Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles
Test series by Sophie Pearson
Initial Report - March 3, 2009
Field Report - May 14, 2009
Long-Term Report - July 14, 2009
Name: Sophie Pearson
Height: 5' 8” (1.71 m)
Weight: 180 lb (82 kg)
Email address: sophiep3 at gmail dot com
Location: Tampa, Florida USA
I first started backpacking as a teenager in England. I did a
28-day trip in the Arctic, but most of my backpacking experience
has been weekend to 10-day trips, in a range of terrains and climates.
I am a volcanologist so I also do day hikes carrying loaded packs over
intense terrain. Nowadays I am generally in sub-tropical climates. I
am heading increasingly towards ultralight packing, and unless I am
sharing I use a bivy. I try to pack around 20 lb (9 kg) for long
weekend trips but have carried over 50 lb (23 kg).
The poles are carbon-wrapped aluminum with a silver and white arrow pattern on them, and the Mountainsmith logo. The handles are
a dark, fairly hard, cork. The piece of plastic in the middle keeps them together.
The middle section has one inch markers and a picture showing the antishock mechanism, spring screws.
The top section has arrows labeled open and close to show the direction to twist it to lock it. The middle one has arrows labeled lock and unlock.
Labels on the bottom and middle poles show how far they can be extended.
The bottom of the poles are primarily plastic, with a thread for the basket. They can be used with either rubber boots or carbite tips.
The wrist straps have neoprene where the thumb-pad rests
. To adjust the wrist straps, the plastic block (visible for the bottom pole) slides out, and when the straps are the right length it pushes back in to lock them in.
The poles are extremely adjustable, and I cannot imagine a person who would be too tall or short for them.
March 3, 2009
Year of manufacture: 2008
|Weight (both poles)
|1 lb 2 oz (7.98 kg)
|1 lb 6 oz (0.62 kg)
|26 in (66 cm)
|27.5 in (70 cm)
|54 in (137 cm)
|58.5 in (149 cm)
The tag says 7.98 kg, but I have no idea where that came from! On the website the conversion correctly says 0.54 kg. My dimensions are measured from the bottom of the rubber tip to the top of the handle.
The poles are black with a white and silver arrow-type pattern pointing away from the Mountainsmith logo and the model name, which are written around the middle. They have three parts and are made of carbon-wrapped aluminum (according to the tag). The middle section has inch markers between 47 and 57 and a picture to show the
antishock mechanism. The top and middle sections have arrows to show the direction to turn to lock, and the middle and bottom sections have the words limit and stop respectively at the maximum extent.
The connectors between the different parts of the poles are plastic, as are the ends and the baskets (which
are shipped attached to the wrist straps). The tips are carbide and are covered with rubber boots which just push and pull off and on. The handles are
a fairly dark, mottled cork with small holes near the top on each side which are filled with plastic on one side but not the other. The empty hole is on the same side on each
one. The wrist straps are black with neoprene where the palm rests.
The poles come with one tag that contains the same information as the website, plus information that state the poles have a lifetime warranty against material and workmanship defects. They will be repaired or replaced. Any other problems will
be fixed for a nominal fee. It lists the website, an address, phone number and the website to go to register the product. The poles have a piece of plastic that snaps around them to keep them together. The baskets are attached to each wrist-strap by a
little piece of plastic that has to be cut to use them.
The most important part of the poles is getting them to the right height. They can be extended to an extremely wide range, so I can't imagine anyone finding them too long or too short. It took me a little while to figure out how to adjust the height - they have sort of arrow symbols on the body of the poles but my instinct was to twist the section below in that direction, as I generally hold the top still.
It didn't take me long to figure out that didn't work though! The middle section has arrows showing which way to turn to lock and unlock, but can only be seen when it is extended. For both sections the
top twists clockwise. The parts slide fairly easily into each other, although the bottom section feels a bit snug. The only issue that I could see with that is that the paint might scratch after sliding it in and out a few times.
One of the poles twisted and locked easily and securely; however the middle section of the other one kept turning. Occasionally it would lock, but generally not. This gave me a great chance to try out Mountainsmith customer service. Initially it went to answerphone, but they called me back within 5 minutes, gave me a return number and said they would exchange the faulty one. I just had to pay
for shipping. I will let you know in the field report how long the return took!
The cork handles feel like they are a good fit for my hands. The cork feels hard; it has the texture of cork but not the give. I'm not sure whether the little holes in the top do anything, but I can't see how they would. The wrist straps are a bit
funky - the neoprene feels like it will be very comfortable on the fleshy part of my thumb, but somehow that seems to make the strap part feel more uncomfortable. I'm not sure if I am putting more weight on them than I normally would, and as I have never had a problem with plain straps before
I will keep an eye out to see if I am paranoid! The way to tighten them is not one I've seen before - there is a plastic block set into the cork that the straps run behind. To loosen them I pull on the top of the wrist strap and it pulls the block out slightly so that the strap can be extended. If I pull on
the excess of the strap it does the same thing to tighten them. The block is secured to the strap so isn't going anywhere, and I suppose it means they didn't have to use pulleys on the straps that might make it uncomfortable, but I do find it a bit strange. When the block is pushed in and I
lean on them there doesn't seem to be any danger of the straps changing length accidentally. The excess of the strap is below it, next to the handle. I'm not sure yet if I will find it more comfortable to put my hand over the strap, or to have it above my hand. It ends with a plastic square
which I suppose is to stop it being pulled through.
The plastic parts at the bottom of the poles seem sturdy. The rubber boots pull off and on fairly easily; I will keep an eye out to see if they get looser over the test period. There are plastic threads for the baskets to screw onto near the bottom of the poles. Unfortunately I can't see a way to
attach the boots or the baskets to the poles when I am not using them, which would make them much harder to lose. The baskets are flatter and less dome-shaped than others I've seen, and the plastic feels flexible but strong. It has an open part-hole on one side of each, and a small hole in the other side, as do the other poles I've seen. I'm not
quite sure why though. As the baskets are what broke first on my old pole, I will definitely check them for potential signs of
These seem like sturdy trekking poles, with some nice details to make them more comfortable. Despite being called 'Carbonlite', they don't feel any lighter than my super-cheap old pole though. I guess I will have to see how they fair out in the wild! Please check back in about 2 months for the field report.
Hiking in New Mexico. We were at the bottom the day before!
The poles really came into their own on the 73 river crossings.
The cork handles were great in the heat. My hands never slipped and the handles dried really quickly.
The locking mechanism takes some perserverance! The anti-shock spring seems to work though.
May 14, 2009
I used the poles on an 8-day trip out west to Gila National Forest in New Mexico. We did 5 days, 4 nights of backcountry hiking/camping, 1 day of exploring the cliff dwellings, and 3 days of driving to get there and back from Tampa. We hiked about 25 miles, with elevation changes of about 2000 ft (610 m) and 73 river crossings. Temperatures ranged between 25 and 75 F (-4 and 24 C).
These seem to be good quality poles. I particularly discovered the joy of them during the 73 river crossings on our hike, when some of the water was pretty fast flowing. Having the two extra legs made life so much easier! At times a pole ended up supporting almost all my weight, and although the bottom section bowed slightly, neither of the poles broke or deformed. I had always used one pole,
and although the extra pole only made hiking very slightly easier, on the river crossings it made all the difference in the world! The other people in my group who didn't have poles or only had one all ended up using sticks by the end of the trip. I initially worried that the poles were heavy, but they never felt that way out on a hike. I guess the anti-shock mechanism worked too because even
going downhill fast they were supportive and comfortable! I used the rubber boots on the bottom of the poles the entire hike, and they don't show any signs of wear so far.
I really like the cork handles. They are a great size for my hands, comfortable to grip, and work so much better in hot climates. My hands tend to get sweaty gripping something for numerous hours and with plastic handles my hands would slip. With the cork ones this was not a problem, and the cork would absorb the moisture and dry really quickly. I did get slight blisters on my thumbs
but they never hurt at all, even after using the poles for eight hours solid. I also liked the neoprene on the wrist straps, it provided a really solid, comfortable hand rest. With the excess strap between my hand and the handle I did not notice it at all. The straps were also really easy to adjust, but this did cause issues . . .
The Not So Good
The block mechanism on the wrist straps, while easy to adjust, also tended to slip over the course of a day. The first couple of days I did not notice it, but by the 4th day I was adjusting one strap in particular every couple of hours. It was easy to do, but a bit annoying. The lock mechanism was also a big beef of mine. As I mentioned in the initial report, one of the poles did not lock.
The replacement did lock . . . eventually. I found that I really had to play around with pulling the middle section in and out, twisting multiple times in each direction and generally just persevering! The bottom section never had this problem. One of my friends had more expensive poles by a different manufacturer and hers did the same thing. She said that they had never done it before, so
I don't know if the cold was a factor, but it was certainly a pain! Eventually I got the hang of it, but it was still a bit hit or miss whether they would actually lock. On one river crossing the middle section slipped and closed on one of the poles too, under my almost-full weight. That only happened once and the rest of the time once they were locked they did feel sturdy.
As I mentioned in the initial report, I could not get one of the poles to lock at all when I first got it. I called customer service and they told me to ship back the faulty one and they would send a replacement. I told them I was going out of town hiking, but they told me they couldn't ship the replacement until they had the faulty one. I knew that was a pretty standard policy so I didn't argue.
However, after thinking about it I decided that I really wanted to use the 2 poles on my big trip, so I called them back. I spoke to someone different and after explaining the situation and doing a little bit of begging he agreed to send me the new pole straight away. It arrived 2 days later. Thank goodness, because having two made all the difference on the river crossings! Customer service never picked up my call, but they always
returned my answer-phone message within a few hours, and two of the three calls were within 10 minutes. They were also always polite and helpful.
I do like these poles. The locking mechanism is definitely not working as it should right now, but for me the comfort and moisture absorbing qualities of the cork handles make up for that. Maybe I will figure out the locking mechanism before the long term report in 2 months, either way I will let you know then!
July 14, 2009
The poles ventured with me on a two-day hiking trip to Myakka River State Park in west Florida. Temperatures were between 69 and 91 F (21 and 33 C), with severe afternoon thunderstorms. We hiked 11 miles (18 km), passing 5-foot (1.5 m) rattlesnakes, baby gators (but no parents) and so many armadillos! The other trip I took them on was a three day whitewater rafting/hiking trip on the Ocoee River and Big Frog Mountain in Tennessee. We hiked 23 miles (37 km) over two days, with elevation changes of over 2000 ft (610 m). Temperatures were between 51 and 78 F (11 and 26 C) with no rain, but an abundance of ticks and noseeums.
Over the last two months the poles have continued to bear my weight and support me well. I still have issues with the locking mechanism on one of the poles though. I have now found that the bottom section will only lock if the middle section is locked, and the middle section can be extremely fussy. I thought that there must be a knack to it, but if there is I can't find it! The piece of plastic over the connection now slips too, just on that one pole. I have to physically screw it tight after locking the pole otherwise it slides down. This is purely cosmetic though. The bottom sections do have a few scratches as I initially worried, but other than that they are not showing superficial signs of wear. The pole that was having trouble locking did shorten on me a couple of times while I was hiking, but only a little bit before it caught again, and I did not notice it with the other one. It seems like the locking mechanism is a problem with some poles and not others.
I also had some fun with the straps on the poles. The one that was slipping before the field report somehow managed to get twisted and stuck. After quite a bit of pushing and pulling I discovered what the black plastic is for - it is a small post that runs through the handle, that the strap goes behind. To get the strap untwisted I had to pull out the post with pliers, push the strap in correctly and then push the post back in. Since then the strap has behaved itself perfectly, and it was a pretty easy fix. I still don't find the way to tighten the straps intuitive, but it generally seems to work and the straps are definitely more comfortable than my bargain basement old pole. More durable too. One of the neoprene sections has got a fold in it and does not sit as well against my hand as it used to, although it is not uncomfortable. I continued to get small blisters from the cork handles, but I never felt them at all (in contrast to the ones on my feet!)
As well as the sections of pole slipping, the black plastic connector now slips on the problem pole. There are also some scratches on the bottom section, although none of this affects functionality.
The neoprene strap now has permanent creases in it. I had to remove the black post when the strap got twisted, but now it is fitted back together it seems to be fine.
The cork handles give me small blisters, but I have never been able to feel them.
Although the rubber boots do not screw onto the poles, I have been impressed by how well they still fit. I tried using the carbide tips, but as all of my hiking is in densely vegetated, soft soil areas I just found that they sank and were more of a problem than a help. I therefore put the boots back on and tried removing and putting them on quite a few times. They still stay on really well, and other than some soil in the ridges on the bottom, are not showing any signs of wear. I did find that one of the baskets came unscrewed after a while of hiking through the undergrowth but this was quickly remedied, and the baskets look like new, despite having had weight put on them in the back of my car. It seems that when the poles work, they are very durable.
I have to say that other than the awkwardness of not having a spare hand, I am totally sold on having two poles. Both going uphill and down it felt so much easier and more natural. Some of the uphills were pretty steep and I'm definitely not in the best shape, but with the two poles I never found that I was struggling the way I used to without poles, or even with only one. I will continue to use both of these poles, except perhaps when I am hiking on the flat in Florida and only really need one to break the spiders' webs.
The Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles seem to be durable, good quality poles with a couple of nice features like cork handles and neoprene wrist straps. The locking mechanism does not seem to be the most reliable, although with one pole I always had problems and with the other one I never did. It therefore seems to be a quirk of a particular pole rather than the mechanism in general. They are also not the lightest poles on the market, although they never felt heavy when I was hiking. I will definitely continue to enjoy using the poles for their lifetime, but I would have to seriously consider whether they were worth the extra dollars compared to my old bargain-basement one when it came to buying new ones.
The two poles really help with balance and energy expenditure
Cork handles are comfortable
The handles never got slippery and dried very quickly in the sweaty Florida heat
The poles have a huge extension range
Rubber boots fit well and never slipped
Boots and baskets show minimal wear
Neoprene on wrist straps is comfortable
Anti-shock mechanism seems to work well
When the poles lock, they feel very sturdy
The locking mechanism is extremely fussy on one of the poles
The fussy pole slipped on me a few times
The wrist strap on one pole slipped after a while and needed to be adjusted
They are heavier than I would expect from carbon poles
This concludes my report. Many thanks to Mountainsmith and to BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test the Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro trekking poles.
Read more reviews of Mountainsmith gear
Read more gear reviews by Sophie Pearson