Review: MSR DynaLock Ascent Trekking Poles

Trekking Poles
MSR DynaLock Ascent Poles
$190, 1 lb. 1 oz. (small, 100-120cm, with trekking baskets)
Sizes: S (100-120cm), L (120-140cm)

When you need trekking poles, you want them to stand up to the hardest use in any season. When you don’t need them, you want them to nestle unobtrusively under pack straps. On numerous days in the backcountry, including a 20-mile, mostly off-trail peaks traverse in Idaho’s Sawtooths, a rim-to-rim dayhike across the Grand Canyon, a six-day hut trek on Iceland’s Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails, and some of the hardest miles on the Appalachian Trail, MSR’s Dynalock Ascent Poles stood out for being tough, stable, and exceptionally packable.

MSR DynaLock Ascent Poles.
MSR DynaLock Ascent Poles.

I used the adjustable, three-section, folding DynaLock Ascent Poles backpacking in the Wind River Range and dayhiking some of the hardest trail miles in the country—a one-day, 27-mile traverse of western Maine’s Mahoosuc Range, mostly on the Appalachian Trail—and as well as on a 13-hour, mostly off-trail dayhike of around 20 miles scrambling peaks in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, and on other dayhikes in Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. My wife also used these poles on a four-day, roughly 30-mile backpacking trip in the Sawtooths, and on a 22-mile, 11,000-vertical-foot, rim-to-rim dayhike across the Grand Canyon.

The Dynalock carve out a unique niche among trekking poles for three qualities: durability, packability, and having adjustability in folding poles.

The Kevlar-reinforced, all-carbon fiber construction demonstrated very high resistance to sheering or crushing when bashed multiple times against granite when I scrambled while holding them in one hand over boulders on the AT in the Mahoosucs and in the Sawtooths. The poles suffered no damage on any outings, beyond a lot of superficial scratches in the shafts.

The two sizes each have an adjustable range of 20cm, so virtually anyone can use these poles. Most useful to hard users, these poles are very compact when folded, measuring 36.2cm/14.3 inches long (in the 100-120cm size)—meaning they fit easily on the outside of a small pack, and are much shorter than standard, three-section poles whose shafts collapse inside one another.

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The Dynalock poles have an inner cable for deploying and collapsing it, similar to a tent pole, and the three sections lock very rigidly into place with a simple pin mechanism (that’s easy to depress to collapse the poles). A Dynalock lever on each pole never slipped, even on the 5,000-foot descent of the South Kaibab Trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There’s no discernible play or wobble in these poles, so they feel secure whether descending loose scree off-trail or powering up a long, steep ascent on trail.

The comfortable EVA foam grips feel good and don’t slip easily in bare or gloved hands, and an extended grip on the upper shaft helps in managing steep slopes. The wrist strap adjusts easily.

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MSR DynaLock Ascent Poles collapsed.
MSR DynaLock Ascent Poles collapsed.

At a hair over one pound (for the small length), they’re not ultralight, but compare with the sturdier trekking and winter backcountry poles on the market. But having broken all-carbon and bent all-aluminum poles in the past, from what I’ve seen, the Dynalock Ascent strike a fine balance between durability and moderate weight.

The three pole models in MSR’s Dynalock series are designed to cross over from summer hiking, backpacking, off-trail scrambling and mountaineering to winter split boarding, snowshoeing, and backcountry skiing, so they come with both trekking and snow baskets; and the snow baskets have a catch for raising MSR Televators.

MSR’s other two Dynalock models are the DynaLock Explore ($100), constructed with light, high-strength 7075 aluminum, and the two-section, aluminum Dynalock Trail ($60), designed for lighter, on-trail use.

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MSR Dynalock Ascent Trekking Poles


The Verdict

While they are heavier than some models, if you’re looking for sturdy, durable, adjustable poles that pack down small and come in at a moderate weight, the MSR Dynalock Ascent Poles do that job at a price that beats high-quality competitors.



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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

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6 thoughts on “Review: MSR DynaLock Ascent Trekking Poles”

  1. Nice review. I just broke my second Leki carbon pole in two years each time when I post-holed in spring snow. Each time one of the 2 poles snapped. For that reason, I’m considering aluminum. Are the MSR poles durable?

    • Thanks, Geoff. I’ve also broken carbon fiber poles before. Well, the review describes the hard situations I had used these poles in before writing this review and I’ve used them many times since without any failure or break. They are made of carbon fiber but I think the Kevlar reinforcement makes a difference. Aluminum poles definitely are more durable than carbon fiber—and heavier, of course, but also generally cheaper. It may come down to how you use poles but I like and use these poles a lot.

      Good luck.

  2. Hi there, great review. On the back of your review, I think I will purchase some MSR DynaLock Ascent Carbon poles. My biggest bug bear with trekking poles is the durability of the rubber tips. There are tips and there are tips. I am interested as to how the durability of the rubber tips on the MSR DynaLock Ascent Carbon poles.
    I would really appreciate your reply, and if you could recommend the best rubber tips you have encountered in your experience.
    Kind regards

    • Thanks, Gavin. I think you’ll like these poles. As for the rubber tips, I generally agree that you can’t always rely on them and I’ve found there’s variability across different models of poles in how well those removable rubber tips stay on the pole tips. (To all readers: Those tips are used primarily for hiking mostly rocky/slickrock trails, common in the desert Southwest.) I don’t bother commenting on them in part because the tips I receive with poles may stay on better or worse than the tips you receive with the same model of poles.

      My advice is to either keep a close eye on them when hiking, which is really difficult to impossible to do, or duct tape them onto the pole tips, removing the tape when you don’t need the tips. Then you shouldn’t lose them.

      By the way, I still often reach for the Dynalock Ascent poles for hikes and backpacking trips and I own many different trekking poles.

      I hope that helps. Thanks for the question.

  3. Yes, review was helpful as far as it goes, but review didn’t go far enough. I have a pair of these MSR Dynalock Ascent Trekking Poles. Haven’t yet been able to make use of them as I don’t quite understand how to assemble the 3 pieces so the inner cable is tight and the three sections remain assembled. It’s probably operator error. Be nice to see a YouTube video of folding, and unfolding these trekking poles. Thanks.

    • Hi Charles,

      It could be that you’re just not sliding the lower end of the upper pole section outward to lock the internal cable and three sections into place. Watch the video at MSR’s website demonstrating it, I think you’ll find it simple once you understand how to do it. Good luck.