Shaft Construction: HM carbon
Grip Material: Foam
Maximum Length: 130 centimeters
Minimum Length: 110 centimeters
Collapsed Length: 38 centimeters
Locking Mechanism External: lever lock
When I first started hiking, I dismissed poles as an “old person” thing, because those are the only people that I saw using them. Over the last couple decades though, some things have changed – not only have I become one of those old people, but the tech that is now available in poles makes them much more manageable and useful than they were before over a larger variety of terrain. LEKI is a leader in the field, and their Micro Vario Carbon is one of the company’s premier hiking poles for a reason – they’re light, solid, and dependable.
I starting using the Micro Vario Carbon poles last winter for a long-term test over a variety of activities and terrains, from snowshoeing and skiing in the Pacific Northwest, to canyoneering in Utah and alpine summits in Switzerland and Italy. The bottom line is that these poles have been a dream – not a single failure, and they feel like they’re new after nearly 300 miles of adventure around the world this year.
They use the company’s folding design, so the pole collapses into 3 sections held together by a flexible Kevlar-reinforced band within the pole, similar to a how a tent pole folds up. It’s a novel design, and I did find it convenient most of the time. However, with traditional collapsible poles, you just have 2 pieces to manage when they’re collapsed. With these, you have 6, and it makes stuffing them in your pack’s side pocket or using something like Osprey’s pole holder nearly impossible without help. I’m pretty split on which design is better, and I think it’s just a personal preference – quicker extend/collapse, or quicker/simpler pack stow.
In addition to the folding design, they have a single Speed Lock adjustment that offers pole height between 110 and 130cm. In my testing, that was the perfect amount of adjustment for a range of activities – longer for downhills and skiing, shorter for uphills and more technical terrain. The connections and Speed Lock were all rock solid – no matter how much weight I put on it, they didn’t slip or break, and I quickly learned to trust them. This is the most common failing of a pole – that no matter how much you tighten the locks they still slip – and LEKI has found a way to make a slip-less lock for their pole adjustment.
The shaft of the pole is 100% carbon fiber, and you can feel it – they are feather light and make it a breeze to swing them around all day. My only concern with the carbon fiber construction is durability – where aluminum poles may just bend and be able to be repaired, carbon fiber will break. The took the poles into plenty of sketchy terrain, getting them stuck in the snow or a boulder field where I put significant leverage on the shaft with no sign of breaking, but it’s worth noting. The company also notes that the folding design isn’t quite as strong as the regular collapsing design, and if you’re a heavier person that you may want to opt for the latter.
I’ve become accustomed to cork grips on my poles – I like the cushion and absorbent characteristics of it – so I was skeptical that the foam grips on here would hold up. Cork does have some durability issues, but I’ve used a number of other types of grip and cork has always won… until now. The Aergon foam grip is equal to cork on absorbency, and beats it hands down for comfort and durability. Additionally, the wrist strap is very well designed with a locking adjustment so that, no matter how hard you yank on it while it’s locked, it stays at the same size. I like to use my wrist straps as a lever for the pole, and this was a very welcome feature.
This isn’t your grandfather’s walking cane. The LEKI Micro Vario Carbon is competitively priced for an adjustable carbon pole, and I’d highly recommend taking a look at it for a jack-of-all-trades adventure buddy.