This review marks a bit of a departure for me. Unlike previous reviews thus far, the equipment being reviewed was kindly provided by a third party – in this case Mountain Warehouse specifically for review purposes.
I don’t have an issue with this provided that I declare the fact in my reviews as I have done here.
I will review all third-party supplied kit in the same impartial way as the kit that I have bought myself. This is something that any equipment provider would have to agree to before I will review their kit. I feel that reviewer integrity is very important to maintain.
All weights and measures are mine rather than the official quoted figures. The poles themselves were tested on my recent walk up Ben Nevis via the CMD Arete. All the photos with the exception of the first one are of the poles either during or after the walk.
This review has been written based on my impressions of their use on only one walk. I should also declare that this is the first time that I had ever used hiking poles, so I was quite curious to see how they would perform.
The poles under review are the Mountain Warehouse Compact Walking Poles, which at the time of writing are on a discount and selling for £12.99 GBP.
First up are the weight of the poles:
They weigh in at 328g a pole which is about on par with other poles made from aluminium.
The weight of all hiking poles is something that should be considered before deciding to take them out. The dilemma for me, is that my primary shelter – a Hilleberg Akto Tent – doesn’t use hiking poles for pitching.
This means that if I decide to take hiking poles, they will add extra weight to my load. On the other hand, if I had a shelter that was designed specifically to use poles, I could actually end up saving weight. It would seem that I have a decision to make in the near future 🙂
The poles are made from aluminium in three sections, with two of them being telescopic. Internally they are steel reinforced and spring loaded to provide some shock absorption during use. I never had any problems with them in this regard, so I guess that the springs worked!
The poles are extended by rotating each section clockwise to unlock it. Then it is a simple case of extending that section of pole to the required length. The combined sections can be smoothly adjusted for any length from 64 cm to 135 cm, which should accommodate most people’s requirements.
Once the pole is set at the correct length one can simply lock off the sections by twisting them anti-clockwise.
I found that the locking mechanism was very good provided that one does not extend the pole sections past the ‘STOP’ sign shown in the photo above.
Alas, the poles have no internal mechanical stop, which means that in the field one has to be careful not to pull the sections out past their stops. Doing so, will result in that section falling out.
Putting a section back in can be a little tricky to do as one needs to ensure that it is inserted in such a way that it is in the unlocked position. I discovered this the hard way at the beginning of day 3 of my walk…
I guess that I was a little fatigued at the time and had ended up accidentally pulling out one of the sections by taking it past its stop. In the end I had managed to force the pole section back in. However, in the process of doing this I had inadvertendly locked it so tightly that I could not open it again in the field. I had to wait until I got back home to sort it out.
The handles were very comfortable and for the walk I had used the built in adjustable straps too. I found that the straps helped impart more leverage and were handy when trying to take photos.
Each pole is provided with a standard end tip and snow basket which are shown below.
For the walk I had equipped my poles with the standard end tip only, as I wasn’t expecting much in the way of snow. That said, on reflection, I can see the advantage of always having them fitted so as to enable the poles to deal with muddy or boggy conditions – neither of which I encountered on the last walk.
When the poles are fully retracted they can be easily stowed on the side of a rucksack, as shown below:
In terms of usage, I trialled them out on flat ground, the ascent and the descent.
On the flat I couldn’t perceive any advantage to using them. But on the other side of the coin, they weren’t detrimental either – except for the minor hinderance caused when trying to take photos.
I have to admit that at this point I hadn’t developed my pole walking technique fully. Something that didn’t really fall into place until I started the descent.
For the ascent, I just couldn’t get on with them. I like to use my hands a lot on the ascent, especially where the going is pretty steep, so as a result I found that the poles simply got in the way.
However, for the descent, these poles really shone.
Up until now, every steep descent that I had undertaken had resulted in very sore knees – almost to the point where I would find it physically difficult to walk.
But all of this changed with the poles.
On Day 2 I managed to descend around 800 metres and experienced no ill effects whatsoever. A minor miracle!
I found that the poles fulfilled a dual purpose when descending. They took the load off of the knees and they provided some much needed additional stability. The latter was especially useful when I found myself descending through a slippery snow field…
On the way down one walker had mentioned in passing that I was very sure footed. But this was solely down to the extra stability that the poles provided on the rough terrain.
However, I did encounter one incident…
One of the poles had got stuck in amongst some rocks. This required some considerable force to extract.
The result of the extraction was that the pole lost its tip.
On another walk that I had done since then, with around 15 people, I had noticed that many of the poles present were without tips. I can only surmise that losing them is a fairly common occurrence.
For Day 3 of the Ben Nevis walk I descended around 500 metres without the poles. I really missed not having them. My knees hurt and I had to reduce my speed considerably to help preserve balance on the way down.
That’s it for the review. I guess the million dollar question is would I add poles to my standard load-out?
For me this is a tricky and somewhat complex question.
Firstly, the walk that I was about to undertake would need to have descents that would warrant their use, otherwise I can see the poles spending practically all of their time stowed on the rucksack.
This then leads to the other issue. If the poles are going to remain stowed for a fair percentage of the time, then they should at least be multi-use to justify carrying them.
Many walkers solve the above issue by choosing a shelter that uses hiking poles during pitching as part of their structure. By selecting a good shelter, one can potentially save weight over the more conventional tent designs.
For me, I think that for any walk with a steep descent of 500 mtrs plus, I would take them, otherwise they would remain at home – that is unless I manage to get hold of a shelter that can take advantage of them.
The bottom line though, is that if you currently suffer from sore knees on a descent, then I encourage you to try a set of poles, especially given their relatively cheap price!