Review: Leki MC 12 Vario Trekking and Running Poles

Trekking and Running Poles
Leki MC 12 Vario
$250, 15 oz./pair (men’s 110-130cm pair, without stuff sack)
Sizes: men’s 110-130cm, women’s 100-120cm

If you think that nerding out on the “performance” aspect of trekking and trail-running poles just goes too over the top for you, don’t bother reading any further. But if you’re a serious hiker, trail runner, or backpacker who likes the idea of light, strong, adjustable, and very packable poles designed to help you conserve energy and possibly even move faster and go farther, you need to know about Leki’s innovative MC 12 Vario.

Folding, four-section, adjustable poles—a category with only a few competitors—the MC 12 Vario and all of Leki’s Cross Trail series poles share the unique feature of the Cross Shark strap and grip. Based on the quick-release trigger shark grip developed for Nordic ski poles, the hook-and-loop strap wraps and seals around the hand, while a button on top of the grip, easily depressed with your thumb, releases the strap to free your hand from the pole without constantly having to rip the strap off and on. Depressing that button lets you slide the strap back into place for using the poles.

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Leki MC 12 Vario poles grip.
Leki MC 12 Vario poles grip.

Plus, the enhanced width of the MC 12 Vario strap—adjustable for different hand sizes or wearing lightweight gloves, while its perforated mesh releases perspiration—and the ergonomic shape of the grips feel more supportive and comfortable.

As I found on multi-hour outings on my local trails—including hiking a very steep trail that rises 2,000 vertical feet in just 2.2 miles, when I certainly adjusted the poles’ length differently for going up versus down—the design elevates your control of these sticks when hiking or running, enabling a quick swing, plant, and push-off that’s faster and more energy efficient then standard, simple pole straps. It also creates less hand fatigue because you hardly have to grip the poles. The sub-one-pound weight of the poles enhances the ease of swinging the poles.

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Leki MC 12 Vario poles strap.
Leki MC 12 Vario poles strap.

This design will appeal most to ultra-hikers, runners, and racers on mountain trails as well as dayhikers and backpackers who value light and highly functional trekking poles. But thanks to the quick-release shark mechanism, even hikers and backpackers who prefer pole straps they can easily slide their hands in and out of without having to open and close a hook-and-loop strap each time get the added performance without sacrificing convenience. These poles let you have your cake and eat it, too.

The 100 percent highly modular (HM) carbon construction makes the poles light and strong (although carbon can sheer under rare stresses). The extended open-pore, sweat-absorbing foam grips with a cork appearance let you hold the poles below the straps, useful in steep terrain or when briefly carrying the poles by your side. A grid surface on the lower grips keeps sweaty hands or gloves from slipping,

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Using the poles once or twice quickly familiarizes you with the simple, somewhat unique method for engaging and folding them. The Core Locking Device (CLD) provides secure locking and quick length adjustability. To engage the poles, open the locking lever and pull the second shaft section out of the upper section as far as it extends, locking the lower shaft sections in place; a click and red “lock” line on the second section indicate the maximum extension. Then set to the desired length and close the lever.

To fold the poles for storage, open the lever, extend the second section to the red “lock” line until it clicks, then slide the second section completely into the upper one, fold the two lower sections and close the lever.

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Leki MC 12 Vario poles Core Locking Device (CLD).
Leki MC 12 Vario poles Core Locking Device (CLD).

A small dial on the CLD lever adjusts its tension—easily done with your fingers, requiring no tool. The poles lack a mechanism for locking them in the folded position, making the included stuff sack—which weighs barely more than an ounce—the only means of containing them.

The pole’s length range is 110cm to 130cm in the men’s and 110cm to 120cm in the women’s (which otherwise differ little, women and men can probably use either model). While comparable to other folding, adjustable poles, that’s not as broad an adjustability range as many collapsible (or telescoping) poles have and not long enough to use with some ultralight tents that pitch with trekking poles, but similar to the range of many models. However, that adjustability range will suit most hikers, backpackers, and runners, while the poles weigh less and are more compact when folded than other highly durable models. 

Leki MC 12 Vario poles folded.
Leki MC 12 Vario poles folded.

The folded length of 42cm/16.5 inches, while not quite as short as other folding pole models, allows these poles to attach unobtrusively to the outside of a running vest or small daypack and fit inside just about any luggage, even many carry-ons.

If you want all the performance of the MC 12 Vario poles without the Cross Shark strap and grip, see my review of the very similar Leki Micro Vario Carbon Black Series poles.

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Leki MC 12 Vario poles grips and straps.
Leki MC 12 Vario poles grips and straps.

Leki MC 12 Vario Poles


The Verdict

For many hikers, mountain runners, backpackers, and climbers who like the idea of poles that combine low weight, strength, packability, and exceptional performance—especially (though not only) for speed and long distances—the Leki MC 12 Vario poles have one-of-a-kind functionality.



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See my picks for “The Best Trekking Poles” and my stories “How to Choose Trekking Poles” and “10 Best Expert Tips for Hiking With Trekking Poles,” and all of my reviews of backpacking gear, ultralight backpacking gear, and hiking gear.

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See also why I almost never hike without poles in my “10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier,” and my “8 Pro Tips for Preventing Blisters When Hiking.”

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

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