K2 Lock Jaw Backcountry Ski Pole Review

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 21, 2010      
Backcountry sking with K2 ski poles.

Backcountry skiing with K2 ski poles. Inset photo shows measurement marks on upper pole shaft, used for snow depth and inclinometer.

Although they are more pricey and a bit less durable than fixed length ski poles, I use adjustable ski poles on pretty much every backcountry skiing trip. It is good to be able to have long poles for skinning or skating across a flat section, and helps a lot to be able to shorten them to fit in your pack. If it’s any sort of steep ski mountaineering, my Whippets and I are inseparable, but for powder and “normal” backcountry skiing, I don’t like to run the risk of self-impalement. Hence the need for some basic aluminum adjustable poles as part of my quiver. I’ve tried a lot of adjustable ski poles in the past, and have always gone back to the cam locking type. Ones that lock by twisting or any other method tend to either freeze up or not hold enough and slip. Unfortunately, for some reason, only a few companies make cam locking poles. K2 came out with their adjustable poles in their Back Side line last year — and yes, they are cam lock.

K2 ski poles are the ticket.

A tiny depression in the grip appears to be designed for operating Dynafit bindings.

K2 makes carbon fiber and aluminum versions of the Lock Jaw backcountry skiing pole. I like aluminum poles, even though they are a bit heavier compared to ones made out of carbon fiber. When I fall on my poles (which happens more than I’d like to admit), aluminum doesn’t splinter like a broken pool cue. Of course, ski poles are all pretty similar, but the Lock Jaw has a few really nice features that make it a great pole for the backcountry.

Perhaps the best Lock Jaw feature is the inclinometer and ruler markings on the upper sections of the poles. An inclinometer is one of the more important tools for determining potential avy terrain, and I try to always have one in my pocket while I’m skiing. I don’t feel this is a replacement for carrying an actual inclinometer, but it is great to have the pole marks if I forget my instrument or if I simply don’t want to dig it out. Overall, perhaps having this feature on ski poles will make people more aware of slope angles — so it’s good for community. (The poles are used as an inclinometer by simply placing one horizontal and one vertical, with the baskets on the slope. You read the angle off the intersection point of the poles. If the poles are held reasonably level and plumb, you get a good reading of the slope angle.)

The pole with the ruler markings is useful for when you jam the grip down in the snow to feel for different layers (and can also be used to measure a large fish you catch). I tend to do this (the depth gauge) a lot on a ski tour, and the depth markings make it way more accurate. For example, if you dig a snowpit that shows a sliding surface a few inches down in the snowpack, it probably isn’t much to worry about, but if you move over to where the wind has deposited more snow, it could be dangerous. The depth marking allows you to keep and eye on such risk factors. Of course you can make marks any poles you have, but it is great to have them accurately marked when you purchase your poles.

Another K2 Lock Jaw ski pole feature is a hardly noticeable little divot on the front upper part of the grip. It’s like they designed this for Dynafit bindings, as the grip divot perfectly grabs and flips the touring lock on my binding toes.

In my now fairly extensive testing every part of these poles is still working fine. I have not had any problems with icing or slippage. They have larger powder baskets, and comfy dual-density grips. My only tweak? The stock poles extend way to long for my uses, so I cut the inner section down a bit to save weight and make the swing action fell less like a war club and more like the ethereal sweep of an angle’s wing as I launch into yet another chain of massive face shots. (Did I write that, or did my editor?)

In summary, this is a solid ski pole with a few “value added” features that make it a fine choice for any backcountry skier. Great gift!

Shop for K2 ski poles here.

(Guest blogger Louie Dawson is Wildsnow progeny. He currently hails from the wet and scrappy Pacific Northwest, specifically Bellingham WA where he studies industrial design and how much snow falls on Mount Baker — not necessarily in that order.)


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13 Responses to “K2 Lock Jaw Backcountry Ski Pole Review”

  1. John October 21st, 2010 9:29 am

    The pair I had last year had a defective injection molded cam-lock. They recalled them and fixed the issue.

  2. Matt Kinney October 21st, 2010 9:30 am

    Good review louie…in depth. The only issue I have with powder baskets is their ability to poke deeper when pole probing for stability issues. I prefer the small diameter solid discs. Powder baskets tend to warp, deflect and some get stuck and have to be yanked out if you aggressively pole probe. Cheers and keep the books open.

  3. Lou October 21st, 2010 9:31 am

    Good info John, so are you using the poles? Like them?

  4. turner October 21st, 2010 9:40 am

    As far as the divots on the grip go, the Black Diamond adjustable poles I bought two seasons ago have a similar feature.

    Works great for flipping up the heel lifts on the 01 binding, but nice to hear that Dynafit afficionados can also make use of it!

  5. John October 21st, 2010 10:11 am

    Unfortunately K2 was not able to supply just the affected parts and had me return the poles.

  6. Lou October 21st, 2010 12:10 pm

    That’s too bad John. I just spoke with them, and it sounds like everything is fine for the upcoming season. But consumer testing always tells the tale… Louie has had no problems with his poles, and they are from an early iteration.

  7. gillesleskieur October 21st, 2010 12:11 pm

    just a question Louie, you wrote: “and helps a lot to be able to shorten them to fit in your pack.” in wich case/event would you do that?

  8. Ryan October 21st, 2010 12:11 pm

    I’m a large guy (270lbs.) and ski more aggressively than I should and as a result I fall a lot. I have carbon Leki BC poles (Venom Vario Aergon to be specific) and after two seasons of use their going strong. Don’t be too shy of carbon for poles.

  9. SteveG October 21st, 2010 1:06 pm

    gillesleskiur – For me it helps to minimize the pole length for air travel. A plus is to adjust for Alpine and nordic uses.

  10. Alex R October 21st, 2010 1:19 pm

    gillesleskiur, I have shortened my poles to attach to my pack countless times for various reasons. Sometimes its to leave my hands free for working with a rope, or ice axe, or just to enable me to have my hands free while skiing with a video camera. Definitely a useful feature.

  11. Lou October 24th, 2010 7:48 am

    PSA, I heard from K2 about durability of cam lock on this pole. They said that one production run a while back had cam lock screws that deformed, but failure was not catastrophic and not a safety issue. The screws simply bent a bit when the cam lock was adjusted tight. This has since been corrected.

    We’ve used our pair of testers for many days with no problems.

    That said, any adjustable ski pole can fail or break. Everyone should keep that in mind.

  12. Mark October 24th, 2010 5:53 pm

    Louie, more and more companies are producing cam lock type poles. Leki and others have seen the light–while the patent limitations held by BD appear to have expired. As to carbon versus aluminum, I’ve broken a couple carbon poles over the years and never an aluminum one. My main gripe concerning some poles is that their baskets are too small except for hardpack and resort application. Cool racer discs only sink in the best snow, which is deep and soft.

  13. Bob J February 1st, 2015 1:15 pm

    I have the aluminum version and used these for two seasons. One of the plastic cam locks broke at the cross seam. Wrote to K2 to ask about buying a replacement but they haven’t responded

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