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Long-term Review: Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Poles | Two design flaws + solutions

In the Wind River Range, my route went over 12,800-foot Bonney Pass, which is the left-of-center low spot on the ridge that is obscured by the knob in the foreground. My pole tips -- which had eroded into metal nubs -- were a major liability on the Dinwoody Glacier, up which I had to climb.

In the Wind River Range, my route went over 12,800-foot Bonney Pass, which is the left-of-center low spot on the ridge that is obscured by the knob in the foreground. My pole tips — which had eroded into metal nubs — were a major liability on the Dinwoody Glacier, up which I had to climb.

This summer I used the Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Trekking Poles (short-term review) on two significant outings, in addition to some local day-hikes: a 10-day thru-hike of the Kings Canyon High Basin Route, and an 8-day yo-yo of Wyoming’s Wind River Range, including a northbound thru-hike of the Wind River High Route.

The cumulative use amounted to 400+ miles, with nearly 200 miles of burly off-trail travel and 125,000 vertical feet of gain. For the average backpacker, I suspect this is equivalent to 2-3 months of continuous use, or several backpacking seasons.

Based on my experience in July in Kings Canyon, I concluded that only three other poles (or pole types) are worth considering:

Otherwise, however, buy the Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Poles, from your local Costco or from Amazon with Prime shipping for a few dollars more. Models from more well known outdoor brands and retailers are not worth the added cost. In most cases, you will pay much more and get much less.

My recommendation did not change after the Winds trip, despite the revelation of two design flaws, which I’d like to share in this long-term review. Thankfully, both are easily and inexpensively resolved.

Left: Cascade Mountain Tech pole tips. Right: Black Diamond Flex Tech Tips, which have proven more durable.

Left: Cascade Mountain Tech pole tips. Right: Black Diamond Flex Tech Tips, which have proven more durable.

Pole tips

The durability of the CMT pole tips is sub-par, even accounting for the intensity of my use. Mine wore down into rounded metal nubs, and their lack of bite was an annoyance on hard-packed dirt trails and a liability on frozen snowfields and glacial ice.

The problem is the tip cap, which consists of a carbide spike embedded into a metal socket. I believe that the metal is too soft, or the spike is too short, or both. Gravel, sand, and other abrasive materials erode away the metal socket, and eventually the carbide tip falls out. The erosion of the socket accelerates from there.

Solution

Once the tips wear out, replace them with Leki Carbide Universal Flex Tips or with Black Diamond Flex Tech Tips. My pick is the latter: they are $12 for a 2-pack, versus $20 for the Leki tips.

Tip replacement is normal, and I’ve done it many times. For best results, twist off the old tips with pliers after heating them in boiling water. Clean the shafts and install the new tips. So that they stay put, tap the pole a few times on a hard surface (e.g. concrete, granite rock) before using.

Three (out of four) plastic ferrules have developed hairline fractures, due to the pressure exerted on them when the locks are tightened. If a ferrule were to shatter in the field, the pole would be useless until you can get to a hardware store.

Three (out of four) plastic ferrules have developed hairline fractures, due to the pressure exerted on them when the locks are tightened. If a ferrule were to shatter in the field, the pole would be useless until you can get to a hardware store.

Locking mechanisms

To prevent the shafts from slipping and to reduce shaft vibration, I keep the locks tightly closed. However, this puts significant pressure on the plastic ferrule, and I noticed that three (out out four) had developed hairline fractures. This is a design flaw: for an extra few pennies, CMT could have avoided this problem entirely by using a metal ferrule.

If a plastic ferrule were to shatter in the field, the pole would be useless. Both locks must be functional, and there is no good field repair; the shafts can be glued together, but this obviously has drawbacks.

Replacement parts for the locking mechanism, available at the hardware store for $2-3.

Replacement parts for the locking mechanism, available at the hardware store for $2-3.

Solution

At the hardware store, buy these two items:

  • Nylon lock nuts: #10 size for 32 threads/inch screws (“Fine”)
  • Flat washers: #10

The cost will be $2-3 and a few extra grams of pole weight.

Because the nylon lock nuts are difficult to turn without a 3/8-inch wrench or impact driver attachment, I recommend a home repair. Do not wait until a plastic ferrule shatters completely in the field.

In a similar vein, you may want to replace only the plastic ferrules with visible hairline fractures. Because the ferrules are much easier to turn than the nylon lock nuts, you can more easily micro-adjust the tension on the locking mechanism. With the lock nuts, you mostly set it and forget it.

Top: The stock locking mechanism, which is prone to failure. Bottom: My inexpensive solution, using a #10-32 nylon locking nut and washer.

Top: The stock locking mechanism, which is prone to failure. Bottom: My inexpensive solution, using a #10-32 nylon locking nut and washer.

If you own these poles, I’m interested in knowing if you have encountered these or other issues. Please share.


Disclosure. This post contains affiliate links, whereby I receive a small commission for sales-generating referral traffic. There is no cost to readers (e.g. prices are the same), and it helps to support my efforts to develop great content.

15 Responses to Long-term Review: Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Poles | Two design flaws + solutions

  1. Vadim Fedorovsky November 11, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

    I have been using the poles for both skiing and backpacking for about a year now and had no complaints, only good things to say.

    But these solutions are very good to know.

    Andrew I thought you would like to know they now make these exact ones (non twist lock) with a cork grip:

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00XM0YGW8/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=1PFGNHQWWGG2Y&coliid=IF2AMGB362JEY&psc=1

    Loving the great content. Keep it coming!

    -Vadim

  2. Joe G November 12, 2015 at 8:45 am #

    Excellent LT review. And thank you Vadim for the link to Amazon, as my mother has been unable to get these poles at her local Costco.

    When my pair of aluminum poles from WM give way, these will be next up.

  3. Kent S November 18, 2015 at 8:29 pm #

    I have the Cascade Mtn Tech twist lock poles—same problem on only one pole. Cust service at Cascade sells replacement bottom sections for $8.00 ea. Be careful to order the right model.
    Since I am not a thru hiker, my usage is low enough that this might fix the problem for life?? We’ll see.

  4. michael grosse January 5, 2016 at 1:43 am #

    Andrew,
    Thank you for the headsup on these poles. I bought myself a pair as a Xmas gift and had the opportunity to use them for a car camping trip to the Pinnacles here in California, they worked great along the trails and even in some cave hiking. Looking forward to many miles with them.

    michael

  5. Lars Petticord January 14, 2016 at 10:29 pm #

    Great fix for this issue. I’m a casual user of these poles compared to you, and have noticed faint cracks in the plastic piece in question.
    I’ve had the poles for about 10 months and the straps are shredding (where they attach to the plastic piece), to the point of being useless. Many people cut em off anyway but I tend to prefer the wrist support afforded by them.
    Otherwise I love these poles, use them often in the snow as well and I’ll run them into the ground.

  6. Ken P March 9, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

    I have the CMT Twist Lock type (not a fan of the flip lock) and after a rugged summer of backpacking in the Cascades over miles of granite and scree, the carbide tips look brand new.

    My gf has the flip-lock version and her tips are long gone, worn down and fallen off, actually. My tips have a different shape to them; not just a rounded end, but with a bit of a flare at the base.

    So I wonder if the cheaper Costco-sold version has an inferior tip to the $39 twist-lock.

    • Andrew Skurka March 10, 2016 at 4:53 pm #

      Very, very interesting. It sounds like they are using a different tip for these two models, or changed tips at some point.

      Curious why you have a preference for the twist locks. I bought my wife those several years ago, and on the first trip out I had to do some repair — the glue that kept the expansion nut system embedded in the shaft did not adhere to the shaft. So I had to reglue the piece with krazy glue. That seemed to work.

  7. Jimmy W March 30, 2016 at 4:57 pm #

    According to their site, http://www.cascademountaintech.com/Trekking-Poles-s/247.htm, the cork poles are heavier than the foams, which seems odd to me. While I’d like cork, I’m leaning toward the Locus CP3, which come in at about 11 oz. per pair. The tip looks sturdier, too. I also thought someone said that the CMT cork was inferior.

    I’m hesitant to go “strapless.” We must use poles a little differently, as I don’t shorten or choke up on the poles when climbing. I plant the tips behind me, and keep my arms/hands fairly level while kind of pushing backwards. I find that the straps give me a little more leverage. Of course, side-hilling and “real world” up and down hiking should be considered. When I need free hands, I just let go and the pole just swing, so I don’t have to set them anywhere. To each his own!

    • JimmyW April 17, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

      Well, I tried the Locus CP3s, and I’m not terribly happy with them. Maybe it’s just me, but every time I plant them on the ground, I get the “boing” effect, for lack of a better word to describe the vibration. Additionally, if you use the supplied small baskets, they screw beyond the top of the threads if you tighten them securely. I know folks disagree about baskets, but even the small ones help when crossing snow drifts this time of year. Otherwise, the poles act like spears.

  8. John Ross April 4, 2016 at 10:09 pm #

    I’m wondering if calling or e-mailing Cascade Mountain and asking how much a set of plastic ferrules would set you back might be a better solution. I am guessing they might even send a pair out complementary, or not much more than the cost of the purchased hardware.

    And thanks for the update. While my tips are looking fine, the plastic ferrules are showing signs of cracking.

    • Andrew Skurka April 4, 2016 at 10:14 pm #

      Very good idea.

      I think I was looking for a long term solution, not a band aid. But given how little these weigh and how much use you can get before they break, it might be a good part for your repair kit.

  9. David October 16, 2016 at 9:54 am #

    I had the same issues with the tips, after only 200 miles on the JMT. The rounded sockets had some bite on rock, but not nearly as much as the carbide. Pic here: http://imgur.com/a/YXKFU

    I’m gonna email CMT and see if they’ll sell me a few of the plastic tightening knobs. I like the adjustability, but I think the breakage concern is a real one.

  10. Bryan November 12, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

    My CMT Cork Carbon poles suffered the same fate as one of your guest’s posts described in their trek through the Wind River Range http://andrewskurka.com/2016/wind-river-high-route-trip-report-loop-8/ . For their first use, I took them on a 5 day trip in the Ouachita mountains with dense boulder fields, and one finally snapped after trekking hard through the rocky terrain on day 5. Granted, with a little more finesse, it could have been avoided. Up to that point, they were performing wonderfully. Very light and the cork was very comfortable. Still trying to evaluate if I will continue to use. With a slightly larger frame than an ultra runner (i.e. 175-180lbs), I may need to consider something more durable and forgiving of my brutishness

  11. Daniel Fennell February 18, 2017 at 10:57 pm #

    Thanks for these tips. I just bought a pair of these poles, and will be adding the nuts and washers tomorrow.

  12. Albert L. March 30, 2017 at 11:41 am #

    I have enjoyed these poles for a couple of years without having problems. I did notice the cracks in the clear plastic shortly after starting to use them but none have not completely failed yet requiring repair. I will add a few replacement nuts to my repair kit just-in-case now that I’ve read this, thanks.

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