Leki Micro Vario Carbon DSS Folding Trekking Poles
$220, 1 lb. 1 oz. (110-130 cm).
Sizes: regular/unisex 110-130 cm, Lady 100-120cm
How much does a good pair of trekking poles matter? I used these three-section, folding poles on a dayhike in August that I wasn’t certain I could finish: the 32-mile, 10,000-vertical-foot, nine-summit Pemi Loop in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. For the last few miles, the poles may have been the only thing holding me up. Whether or not you intend to take absurdly long hikes, this one did help me identify the many strengths of Leki’s Micro Vario Carbon DSS Folding Trekking Poles, and evaluate the usefulness of the antishock mechanism.
I also used these poles on various other outings, including a 12.5-mile, 2,500-foot trail run in the Boise Foothills, and a 4.6-mile hike on the rocky trails of the Blue Hills Reservation outside Boston. These are the first folding trekking poles with a shock-absorbing mechanism. Located just above the pole tip—where it prevents any shock or vibration from traveling up the shaft—the DSS (Dynamic Suspension System) antishock mechanism reduces peak impact force by up to 40 percent, according to Leki. A fair amount of downward force is required to compress the antishock. If you put only a little weight on it—such as when pushing off lightly with the poles while hiking gentle terrain—the poles won’t absorb the effort you’re putting into forward motion. That’s good.
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To explain: If you’re using trekking poles correctly, you’re employing them virtually all the time. You push off slightly with them (planting the pole tip behind you, at an angle) when hiking flatter ground or climbing well-graded trails; you lean on them more on steep ascents; and you use them for balance and to take some impact off your body when descending. An antishock element serves a useful purpose when you need it to absorb force, such as when descending; but you don’t want it to absorb the muscle force you’re putting into forward propulsion. Smartly, these poles don’t absorb (and waste) the generally slight force you put into using the poles to move forward; they can, however, absorb some of your effort when you lean hard on them climbing steeply uphill. That’s the subtle tradeoff with antishock poles. Conversely, non-antishock poles obviously won’t absorb (waste) any of your muscle effort, but they also won’t help lessen the impact on upper-body joints of going downhill. (The Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles are virtually identical, but without antishock; see my review.)
The other great advantage of these poles is that they’re much more packable than collapsible poles whose shaft sections slide inside one another: With a packed length of 15 inches/38cm, they attach to the outside of a small daypack without sticking out, and disappear inside even small luggage. With an interior cable connecting the three pole sections, they assemble quickly and simply: Just line up the sections and extend the upper one until a metal pin pops out to lock the sections together. Once locked, there’s very little play in the poles.
A plastic locking lever on the upper section releases to adjust the pole length from 110 to 130cm (in the regular/unisex size); I find the lever easier to use than poles that adjust with a twist mechanism. I’m 5’ 8” and have the poles generally at 115cm on gentle terrain, 110cm going steeply uphill, and 120-125cm going downhill; someone well over six feet tall may not get as much length as they want going downhill with these poles. The Aergon Thermo foam grips are cushy, smooth, and ergonomically designed, with a forefinger groove, a small bumper for the heel of the hand, and an oversized head, so that I could place my hands in various positions depending on terrain steepness; this helps reduce hand fatigue. The extended foam below the grips allows you to momentarily hold a pole below the grip—say, on a briefly steep uphill—without holding cold metal.
The wrist straps are light, don’t absorb much sweat, and easy to adjust: Tug upward on the strap to pop open a locking lever atop the grip, adjust the straps to a good length, then snap the lever back in place. It’s quick and easy enough to do on the trail if, say, you’re putting on warm gloves and need a little more strap length. The carbon upper pole section is lightweight and strong, while slightly heavier aluminum is used in the lower sections.
At just over a pound, these poles are borderline light enough for trail running and training—not the lightest you’d want strictly for that purpose, but a good pole for crossing over between running and hiking. The lady poles are for shorter women or men with smaller hands; they have shorter straps and a grip that’s 15 percent smaller than the regular poles. The poles come with a stuff sack and rubber tip caps for using on consistently rocky terrain, like slickrock in the desert Southwest.
One caveat: These are a bit less sturdy than traditional, three-section, collapsible poles, which, while heavier and less packable, are generally better for hard use or for bigger people putting more weight on the poles.
That said, the Leki Micro Vario Carbon DSS Folding Trekking Poles survived the rocky trails of the White Mountains (maybe better than I did); they’re hardly delicate. I’d recommend them for ultra-hikers and ultralight backpackers as well as most dayhikers and backpackers.
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I almost never hike without poles. Read why in my “10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier.”
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my Gear Reviews at The Big Outside.