MSR Winter Backcountry Poles: Behind the Gear

©Earl HarperMSR Senior Design Engineer Blake Andersen answers a few questions about the design and performance of MSR Backcountry Poles.

Who were MSR Backcountry Poles engineered for?

MSR Backcountry Poles are designed for winter backcountry travelers who want a high performance adjustable pole that won’t slip, and makes no compromises in weight, stability or ease of adjustment. That could be mountaineers, skiers, snowshoers, or splitboarders who rely on their poles for efficiency and safety through many types of terrain.

The inspiration came from our president who walks an impressive distance every day with poles. He recognized the need for lightweight, positive-locking poles that were easy to adjust. After finding the current offerings lacking, he asked me to come up with a better solution.

What were your design goals with the Backcountry Poles?

The primary driver for this line of poles was the refusal to compromise—in user experience and the poles’ reliability. The winter backcountry is an often unpredictable place and the last thing you want to worry about is whether you can trust your poles—your support tools. So we worked hard to make sure the solutions we created for the easy-adjusting locking mechanism didn’t compromise the performance, strength and durability of the poles. We focused on those areas because that’s where we saw user frustrations with others on the market.

What makes their locking design unique?

The SureLock System is different in that it doesn’t use a friction-based mechanism to fix the sections together, like a flip- or twist-lock. Instead, it employs a lockpin-and-hole design for “positive-locking performance.” In other words, your poles can’t slip. The length that you set them is the length that they will remain. When you put weight on them while bootpacking or crossing slick logs, they won’t collapse beneath you; you won’t get to camp and realize that one of your poles is an inch shorter than the other.

To refine the design, we made the pole shafts tri-lobe shaped so the sections wouldn’t rotate while you’re adjusting, allowing consistent alignment.

Why did you add a Trigger Release on certain models?

The Trigger Release is unique. It allows users to easily adjust the length of their poles on the fly—without really changing their hand position. It’s typical for a backcountry user to “choke up” on poles with each switchback, or to make them shorter on steep bootpacks or longer on the flats. But it would be impractical to stop and adjust poles that often. This seemed like a compromise to us. If the pole was so easy to adjust that the user didn’t have to stop or change hand position, it would be a game-changer. After countless brainstorms and prototypes, the Trigger Release system was finally born.

What materials make up the pole shafts?

The aluminum that we use for the pole shafts is a custom blended high-strength aluminum exclusively developed by our supplier. It has a higher yield strength than most “aircraft-grade” aluminum used by other companies.

What other unique design elements went into the poles?

If I had to pick a favorite design challenge, it would be the releasing strap. The idea that a user should be able to adjust their poles without compromising their hand position got us thinking about backcountry skiing. Typically, skiers take their hands out of their straps when they head into the trees. That sounded like a compromise. Skiers do it for safety: if a pole gets caught, it can yank you hard enough to cause injury.  If we could make the strap in such a way that it could never yank you hard enough to hurt you, you wouldn’t have to take your hands out of the straps. The releasable strap is the first step in the disassembly of your poles for maintenance—and allows you to ski without compromise.