K2 Lockjaw 2011/12 Carbon Ski Pole — Review

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Backcountry skiing with k2 Lockjaw ski poles.

Testing k2 Lockjaw backcountry ski poles about a week ago. Yep.

I reviewed the original aluminum K2 Lockjaw ski poles last year, and they worked well. Mine are now a little beat up, and K2 has improved the poles quite a bit for the next iteration — so time for another review.

I tried out the carbon version this time around. Aluminum poles have the advantage of bending instead of breaking, while carbon poles are stronger and lighter but can splinter into sharp shards when they do break. Yep, tradeoffs. The k2 lockjaw has an aluminum upper section, with a large diameter carbon lower section. Features abound: built in inclinometer on one pole; lower sections screw together to create an avalanche probe, markings measure snow depth; super comfy straps work well for hauling yourself uphill when your legs give out.

The Carbon Alu Lockjaws enjoying the sun, note the nicely designed wrist strap.

I always carry my inclinometer/compass in my pocket when I’m touring, for easy access. An inclinometer is of course a awesome tool to use in terrain evaluation. I try to suss out slope angles as much as I can, not only to decide where to ski, but also to hone my angle estimation skills.

For the previous Lockjaw model, K2 provided inclinometer marks on the poles, but they were a pain to use and not very accurate, besides, you can make the same marks on any pair of poles. This year K2 got smart and put a small “bubble” style inclinometer on one pole of the pair. It is tiny and unobtrusive, but is quick to use when you need it. The mechanism only shows angles between 30 and 45 degrees, so I’m still using the inclinometer on my compass as well. It would be great if K2 put an inclinometer on the other pole that showed lower angles, like 20 to 35 degrees.

The inclinometer is located underneath the grip, and is super small and unobtrusive.

If you’re a savvy backcountry skier, you know that it’s much easier on your shoulders and more efficient if you grab your uphill pole below the grip when doing steep traverses. The help, Lockjaw poles have a grippy coating on the upper section, similar to the grip paint on some skateboards. I don’t really like having duct tape or a bulky grip on the lower section of a pole, so this unobtrusive coating is a terrific alternative.

The carbon bottom sections screw together into a sturdy, 180 cm probe. The avalanche probe feature is nice, although I still carry a real probe. It might be nice to have a extra probe in a rescue situation, especially if you break your main one, or something like that. It’s tempting to substitute the built in probe for a real one, especially with advances in beacon technology that make the pinpoint search more accurate. I don’t know if I’ll ever do that, but some people don’t carry probes at all during days when the snow is deemed to be super stable, notably my Dad and Andrew McLean.

k2 Lockjaw ski poles.

Probe conversion threads, k2 Lockjaw ski poles. Resulting probe is rigid and quite functional. The black things are rattle reducers that fit on associated threads. They could be left off for quicker conversion.

Another minor change for the new Lockjaw is the lock mechanism. It functions similar to the older but the cam lever sticks out less, making it a little more difficult to change with gloves on. Didn’t seem to be an issue, but I thought I’d mention it. In fact, the slightly sleeker design might be an advantage as it’s less likely to snag on clothing or pack straps.

In all, a truly dedicated ski pole for the backcountry that’s more fully featured than any other we know about. Impressive, especially the the built-in inclinometer.

Available fall of 2011. For now, you can shop for the older version which is nearly the same only without the bubble inclinometer.

Comments

22 Responses to “K2 Lockjaw 2011/12 Carbon Ski Pole — Review”

  1. Mike May 9th, 2011 9:23 am

    But still no self-arrest grip available? ;-(

  2. AndyC May 9th, 2011 9:29 am

    You didn’t mention the tip. I really prefer carbon or aluminum/carbon poles but have worn out a couple of pairs of life-links. My life-link carbon races have flex tips which are a PITA to use to change heel position on my Verticals. These tips increased the fiddle factor 10-fold causing my telemarking wife to erupt in laughter. I looked hard to find some Dynafit Seven-Summit poles because supposedly they have tips designed to be useful in changing heel positions; couldn’t find any in the US. So I bought a cheap pair of aluminum Komperdells just because they had a traditional stiff tip–they make changing heel position thoughtless..

  3. Lou May 9th, 2011 9:38 am

    They have the thicker plastic type tip with carbide point. And yes, they’re a bit thick for some Dynafit bindings, though we’ve found they work fine for ST/FT as well as the new Radical flip-lifters of course. I agree that the wrong pole and Dynafit combo can result in quite a bit of fiddle factor.

    BTW, the inclinometer can be slid off the pole shaft and probably swapped on to other ski poles. One wonders if K2 will sell them, or if they’re available as stand-alone from another ski pole company?

  4. jerimy May 9th, 2011 10:03 am

    How about a closeup picture of the most important part of an adjustable pole, the cam lever.

  5. Simon May 9th, 2011 11:31 am

    Hi, interesting reading, thought I could add a little word of warning on the use of carbon poles. I will point out that I am not saying they don’t have a use, but that the situation they are used in should be given a lot of thought.

    I am in the French alpes and carbon poles are used exstensively in rando racing, a situation where a breakage can be serious but if injury is caused then marshalls/help is not too far away. However using them in the high mountains, when touring, can cause some greater problems.

    I was skiing the Couloir Pélas-Verney in the Hautes Ecrins last spring with a good friend. He had purchased a set of carbon poles the previous day and was determined to put there amazing lightness to some good use on the super long skin up to the breche above the couloir. Interestingly a friend had commented before we left on the seriousness of using these poles in such a situation.

    To cut to the point, we were on the 50 degrees section in the top of the couloir I had stopped and waited for my partner to descend, as he put in his 2nd or 3rd jump turn his pole snapped. He cartwheeled past me stopping about 75m below. Before I even asked him how he was I could see a lot of blood on the snow in the couloir. I got down to him to find a 30cm length of pole in his hand as sharp as a dagger. He had stabbed himself in the thigh at about 30 cm above the knee and the pole had gone clear through and exited the rear of the thigh.
    We both feared the worst, but we eventually stopped the bleeding and had to descend the remaining 650m of the couloir on foot, he on his backside and then spent the next 5-6 hrs limping, half skiing back to the road. Thankfully he hadn’t hit anything major and no shards of carbon were found in his leg and after 3 days in Briancon hospital he was out and about. BUT, it could all have been so different if the pole had entered 1cm or more to either side.

    So as I said at first, I am not here to rubbish the product but just ask people to think about the reliability of such super light gear and where you intend to use it.

  6. Lou May 9th, 2011 12:03 pm

    Thanks for the story Simon. Key with carbon poles is that they’re strong. As far as I can tell the K2s are quite strong, but yeah, weaker poles that break easily are super dangerous. A guy in the Wasatch died a couple years ago died when a snapped pole punctured his leg and severed his femoral artery. Actually could have happened with either alu or carbon…

  7. brian h May 9th, 2011 1:21 pm

    Jeez, after those last two stories, I’ll never look at ski poles the same way…Wouldn’t it be more difficult to “snap” an alum pole?

  8. Lou May 9th, 2011 1:54 pm

    Aluminum usually bends instead of breaking, though I’ve seen plenty of alu poles break. My own story: A few years ago I was towing my wife behind snowmobile at night, her pole got tangled in tow rope after she fell, tangled with her, then broke. The knife-like end ripped her pants and could easily have ripped her leg open. Now we tow with ski poles on backpack… scared me. Carbon poles snap without bending, and are very sharp. I don’t feel one is any worse than the other, provided they’re strong enough. I had some brand-x carbon poles a few years ago that snapped in normal use like a pencil. So buyer beware.

  9. Jonathan Shefftz May 9th, 2011 2:24 pm

    Alu poles also come in many different alloys, with some more prone to bending vs breaking than others. When I was an alpine race coach, and all the interaction with race gates, we had our share of both bent and broken alu ski poles.

  10. See May 9th, 2011 8:53 pm

    I prefer stronger, less bendable aluminum poles (e.g. Scott 4).

    I think using bent poles can be dangerous, and straightening badly bent poles will either break them or weaken them significantly.

    The higher end alloy poles are very resistant to bending and also lighter.

  11. Mark W May 9th, 2011 9:05 pm

    Nice review of a cool product. I like the inclinometer. I’ve broken carbon poles, but can’t recall breaking any aluminum ones. In any case, I like two section adjustables. By the way, why don’t more companies produce self-arrest grips as was lamented previously?

  12. wyomingowen May 9th, 2011 10:57 pm

    Unless, there is another case of tragic misfortune, the femoral puncture happened on Teton Pass, early season, with an aluminum pole, only 150′ above the rd. The skier was the last in his group and by the time his friends immediately climbed off the rd to him it was too late.

  13. Lou May 10th, 2011 6:27 am

    Wyoming, it may have been apocryphal, but I did hear of a ski pole puncture in Utah a few years ago. That Teton Pass accident sounds horrendous.

  14. Lou May 10th, 2011 6:30 am

    Here is the Teton story, took me 10 seconds to google, happened in 2001 and actually it was a carbon pole. Perhaps that’s the accident I’m recalling.

    http://www.jhnewsandguide.com/Archives/FeatureArchive/2001/011212-feature.html

  15. wyomingowen May 10th, 2011 6:37 am

    time flies
    good search Lou!

  16. See May 10th, 2011 7:32 am

    Here’s my pole related injury story:

    I was using a borrowed aluminum pole, because the “flex tip” on my carbon pole broke due to stress from rotating the Dynafit heels.

    The borrowed pole had a 5-10 degree bend about 10″ up from the tip.

    We were skiing steep trees and I was going between two trees barely wide enough for me to fit between, so I brought my arms together in front of my body to get as narrow as possible and made the mistake of pointing my poles forward in the process.

    The bent pole stuck out to the side just enough so that the tip planted itself in the trunk of one of the trees I was passing between, driving the grip of the pole into my face.

    Luckily, I was wearing shades with strong plastic lenses (goggles might have been even better) but I still gave myself a cut and a black eye.

    I skied the rest of the week with a butterfly bandage on my face and reduced peripheral vision to my right because of the swelling.

    Take away for me: keep pole tips pointed back, and grips away from your face.

  17. slave.to.turns May 10th, 2011 10:03 am

    I too have these next year poles. The level seems cool, the tacky part of the upper shaft is nice and the lockjaw seems to open/close easily and Thold. They seem fine, but 2 things come to mind.

    1. The straps are the most overbuilt strap I have ever seen. Alot of strap.

    2. The baskets are HORRIBLE. Super soft plastic, molded w/ K2 logos. Not 1/4 as functional as a BD basket. I am not sure if they can be swapped out, I keep meaning to swap them but have not yet.

    My busted pole story: I had a K2 6 Speed CF pole for over 5 solid seasons of inbounds use, and one steep day on one steep turn…it snapped. After I stopped tomahawking I enjoyed 2000′ of Cascade style descent and forest luge run with one pole. When it went, it WENT.

  18. Lou May 10th, 2011 10:39 am

    I had to ponder the K2 straps. My take is if you rely on straps they’re nice, otherwise they can be removed or converted. Other than my Whippets, I prefer to ski without straps to save shoulders as well as add avalanche safety. Louie actually taught me that, he skied without straps since he was a youngster. Once in a while when I get tired I want them fro the uphill, and if wearing big mittens or gloves the need for straps is more important.

  19. Louie May 10th, 2011 12:49 pm

    I used the k2 poles mostly for powder skiing, and the baskets worked fine for that, although they do feel a bit flimsy. I like the burly straps, but I have a habit of relying a lot on my straps while hiking. Especially walking downhill in ski boots. I don’t ski down with straps though, unless I have whippets.

  20. slave.to.turns May 10th, 2011 1:13 pm

    Louie, agreed on liking the straps when choosing to use them, just commenting that it seems like alot of strap, esp. when compared to to other poles in that class.

    I like using them on the up, too…not so much on the down.

    Have you threaded the baskets off and seen if you can pop/thread a BD basket on there? I’ll try this evening.

  21. Dean August 12th, 2011 12:00 pm

    I had a thought about K2 gear and the features that come with their shovel/probe and BC skis.

    Would you ever want to rig a sled from these gear to use as a gear hauler for a trip like last year’s to Denali? I’m pretty ignorant of the logistics of this trip so I could be completely off my rocker. I don’t know how this would compare to a real sled in terms of weight and ease of haul, but it might be nice to have a second set of skis/poles in case of an equipment break!

    Assume I have tons of money to blow on redundant gear when I ask this question. We needn’t get into the silliness of buying extra skis/bindings/poles for this use…

  22. Hans Uthe January 27th, 2013 10:20 am

    I have, or had, a set of the older alu/carbon Lockjaws. The horseshoe shaped piece on the latch broke about the 10th time out. What is really annoying is the K2 tells me that they don’t stock those pieces and won’t even sell me a single poles, so my $100+ poles are kaput for the want of the 2 dollar piece of nylon.

    If anybody knows where I might find the part, I would sure appreciate knowing.

    I have been a big K2 fan ever since I worked in a shop in the 70s, but I think Kirschner would flip if he was around to hear this as it inconsistent with the K2 I ‘grew up’ with. Maybe too much Anthony Industries and not enough Vashon Island???

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