The ultra-compact, Z-folding, pole design has been around for a few years and has, understandably, permeated the industry. The basic concept is similar to that of tent poles: short sections that snap together and are tensioned and held in place by an internal cable, with a push-button lock keeping them open. Simple, robust and lightweight, it is no wonder almost every manufacturer has some version of this type of pole available. MSR is the latest brand to enter this market, for Fall 2018, and the DynaLock Ascent Carbon poles are their most compact and lightest offering.
The DynaLock Ascent are offered in two lengths, a 100-120cm and a 120-140cm version. I’m 180cm and typically use a 115-120cm pole, so opted for the lighter, and slightly more compact, 100-120cm version. Each pole weighs in at 224 grams; add 22 grams if using the snow basket.
Utilizing a Kevlar-reinforced carbon fibre construction, the DynaLock poles are reassuringly stiff and ensure a solid, flex-free, platform when traversing steep slopes or loose scree. They snap open (closed?) with a solid action; what I imagine a carbon-fibre rifle bolt would and sound feel like.
The actual DynaLock mechanism is a low-profile, micro-adjustable, clamp that, once set to your desired closing force, hasn’t slipped in over six months of constant use. I’ve rested my full body weight (around 73kg, plus a loaded climbing pack) on a single pole without a millimetre of slippage.
The grip is a cushioning, moisture-resistant, foam that’s comfortable to hold for hours on end. The top is reinforced with a rubber cap, while the lower pole section, under the main grip, has an additional hand-width of foam padding. The strap is a quick-adjust design that locks into place with downwards pressure — this is the simplest strap adjustment I’ve used, and readjusts effortlessly on-the-fly to accommodate different thicknesses of gloves.
Collapsed, the poles measure just 37cm and fit into even my smallest, 10-litre, pack. There’s a velcro tie-down strap located between the upper and lower grips that keeps the folded up pole sections bundled together; when the pole is extended, the strap self-adheres around the tube and is completely out of the way until you need it. The basket also has a cut-out that snaps around the pole sections when folded down, further keeping things tidy and organized.
I absolutely love having poles that are this compact and secure so well together as it means I can bring them on every outing: my recovering ankles need all the support I can get.
After six months or so of constant use, the DynaLock Ascent Poles’ grips still look as-new, and the lowers are in great shape save for some scratches. For full disclosure, I did manage to snap a pre-production sample on its second day out — it got massively side-loaded with my full body weight and a pack full of climbing gear when my foot broke through a snow crust and the pole plunged about 50-60cm into hard-packed snow, snapping at the second juncture — but MSR shipped out a replacement and I haven’t had any issues with either pole since, so I’m chalking up that first pole to user malfunction.
With a retail price of $150 USD, the DynaLock Ascent Carbon are competitively priced among other lightweight carbon-fibre poles but offer a uniquely effective strap system to keep them compacted when folded up, as well as an excellent height-adjustment clamp. I also really appreciate the stiff, flex-free, construction, especially when I’m tired and my feet are sore and I need all the support I can get. I’ve used a lot of different trekking poles over the years, but these new MSR DynaLock Ascent Carbon are by far my favourite and I cannot recommend them highly enough.