Adjustable Hiking Poles – How Do They Lock?

Kephart Trekking Pole hiking poles fliplock Photo

Adjustable hiking poles have rapidly become the standard.  Being able to use the same pair of poles for a number different conditions, environments, terrain and even share among different people is a unique feature of adjustable trekking poles.  Many ask the question, “Does having an adjustable pole affect durability and strength?” The answers vary depending on who you ask.

A friend who is an engineer puts it this simply “higher complexity, more failure points”. The simpler an item is, there are fewer ways for it to fail.  A non-adjustable hiking pole has very few things that can fail. The pole shaft can break, the handle can fall off and maybe the strap can come off. Three things.  

Hiking Poles Complexity

Introduce a zfold pole made of carbon fiber with two different locking mechanisms and aluminum joints and the points of failure just went up dramatically.  We went from three to maybe 10 or more. Before you panic, understand that that same engineer will tell you that his job is to use engineering to design this kind of product so it can be complex and NOT fail.  

One of the chief jobs of product engineers is to balance function with strength and simplicity.  Modern adjustable trekking poles reflect an evolution of materials and engineering carried through over the last twenty five years.  Modern poles use high tech carbon fiber, aluminum, high density nylon plastics and other materials to deliver a pole that would not have been imagined 10 years ago.  

One of the places that have had an impact from engineering is locking mechanisms.  These allow poles to fold, telescope and adjust to the exact length that you want. There are now three basic locking mechanisms that are used on hiking poles.  On ZFold Poles, you will find they usually use two of the three.


Locking a Z Fold Trekking Pole

Most every ZFold or any other kind of compact, folding trekking pole uses a button lock to keep the pole extended.  The button pops through a hole when the pole is extended and keeps the pole from collapsing. To fold the poles back up, you simply press the button back into the pole and the collapse and can be folded.  The drawback of this lock is the entire weight put on the pole is focused on that little spot where the button is. Most modern poles are engineered to handle this stress.

Twist Lock Mechanism Cutaway

Next comes the twist lock.  This lock receives mixed reviews as they can be difficult to engage and release sometimes.  By turning the collar on the pole joint, you drive a screw into a cone shaped piece of rubber that expands and holds in place by friction.  Sometimes the rubber piece that creates the friction can spin inside the pole. Usually with work you can get it to catch, but it can cause frustration.

Close Up Cam Lock and Carbon Fiber detail

FlipLocks – Fast and Easy

The last type is popularly called a fliplock, though it is more properly known as a cam lock.  A cam is located at the end of the lever. This cam uses “over-center tension” stay closed. There is a nut for tightening and loosening the lock, once you adjust it, you simply flip the lever snug against the pole and it will lock your hiking poles.  These locking mechanisms can be overtightened. Overtightening will damage the cam lock and result in a pole that slips. It does not take much tension to lock the pole with this type of locking mechanism. This mechanism makes adjusting your hiking sticks quick and easy and can be done with gloves on.

We hope you have learned a bit about locking mechanisms.  Now you have more information to make a good purchase decision for your next set of adjustable trekking poles.  Use your hiking poles with confidence to make the most of your next outdoor adventure.