MSR DynaLock Ascent Poles
$150, 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. From a 20-mile, mostly off-trail peaks traverse in Idaho’s Sawtooths to a rim-to-rim dayhike across the Grand Canyon and some of the hardest miles on the Appalachian Trail, MSR’s Dynalock Ascent Poles stood out for being tough, stable, and exceptionally packable.
I used the adjustable, three-section, folding DynaLock Ascent Poles 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 two qualities: supreme durability and packability. 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.
Most useful to hard users, these poles are very compact when collapsed, measuring 14.5 inches/36.5cm long—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.
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 provides 20cm of adjustment range—adequate for adapting to any terrain or use—and 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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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.
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’s competitive with higher-quality models from other leading brands. 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.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase the MSR Dynalock Ascent Trekking Poles at rei.com or campsaver.com, or purchase the DynaLock Explore or Dynalock Trail.
I almost never hike without poles. Read why in my “10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier.”
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.