Trekking poles can be pretty expensive, especially if they are made from carbon fiber. After hiking the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, Paul and I were both in need of new trekking poles for the Continental Divide Trail, and neither of us was interested in paying $90+ each to replace them. We’d been eyeing the carbon fiber poles from Cascade Mountain Tech available at Costco for just $30, and at that price, it didn’t really matter if they didn’t last the entire CDT. At that cost we could replace them and still come out ahead dollar-wise. Plus, being made from carbon fiber they are actually super light. I’ve seen some rave reviews of these poles online, but none of the reviews were after extended use. So, here are my impressions of these poles after 2800 miles of hiking with them.
If you (or maybe a family member) have a Costco membership, you can get these poles for $30! Otherwise, they run for $40 at Walmart and Amazon, which is still a pretty good deal. Trekking poles are commonly priced $70 and above, with some of the high end options running over $170, so these poles are easily less than half the price of most poles.
Cork Handles with Foam Extension
Not only are cork handles lighter, but are more comfortable and efficient at wicking sweat. The handles also have a foam extension below the cork, so you can choke up on the poles easily without having to adjust the pole length. I found this to be nice on very steep slopes.
These things are super light, coming in at under a pound for the pair. Over the course of a long trip, lighter poles means less fatigue. While there are lighter options out there, they all cost a whole lot more. For that matter, a lot of heavier poles cost a whole lot more too.
Compared to aluminum, carbon fiber is lighter and stronger. However, carbon fiber is also stiffer and more rigid. This does offer at least one benefit: carbon fiber poles vibrate much less than aluminum poles. I really enjoyed the added stability compared to aluminum poles.
The downside to carbon fiber poles is that they tend to break more easily, where an aluminum pole might just bend. This happened to one of Paul’s poles after about 800 miles of use. One of the shafts snapped near the lever lock. He removed the broken piece and tried to reuse the shortened segment, but a few days later the lever lock broke, so he ditched the poles and opted to replace them with a more reliable pair of Leki aluminum poles. I continued to use my carbon fiber poles for the remainder of the trail.
Lock Mechanism Difficult to Tighten Enough
When the poles were new, there was some slippage at the lock levers. This problem was remedied by tightening the locks, but it was difficult to get them tight enough, especially without a tool. We used the backside of Paul’s pocket knife to act as a screwdriver to get them nice and tight. Eventually this was not a problem anymore.
Carbide Tips Fell Off
The terrain in Colorado was rocky and rough, and the carbide tips fell off both of my poles. By the time they fell off I had more than 1,000 miles of use on the poles, but they both came off within days of each other. Once the tips fall off, poles start to erode pretty quickly, and are much less grippy on the ground, but they still did the job I needed them to so I used the poles until the end, as the tips gradually got more and more worn down.
Handle Fell Apart
After about 1700 miles or so I noticed the top of one of my handles was starting to get loose. Eventually the top segment came off completely, and I had to duct tape it back on to last the rest of the trail. This highlights the lower quality craftsmanship and components as compared to a pricier pair of poles.
Are these poles worth it? Under the right circumstances. If you’re looking for your first pair of trekking poles, for typical weekend backpacking and hiking trips, these poles are a great value. You should expect hundreds of miles of use, if not more. If you’re setting out on a thru-hike, you might want to consider investing in a higher quality pair of poles. A pair of high quality (Leki, Komperdell, Black Diamond) poles will come with a limited warranty covering shaft breakage, and the locks and handles are generally more well-made than what I experienced with the Costco poles. You’ll pay for it though. If you’re on a tight budget for your thru-hike, and aren’t too tough on your gear, then these poles are a good choice. After all, mine did last the entire CDT. Plus, Cascade Mountain Tech sells replacement parts. You can replace any segment or lock for less than $10.