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Working to B Better

“Being a B-Corp is a more organized system to allow us to become a better company. It is not a goal to be a B-Corp, but only a step in the process of self examination around social, ethical and environmental issues in order to make sure that CNOC does more good than harm.” 

What Does "Made in the USA" Look Like

What Does "Made in the USA" Look Like

In case you somehow missed it, we just launched our hand-built, made in the USA trekking poles, and wow, has it been a challenge to make them! From building a new supply chain, to manufacturing tools, finding the best bonding materials and just teaching our bodies how to make things right, it was a tall order. This has been a two year long project that we are very proud to have accomplished; it even brought the company to the verge of closing at one point.

Though a huge challenge, it has been a very satisfying journey, and we wanted to share with you how it looks in our workshop. The poles that you are maybe holding right now have been made by real people: Devan, Nathan, Devo and Gilad. We continue to make every single pole here, with Devo now working as our main assembler with the occasional help from the rest of us (also known as "Nathan's Break").

The Assembly Team

Caring for the tubes

We have been fortunate enough to work with Goodwinds Composites in making our carbon fiber tubes. They make amazingly strong yet light tubes that come in a beautiful flat finish that really shows off the Carbon Fiber. What that means, is that once we get them, we need to turn them into a trekking pole tube: they need cleaning, printing and preparing to be bonded with other parts.

In our development process, finding the best way to transform them from plain CF tubes to trekking pole tubes was the most expensive part. We ended up commissioning a company to make us a bespoke Heat Transfer machine so we can print on the poles. To this day, it is the shiniest thing we have in our workshop!

Bonding, bonding and more bonding

It might be the biggest, and most important, part of our whole fabrication process: the quality of the bonding. This has also been the component we had to experiment with and change the most.  After testing dozens of bonds for each part, it ended up that the core of our bonds come from Italy: a material flexible enough to handle the vibrations of the poles while also being strong enough to handle your adventures.

Another big aspect of our bonds is that they expand: since so many of our parts are hand-made, our bonds need to compensate for slight difference in tolerance, allowing them to "fill-in the gaps" so to speak in the poles. 

Bonding part on the Cnoc Trekking Poles

What are sub-assemblies?

When we make your pole, we have a host of "small" parts that we need to make: the lever assembly or attaching the strap to the grip, for example. Though we see them as small, they are pretty important, including to confirm that your right strap (green) fits correctly, and not like the left (yellow) strap.

Sub Assemblies slideshow

Making of a part

Our poles come in a 2 or 3 segment configuration, and each segment will be offered independently soon in case you want to experiment with other grips or maybe if you have managed to break a section from having too much fun.

Each segment is called a part: tip part, middle part or handle part, and each of those becomes its own "sub-assembly", using a combination of boding, attaching more parts to finish the clamp or just adding the relevant accessories like the rubber tips and mud baskets.

Getting it all to fit together

Once we have all our parts made, it is time to assemble them into a pole. The assembly is a pretty straight forward process, and when assembling the pre-orders for our Kickstarter backers we made it into a little party: all of us sitting with boxes of parts, making them into poles and then packaging them so we could send them to you. We might still have occasional assembly parties, while staying safely distant, as they are such a great way to be together while making something. 

Assembling trekking poles

Ready for you

We are very proud of our poles. The process it took to get them to you was long and hard, but very satisfying. The ability to bring such a great industry in house means we can continue to innovate, update and take your feedback and make our poles a never ending improvement journey.

Thank you for trusting us on another great hike!

Why Are We Making Lightweight Gear and Not Ultralight?

Why Are We Making Lightweight Gear and Not Ultralight?

The term "ultralight" when it comes to backpacking gear is very, very popular - from big brands to handmade garage brands, it seems that everyone is making ultralight gear. You might have bought into the craze or just heard about it, you might be a skeptic or a believer, but there is very little doubt you have encountered it.

Lightweight backpack resting

As a company, we set out to design gear in the lightweight category; we know it is not ultralight, but we really like to also stay comfortable on the trail. But before we dive too deeply into our philosophy, we need to explain and define a few things:

What are lightweight and ultralight backpacking

The term ultralight backpacking (and in connection, lightweight) was used first by Ray Jardine in a book he wrote in 1992 after several PCT thru-hikes. Jardine is considered the father of ultralight backpacking, even though Grandma Gatewood thru-hiked the AT in 1955. A good book about Grandma Gatewood can be found here.

There are no official standards for ultralight and lightweight backpacking, but the consensus seems to be:

  • Traditional backpacking: base weight* of 30 lbs (USA) or 15 kg (Europe) or more
  • Lightweight backpacking: base weight of less then 20 lbs (USA) or 10 kg (Europe)
  • Ultralight (UL) backpacking: base weight of less then 10 lbs (USA) or 10 kg (Europe)

There are also Super Ultralight (SUL) and Extreme Ultralight (XUL) but those are too much even for us to deal with.

Ultralight backpacking

To read all about ultralight backpacking, the Wikipedia article about it is very good and complete without presenting any judgement, as so often exists in UL communities.

*Base weight: fully packed backpack before the addition of water and food and without the warm clothing and footwear.

Ultralight gear

From the definition above you can see that there is no specific ultralight gear, but it is all related to backpack weight, so you could carry an 8 lb frying pan in a 1 lb backpack (and a couple of other things) and still be considered an ultralight backpacker. This kind of definition makes it very way to define ultralight gear. 

When it comes to ultralight gear, there are several characteristics that most things have, which are a big part of the ultralight backpacking philosophy:

  • Multipurpose - the most important aspect of a UL item: it needs to have more than one role in your arsenal and perform as many functions as it can. You can check our list of 11 other uses for trekking poles besides hiking as an example
  • Lightweight materials - using the lightest materials that can withstand the conditions it will be exposed to
  • Simplicity - less zippers, less pockets, less handles and so on. The idea so to have a piece of kit that is so simple it functions perfectly while cutting its individual weight
  • Minimalism - taking the bare minimum you need to carry, for instance: instead of a two wall 4 season shelter, maybe a simple tarp will suffice?

Based on the above, we do make ultralight gear: it is very light, simple, minimalist and multi functional, but why are we not an ultralight gear company?

Super minimalism

Making lightweight gear

The main reason we don't feel like an ultralight gear company is because we keep one aspect of backpacking that is usually trimmed out in ultralight gear: comfort. In order to shave precious ounces (and sometimes pounds), ultralight gear is often a bit too simplistic for us, or too small/thin/skimpy. How does that translate in real life? Let's show a few examples from our products and prototypes we are developing:

  • Padded straps - our Vertex poles have a bit of padding on the wrist straps to make them just that tiny bitty bit more comfortable, reducing chaffing on long days. Too often lately, trekking poles have very thin straps to save another 0.5 oz but this results in a less comfortable experience
  • Adding a "heavy" slider - the Vecto water container has a slider, which is a heavy and bulky item for a collapsible water container; it is also less efficient as a "standing on your table" bottle, but it is so much more comfortable to fill.

Versatility of the Vertex poles

  • "Skinny" backpacking mats - industry standard backpacking sleeping pads are 20 inches wide, but if you have ever tried to use one, you like will have found them to be too narrow, especially if you are a side sleeper. Instead, we are making a 3-season, lightweight backpacking pad that is 23 inches wide - and it makes all the difference!
  • Not making gear for expeditions - this might sound odd, but it has been a while since any of us been in the most extreme conditions, so we don't need gear that performs that way. Instead we make gear that normal people, like us, use and abuse. So instead of an ultralight catenary tarp, we are making a flat, square tarp since it is more versatile - but won't hold up in winds of 100 mp/h (who wants to be outdoors then anyway?)

As you can see, our tweaks are meant to make the ultralight backpacking experience and philosophy and little bit more comfortable and user friendly, so we tend to just call it lightweight backpacking gear.

As it happen,we will be show casing our gear and prototypes in PCT Days in Cascade Locks (Oregon) over the weekend of the 18th to the 20th of August, so maybe come and see us? We will have all our poles there, a new Vertex, the Vecto prototype and more! Not only you can play, test and judge for yourself, you can even get 20% off in the event. So check the details and join us!