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Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Mountainsmith Carbonlite ProTrekking > Test Report by Brett Haydin

MOUNTAINSMITH CARBONLITE PRO TREKKING POLES
TEST SERIES BY BRETT HAYDIN
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - March 04, 2009
FIELD REPORT - May 18, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT - July 14, 2009

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Brett Haydin
EMAIL: bhaydin AT hotmail DOT com
AGE: 36
LOCATION: Salida, Colorado, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 195 lb (88.50 kg)

I started backpacking in Wisconsin as a youth, being involved in the Boy Scouts programs. As a young adult, I worked at a summer camp leading backpacking, canoeing and mountain biking trips. I now generally take short weekend or day trips in rough, mountainous terrain, although I have extensive experience in the upper Midwest as well. I take one or two longer trips each year, where I typically carry about 40 lb (18 kg). I prefer to be prepared and comfortable, but I have taken lightweight trips as well.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Carbonlite Pro
Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro


Manufacturer: Mountainsmith
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.mountainsmith.com
MSRP: US$ 99.00
Listed Weight: 1 lb 2 oz (0.54 g)
Measured Weight: 1 lb 5 oz (0.6 kg)
Weight of Poles only: 1 lb 3 oz (0.54 kg)
Weight of baskets only: 1 oz (28 g)
Weight of rubber tips only: 1.0 oz (28 g)
Listed Length: 26 in (66 cm)
Measured Length: 27.25 in (69 cm)
Warranty: Lifetime Warranty against material and workmanship defects. Products failing due to normal wear and tear, abuse or natural breakdown of materials over extended use and time will be repaired for a nominal fee.

Manufacturer's Listed Features

  • Carbide tips
  • Adjustable wrist straps
  • Ergonomic handle
  • Three section Carbon & 6061 Aluminum poles
  • Cork grips
  • Neoprene wrist straps
  • Anti-shock absorption system
  • Quick-twist locking mechanism
  • Easily removable narrow profile baskets
  • Rubber boot tips


Product Description:
The Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles are three section carbon-wrapped-aluminum shaft poles with cork grips, neoprene and nylon straps, and anti-shock absorption system. The carbide tips were covered with the enclosed rubber tips and the baskets were attached to the wrist straps with plastic ties. There was one hang tag also attached by the manufacturer describing the features of the Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles.

The cork grips are remarkably comfortable to grasp. There is a natural groove for my index finger to rest in on the front of the grips. The back of the grips have a series of horizontal grooves that provide some traction for my palm. The wrist strap comes out of an opening in the back of the grip and is held in place by a plastic tab riveted in place to the nylon strap material. There are five spikes on one side of the tab that grip the nylon once it slides into the opening in the grip. Actually, I was impressed with the ingenuity that went into the design of this system! There is a small amount of neoprene material that is attached to the nylon that provides a comfortable padding for the wrist strap.

The carbon-wrapped-aluminum shaft is comprised of three separate shafts that fit inside each other. The outer shaft is primary black and has the Mountainsmith logo on it as well as the name Carbonlite Pro printed on it. There is also a printed pattern in grey and silver. The additional two shafts are locked in place and can be unlocked by twisting the lower segment counterclockwise. The middle segment is printed with marks from 47 to 57 in (1.2 to 1.45 m) although no metric equivalents are printed. The final segment is almost entirely black except for a silver Mountainsmith logo. Both the middle and lower segments have a solid band printed "stop" or "limit" indicating that the pole should not be extended beyond that point.

The tips are made of a hard plastic material and are tapered toward the end of the pole. There is a carbide tip held in place by a silver, metallic casing. There are also grooves in the plastic that the baskets can be screwed onto for snow settings. The baskets are 2.625 in (6.7 cm) wide in diameter and have a small circle cut out of one side of each basket. These circles fit around the pole tips, and together with the stand-alone plastic bracket hold the poles together in one sturdy bundle. The rubber tips fit easily over the carbide tips and friction holds them firmly in place.

Once extended, it is apparent that there is some sort of mechanism inside the poles that allow them to spring up and down. This appears to be the anti-shock system at work.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

March 4, 2009

I am at once impressed with the fine quality of the Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles. There are very few flaws in the workmanship that I could find. It is apparent that these trekking poles are made of quality materials. The cork grips are pleasing to touch; almost smooth and yet they hold my grip.

One small flaw I found was on one of the plastic tabs holding the wrist straps in place. There was a small amount of plastic that was left over from the manufacturing of the piece that had a sharp edge that cause some discomfort when I grasped the grips. This was easily remedied by scraping at the imperfection with my fingernail.

These are light-weight poles, but not the lightest poles that I have used. They extend to a great range, which may contribute to the additional weight. I was a little disappointed in the inaccurate measurements provided by the manufacturer. The poles measure over 1 in (2.5 cm) longer than advertised and are 3 oz (85 g) heavier than advertised. The poles by themselves are very similar in weight, but in many situations I will be using the basket throughout the winter. Neither of these concerns would be deal-breakers for me; I am impressed with the overall product.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

Well, there are actually no true instructions included with the trekking poles. The poles have the words "open" and "close" printed on them with arrows that indicate how to tighten and loosen the telescoping segments. There were no instructions on the website so much of what I learned was through trial and error. Of course, these poles seemed very intuitive to me.

TRYING IT OUT

I found the Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles very easy to use upon initial inspection. The poles twist easily to unlock each segment. Once unlocked they slide smoothly in the housing. I did find that it would be easy to unlock the segment too much. I found that if I twisted too much, the expanding piece inside the poles would separate from the screw inside and make it difficult to tighten. Through practice, I learned that all I need to do is twist about five or six times to allow the segment to slide.

The wrist straps required a little more time to figure out. I was a little confused about how to loosen or tighten the straps to my preference. I found that by pulling the lower tab on the wrist strap it would loosen the locking tab enough to allow the nylon strap to move freely. This way, I could set a good size for my tastes and then lock the tab by pushing it into the hole in the grip.

Once I was able to figure out these features, I have to say these are immediately comfortable to use. The anti-shock feature is a nice feature to have. I am excited to test its practical application in the field.

SUMMARY

I am really thrilled to test the Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles. Once I mastered the operation, I found them easy to use. They look very sleek and are comfortable to use.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I have used the Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles on four backpacking trips, one car camping trip with short hikes as well as three snowshoe hikes.

The first backpacking trip was an overnight in the White River National Forest south of Breckenridge, Colorado on the Quandary Peak Trail. I hiked about 1.5 mi (2.4 km) in and spent a cold night with the temperature when I went to bed at 5 F (-15 C). Temperatures exceeded 40 F (4 C) as the day progressed making it a warm hike, despite the windy conditions. Elevations were from 10,875 to 13,145 ft (3,315 to 4007 m). The summit hike was an additional 2.9 mi (4.7 km), but I snowboarded down to the trailhead. That left just another 0.75 mi (1.2 km) to my SUV.

The second backpacking trip was a 12 mi (19.3 km) out-and-back spontaneous trip in the San Isabel National Forest along the Colorado trail. The weather looked threatening the whole time, but temperatures remained between 30 and 50 F (-1 to 10 C) with only a trace amount of snow and rain mix. The trail was mostly snow covered, but much of it did not require any snowshoes. The elevation was between 9,900 and 11,950 ft (3,018 to 3,642 m).

My third trip was a 14 mi (22.5 km) hike up the Barr Trail toward Pikes Peak, however the weather conditions deteriorated and I was forced to turn back. The original plan would have been 26 mi (42 km) with a spectacular view. The temperatures dropped to about 5 F (-15 C) overnight and the high was only 25 F (-4 C) on our retreat. The depth of snow and high winds were the major problems. Starting elevation was 6,600 ft (2,012 m) and we camped at about 9,500 ft (2,896 m). I followed up with a return trip a couple of weekends later and made it much further, but stopped 2 mi (3.2 km) short of the summit because of 8 ft (2.4 m) snow drifts that proved too tough for my dog. I suppose the better route in winter conditions really is the Crags route!

I also camped with my daughter and three of her friends (all 8 years old) for her birthday party at the Cherry Creek State Park in Denver, Colorado. This is an established campground with amenities, but also has some splendid trails for exploring. Temperatures were mild, only dropping to 45 F (7 C) overnight. Sunny skies but breezy conditions made some elements a little hectic.

The remaining day hikes included a 2.5 mi (4 km) hike along the Chief Mountain Trail in the Arapaho National Forest. Temperatures were mild at about 40 F (4.5 C) and the trail was pretty snow-packed. Another hike was a 7 mi (11.25 km) hike in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area along a well maintained snowshoe trail. Temperatures were around 30 F (-1 C) and the weather was cloudy but otherwise fine. The last hike was an 8 mi (13 km) to Grizzly Gulch in the Arapaho National forest. The temperature was about 20 F (-7 C) and it was snowy and a little windy.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

I have had some mixed results with the Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles so far. Let me be clear that these are performing well as trekking poles. Up until this point, the vast majority of conditions have been winter conditions; snow (both powder and packed) but has included some clear trails.

I have been very pleased with the feel of the poles in a number of critical areas. First, the cork grips are exceptionally comfortable. I have primarily used them with gloved hands, but on several of my hikes the conditions warmed up enough that I used them with bare hands. I did not have any hot spots or blisters from the friction, but I did notice that the slight imperfection noted in the initial report on the plastic tab caused some irritation. It was sufficient enough to put a small hole in the leather palm of some gloves I was wearing. I have since smoothed out the tab and have not had any more problems.

My first experience with the poles was almost comical. While hiking up Quandary Peak, I lost the snow basket on one of the poles four times! No matter how tight I tried to make the basket on the pole tip, the basket popped off in the heavy snow. When I finally was ready to make my snowboard descent, I stowed the poles, tips up, on the outside of my pack, but tucked in between my snowshoes. When I finished my descent and got ready to finish the last short hike out, I noticed that the basket on one of the poles was missing. Frustrated, I purchased another set of baskets and fortunately have not had them fall off any more.

It was hard for me to notice any appreciable difference of the shock absorbing feature of the poles until the last backpacking trip up Pikes Peak. The first 6 mi (9.7 km) or so were relatively snow free and hard-packed dirt trails. There were lots of steps and switchbacks up what is known ominously as "The Incline." I really could notice the difference on this terrain. In the snowy conditions, I don't seem to notice the give as much. I hope that the shock absorbers help me on some of my upcoming hikes as the weather warms up!

I have noticed that the poles do flex a little, more noticeably on the descents, for me. I don't think that the poles will break, but on my second trip to Pikes Peak, I was hiking solo with my dog, so my pack was about 50 lb (23 kg). I never felt like I was putting too much load on them. So far they have remained stable on the trail!

The wrist straps are an adequate length and feel good against my wrists. The neoprene isn't too warm and actually probably helps a little with wicking away perspiration. The straps could be a little longer to make it easier to put gloved hands through. I had to loosen the straps all the way in order to put them on. One thing I would like to point out is that I have not had any problems with either the straps or the poles loosening throughout the day.

SUMMARY

I haven't had a chance to use the rubber tips, since I have been in the snow so much, but the trails are beginning to clear up and I will be able to use them for the final two months of testing. I really like the shock absorbing feature now that the trails have started to clear up. The poles are solid, but have enough flex to make them feel like natural extensions of my arms.

I am a little disappointed in some of the finer points of manufacturing. I don't know why the basket kept coming loose on the one particular pole. However, the new set fit perfectly and I have had no problems since. Also, the plastic tab was another trivial problem that did become a little larger. My other concern about the length of the wrist straps also corrected itself since the spring and summer are almost in full swing.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During the past two months, I have been on 3 camping/backpacking trips. The first was a car camping trip for three days in Moab, Utah with my daughter and a friend as well as my sister and her two boys. We camped in national forest land in the arid desert climate roughly 15 mi (24 km) northwest of Moab. The terrain was mostly slick rock and sandy soils with warm temperatures between 60 and 80 F (16 and 27 C). There was quite a bit of rain, with some thunderstorms, all of which were limited to the late afternoons and evenings. Each of the three days was filled with easy day hikes (young kids and all) ranging from 2 to 5 mi (3.2 to 8 km).

Another trip was a three day trek in the San Isabel National Forest along the Browns Pass and Kroenke Lake Trails. Temperatures were mild with daytime highs of 80 F (27 C) and overnight lows at about 40 F (4 C) and some afternoon showers. The terrain was quite varied with soft forest trails to soggy meadows and even some rock scrambling on Mt Yale! All told, I put on a little over 20 mi (32 km) with elevations from 10,000 - 14,196 ft (3,048 - 4327 m).

My final trip was a backpacking trip with my sister along the Horn Fork Trail to Mt Harvard in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. We hiked about 14 mi (22.5 km) over alpine forest, tundra and steep talus slopes, not to mention snow! Of course, hiking to an elevation of 14,420 ft (4,395 m) is bound to have a mix of terrain. Temperatures were very pleasant: 40 - 75 F (4 - 24 C) but the weather brought hail and rain on our final retreat to the car.

I also used the Carbonlite Pros on 3 additional day hikes. Each hike was peak bagging trip of several Colorado 14ers; peaks over 14,000 ft (4,267 m). Trip lengths were anywhere between 6 and 13 mi (9.7 and 21 km) over rugged, steep alpine terrain, including snow and talus slopes.

Carbonlite Pro
Author using the Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

With the warmer months of the past two months of testing, I have developed very different opinions of these poles than over the wintry field report phase. I still find the poles to be incredibly comfortable to use. The combination of the cork material and ergonomic shape of the poles sets them apart from any other set of poles I have used. The only time I ever had any sort of hot spot develop was when I was coming down from my hike to Mt Harvard. The last three miles of hiking were in thunderstorms and I did notice that some hot spots developed. I admit that I may have been gripping them tighter than normal with the lightning flashes all around, but otherwise they still remained comfortable. My hands did not slip nor did I find that the performance suffered at all.

In fact, my only complaint regarding the grips is that the wrist straps could be a little longer. When wearing an insulated glove, the straps seem a little tight and I have a hard time gripping both the straps and cork grips at the same time.

Now that the summer hiking season is in full force, I have noticed a major advantage of the shock absorbing feature. My body seems to take less impact as a whole from using the poles, especially on steep downhills. My knees feel stronger at the end of long days and my shoulders are noticeably less sore.

IMAGE 2
Broken Pole
I have some concerns about the long term durability of the twist-locking mechanisms. Shortly after the field report, I started to notice some difficulty loosening the poles to adjust the length. For some reason the lower shaft has a hard time engaging when trying to loosen. I have noticed a gradual degradation of this component and on my day hike to Mt Princeton in early July I was unable loosen one of the sections and had to stow it away extended. I have not had any problems whatsoever with the segments slipping once fully tightened.

While on Mt Princeton, I encountered a pretty major mishap. While crossing some gullies I was using the poles to help stabilize my footing on loose boulders and rocks. I slipped on one rock and the pole slipped into a crack that was wider than the basket. As I fell, the pole snapped about 7 in (18 cm) from the tip of the pole. The image to the right shows the break. Granted, this was a fluke accident and I do not feel poor workmanship was to blame; just my lousy coordination. As a field repair, I was able to put the rubber tip of over the broken end and was able to continue using the poles. The following day I left for an overnight and also used them on my trip to Mt Harvard.

I have found the poles to have excellent traction with each of the various accessories. The rubber tips have great traction on all sorts of rock types; granite, sandstone, shale and others were all encountered. Whether wet or dry the tips held their ground as I used them. When I was hiking up Mt Antero in early June, there was still a great deal of snow. Had I thought to bring my crampons and ice axe I would have used them, but without the rubber tips I was able to get enough traction to make a serious bid at the summit. In the end I turned around because the terrain was getting too steep for my comfort with the gear I had. The enclosed baskets are not great for deep snow, but in these conditions, they performed admirably.

Customer Service

As I mentioned, I did have an accident that resulted in a broken pole about two weeks prior to writing this report. Since I had a trip forthcoming, I did not contact customer service right away knowing that my field repair had held up rather well. However, after my trip I did contact Mountainsmith via an email listed on the website to see if I could purchase a spare segment. I did not receive any response so I decided to call the number provided on the website. I explained what had happened and again asked if I could purchase an additional segment. The customer service representative explained that the part was not available for sale but offered to repair the broken pole outright! I have to admit I was a little surprised because the warranty explicitly states that damage from accidents is not covered under warranty. I did not disclose my role as a tester, and it was not until after the offer was made that the representative even obtained my contact information. While slow on the draw, their customer service rocks!

SUMMARY

I am quite satisfied with the performance of the Mountainsmith Carbonlite Trekking Poles.

Things I Like


  • Exceptionally comfortable grips
  • Anti-shock suspension make a noticeable difference on hard surfaces
  • Customer Service is great
  • Excellent traction on a variety of surfaces encountered

Things that could be improved

  • Locking mechanism is a little quirky
  • Wrist straps a little short for my liking

CONTINUED USE

As of the writing of this report, I am awaiting the return of the broken pole. I do anticipate using the poles for as long as I can get good use out of them, i.e. until they completely break down. I have another set of poles I can use in the meantime but I will be anxiously awaiting the return of my Carbonlite Pros until then!

This concludes my long term report for the Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Mountainsmith and BakpackGearTest for allowing me to be a part of this test series.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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