inside the pole, so you have to disassemble the sections and partially tighten it by hand before it’ll bite inside.

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Secondly, the internal twist locks hold well, even when wet. There is a warning on the poles not to over-torque the twist locks, so I was fairly gentle with them but I still never had any slippage issues. Certainly the poles did slip occasionally when I came down hard on them due a slip or whatever. I could have tightened them more, but I prefer this slip under unusual load as it reduces the chances of snapping them. The poles never slipped under normal usage. Even in the rain I never had any slippage. Since I was also using these poles to pitch my shelter, I was adjusting the length of these poles at least 2x per day, which means I’ve now adjusted them hundreds of times without any sign of trouble or wear in the twist locks.

With that said, flick locks are still a nicer adjustment mechanism if you don’t mind the added cost and weight (~0.5oz/pole). Flick locks are quicker to adjust, and less vulnerable to freezing up, which happened to me during a few cold nights. So flick locks are functionally superior but twist locks do work well at a lower weight.

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Top quarter of the handle is plastic, which is above where you normally grip it so it’s only noticed when palming the pole.

Materials and Price
The Compact 3’s also stand out from most of the other poles mentioned in this review in both material (aluminum vs carbon) and price ($60 vs $110-$200).  Nearly all the poles mentioned previously are carbon and carry a price tag of $125 or more. The lone exception is the CAMP Xenon 4 poles, which are also aluminum but still nearly twice the price ($110) of the Massdrop/Fizan Compact 3’s. Thus the Compact 3’s are lower cost partially because aluminum is a lower cost material than carbon, but even compared to other aluminum poles they are clearly a great value because Massdrop has found a way to remove costs from the product through a lean business model and higher volume.

While I’m not a technical expert on the weight vs. strength characteristics of carbon and aluminum, the general wisdom that carbon is lighter than aluminum for the same strength. This is why a very comparable but carbon pole like the Gossamer Gear LT5 (also a 3 piece, twist lock pole, similar stiffness) is about 1oz lighter than the Compact 3’s. An added benefit of carbon is that it doesn’t bend or knick, so the poles will always operate smoothly. With carbon pole mishaps, the pole is always either fine or busted. There’s no middle ground like there is with aluminum where you can put dings and mild bends in the poles which cause them to operate less smoothly. In my case, I put a few minor dings in the poles over the summer, which were entirely my fault (I like tossing my poles in the air and trying to catch them), but did cause one of the poles to collapse less smoothly.  Carbon probably would have shrugged this off.

Toughness
Of the most important, yet difficult to evaluate, attributes of a trekking pole is how well it stands up to potential breakage. Out of the box, the Compact 3’s feel moderately flexy, which is partially due to being a lightweight pole and partially due to being aluminum in a niche where most poles are carbon. I found the Compact 3’s have about as much flex as the lighter Gossamer Gear poles, which is consistent with what other reviews have measured. They are stiffer than a pole like Black Diamonds’ Distance Carbon Z poles, but noticeably less stiff than something like BD’s Alpine Carbon Cork.

Despite being similar in flex, I suspect the Compact 3’s are more resistant to breakage than the Gossamer Gear poles because aluminum has more give in it before the damage is permanent. I’m hesitant to speculate on how strong the Compact 3’s are without any objective measurements, but then again, I’ve snapped an very large number of lightweight poles over the last 5 years – including both of the Compact 3 poles reviewed here – so if anyone is in a position to speculate I suppose it is me. I’ve broken at least 10 trekking poles since 2012 – mostly products from Gossamer Gear and Locus Gear.

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Over the course of this summer, my Compact 3’s survived several moderately challenging mishaps, before bending irreversibly in unison when I wiped out running across a talus field. I was carrying both poles in one hand while snacking, when a talus boulder wobbled and my full body weight crashed on both poles bridged across two boulders. They kinked in a manner that looks tempting to bend back, but these kinks are always final with aluminum. Fortunately I was able to snap off the kinked bottoms of the upper sections and re-insert the rest of the pole to finish the hike. Overall, my take is that the Compact 3’s are stronger than Gossamer Gear and Ruta Locura poles, and nearly as strong as Locus Gear CP3s. I’d give a slightly edge to the CP3s.

If you’re wondering why I’ve busted so many poles, and yet continue to use ultralight poles, the answer is that (1) I really love light poles and (2) I’m not convinced that opting for a heavier pole really improves the breakage situation that much. Most of the time when I snap a pole, it involves some sort of catastrophic mishap that few poles could survive. Certainly I’ve broken a few Gossamer Gear poles where an 8oz BD Alpine Carbon Cork would have survived, but in at least half of my incidents I doubt any pole would have survived by full body weight dropping onto the pole suspended over some type of gap. I’ve also snapped enough far stronger ski poles over the last decade to know that anytime by body weight flies through the air onto the side of the pole, it’s the end of that pole. Thus, I think a better response to concerns about pole breakage is to opt for cheaper poles rather than heavier poles, something the Compact 3’s supply.

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Grips
The last major aspect worth of discussion are the grips. The Fizan Compact 3’s use a medium sized grip which is part foam and part plastic. I think it’s a fine grip but not particularly great.

This grip is contoured enough that it’s reasonable secure to handle, even without straps as I prefer it. The foam feels good enough that I have no complaints with it. It doesn’t wear down as fast as some other foams (GG grips). After a thru-hike of the PCT with GG grips I had worn them down to ~70% of their original girth, whereas my Compact 3 grips show little wear.

The only part of the grip I’m not particularly fond of is the plastic top quarter because it’s slippery when palming the top of the pole. I believe the top section is plastic primarily to allow a secure point of attachment for the strap, which isn’t something I value, so I’d prefer a slightly larger and all foam grip like the fantastic “Kork-o-Lon” grips on the Gossamer Gear poles, but the grips aren’t problematically undersized like the Locus Gear grips.

One thing I should mention is that one of my grips did loosen and eventually come off about 2/3rds of the way into the 2000km I put on these poles. It seems that the grip adhesive wasn’t applied all the way up the grip, so the top of the grip twisted slightly under use. Over time, this twisting led to the adhesive slowly breaking free progressively further down the grip until it was free. Slapping a little glue inside to re-glue it would have been easy, but I didn’t have any on hand so I smeared a little subalpine fir sap inside which actually held up for the rest of the season. The other grip also had a little play in the top, but that never progressed. Something to watch.

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Discussion
Easily the strongest attribute of the Compact 3 poles is their outstanding value. They are a good pole at an unbeatable price. Thus any comparison with other poles really centers around whether you want to pay a lot more for small improvements in the pole.

For example, the Gossamer LT5 poles will save you about an ounce each and they have superior grips, but the twist locks aren’t as good and the price difference is staggering ($60 vs $195). If desired, you could add the Gossamer Gear grips ($22) to your Compact 3’s and still come out over $100 ahead. So you’d be paying an extra $113 to save 1oz per pole (and the GG grips likely would drop the weight of the Compact 3’s by 0.5oz).

Stronger competition comes from Locus Gear’s CP3 poles ($125), which have a less affluent price, nicer flick lock adjusters, are lighter (5.3oz vs 5.7oz) and seem stronger than the Compact 3’s. Unfortunately the grips are too small for most, so you really need to toss on a set of $22 Gossamer Gear grips to have a great pole. This CP3 + GG Grip setup is the ultimate pole in my opinion, but the combined cost of nearly $150 isn’t in the same category as the Compact 3’s. Most folks will prefer the nearly as good Compact 3 for under half the price.

Overall, the Compact 3’s are a solid pole at a cost so low that it is difficult to rationalize buying anything else. Folks with deep pockets and a gear obsession may want to take a look at the CP3 + GG Grip combo, while weight geeks might prefer to shell out for a 3-4oz pole, but most lightweight hikers will be best served by the Massdrop/Fizan Compact 3’s.

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