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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

Note: One reader who seems to know more about nuts and bolts than I do believes these recommended sizes are incorrect, and that M5 x 0.8 are the true size.

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.

34 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.

    • Steve Elder January 15, 2018 at 5:49 pm #

      Good idea to get spare knobs. Did they send?

  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 https://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.

  13. Jim Stevenson June 28, 2017 at 2:05 pm #

    My son and I just used our CMT Carbon poles hiking the Bartram Trail in NC a couple of weeks back. We both encountered the cracking in the ferrules you describe, but they did not fail on the trek. I did carry a fix in my repair kit for them if they had, but rather than use the lock nuts, I used #10-32 brass knurled nuts instead. Since the hike we replaced the plastic covered ones outright with the nuts. The advantage these knurled nuts have is they can be finger tightened without a tool.

  14. Terry August 1, 2017 at 11:49 am #

    A serrated flange nut would probably hold just as reliably as a nylock or stover nut in this application, but would adjust just as easily as a standard nut. You can get them from a good hardware store, or from a place like Fastenal or McMaster Carr.

    I would not use them with a washer in this application.

  15. Average Joe November 17, 2017 at 10:30 pm #

    Can you use a black diamond or other companies basket??

  16. Steve Elder December 29, 2017 at 7:14 pm #

    Andrew, I’ve been using these poles (with cork) for two years for backpacking and other hiking, mostly in Colorado wilderness. I really like them. The only mar on them is some nicks out of the cork handles where a Snowshoe Hare nibbled on them while they were serving as adjustable poles for my TarpTent Squall!

    I discovered your review as I was looking around after I broke the bottom section of one pole this week, post-holing in deep snow. I think the pole got cold and brittle, and the hard-going through timber-fall and rock (trying to get to a stream) was just too much. I don’t really blame a $45 pair of poles for giving a little under those conditions!

    I wanted to say here that I was SHOCKED to find I can get a replacement part for $7.99 with no shipping charge??! I think I will order two so I have fresh tips on both and a spare. This service makes these poles all the more valuable.

    • Steve Elder January 15, 2018 at 5:47 pm #

      My replacement sections arrived in a timely way. I have them installed and ready to go. I’ll save the old one for a spare. There was a small shipping charge.

  17. 1armJoe January 15, 2018 at 2:10 pm #

    Regarding “boing effect” mentioned several posts above:

    It annoys me too. I’ve found that extending the upper section to max length, and then adjusting the lower as needed, helps a lot.

    It probably increases swing weight, or pendulum effect, but I haven’t noticed it.

    It is noticeably stiffer and quieter.

    Perhaps this is common knowledge; it seems intuitive. I’m new to trekking poles.

    If so, please delete.

  18. Makerlight February 15, 2018 at 7:01 pm #

    These poles are now at Costco for only $29 (at least in Hawaii).
    This looks like their regular price here.

    That is an excellent value. I concur with Andrew S. on this one:
    with his quick fix for the locks and tips you’re getting a very nice, 8oz per pole, set.
    I also remove the straps, as they get in the way a bit so it reduces the weight a little bit more.

    I normally use Black Diamond Trail Pro Trekking Poles (aluminum, no shock system, 9oz each) at home, but since I only do carry on when I travel to Hawaii I’m forced to make something from Bamboo or buy these locally at Costco.
    I like aluminum because when I’ve accidentally jammed one in-between a rock while descending, it did not shatter. It flexed quite a bit and returned to its shape when I let go.
    I’m certain carbon would have shattered. I need to be more careful it seems : )
    That being said and my available options in Hawaii, I’m impressed by the Cascade Mountain set. For the money they are unbeatable and have lots of great attachments.

  19. william armstrong April 6, 2018 at 2:19 pm #

    have used the cascade poles for 3 years including 4 seasons in new england, wind river and chirachouas, and vermont long trail (rugged!) end to end 2017. tips have held up and no slippage, no breakage (except anomaly see below) and used for echo 2 and notch tents. “Tipped” over turning in my notch tent and fell into pole. it held but cracked like an egg shell. I duct taped it and finished next 200 miles of the the rockyrootymuddysteeprainy vermud trail. for 8 dolllars replaced the lower broken section. 15 1/2 ounces, comfortable handles with lower extensions. will trust them for colorado trail this summer. great value. i am 73 and have used many and worn out many brands of poles over the years and broken a few both alum and carbon. cascade have been the best blend of performance weight and cost

  20. [email protected] May 26, 2018 at 2:29 pm #

    I’m thinking of getting a pair as a gift. I just checked Amazon and found that there are two models with identical prices: cork grip and eva grip. Have you had a chance to try the cork grip?

    • Andrew Skurka May 30, 2018 at 8:06 am #

      Not as in-depth as the foam. It’s fake cork, so don’t expect anything special.

  21. KSisntFlat May 27, 2018 at 3:42 pm #

    A quick note for anyone searching for the lock-nut modification:

    The threads for the locking latch bolt on a current set of CMT trekking poles are not #10-32 as listed in Andy’s original post. That’s close, but not quite right. Instead I think they are metric threads, M5 x 0.8. (Math Warning: 0.8mm = 0.0314961 inches, 32 pitch threads = 1/32 = 0.03125)

    I found this out by trying standard #10-32 lock nuts on my new CMT poles I bought through Amazon this spring, and those were VERY tight. I ran an M5mm x 0.8 tap through the nuts to re-cut them to that size, and they now fit perfectly. Maybe that’s why they were so hard to turn in the original post…

    • Hakuin June 15, 2018 at 3:34 pm #

      Recently bought the CMT poles based on your long-term review.

      I can confirm that the threads on mine are M5-0.8, not 10-32.

      It is possible they changed the thread size. (Definitely want to take spare nuts in my repair kit — am considering stainless-steel knurled nuts.)

      Also, the plastic nuts on the poles I received have brass inserts, which would make failure much less catastrophic. (Not sure if the ones you reviewed here have the inserts, hard to tell from the photos.)

      • Barrost July 9, 2018 at 12:42 pm #

        Mine has brass inserts as well.. would you say it makes replacing the nuts less necessary?

        • Lindsey Dunn July 22, 2018 at 6:10 am #

          It would be nice for Andrew to reply here. If you look closely, at his photos (above) you can see see that his poles had brass inserts, also. They are just barely detectable — through the plastic. Still, he felt the need to replace them. I’m like others, in that I think if the plastic broke, the brass insert would still hold. But maybe I’m not thinking clearly about this. Andrew?

  22. Hunter hall September 12, 2018 at 6:45 pm #

    I just bought these…

    https://cascademountaintech.com/collections/trekking-pole-parts-locks

  23. Dojonim April 30, 2019 at 5:15 pm #

    After replacing the tips with Back Diamond flex tips, will the old baskets fit the new tips?

    • Paul Rimmer May 16, 2019 at 10:08 am #

      We replaced with BD Flex Tech Tips and we were still able to use the CMT baskets.

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