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Breaking in Carbon Fiber Hiking Poles

 North Kinsman Mountain

I’ve been using ultralight (sub 8 oz) carbon fiber hiking poles this year from Gossamer Gear and Backpackinglight.com. Hiking with them is a fantastic experience. They’re incredibly lightweight and easy to reposition with a flick of the wrist, greatly reducing arm fatigue.

However, I’ve snapped 4 strapless ultralight carbon fiber poles since March (or one every 30 trail hours) and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m too rough with them or if they’re better suited for a different kind of terrain than we have in New England.

I’ve met people with broken ultralight carbon poles on the trail this year, so I know that I’m not alone on this. And the manufacturers have been most gracious, replacing my broken ones with new ones. But it’s a real bummer to break a trekking pole half way through a multi-day trip.

The locus of the breaks is highly consistent. On fixed length, ultralight carbon fiber poles, the tips break off just above the basket threading. The break is more of a crush than a sheer. On adjustable, ultralight carbon fiber poles, the break occurs on the upper sleeve when I catch the bottom half on an obstacle like a tree root. What’s disconcerting is that they shear with the slightest lateral pressure and have no give to them at all.

In all fairness, I also break aluminum adjustable poles, but at a much slower rate of 1 per year. Rather than shearing, they bend on me, when I bear down on them very hard to brace a fall on wet rock or ice.

Conventional REI Carbon Fiber Poles and Ultralight Titanium Goats

Non-ultralight, adjustable carbon fiber poles have been around for a while (my wife owns a pair from REI), but the weight difference between them and regular aluminum poles is insignificant and they suffer from all of the normal slippage problems, so I’ve always given them the pass. The big difference between them and ultralight carbon fiber poles is thickness and the fact that the ultralight manufacturers, including The Titanium Goat (her new pair), have universally eliminated the adjustable slippage problem.

So I have some questions for you:

  1. How prevalent is the breakage of ultralight carbon fiber poles?
  2. Are ultralight carbon fiber poles more suitable for some types of terrain than others?
  3. Are there changes to my hiking style that I need to make to get my ultralight carbon fiber poles last longer?

I haven’t seen this issue raised on the discussion boards that I lurk on like backpackinglight.com and I am hoping that I could get some feedback from you. If I’m not using the poles the way they should be used, I’d like to know.

Disclosure: Gossamer Gear provided SectionHiker.com with a complementary pair of carbon fiber hiking poles. Author purchased carbon fiber hiking poles from Backpackinglight.com using their own funds. Note: Backpackinglight.com no longer sells this product.


  1. Good question. I have Lightrek 4's and use them as I did the Komperdell aluminum poles, so far so good. But they are the adjustable ones and not fixed length. I hike in rocky Sierra trails and have stabilized myself many times going through streams and up or down uneven trail full of baseball or bigger sized granite rocks. So far I've put a lot more than 30 miles on them.

  2. I just switched from Leki's to adjustable Light trek 4's with straps. I've used them on several trips in the Smokies for a total of about 150 miles so far. I can't imagine switching away from them. They are holding up great.

  3. This is exactly why I wanted to benchmark myself against other people's experience with cf poles. Based on your feedback, it sounds like the problem is me and not the poles. I've heard about other people who break aluminum poles all the time, but never expected that I'd be lumped in with them.

  4. I am considering getting a nice light set of carbon poles. I tend to carry my poles on paddle expeditions and the water, especially salt water, has caused pitting/oxidation on my aluminum poles.

    As far as what you could be doing wrong to cause the breakage?

    Probably what I do, put a lot of weight on them, especially in rough terrain.

    Everyone comments on how hard I use my poles, but I have a bad leg and I need to move the weight to the poles or I can't go very far.


    I wonder if we should think about the heavier Lekis and such as opposed to the ultra-light models?

  5. I'm still not sure I am doing anything wrong. I don't actually put much weight on my poles and I also hike strapless. They seem to snap from lateral pressure against tree roots or rocks mainly, and I'm not sure if I can consciously avoid that – the operative word being "consciously."

    A must-have for me is an adjustable pole that doesn't slip, and the only poles I really trust like that are from Black Diamond. The model I prefer is the Black Diamond Trail, and I also use them for snowshoeing with a snow basket. They're also pretty inexpensive. I think REI's Carbon fiber pole is private labeled by Leki and my wife had all kinds of slippage problems with hers. But regardless, it seemed to me that the weight difference between a CF Leki or BD and aluminum poles was NOT justified by the price difference when I last looked.

  6. I've been holding myself back from buying a pair of Lighttrek 4's for several months just because of my uncertainty with the breakage problem. I use a pair of leki super makalu poles (three section, 20 oz per pair), and I've damaged the poles twice in over 3000 miles of hiking, both times because I've fallen while my hands were in the wrist-straps. Since I stopped using the wrist straps I haven't damaged the poles at all, since when I fall the poles don't get caught under me. Still, it's hard to justify $150 for a pair of lighttreks just to test their durability. As much as I love the idea of super light poles, I'd hate to break something that expensive. Maybe when I have a steady income…

  7. I can't speak for Gossamer Gear, but when I have broken their poles, they've replaced them no questions asked. So if you are thinking about buying them you might want to give them a call and see if they can give you some sort of comfort around the issue. But honestly, I break my regular poles well within a 1000 mile envelope, not 3000 miles. Heck I destroy all kinds of gear that costs a lot more than $150 within that envelope. Depends where you are hiking, etc. Still $150 is a lot for a pair of poles.

  8. Free replacements are good, but I feel better taking advantage of that from big companies like Leki and Komperdell (REI poles are komperdell). However, those 3.4 oz each for Gossamer Gear is amazing. I'll probably wait until next year, then get them… just in time for the PCT. Either way, I'm glad you put up this post, since I always wonder about CF poles breaking. A friend of mine has broken his REI Peak UL poles 6 or 7 times in three years. I don't like the sound of that. I guess it depends on the person.

  9. I think that's my ultimate conclusion too – that it's personal. But let me add, the customer service you get from a company like Gossamer Gear is unlike anything you have ever experienced. REI is ok, but the cottage industry manufacturers are 1) super people and will go out of your way to help you, and 2) live by word of mouth referrals. To give you an example, I tear my backpacks' external pocket mesh fairly frequently and these manufacturers (I own quite a few packs) regularly sew it up again for free. I usually throw in $20 for expenses – but that's due to my sense of fairness. They don't ask for it.

  10. I've noticed the rocks and roots in the White's to be pretty "grabby" with my Litetrek's,but, although I've come close, haven't broke one yet. I did break one in Tassie during a fall in a boulder field, which GG replaced. I use mine quite lightly though, mostly when descending.

  11. I broke a 5th carbon fiber pole today descending Mt Lafayette in the Whites. This one from from backpackinglite. I give up. I'm going to start using my Black Diamond Trail poles again.

  12. I own a pair of Black Diamond Carbon Fiber poles. So far no problems with "slippery adjustments", everything is tight as it should be.

    On a trip in the Northwesten Highlands in Scotland I broke one pole in a fall. I slipped in the muddy terrain, one pole got stuck in the peat and i fell on it, it snapped like a branch stuck between two rocks. But Black Diamond send a replacement without charge :)

  13. I was hesitant to use carbon poles until I got my weight down. My first poles were BD aluminum with the flicklock mechanism. They held up great but were pretty heavy. I then bought BPL Stix for local use and used REI Peak ULs on WT3 last year. This year I bought GG LT4s for local use and sold the Stix. I've had no breaks from any of my poles here in the SE or on the WT3 trip. I have experience occasional slippage with the Peak ULs but it's been rare. They're made by Komperdell and not Leki (not that it matters). I'm most likely going to be sitting in on WT3 again this year and will likely take the LT4s if possible.

  14. I have used leki super makalu cortec trekking poles for about 10 years I love the spring effect of these poles especially on down hills . I broke one in the 100 mile wilderness on chairback mt in rainy wet conditions when i wedged it in between two boulders going down the mountain. I had the locks fully extended and the break occurred right at the fitting in the bottom section of the pole. So in a way it probably was my fault for having them extended too far. You cannot buy this model anymore.This is the only problem I have every had with leki poles. I have seen a lot of CF poles on the trail and have heard stories about breakage and the transfer of shock effect to the inside of the shoulders especially on downhills I have thought about CF poles but I feel there is a big tradeoff between weight/comfort/breakage

  15. I love the light weight, the ease of assembly and the ability of the REI carbon poles to fit in a small suitcase. However, I have snapped two of the REI women’s carbon poles just above the basket in the last month hiking in the Whites. I used the first pair on 3 weeks of hiking in the Dolomites and Swiss Alps without problem, so I suspect it is a difference in the trail smoothness. These did have a slippage problem on the lower part unless I fully extended that section. I hike a lot, and poles have saved me from many stumbles, but I have never had an aluminum pole break or bend on me. REI refused to replace the first pair. Hopefully I’ll have better luck with the second.

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