The Overland Carbon trekking pole from MSR is an all-carbon, non-spring-loaded, 3-section trekking pole designed for backpacking and marketed in particular to ultralight hikers. This review focuses on the performance of the poles over a two-year period and approximately 1,500 miles of hiking.
About the Poles
The Overland Carbon trekking poles are made with full-carbon, 3-piece shafts adjustable between 25 and 55 inches in length. There are no anti-shock springs to add weight or complexity, although MSR claims that there is some “anti-shock” built into the wrist strap. More on that later. The poles have a slightly angled grip (7 degrees) and a claimed weight of 8.5 oz each.
Claims. We evaluated each claim by MSR over a period of two years and 1,500 trail miles. We’d like to take the opportunity to address each one in turn here:
- Ideal for fast-and-light trips where weight is of paramount importance. We like this claim, and we think it’s valid. Compared to conventional models that weigh in excess of 20 ounces a pair, the Overland Carbons came in with an accurate weight (16.4 ounces for the pair) and justified the claim with ease.
- Full carbon-fiber construction reduces weight and dampens impact forces each time the pole strikes the trail. This is where things start to get a little sketchy. To say that carbon fiber dampens impact forces enough to be meaningful is a pretty bold assumption. I mean, really, even a rebar-reinforced concrete pole six inches in diameter would dampen impact forces. The more important questions are: (1) to what extent does the Overland Carbon pole dampen impact forces? (2) How does this relate to aluminum used in competitors poles? (3) And, finally, does it dampen impact forces enough to really even make a difference? We tossed this claim out. It’s one that is simply based on theory and MSR doesn’t back it up with publically-available data collected in field-simulated conditions.
- Anti-shock wrist straps absorb shock for a soft ride. Hmm. There’s a little stretch in this one, we suspect, as well. Granted, the wrist straps do have a little give in them, but we didn’t notice it to be appreciably more or less than any other designs on the market. Not a selling point on our end.
- 7-degree natural angle grip provides the ultimate in comfort. Ultimate? We’re not really sure what this means but it did sound good. However, we did compare the angle used on the Overland Carbon’s to poles that were not angled and the difference is noticeable. Nobody should be making poles any more without some angle to the grip.
Grip & wrist strap comfort. After sampling all of the offerings from Leki, MSR, REI, and Komperdell, we found the MSR Overland Carbon to be tops in the area of grip design. A comfortable foam grip and lightly padded wrist strap served to both reduce weight and add to the comfort of all-day hikes. Kudos to MSR on a near-perfect design. The only drawback: this grip is not for hikers with little hands. Small-handed women, in particular, may feel arthritic by the end of a 20-mile day.
Shaft diameter. With Black Diamond and Life-Link both distributing carbon ski-pole shafts that are among the skinniest on the market, we wonder why MSR chose such a pig-thick shaft for the Overland Carbon poles. While it probably makes little difference, we did think the pole was unwieldy when compared to a skinny Life-Link or the Leki Ultralight Ti, which has skinnier aluminum shafts.
Utility for pitching tarps & packability. We found the Overland Carbon a great pole for tarp campers, with plenty of length to pitch a 2- or 3-man tarp shelter high enough for plenty of headroom. We’re pleased that MSR was able to offer poles for about a pound that did not sacrifice extendable length. Of course, you do sacrifice some packability. The Overland Carbons don’t pack down as short as the Leki Ultralight Ti, so there is a tradeoff.
Durability. Our biggest concern with carbon poles is their durability. Will they hold up to abuse season after season? We were especially concerned when we heard “cracking” sounds after putting a great deal of weight on the pole or a lot of torque on it when the pole was stuck in between rocks. However, they haven’t cracked or broken yet despite a tremendous amount of abuse, and our research indicates that cracking is pretty normal in carbon fiber construction. In fact, the beauty of carbon fiber construction is that if a few fibers crack, the structure still maintains most of its strength, in contrast to metals, in which a miniscule crack can propogate throughout the structure and result in stress failure later.
The Overland Carbons should be at the top of the list if you hike with trekking poles and want to minimize weight. They have the best grips on the market, comfortable wrist straps, and at about a pound, are the lightest poles we’ve weighed.