You know what gear you probably haven’t taken a good look at lately? Your ski poles. If you’re anything like me, you’re using a pair of rickety, noisy, increasingly unstable poles look like they’ve been drug behind a truck. Or maybe that’s not you and you’re just looking for a good upgrade. In either situation, the MSR DynaLock Explore poles have a lot to offer for the backcountry traveler.
MSR DynaLock Explore Features:
- Light, high-strength 7075 aluminum lower sections for increased durability.
- DynaLock™ adjustability with tool-free tensioning; anodized aluminum lever provides lasting durability.
- Extended EVA foam grip for comfort while sidehilling or choking up on steep terrain.
- Winter and summer baskets included for four-season functionality.
- Minimum length 39.5″; maximum 55″
- Weight: 1lb 3oz
- MSRP: $99.95
Poles for all purposes
It just so happens that my last poles, which I used religiously as a guide to save my knees and then all the year ’round after that, were from MSR. This, ladies and gentleman, was the MSR Flight 3 ultralight pole which I reviewed a whopping 5 years ago. They were great poles, and there are actually some great comparisons to be drawn with positive-locking (or internal lock) poles (like the Flight 3) versus the more sophisticated adjustable locking (or external lock) technology on the DynaLock poles we’re reviewing today.
So let’s dig into this comparison a little further. First, the DynaLock’s use a fairly sophisticated, tool-free adjustment system that is easy to fine-tune in the field. It consists of a clamp that tightens onto the shaft of the pole, and that clamp can be tightened by a simple screw that exerts more pressure onto the clamp when tightened. The real benefit here isn’t so much ‘adjustability’ per-se, since it doesn’t matter how ‘fine-tuned’ the fit is (you just need it to stay put after all). The real benefit is that, when the clamp inevitably becomes loose from use you can instantly tighten it back up.
By comparison, many poles (like the Flight 3 in that old review) use a positive-lock system. This is just a little sprung peg on the inner section that fits into a hole on that outer section. The result is a totally bomber pole extension that, if it’s built well, is basically foolproof. The downside, of course, is that you have limited ranges of adjustability and these poles tend to get noisy as they age and internal play increases.
So let’s evaluate the DynaLock a little. I’m expecting to use these for at least the next five years, and I do have some doubts about the long-term durability of this design. The issue is that the clamps use such tiny parts; there’s a tiny little screw, a tiny little hinge, a tiny little lever to exert force. It’s a totally functional design, but with the vagaries of outdoor use I do wonder how well these will last.
For the record, they’ve held up well to a month of tough backcountry skiing and being smacked against trees, so that is a good sign. At this point I do not have to adjust the tension regularly. The poles also have a wide range of adjustment, going up to 55″ which is a nice tall pole. They shrink down small enough to stow easily on my ski pack at just 24.5″.
The handles are another important aspect of the design. MSR designed a very good, grippy handle that’s easy to love. There is also a foam grip further down on the shaft, which is nice for when you’re side-hilling and want to grip the pole lower down. The real benefit of the foam is that it insulates the ice-cold pole from your hand, making it easier to grip for long periods. This is especially nice if you’re like me and you just wear thin liner gloves, or no gloves, on sweaty ascents.
I really only have two issues with the grips. The first is that the foam on the grips and pole has a bad habit of picking up compacted snow and holding on to it. The snow this year has often been particularly wet and heavy, and if I get snow on that foam and then mash my hand down on it without first cleaning it off. This can make it harder to get a good grip on the pole. The second issue, which is more serious to me, is that the pole straps do not have a release mechanism. This is important for skiing in avalanche terrain, as you don’t want the pole to stay with your hand while you tumble since it can increase your risk of injuries. A detachable strap is a big boon to backcountry skiers, and since these poles don’t have them I opt to avoid the strap when skiing avalanche slopes — a common practice.
In use, the DynaLock poles do what you really need good gear to do: be forgettable. Despite my quibbles with strap releases or the relative benefits of internal or external locking mechanisms, the poles work very well in the field. I really like how laterally stiff they are, they feel very stable when you’re really torquing on them in a turn or pushing off. I love the big fat snow baskets, and I also love how MSR also included smaller touring baskets for summertime use. And at just over a pound, the poles are light enough to not hold you back (although you can fork out $$$ for a carbon version that trims off 2 oz, here).
- Packable, light and ready for any summer or winter use
- DynaLock design is very functional and convenient
- Handle is very comfortable and extended foam on the shaft is a great touch
- Lateral stiffness is very solid
- Tiny parts of the DynaLock design make me nervous
- I really wish the strap had a tension release
The Bottom Line: MSR DynaLock Explore
Overall, the Explore Backcountry Poles with MSR’s DynaLock technology are a package that can appeal to a lot of users. They’re light enough for the really intense crowd, but they are also affordable enough for a wide range of recreators. I love how small they pack and how easily they extend, and I will be eager to see how well this design lasts the test of time.
Buy Now: Available from REI.com