It’s been a banner year for ski poles for me. I’m 38 this year, and I’ve been using the same ski poles since I was in junior high, the first ones I ever had. And they’re still good! I lent them to a friend last week, and they still work just like ski poles are supposed to work. That’s a long time for one set of poles, and, considering all the skiing I do, a testament to how ski poles are really just sticks and don’t matter all that much. Still, when BD had a sale this year I picked up a lighter and more adjustable pair. It’s nice to be able to change the length every now and then, but mostly I just set and forget.
Then MSR’s PR folks sent over these new SureLock poles, so, wow, I am trying TWO new ski pole options in one year after never ever changing up my poles before. Therefore I’m not really an expert pole tester but to my surprise it turns out I have some pretty strong opinions on poles.
First, I remain entrenched in the “a ski pole is just a stick” camp. Poles don’t have to be fancy, they just have to work. So don’t feel obligated to run out and buy fancy ski poles. That said, it’s nice to be able to collapse your poles so they can better fit in your car or your pack (but if they’re on your pack instead of in your hands…why do you need them…? Ah well. To each her own) so that’s a plus for these poles, which reach for innovation in pole technology with a few new and fancy options.
The most significant difference is the “trigger lock” which, instead of a flick-locking clamp, is a sort of lever that you are supposed to pull up with your pinky finger to release the locking mechanism and allow you to adjust the pole length. Sounds pretty sweet; adjusting on the fly is always awesome-feeling. Practically, though, I found no difference in pain-in-the-ass factor with these poles vs. flick-lock poles. Problems with the trigger mechanism included it being too difficult to operate with pinkies and requiring picking up the pole, bracing with one hand, operating the trigger with the other, then pulling or pushing on the end of the poles to adjust the length. With practice, and perhaps with bigger hands, I suppose one could get used to it and be readily able to shorten the poles one-handed, but lengthening them will require two hands regardless. So, no time or effort savings there. The poles only adjust in 5cm increments so you better hope one of those presets works for you.
I sent the poles out with a field tester who was taking an avalanche class. He’s a snowboarder, so he wanted to be able to shorten the poles to put them in his pack for the trip down (ahhhh…so THAT’S why). Unfortunately, he found that the locking mechanism didn’t stand up to all that use in the field, and it kept freezing up so that he’d have to use his knife to dislodge the lock and allow it to engage. I didn’t have this problem, but I didn’t use them for three days straight like he did; also, I’m a set it and forget it kind of pole user, remember?
While I didn’t find any inherent advantages (but a few disadvantages) with these poles vs. flicklock poles, I did find the grips actively uncomfortable. They’re too slippery and caused some discomfort; maybe they’re too bulky or too big or something; I’m not really sure. I took them out for a day of telemarking, and I wouldn’t choose to ski with these again. I don’t know what makes them so uncomfortable so my analysis ends with “didn’t like.” The wrist straps were pretty useless; too small and very annoying to adjust. I’m not sure what user those straps are designed for but it’s definitely not someone who needs to put their poles down a lot.
As poles, they work fine aside from all that stuff. They’re strong enough for pole plants and don’t seem too flimsy. The paint does scratch easily. Paint is a weird choice for outdoor hard goods. Of course it’s gonna get really banged up. If you care about having your stuff look brand new all the time, just get over it because it’s not gonna happen with these poles.
So, unfortunately, this wasn’t a great experiment into the world of fancier ski poles. People seem to like the way they work but I guess I’m not convinced I’d ever reach for these over my standard, cheaper, and lighter flick-lock poles. The biggest draw – the trigger-adjustment – just doesn’t work smoothly enough to be an advantage. My field tester was really frustrated by how easily the mechanism jammed, and believe me, the last thing you want to be doing on a ski day is futzing with your poles, with a knife. Best case scenario, lots of annoyance; worst case scenario, ending your day with a trip to the ER because you stabbed yourself trying to make your poles work.