MSR DynaLock Ascent Carbon Backcountry Poles Review

As a dedicated walking pole user I was very pleased to be given the opportunity to try out some of the brand new DynaLock Ascent Poles from MSR which were released in September in the UK. Having previously used Talus TR3 from MSR, which we reviewed here, I knew what to expect in terms of quality. Good though those lightweight poles were, they were not carbon fibre and did rattle a bit in use. They were also a long three-section pole and now that I have frequently started taking poles on climbing trips, the bonus of a more compact five-section pole is certainly welcome.

photo
The MSR Dynalock Ascent pole in use in the Burbage Valley

The DynaLock Ascent Poles are very technical and highly specced poles aimed at a wide range of winter users from snowshoers to mountaineers and skiers. In the testing period I was only able to try them out for walking and scrambling which might not class as a full 'test drive' in all conditions. I will update this if anything crops up when used in more wintry conditions. However the things that make them good for winter mountains also make them good year-round - when do you not want your poles to be light, tough and compact?

Construction and design

The DynaLock Ascent Poles are a five-section pole with two articulations and then three sleeved sections at the top to give extra extension and adjustability. They are made from Kevlar-reinforced carbon fibre with an EVA sculpted foam grip at the top and a second lower grip. The strap is solid nylon webbing with a soft lining.

They are supplied with a wide winter basket and a smaller summer basket. Notable omissions are the lack of a bag for carrying and no bungs for the pole ends to avoid abrasion when stored inside a rucksack. At 225g per pole (our weight without baskets) they may not be exceptionally light, but they certainly don't feel heavy. You're getting quite a lot of pole for that weight, and the durability promises to be well above the average lightweight model.

Set up

The poles deploy incredibly easily; just flip them open, pull down the red section until the button clicks and they are ready to go. This is a widely used system across many different brands of pole and it is certainly well implemented with the DynaLock Ascents. As with most poles that use this system, they aren't quite as easy to collapse and the tendency to nip a bit of thumb when you release the button is annoying. You can learn a technique to avoid this but it would be nice if someone invented a button expansion system where this wasn't a problem.

The five-section design features the DynaLock clasp for adjustment at the top. Unlike many adjustable poles, these come in two sizes - Small 100cm to 120cm and Large 120cm to 140cm. Although some might regard this as being slightly restrictive it has actually been a bonus for me. If you are of average height then you will probably find that the pole's lowest setting is pretty much the default use length, meaning that you don't need to touch the DynaLock system, just flip them open and start going. If you do need to adjust then the Dynalock clasp provides an easy and reliable system to flip out and extend - for example, when you are going downhill. There is also a small wheel for adjusting the tension on the DynaLock system should it prove too stiff. It is possible that there are some people of a certain height for which the range of the two sizes isn't quite right, but I suspect the vast majority will be happy with one or the other and the 20cm range is more than enough for most terrain.

MSR Dynalock Ascent Carbon Backcountry Poles closing system 1  © UKC
The DynaLock clasp adjustment system

MSR Dynalock Ascent Carbon Backcountry Poles closing system 2  © UKC
A 20cm range in the adjustment - enough for most

The poles come with two baskets. I am not a big fan of baskets. I find that small summer baskets tend to get caught in vegetated terrain and have limited purpose on rocky terrain; however others clearly like them for use on boggy ground. There is a thought that they prevent pole tips slipping down cracks but, having used poles for ten years without baskets, I have never noticed this being a problem. Obviously winter baskets are useful in the right conditions but you really don't want something that big on at other times.

I've got an issue with this particular pair. The basket attachment is so tight that they are extremely difficult to fit properly. In fact I haven't been able to fit either the winter or summer baskets fully onto one of my poles. Looking closely, the end of the problem pole is more battered and dirty. I tried using pliers but gave this up since it would cause damage.

Considering how adjustable and well designed these poles are elsewhere, this is potentially a big negative point, and on my pair it's likely to get worse as the pole tips wear and get knocked about. The snow basket would still work fine as shown in the photo but it is about 3cm lower than it is designed to be. If I was going to alternate between winter and summer use a lot then this might be a pain, but since I'm unlikely to use the baskets much then it won't be such a concern.

MSR tell us the pair we were sent is a sample, so hopefully the tight baskets are not a problem in the final production model.

MSR Dynalock Ascent Carbon Backcountry Poles folded  © UKC
Five section poles folded to a tidy length that fits easily in a rucksack

MSR DynaLock Ascent Poles baskets  © UKC Gear
The very stiff summer and winter baskets fitted as best I could manage

In use

Once in use you really begin to appreciate the exceptional quality of the build and materials. These kevlar-reinforced carbon fibre poles feel like steel rods in use yet without the weight obviously. They give amazingly substantial support yet they're also light enough that you can also fling them around easily on difficult terrain or when trying to move quickly.

The foam handle is comfy to hold, and has a lower grip that's great for altering the height of your hand on the pole (when traversing for instance). Some manufacturers try to save a bit of weight on straps and others make the assumption that once straps are adjusted, you don't really need to adjust them much again. This is not the case with the DynaLock Ascent and the straps are a real strong point. They are made from chunky nylon webbing which is easy to align correctly with a soft lining that feels good on the skin. They have a simple long tab end to adjust and this can be done with a gentle pull should you need to change from big winter gloves to something thinner, or bare hands. Despite them being very easy to adjust the clever design means that they lock perfectly once you actually orientate them properly through the palm of your hand.

Summary

These are superbly designed poles with amazing performance combining super light weight with top quality materials and excellent design. One big negative is the supplied baskets which are so stiff that they are almost impossible to fit as designed - but hopefully this is only an issue with our review sample. The poles don't come with a carry bag or tip protectors, which you would normally expect for a product of this quality and price bracket.

MSR Dynalock Ascent Carbon Backcountry Poles in use at Ravensheugh in Northumberland  © UKC
MSR DynaLock Carbon poles in use at Ravensheugh in Northumberland

MSR say:

From fast ascents to remote traverses, DynaLock Ascent Poles keep snowshoers, mountaineers and splitboarders moving quickly on mountain objectives. Built of Kevlar-reinforced carbon fiber, these ultralight poles feature a quick-deploy design, and their tiny collapsed size fits inside alpine packs and travel bags. Equipped with our DynaLock mechanism, they offer 20 cm of length adjustability, and the ability to tighten the clamping force on the fly for no-slip security—perfect whether you're bagging volcanoes or pushing hard from first light to last.

  • Weight (pair): 450g (our measure, no basket)
  • Folded length: Small 36.2cm, Large 44.5cm
  • Size range: Small 100 -120cm, Large 120cm - 140cm
  • 5 section Kevlar-reinforced carbon fibre construction
  • EVA foam grip, plus lower grip for sidehilling or choking up on steep terrain
  • Winter and summer baskets included for four-season functionality

For more info see msrgear.com




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