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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!

From Vertex to Kickstarter

From Vertex to Kickstarter

Poles are now available for purchase!

When I started Cnoc Outdoors in 2016, my plan was to make the best carbon poles on the market. We began by making the Vertex poles, in the same way as everyone else—sourcing from China, where the infrastructure and supply chains are already firmly established. But because we were (and still are) such a small company, we couldn’t monitor quality assurance in the factory and had constant issues with the poles. In the summer of 2017, we got another batch that had a number of QA issues: breaking around the button, bonding issues, etc. We had a bunch of ideas on how to improve the poles by making some small adjustments, but the factory wasn’t really interested in pursuing these modifications. We realized that if we wanted to be able to truly make the best poles, with proprietary innovations, we had to make them close to home. 

The search for the right factories and the right parts

We began searching for a different way to make better carbon fiber poles, by doing it in the United States. We reached out to dozens of factories. It might even be close to a hundred by now. These were factories making all of the different components that go into a pole. Some companies preferred to stick to their small batch orders, rather than join our ambitious endeavor. Other factories were charging five times more per part, compared to what we had paid previously. Several factories never responded, or what they had to offer wasn’t an exact match to what we needed. Even after we found a few possible collaborators, some components didn’t reach our standards during testing. 

Carbon Fiber

Goodwinds employee holding sheet of carbon fiber

Our initial carbon fiber manufacturer in Michigan realized they didn’t have production capacity for our needs. Finding a new factory that we could work with—that could offer us the right tubes at the right price—was very hard and frustrating. It felt like going back to the drawing board in many ways, and forced us to change the final price point of the poles dramatically. In the end, Goodwinds Composites won our trust when we tested the strength of their poles against competitors. 

Friction Quick Lock

Making the Friction Quick Lock (FQL) was a real challenge. The molds that we had originally made were for a Michigan factory working with our original carbon fiber manufacturer. Once that relationship ended, factories closer to home (in the Pacific Northwest) didn’t have the tools nor capacity to work with them. New molds would cost around $100-150K. Smaller companies that could work with our molds were mostly too small, but Rex Plastics was right in the middle. They work with small batches but have big manufacturing capacity.  

Then our molds got stuck in Michigan, parts got lost along the way, and we needed to spend thousands more dollars to make the molds operable, delaying the poles again and again.

Grips

cork grips, EVA grips, and straps

For the grips and straps, we spoke to so many companies we’ve lost track in order to find domestic cork and EVA. But our search was hopeless. Cork isn’t grown in the US. EVA is not produced in the US. So, we had to seek solutions in south east Asia. We tested samples from three factories there, with one being a clear winner in results and quality. 

Why Bother?

We felt like quitting many times–every time that a big part of the process collapsed, or we were billed another tens of thousands of dollars to make a small part. It was a seemingly-endless road of hurdles and conversations about how much longer we could continue. 

The main reason we didn’t give up on the poles is probably sheer stubbornness and reluctance to quit. Another reason is simple business acumen: if it is so hard for us, it is hard for everyone, so if we succeed, we will probably be the only ones that do this. Not relying on mediocre, off the shelf parts means that our poles are as unique and efficient as we want them to be. That, by itself, is a reason to get them to market.

Our Aha Moment

Gilad putting together a zpole

We finally had an aha moment when we accepted that we would be moving from a company that pays factories to make our things (white labeling) to a company that manufactures. Over time, more and more of the supply chain moved into our hands: finding factories to make components rather than the poles as a finished productUnderstanding that we needed to source the granular parts and then would be assembling them in-house was the final aha in the process: We make trekking poles!

Building a Kickstarter Campaign

We never asked anyone for money to fund the whole project, only portions of it. We got rejected by at least four banks when looking for loans to fund the tooling and machinery for the poles. Instead, we used a different tactic and got a line of credit (SBA backed) for buying Vectos (our dual-opening collapsable water containers), to free up company money for the poles.  

So far we have managed to fund almost all the tooling needed from selling Vectos. We have a few last things that require roughly $55k. The big problem is MOQs (Minimum Order Quantities).  

Most factories won’t make a new part without high MOQ (or high price cost), so we needed to look for people to help us buy the parts—hence the crowdfunding campaign. Crowdsourcing the last part of the funding of the project is the only way we can think of that to sustain the business. The Kickstarter ties the purchase of parts to the interests of our customers. 

Thank you all for your continued support of our small but mighty outdoor company. Please join in backing our Kickstarter to help us bring these made-in-the-USA carbon fiber poles to you.