Backcountry Access Scepter Ski Pole
Stated Weight: 8.8 oz/250g
Size: Adjustable 105 cm – 145 cm
Grip: BCA Scraper Grip, rubber over-mold
Shaft: 7075 Aluminum
Basket: BCA Concave Hex Basket
Test Locations: Montana Backcountry, Whitefish Mountain Resort, Glacier National Parkm, MT; Olympic National Park, WA.
Days Tested: 19
Since Blister is the place for unfettered, honest feedback on gear, let us start with a bald truth: ski poles are, at their most basic level, just sticks. Some extend, some have different materials that affect how light/durable they are, powder baskets work better in deep snow, etc. Do these differences deserved the same amount of analysis as, say, a touring boot in a review? No.
That said, the BCA Scepter poles do offer a few attributes worth discussing, and one major feature that makes me loath to ski tour with anything else.
Aluminum vs. Carbon Poles
Aluminum is heavier, cheaper, and generally holds up better to the abuse of inbounds skullduggery as well as the general thrashing of skiing in the backcountry year round. If you want an all-around pole, go aluminum. Major falls where you fully throw your skier hips onto the pole will bend aluminum. Bending it back can be a solution, but don’t expect to salvage it if you really cratered. Also, bending adjustable aluminum poles tends to make them non-adjustable.
Carbon options are better focused towards backcountry specific use. In my experience, they tend to suffer more dings from everyday abuses, and won’t bend the way aluminum does. However, when they explode, they totally go, so don’t huck on them, Chuck.
BCA claims the carbon version of the Scepter clocks in at 8.3 ounces (235 g) per pole, all weight savings due to a carbon upper shaft. The full aluminum Scepter I used weighs 8.8 ounces (250 g), so it’s $40 cheaper for a 15 g difference per pole. Saving .5 oz / 30g between two poles isn’t worth $40 in my opinion, when everything else is exactly the same between the poles.
The BCA Scepter gives you the usual range of backcountry pole features, along with two unique ones, the shaft grip and snow scraper, which I’ll discuss in greater depth. Its locking mechanism is adjustable without tools, its big, meaty powder basket floats in deep, light snow, it has a carbide tip for glare ice, and pole straps that are easily removed with a Phillips screwdriver.
Instead of a choke-up grip for high-side traversing, the Scepter makes use of a grippy spray on the upper shaft to make it easier to grip. Think of a low grit skateboard grip tape. This definitely saves weight and seems smart, but over the twenty days I’ve used the poles, it has worn down to where it doesn’t do much. Increasing the grit size would help here, as well as spraying it further down the shaft.
Just looking at the Scepter reveals its main feature: the scraper grip. BCA noticed, the main thing that adds weight to your extra svelte setup is all that snow stuck to your topsheets. Every step uphill in that setup you paid good money to make lightweight carries that penalty of the loose accumulations from the skin track.
Enter the scraper grip. Simply flip your pole, do a couple curling-style pushes down your topsheets, and bam: instantly lighter. You will never come up with a better skin track party trick short of producing a loaded, smoking BBQ from your backpack. Loan it out once on a gloppy day and you will immediately have repeat customers. Your friends will ignore everything they don’t like about you just to be close to your refreshingly lightweight, non-glopped presence. The scraper also works wonders with deicing skin plush after you stumble through a trickle at low elevations.
Could you do this all with a compass or ski pass? Sure. But you don’t have those on a stick that you’re already carrying, do you? I wouldn’t call it revolutionary, but I don’t want to ski tour without a scraper grip ever again.
Line has made use of Grab Tabs for a few years on their ski poles, and the extended back of the grip on the Scepter functions similarly on the descent. Going strapless is a good idea in avalanche terrain. And with the Scepter, that surface area doesn’t leave you as vulnerable to dropping a pole when it gets grabbed by shrubberies or punch crust.
Those that like to put a palm over the pommel on top of their pole need not fear: these grips do just fine in that realm.
Bare hands do just fine with the rubber compounds in the grip too. Some poles I’ve used will abrade my palms after a long day of use; the Scepter doesn’t share that issue.
Compared to the Black Diamond Traverse
Perhaps the best comparison I’d draw to the BCA Scepter is the Black Diamond Traverse, also in aluminum. They even have the same price point.
I’d take the Traverse’s rubber shaft grip over the sprayed-on texture of Scepter. However, you save 5 oz between the claimed weights if you go with the Scepter, and the scraper grip would give it the edge even if the weights were equal. Given the identical pricing and that magical scraper, the Scepter is the easy choice here.
Twenty days isn’t much of a test for durability, and many of those days happened this spring while I was using one Scepter and one Whippet. I did take them out for some days of blasting around the resort—they’ve got no major dings after everything I’ve done with them thus far.
If you’re in the market for an adjustable, affordable, aluminum ski pole, the scraper grip on the BCA Scepter makes it the best choice out there. While I’m not a huge fan of the sprayed on texture instead of an additional grip, that scraper makes enough of a difference that I’m not interested in touring without it.