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Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro 2013 > Test Report by Kurt Papke

Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles 2013

Test Series by Kurt Papke

Initial Report - February 2, 2013

Field Report - June 4, 2013

Long Term Report - August 1, 2013

Tester Information

Name: Kurt Papke
Age: 59
Gender: Male
Height: 6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight: 230 lbs (104 kg)
Email address: kwpapke at gmail dot com
City, State, Country: Tucson, Arizona USA

My backpacking background locales are a combination of Minnesota where I have lived most of my adult life, and Arizona where I moved to take a new job about four years ago.  I have always been a "comfort-weight" backpacker, never counting grams, but still keeping my pack as light as easily attained.  I have been an ardent trekking pole user for about a half-dozen years, and almost never hike without them.  I appreciate the strain they take off of my knees, and they have saved me from innumerable falls.

Initial Report

Product Information

Manufacturer: Mountainsmith
Model:
Carbonlite Pro
Year of manufacture: 2012
MSRP:
US $ 69.95
Manufacturer website: http://mountainsmith.com
Color tested:
Slate.  The color was listed on the packaging label, and from the company website appears to be the only one available.  It is black with silver-colored accents.
Materials:
Aluminum (carbon-wrapped), cork handle
Length:
Listed: 26 in (66 cm) retracted, 54 in (137 cm) fully extended
Measured: 27 3/8 in (69.5 cm) retracted, 57 1/4 in (145.4 cm) extended
Weight:
Listed: 1 lb 2 oz (0.5 kg)
Measured: 1 lb 3.4 oz exclusive of rubber tips and baskets

Carbonlite polesThe features listed by the manufacturer include:
  • Shock absorption system.  This is essentially a spring mechanism between the top and middle pole sections.
  • Quick-twist lock for the three telescoping sections.
  • Removable low-profile baskets as seen on the left (extended) pole in the photo.
  • Carbon (fiber)-wrapped 7075 aluminum construction.  From Wikipedia, 7075 has "zinc as the primary alloying element. It is strong, with a strength comparable to many steels, and has good fatigue strength and average machinability, but has less resistance to corrosion than many other Al alloys."  I also did a little digging on carbon-wrapped aluminum, most of which turned up its use on bicycle frames.  It wasn't clear from my reading what the benefit really was.
  • Molded cork (TPU) handle.  From a little web research, I learned that TPU is a thermoplastic elastomer made from polyurethene.  From what I can tell, the manufacturer grinds up bits of cork and molds it with plastic into the handle shape.
  • Carbide tips.
  • Adjustable wrist straps.
  • Rubber boot tips as shown on the right (retracted) pole in the photo.

Initial Inspection

ringThe first thing I had to do was set the proper pole length.  The direction to turn the poles to disengage the locks was clearly marked right on the poles.  They twisted easily in my hands, and I extended the lower section.

I've had 3-section adjustable poles before, and this is the first pair I've used that don't have measurements on the lower section.  I inferred that meant I should use them fully extended, and the markings for that were plainly labeled.  I locked down the bottom section by twisting the bottom two sections in opposite directions until they were snug.  I am notorious for breaking things by pulling/turning things too hard, so I made the lock snug, but did not apply full force.  The lock held well when tested.

Next I loosened the top lock and extended the top section to its full length.  These are long poles!  I stood up, grasped the handles and pushed down until my forearms were level with the ground, which is my preferred pole length when hiking on flat terrain.  I tightened down the top lock and I was ready to go.

I slipped my hands up through the straps, positioning the strap slack in the "V" between thumb and forefinger and grasped the handles.  It seemed like the adjustment strap and rectangular plastic ring attached to the end of it were located in a very inconvenient spot as shown in the photo at right.  My other poles have a much longer strap with no plastic retainer, so they don't get in my way.  I'm concerned that this hunk of plastic is going to be an irritant.

For now I am going to leave the baskets and rubber tips off of the poles.  I rarely hike in snow since I moved to Tucson, and I do not use poles when walking on improved streets or sidewalks, which is where I'd be most likely to use the rubber tips.

Feel: I liked the way the handles fit in my hand, they felt very comfortable.  The poles seemed very light, even though they are just slightly lighter than my current pair.  Perhaps they have a higher center of gravity.  This is something I'll have to play around with.

Fit: the straps fit nicely around my hand and the length was easy to adjust.  Pole lengths were also easy to change - just a quick twist of the lock, pull in or push out as desired, another quick twist to lock, and I am set to go.  They seem easier to use than the flick-lock mechanisms I've been using for a number of years.

Finish: I could find no material defects or imperfections.

Trying It Out

I did a little spin down to the end of the driveway and back.  The poles seemed very natural to me, I will not need to adjust to them in the field.  They swing nicely, and the carbide tips had a nice bite in the gravel I was walking on.  I pressed down pretty hard on the handles to see if the locks would slip, but no worries, they held perfectly.  When I whacked the poles a bit on the ground I could feel the slight give from the shock absorbers.  They do not appear to have a lot of travel, but I've never been convinced of the utility of pole shocks, so not an issue for me.

Summary

I am excited to get the Carbonlite poles out into the backcountry and put them through their paces.  My only concern at the outset is the plastic ring rubbing against my hands and causing chafing.  I blister very easy, so this is something I'll be on the lookout for.

Field Report

Field Conditions

Date
Location
Trail
Distance

Terrain/ trail type
Weather
Altitude range
January 19, 2013 Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park near Phoenix, Arizona Siphon Draw
5 mi
(8 km)
Steep canyon, some scrambling
Sunny, 65 F (18 C)
2000-3800 ft
(610-1160 m)
February 3, 2013
Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona
Romero Canyon
6 mi
(9.7 km)
Sky island canyon, very rocky trail
Overcast,
55 - 60 F
(13 - 16 C)
2700-3800 ft
(820-1160 m)
February 7-9, 2013
Grand Canyon National Park
Kaibab-Angel loop
19.1 mi
(30.7 km)
Steep and deep
25 - 55 F
(-4 - 13 C)
2000-7200 ft
(610-2200 m)
February 17, 2013
Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona
Sutherland Trail
5 mi
(8 km)
Mountain foothills
Sunny, 65 F
(18 C)
2700-4500 ft
(820-1370 m)
February 24, 2013
Ironwood National Monument near Tucson, Arizona
Ragged Top
3 mi
(5 km)
Small mountain bushwhack/scramble
Sunny, 45 - 55 F (7 - 13 C)
2400-2800 ft
(730-850 m)
April 5-6, 2013
Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona Romero Canyon to Old Camp
11 mi
(18 km)
Sky island canyon, very rocky trail Sunny, 45 - 85 F
(7 - 29 C)
2700-4700 ft
(820-1430 m)
May 11-12, 2013
Santa Catalina Mountains near Oracle, Arizona Arizona National Scenic Trail - Oracle Ridge
14 mi
(22.5 km)
Mountain ridgeline, very rocky trail
Sunny, very windy, 48 - 78 F
(9 - 26 C)
4500-6500 ft
(1370-1980 m)

Siphon Draw Trail

Poles on Siphon DrawI've wanted to hike up the Flatiron for some time, and on this trip I finally got there.  This hike is more challenging than it appears looking up at it from the base - it winds around a mountain, then starts to go up a very sheer canyon after the Siphon Draw trail ends at a saddle point.  After the saddle, it is more of a scramble than a hike.

The picture at left was taken just above an area of slick rock where I thought it best to use my hands on the descent.  The poles retracted easily with a quick twist for each section, and they fit just fine in my day pack as can be seen from the photo.

I was very happy with the performance of the poles on this hike.  The tips did a great job of biting into the rock, I had no problems with slips.  Length adjustment was simple and quick.  I am starting to like the "cork" handle grips - they are very comfortable.

The only complaint I had with the poles was the adjustment strap with plastic ring.  It occasionally got in the way, but nothing I couldn't work around.  Overall, it was a good experience for my first use of the poles.

Romero Canyon

handlesThis is one of my go-to trails that I do on a regular basis.  It is quite steep, with lots of granite and rock on the trail.  I rely on my poles heavily on this trail, particularly on the descent where the loose gravel and large step-downs can cause a careless fall.  The step-downs are large enough that I commonly lengthen my poles at the turn-around point so I don't have to reach down so far.  I often adjust my pole grip so that the top of the pole handles is in my palm, almost using the pole like a cane for large down-steps.

From what I can recall, all the previous trekking poles I have used have a reasonably level top, or one that is slightly angled towards me.  This allows a good grip at the top of the handle.

For reasons I do not understand, the Carbonlite poles have the top of the handle angled away from me as can be seen in the photo at right.  I found this feature to be quite awkward on this hike, as it seemed to pitch me forward when I leaned on the poles.

I also had one event of a lock slip.  At the midpoint of the hike I adjusted the length for the descent, and a few minutes later had one of the poles give way beneath my weight.  I readjusted the poles, tightened them down aggressively, and had no more slip events during the descent.

The pole tips did a great job of "catching" the granite I often found myself hiking on.  I had no problems with the tips sliding out beneath me.

South Kaibab - Bright Angel Loop

Carbonlite Pro poles in the Big DitchI've been quite frustrated that I've lived in Arizona for almost four years, and hadn't been backpacking in the Grand Canyon, so even though the weather forecast was dismal I decided to take the trip anyway.  I did the classic loop: descend the South Kaibab trail, and ascend on the Bright Angel.  With the huge amount of elevation loss/gain on this hike, it was a challenging test for the Carbonlite poles.

Due to the cold weather I wore gloves during portions of the hike, as can be seen in the photo at left.  They are lightweight, but still required a small adjustment of the pole strap lengths.  The straps were easy to adjust, but it seemed like the straps slipped a bit during the hike.

The hike down to the Colorado River is a very long descent with many small steps, so I often wanted to put my palms on top of the grips, but as described in the previous hike the forward sloped was not optimal.

I think I've found the proper technique to tighten the pole locks: after getting them to the desired length and turning each lock individually, I grip the top and bottom segment and give it another twist.  This makes sure both locks are equally tightened, and removes any slop that I may have left.  This worked very effectively, as I had no lock slips during the entire hike.

I was very satisfied with the performance of the poles on this trip - if they work in the Grand Canyon, they should work just about anywhere!!

Romero Canyon to Old Camp

Poles as tarp supportThough I day hike on this trail regularly, it had been some time since I had done an overnight on it, and wildflowers were peaking in the area, so I set off to Old Camp.  This is an ancient Indian site where acorns were gathered and ground into flour along the mountain stream, and has great camping.

I was hiking late in the day, it was getting dark, I was getting tired, and I stumbled and fell.  The only damage was a cut on my little finger, and I was glad to see the poles sustained no damage.

I set up camp in the dark, and as shown in the photo at right I used the poles to make a "porch" for my tarp.  This was the first time I used the baskets: they are great for preventing the corner tarp hook from slipping down the poles.  The Carbonlite poles worked great as tarp supports, and the handles cleaned up easily the next morning.

The plastic ring and adjustment strap bothered me on my descent the next morning.  They seemed to be in my way more often than I would like.  Just before completing the hike I noticed some pain in my thumb, and sure enough I had a good-sized blister forming from the strap/ring:
Blister

Oracle Ridge

Oracle Ridge is a nearby segment of the Arizona National Scenic Trail that is only 45 minutes from my home, but not heavily used.  This was my first backpack on this segment.

The hike was a challenging one for the poles - the trail is extremely rocky, and has a constant grade.  Though not a particularly long hike, I was beat when I made it to my campsite, as I was using the poles during the entire climb to power me up the mountain.  In addition to hiking, the poles were once again used for holding up the "porch" of my tarp shelter.

I managed to get another blister on my right thumb at exactly the same place as my last hike.  I tried switching poles between my right and left hands, as one strap was slightly looser than the other.  This seemed to be a key factor so I adjusted both straps to the same length.

Summary

One of the features I am ambivalent about is the shock absorbers.  I could feel them kick in from time-to-time, but I cannot say I felt they had great value.  From my perspective, they could be eliminated to save weight.  This is a very personal choice - I know other hikes who swear by their shock-absorbing poles.

Good things:

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to adjust
  • Nice feel on the handles

Areas for possible improvement:

  • Slope the top of the grips towards the user, not away.  This appears to be a matter of personal preference, as there are other pole models/makes that slope away from the user.
  • Plastic ring on the strap adjustment is annoying, and not particularly useful.
  • The straps caused blistering on my thumb several times.

Long Term Report

Field Conditions

Date
Location
Trail
Distance

Terrain/ trail type
Weather
Altitude range
June 14-16, 2013 Huachuca Mtns near Sierra Vista, Arizona Carr Canyon
12 mi
(19 km)
Steep canyon
Sunny, 50-80 F
(10-27 C)
7200-9462 ft
(2200-2884 m)
June 21-22, 2013 Huachuca Mtns near Sierra Vista, Arizona AZT
19 mi
(31 km)
Sky island canyon and ridgelines Sunny, 55-85 F
(13-29 C)
5600-8500 ft
(1710-2590 m)
July 5-7, 2013
Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness north of Mammoth, Arizona
Aravaipa
28 mi
(45 km)

Creek running through canyon + slot canyon
Sunny, 70-100 F
(21-38 C)

2550-4000 ft
(780-1220 m)
July 26-28, 2013
Huachuca Mtns near Sierra Vista, Arizona Crest Trail
11.5 mi
(18.5 km)
Sky island canyons and ridgelines Sunny/rain mix, 55-80 F
(13-27 C)
6600-9000 ft
(2010-2740 m)

Carr Canyon

I have had good intentions of backpacking the Huachuca Mountains for some time, and finally made it there for a 3-day/2 night trip.  The first night was car-camping at a National Forest campground just a few steps from the trailhead, night two camp was on top of a ridgeline.  This was a solo trip, so the only photos I have of the poles in action are the same old "holding up the front porch of my tarp" shots.

I did start to notice some wear and tear on the cork handles.  I began to feel bits of cork come off on some of the sharper edged areas:
Cork wear

This seems to be mostly a cosmetic issue at this time, but I'll be keeping my eye on this to see if things get worse.

Arizona National Scenic Trail - Huachuca Mountains Passage

Same mountains as the prior weekend, but starting from the Arizona Trail (AZT) trailhead on the west side of the range.  I car camped near the trailhead on Friday night, and hiked up into the Huachucas on Saturday.  When I was approaching the summit, one of my pole straps had slipped a bit and I wanted to tighten it up.  I yanked on the strap to loosen it, and the whole retention mechanism came flying out.  I heard something land in the woods, but I didn't know what it was, and there was no way to find that needle in a haystack.  I completed the hike without using the strap on that pole.

When I returned home I inspected the retention system, comparing the intact survivor with the casualty:
Busted

Not good - the pin is obviously missing from the pole on the left.  This test completes at the end of July, and I am doing my last hardcore backpacking trip the weekend of July 4, and it really wasn't so bad using the poles without the strap, so I elected to not contact customer support to replace the lost parts.

Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

It's been four years since I had been to Aravaipa Canyon, and I wanted to explore more than I did last time so I got a permit for a 3-day trip.  The poles got a fair amount of punishment sloshing through the water:
Hiking in Aravaipa

The Carbonlite poles and I are in the lower right corner of the picture, and the incredible geology of the canyon is front and center!  The poles worked fine in spite of having just one strap.  I alternated hands with the strapless pole to reduce fatigue.  The good news is I was not plagued by any thumb blisters like I experienced on prior trips - apparently they are caused by the straps.

The other issue I had is the bottom section of the both poles refused to collapse at the end of the hike.  They had spent a lot of time in and out of the water, as I was constantly trudging through the creek for three days.  When I tried extending/collapsing the sections a few days later it seemed like the twist-lock mechanism was sticking, and there was still clearly water in the shaft.  Apparently they get a little reluctant when wet.

Crest Trail

I returned the the Huachuca Mountains looking for a respite from the hot and humid Tucson monsoon season, only to run into rainstorms.  I didn't get in a lot of mileage in, but I did get a break from the heat.  This was the only time I used the poles in muddy conditions - the trails were soaked from rain turning the red dust into a gooey mess in places.  The poles did great biting into the slippery surfaces, including saving me from one nasty fall.

I had no problems extending the poles at the beginning of the hike nor retracting them at the end.  The problems I ran into at the end of the Aravaipa trip must have been due to water buildup and maybe some sand.

Summary

I haven't experienced anything since my Field Report to change any of my summary points there.  I will add that I was disappointed in the deterioration of the cork handles, the breakage of the strap adjustment mechanism, and the stickiness of the shaft locks when wet.  I am unusually adept at breaking things, so it may just have been my rough handling of the gear, but it seems like durability is not a key strength of the design.

My bottom line after using these poles for 4 months is they are a reasonably-priced pole that will hold up to moderate use, ideal for the casual hiker.  They do have a lot of features for the cost: I would not expect cork handles and shock absorbers at this price point, so if I were a beginner buying buying my first set of poles they would be ideal to try out these features without spending a huge amount of money.


Many thanks to Mountainsmith and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.

Read more reviews of Mountainsmith gear
Read more gear reviews by Kurt Papke

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