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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!

A Quick Overview About Trekking Poles Design

A Quick Overview About Trekking Poles Design

There is so much written out there about trekking poles: what is best in aluminum vs carbon, cork or EVA handle, yes anti-shock or not, and so on. I don't want to write about all those as there is really enough about it, but I did want to put out a quick post about trekking pole design as it is something that comes up often. You can think of this as answering the question: what is the point of collapsible poles?

The whole point of making Vertex: a more compact size

When we talk about pole design, we mean the locking mechanism, the number of sections and how they are collapsed (not how cool of a print/color they have). The reason this comes up so often is because Cnoc makes 5 section collapsible poles only, while there are other designs out there that combine 2-5 sections, internal or external locks and Z shape or straight poles (some don't even collapse at all!). So let's dive into each of those areas where I explain a bit of background and why we went with the choice we are offering.

Hiking in the Alps with the Vertex

Number of sections

When it comes to the number of sections a pole has, the decision is about where the pole will sit on a scale that has durability on one side and collapsed size on the other. A connection point between two sections is naturally a weak spot in the pole, increasing the chances of a break, bend or split. Naturally, that means that the hardest-working poles should be made from one section, as you find many ski poles are, while poles that are used sporadically often sacrifice some of that strength in order to be more compact.

The evelution of trekking poles: 3 sections (top), 4 sections (middle) and 5 sections (bottom)

The one section poles (called a staff by many backpackers) are used often as skiing poles or when there is a need for poles that will work very hard. They represent the modern alternative to picking up a solid branch on the trail and using it for stability and support.

For many years the three section pole has been the industry standard, allowing for the poles to fold to roughly 40% of the full length of the poles while still being length adjustable. The three section poles are still the most popular due to the balance between durability and compactness.

Using 3 setion poles for river crossings

The five section design is pretty new to the market and is often called the tent pole design as the many sections can make them resemble a tent pole. These poles came from the need to have a more compact folded pole for easy stowing away, which is valuable for anyone who carries a lot of gear or needs flexibility. The development of more robust materials have resulted in pole designs that allow a five section pole to still be very durable.

Trying to carry telescopic, external lock poles when collapsed

At Cnoc Outdoors we chose to develop the five section pole design even more by changing the idea that the sections need to be of equal length - we have adjusted the design so each shaft has a different length; this increases the robustness of the Vertex poles as a walking pole but most especially when used as part of a shelter system (more lateral pressure). The idea here was to have a design that is even more compact than anything else available in the market, for easy stowing. The reason for that is simple: I often use the poles as a secondary system, not always for hiking, so the ability to stow them easily on the shoulder straps was particularly important.

Vertex poles in Scotland, credit: Dan Bailey, UKHillwalking.com

Locking mechanism

Locking mechanism refers to the way you get the pole's sections to hold together for a strong and solid pole. There are two main types of mechanisms: internal lock and external lock. The internal locking system is a "twist lock" system, where a screw is connected to an expanding plastic bracket that locks one shaft inside the other.

The "guts" of the internal locking mechanism

External locking is based on a locking lever that creates a pressure sleeve on the internal shaft and locks it into place. Many time the external locking will be called "flick-lock" as the lever locks the shaft into place with a flick of the lever.

External flick-lock mechanisms

The internal lock was the most popular mechanism for a long time as it allowed the creation of an internal anti-shock that was built into the locking mechanism. The big problem with the internal locks is that they either tended to collapse as the poles were twisted during use or the internal lock would just seize due to dust or humidity, rendering the poles useless.

Locking button

Not surprising then, that we choose to use the external lever locking mechanism: it is both more reliable and also allows for faster and easier deployment and collapsing. It is slightly heavier than internal locking, though.

Collapsing system

The collapsing system is many times determined by the preferred type of locking mechanism and the number of sections. However, the collapsing system itself is quite important, as it influences durability, dictates how thick the shafts can be and whether the pole is one continuous diameter. There two kinds of collapsing systems: telescopic and Z-style.

Z style poles (bottom) vs telescopic poles (top)

The telescopic system is the most popular in the market as it is based on a very simple system: several shafts in varying diameters fit into each other. This is a simple system and therefore tends to be the cheapest, but it also means that the shafts are not the same diameter, creating a potential weakness or unnecessary weight. The big benefit of a telescopic pole is the useable length: the collapsed length (usually around 25") to the fully deployed length of the pole (usually about 53") is pretty significant.

Using telescopic poles for shelter building: a big range of lengths

The name for Z-style poles come from the shape that the collapsed poles make: that of the letter Z. This collapsing system is only viable with 3, 4 and 5 section poles, with the 4th shaft (usually the handle) locking the other 3 shafts into place. The way it works is by using an internal cord to hold the tension of a fully deployed pole that is locked into place by the 3rd shaft extending from the top shaft/handle and locking into place (check the Vertex deployment video to see how this works).

Four-section Z-poles are fixed length poles (come in one size) while 5 section poles also have the ability to offer length adjustment somewhat (10"-15"). The big benefit of Z poles is that the whole length of the pole can be the same diameter, allowing for a more durable design. Another great benefit to Z poles is how quickly they can be deployed and collapsed.

Vertex Carbon and Cork as a shelter pole

The Vertex poles are 5 section Z-style poles as that allow for length versatility while facilitating very fast deployment and collapsing on the move. The length adjustment makes the poles more useable with various shelters, too.

Extending Z poles (bottom) vs non extending (top)

Old vs New

When I started to make the Vertex poles, it was after years of using the internal lock, 3 section, anti-shock, telescopic poles. In some ways I chose to make the very opposite poles to what I was used to because it just made so much more sense to me - I needed the versatility and nimbleness that the 5 section Z style external poles offer. These poles are easier to use on the go, as a part of a shelter, compact when not in use, light and still as durable as the old-school poles many of us know so well.