Back in 2011 I posted some thoughts about a few popular lightweight trekking poles. Today we’re going to take a look back at those, see how they’ve fared, and take a look at a few more options. All the lengths and weights posted here are as-measured. Ok, let’s get straight to it, shall we?
For those who missed the original post, here it is. To recap that post – we checked out 4 sets of poles: The Gossamer Gear LT4’s, the Titanium Goat AGP’s, the REI Peak UL’s, and the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork’s. The latter being cam-lock, the rest being twist-lock. Of those poles, the BD Alpine Carbon Cork have been my go-to choice, even though they’re the heaviest of the group. I’ve found that the weight doesn’t really impact me except when I’m carrying them on my pack, which is rarely. What’s more important is reliability and the BD “FlickLock” system has been solid. Every twist-lock pole that I’ve used extensively has become a source of frustration at some point, or like the REI poles, very fiddly right from the get go.
I’ll back up for a second in case anyone is thinking “what the hell is a cam lock pole, and what’s a twist-lock pole??”. Twist lock poles rely on a friction lock that’s engaged or disengaged by twisting the pole sections one direction or the other. Usually a piece of rubber gets compressed as it rides up or down an internal screw and bulges out in the process, creating the friction lock. Cam-lock poles use asymmetrically shaped latches that apply increasing compression on the shafts as they’re closed. The amount of compression is controlled by adjusting a screw on the latch. Since most people don’t know what a cam is, these are usually given some other name like Flip Lock, Flick Lock, Quick Lock, etc… Cam-lock poles are relatively hassle free compared to twist-lock poles.
The main issue with twist locks is the rubber piece. Rubber is soft when it’s hot, and can get rock hard when temperatures are around freezing. Depending on the specific type of rubber, it’s also susceptible to being attacked by oils which can lead to swelling and/or degradation. Some poles, such as the REI’s that we have, use an overly complex locking design and this may be partly to blame about how bad those poles are. Ugh… such cussing. The GG LT4’s and the Ti Goat AGP’s have a much simpler design and didn’t begin to show any signs of trouble until after quite a bit of use.
After one trip where the trails were choked with vegetation including a lot of poison oak, the rubber in both of my poles seized in place. I could only separate them by placing the poles in our freezer then pulling very hard! It could have been coincidence, but my hunch was some oil/plasma/goo from the plants made it’s way to the rubber piece and caused it to swell up or become tacky. One of the poles still has the rubber part stuck in it, all the way up at the base of the grip. The other pole I was able to loosen and replaced the rubber which was looking pretty beat up. Better maintenance could help prevent this, in theory anyway. Theory doesn’t always hold up on the trail though.
In the quest for something more reliable, picked up a pair of Black Diamond Distance Z-Poles. They’re surprisingly light, pack down to a small size due to their avalanche probe-like design, and have a very simple locking system. I rarely adjust my poles for downhill or uphill, I compensate other ways such as how I place them. I DO like to have adjustability when traversing long stretches of side hill… but how often am I off trail, on long side hill traverses?… not often.
Pretty decent poles! Hendrik Morkel seems to think so too (his are a different model than mine). I do have a few gripes about them though…
- Non-adjustable length is less convenient when the poles are needed to pitch a shelter.
- The tips are plastic. They get an “ok” grip on stuff like granite, but on hard smooth surfaces they tend to slip.
- The tips are flimsy. I bent one of mine pretty severely while using it with a pole jack to pitch a Cuben Fiber pyramid. Cuben doesn’t stretch… plastic does!
On the plus side, these are pretty good poles for taking mountain running since they can fold up and stow away on my running vest easily. For general use I find them less than ideal.
Our gear closet grows! Yikes. Several new~ish sets of poles have found residence in there…
- Black Diamond First Strike – 13.9 oz/pair (~ $55 retail)
- Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock – 15.6 oz/pair (~ $40 retail)
- Locus Gear CP3 – 11.2 oz/pair (~ $150 retail)
The BD First strike are 2-piece aluminum cam-lock poles marketed towards kids. We grabbed some of these a while back mainly because our kids wanted their own poles and the First Strikes were a good size/weight/price ratio. Also, Sandra D has been increasingly frustrated with the REI Peak Ultralight poles and wanted an alternative; she’s small enough (5’2, 105 lbs) that these seemed like a plausible solution for her. Turned out to be a win. The kids enjoy them (they’re still learning proper use) and Sandra D is able to use them as well! They’re not long enough for my needs, nor do they feature a large enough grip. We picked up all ours (three pair now) on sale for less than $30 each. All in all they’re a fine pole for anyone on a budget who can get away with a smallish grip and the shorter max length.
The Quick Lock poles from Cascade Mountain Tech came onto my radar originally at Costco (they really do have everything) where the twist-lock version was being sold for about $30. That’s cheap for carbon poles! Alas, I was not looking for any more twist-lock poles, at any price… then I learned that they developed a cam-lock design and the good folks at Cascade Mountain Tech sent me a pair to check out; cool! My first impressions of them are positive. They are 3-piece carbon fiber cam-lock poles. They seem well made, the grips are comfortable, the straps have a soft inner face (like Black Diamond uses), they came with multiple baskets, tips, caps, they’re marked in both centimeters and inches, and the cam locks are field adjustable. I did notice the shaft markings skip from 52 inches to 54 inches… they’re actually 53 inches long. Durability is my what I’ll be watching closely with these. Needless to say I’ll be putting them through their paces. If they are reliable and can hold up to typical use these will be an incredible value! Medium and long term updates will be forthcoming.
The Locus Gear CP3 poles were the first carbon fiber cam-lock poles that I ever came across. The CP3 are also a 3-piece design. They’ve been around for a few years now but it took me a while to get my own, mainly due to needing to source them from Japan. Locus Gear has good outdoors knowledge and are focused on lightweight functional designs, so I expect good things from these poles! The grips are comfortable, the straps are very similar to the GG LT4 straps, the cam locks are easy to use and also field-adjustable, and the poles are super light! Yes, they’re also expensive and exchange rates with Japan don’t favor those of us here in the U.S. However, in the world of Ultralight, the CP3 poles stand alone. Expect medium and long term notes to follow on these as well.
Here are the lengths…
- BD First Strike: 26″ – 43.5″
- Cascade Quick Lock: 26″ – 53″
- Locus Gear CP3: 24.7″ – 53.5″
And a few more photo comparisons below. I think I’ve mentioned just about everything of importance already… hmm maybe just a few more notes. The Locus Gear and Cascade Mountain Tech locks are similar and both are field adjustable. The BD FlickLocks are not exactly field adjustable; a screwdriver or similar tool is needed – however Black Diamond has since upgraded to the FlickLock Pro on the Alpine Carbon Quark poles (and several others) which does away with the tension adjustment all together. Lastly, the Z-Poles use a single spring pin beneath the grip to keep the pole locked in its fully extended position. Seems pretty bomber and it’s easy to use.
I have all but sworn off twist-lock poles. I fully expect the Locus Gear poles to live up to their pricing, and if someone was to come to me right now and tell me they needed an ultralight cam-lock pole for a trip next week, I’d say get the CP3. I think what I (and probably most people reading this) are really wondering though is: “just how good are those Cascade Quick Lock poles??”. If either (or both) the Cascade Mountain Tech and Locus Gear poles turn out to be solid performers in the long run I can’t imagine any reason to return to using twist lock poles. These poles are light enough that it would be difficult to go to a fixed length design again too… the weight savings is going to be very small relative to the increased utility of adjustable poles. I will hold onto my Z-Poles for long mountain runs or anywhere I need to have the shortest possible broken-down length. Otherwise, it’s full steam ahead with the other designs. Will they de-throne my BD Alpine Carbon Corks? Let the field testing continue! I’ll be back with updates! Hike It. Like It.