Update, November 11 2015: Also read my long-term review.
Two months ago at the local Costco I bought Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles. They are also available from Amazon (go here) with Prime shipping.
At a minimum, I thought they would be useful for visiting family and friends. At best, I hoped I could use them on insignificant trips in order to save my 5-year-old Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles (read my long-term review) for more important outings.
For $30, however, I got way more. After a few hard training hikes with them (3k vertical feet of gain with a 50-lb backpack of bricks), I felt they were ready for a bigger stage: a thru-hike of the Kings Canyon High Basin Route, during which I hiked over 200 miles (including 100 miles off-trail) and climbed a whopping 70,000 vertical feet through California’s High Sierra.
Here is my review:
After removing the straps and baskets, the CMT poles weigh in at just 14.1 oz. Compared to other popular collapsible poles, they are 2 oz lighter than the BD Alpine Carbon Cork Poles (16.1 oz without straps and baskets), and weigh about the same as the REI Carbon Power Lock Poles (15.7 oz with straps and baskets).
Reliable locking mechanism
While the CMT’s lever locks are less refined than Black Diamond’s FlickLock or those on the Carbon Power Lock Poles, they work. They never slipped; they never needed occasional readjustment; and after about two hard weeks of use, they work as well today as when new.
I’m hard on poles. I’m not a heavy person (155-160 lbs), but I was carrying a heavy pack (35 lbs at the start, including 11 days of food + bear canister + supplies) and I travel extensively off-trail: giant talus, loose scree, occasional thick brush, and lots of uneven ground.
The pole shafts had ample opportunities to break: on many occasions I jammed them accidentally between rocks, used them to catch awkward stumbles, and dropped them clumsily on the ground — yet they did not break or fail. The grips and locking mechanisms exhibit no signs of advanced wear.
Stiff carbon fiber shafts
Versus my BD Alpine Carbon Cork Poles, the CMT poles vibrate more upon impact. I suspect this is attributable to inferior (but sufficient) shaft strength and to inferior (but, again, sufficient) locking mechanisms. The vibration is only a minor annoyance and it’s probably comparable to that of other poles. Moreover, I found that it can be reduced by tightening the locking system.
Foam grips + extensions
The CMT pole grips are made of high-density foam, which is far superior to plastic and rubber but not as desirable as (much more expensive) cork. I’m perfectly content with this spec. Furthermore, I’m delighted that the CMT poles have foam extension grips, which I use regularly when hiking steeply uphill or when side-hilling. If poles do not have this feature, it’s a deal-breaker for me.
Note that on CMT’s website, the Quick Lock poles are also available with cork grips, for the same price. But buyer beware — assuming it’s the same cork as on my CMT twist poles from 2012, it does not feel or look like real cork, and at least one backpacker had a negative experience with them.
54 inch (135 cm) max length
With an adjustable length of 40-54 inches (100-135 cm), the CMT poles can be sized correctly for nearly all adults. In combination with the included snow baskets (a $7-10 value), they could also be used for snowshoeing, and perhaps for skiing too depending on the type of skiing and the user height.
If you use a shelter that requires trekking poles to pitch, you may appreciate the 54-inch maximum length. Only multi-person mid-shaped shelters demand taller poles.
The Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Trekking Poles own the “value” price-point — there is nothing better, not even close, at this cost. But I’ll go further: there are only three instances in which you might consider buying any other trekking poles:
1. You are an extreme user and can justify $160 for the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles, which are stiffer and which have better grips and locks. There is no other collapsible pole worth buying, IMHO.
2. You value compactness (e.g. you are an ultra runner), in which case folding poles such as the Black Diamond Ultra Mountain Carbon Trekking Poles will be worthwhile. When fully collapsed, the CMT poles are still 23 inches long, versus 14-16 for folding poles.
3. You value weight and you don’t plan to travel often with your poles, in which case fixed-length poles like the Gossamer Gear LT3C Poles are the way to go.
Disclosures. Personal funds were used to purchase these poles. This post contains affiliate links, whereby I receive a small commission for resulting sales that help to support this content.