Backcountry Access Scepter Carbon Review
Cons: Secondary grip wears off, doesn't pack small
Manufacturer: Backcountry Access
Our Analysis and Test Results
We loved the Scepter's grip, which is ergonomic and features a clever scraper. This grip makes the pole one of the easiest to use and most comfortable to hold in our test. The pole doesn't compact very small, so it's best for skiers. Splitboarders should seek other models that are either more collapsible or foldable. Weight and durability are about average for the group of poles that we tested.
Ease of Use
The Scepter is a well-engineered backcountry ski pole with many thoughtful design features that make a day of backcountry ski as easy as possible. What sets it apart from all of the other poles in our test is the grip. The grip features a unique design with a large flat scraper on top, helping skiers keep their topsheets free of snow when skinning.
The grip easily hooks onto heel risers, flipping them up and down without much thought. The baskets are stiff enough for this task as well, but the grip is perfect for it. The baskets are a good size and stiffness, large and stiff enough to provide floatation while skinning through deep powder and yet soft enough to bend with the slope angle on firm or icy surfaces. The locking mechanisms are good, but not great. They are easy to operate with a gloved hand, and the mechanism also tightens by hand in the field for micro-adjustments if slipping is encountered. However, the locking lever protrudes slightly, whereas other models in our review feature lever locks that clamp down flush to the pole surface.
Backcountry ski poles are relatively simple tools, compared to skis, tech bindings, avalanche transceivers, and backpacks. We appreciated the Scepter Carbon's simple elegance and low-frills design. There are very few moving parts that can break or cause catastrophic failure. BCA used a simple tweak in standard grip design to produce a real winner here.
The Scepter Carbon is a relatively lightweight ski pole. The lower shaft of the adjustable pole is made of carbon, and the upper portion is made of aluminum. BCA also makes the Scepter in a full aluminum build at a lower price, but weighing several ounces more.
Weighing in at 19 ounces, the Scepter Carbon weighs about as much as other high-performance backcountry ski poles. In ski poles, overall weight is somewhat important, and swing weight is really what skiers notice. When we ski, we use our ski poles to balance our body weight, essentially using them as outriggers to keep our upper body stable. The carbon lower shaft helps reduce the weight of the lower section of the pole, where the basket often prevents the pole from swinging around quickly in response to the skier's turn. We liked the Scepter's light swing weight, both while skiing and skinning.
The Scepter Carbon suffered no major damage during our harsh testing, with the only noteworthy durability issue being the secondary grip. This is made from a spray-on material that wore off throughout our testing period. We were able to live without this feature and it was not a major failure, but it's worth noting. BCA uses this material probably because it helps keep the pole's weight down. We feel that having a durable and useful secondary grip is more important to a backcountry ski pole than saving a couple of extra ounces.
The carbon shaft didn't show signs of damage, but carbon is generally a weaker material than aluminum. If you bang your poles around, clearing snow off your boots and whacking the snow off your skis, then you might consider an aluminum pole instead.
The Scepter is a two-section telescoping pole that does not pack down to a very small size. For most backcountry skiers, this isn't a problem, but it will generally prevent splitboarders from using the pole, and it makes it harder to use this pole as a trekking pole in the summer. It also adds difficulty when packing the pole in a suitcase for travel.
BCA makes a three-piece folding pole called the Scepter 4S, designed for splitboarding and four-season use, but it does not have the same handle as the two-section Scepter Carbon, and won't have the same performance attributes.
We found the Scepter Carbon to be a very comfortable ski pole to use all day. The grip design is truly amazing, contouring to the hand perfectly and allowing a very light grip on the pole, even without a strap as backup. The rubber is also very soft and comfortable on an ungloved hand for skinning on warm days.
Our only complaint in regards to comfort is the Scepter's secondary grip. Whereas other models in our comparison feature rubber or foam grips below the main grip, the Scepter uses a spray-on material that grips just fine, but doesn't insulate your hand from the aluminum upper section of the pole. This is notable on the coldest days in the Rockies where choking up on a pole without insulation from the metal can lead to cold hands.
The Scepter Carbon is relatively inexpensive compared to other models on the market, and with its high performance, our testers believe this product is worth the money for any dedicated backcountry skier. Much more expensive poles didn't score as well in our comparison. Furthermore, the unique grip that was clearly engineered by backcountry skiers is unique in the backcountry ski pole market. There are cheaper options out there, but for the features and design, the Scepter is a great value. We have had some issues with the BCA warranty program in the past, especially regarding their carbon products, but the performance of this pole is so good that we don't consider that a deal-breaker.
The BCA Scepter Carbon is our favorite backcountry ski pole on the market today. The grip and handle are what sets it apart from the pack, and the rest of the ski pole performs highly as well. It's also relatively lightweight and durable, but it doesn't pack down small enough to be used by splitboarders. It also comes at a great value. If we have to recommend one pole to all of our backcountry skiing friends, this is our go-to.
— Henry Feder