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January 9, 2014 Comments (1) Gear Reviews, Trails, Training

Trekking Pole Review

The Europeans have been using trekking poles for years as part of their trail and ultra-distance race strategies. They understand the added value in engaging your arms on steeper ascents and when you are starting to really drag. Trekking poles have started to make a dent in American ultras, but generally only in the longer mountain races. But with acceptance comes an increase in usage and therefore sales. We met with three of the leading companies and offered to provide detailed testing and a consolidated review. We invited several of our testers to use different poles over the course of an 8 week, intensive testing cycle, ranging from tough mountain adventure runs to 100 mile endurance races, and pulled together our findings. The results were exciting.

The Brands


Leki Micro Vario Carbon ($199) – a multi-function, ultra-light pole offers both folding and extension capabilities allowing the pole to fit users of varying size. At a feather weight of 16.8oz for the pair and a collapsible pack size of 15 inches they will fit in almost any pack/vest and you’ll hardly know they’re there. The Micro Vario also offers a unique push button speed lock for quick set-up and breakdown. And with a full carbon shaft you get the security of durability without the weight.LekimicroVarioCarbon_full

Komperdell Expedition and Ultralite Vario ($180 / $240) – Komperdell actually sent us four different models to test, but for the purposes of this comparative review we’ll stack the Expedition and Ultralite Vario 4 against the Leki Micro Vario and use the Komperdell194_2308_10_packother two against the REI brand. Both of these models are a full carbon, ultra-light weight (15.4oz/12.42oz) model that break down and provide an extension. Unlike the Leki poles, they use a twist lock system to keep the folding sections together. Similarly, with the extension users can add nearly 6 inches of variation to the length of the pole, allowing for diversity in users and terrain. Both have a similar packable length of approximately 17 inches.


REI Carbon Power Lock ($129) – REI trekking poles are actually made by Komperdell, but since it is a packaged and marketed REI product we’ll discuss it only as such. This full carbon extension only pole is very lightweight and easy to use. Poles offe quick Power Lock mechanisms that are very easy to use, even in cold weather and while wearing gloves. Models weight a minimal 15.7oz for the pair and have a packable length of 27.5 inches. With the full carbon construction and soft EVA foam grip, reverberation on rocks is kept to an absolute minimum.REI2240fc05-a104-4bd4-a332-bc6687aa6060

Komperdell Carbon C3 Carbon Power Lock ($139) – We were sent two of the C3 models, which compared well with the REI brand. This full carbon, extension only pole offers a light-weight (15oz), cost-effective alternative to the more expensive models. With a minimum collapse length of 27 inches both poles will still fit nicely on the back of any pack or vest. And the extremely thin nature of the shaft makes them even easier to carry along, even in hand.Komperdellc3175_2310_10_a

Testing and Results


All poles were tested in varying terrain across multiple states. We tested the poles on both men and women and in conditions ranging from snow to solid rock. Testing looked at ease of use, compatibility, and overall value. We compared models in the high price range and the moderate price range, allowing you to determine which will suit you best. All ratings are between 1 – 5, with 5 being the best possible score.

Ease of Extension and Collapse

Leki   4.0

It helps to read the directions, we can assure you of that. Once figured out however these poles go up and down like lightning. The trick to extending the pole is to grab the grip with one hand and the other near the speed lock. Then pull the two apart. The poles will fly out and lock in place with a flash.


Mark – “I love the z-pole action and the release is very quick and easy. The best part is the adjustable length. You can customize for the terrain or how you feel.”

Jerry – “I had no problems learning to adjust the poles on the fly. I was able to collapse and store them in my pack without slowing down.”


Missy – “I imangine with more use, it would get easier to extend and collapse the poles. They were a little “tight”, but I’d rather have them be this way instead of loose.”

Komperdell Expedition/Ultralite   4.0 

The extension and breakdown of these poles is similar to the Leki pole, but with a slight variation. Once the poles are extended you still have to rotate the two bottom sections to lock them in place. While seemingly slower, our testers didn’t find it to be much of a distraction and liked the methodology overall.


Jerry – “I quickly learned how to collapse the poles while hiking/running. I was able to make adjustments in the dark which was great during competition.”

Lara – “I had to read the instructions before using, but after figuring out the system it worked great.”


Pete – “The connections have to be snapped in place and then screwed together to make a secure connection. The joints had a tendency to come un-screwed, leaving the poles to come apart (especially when stuck in mud) and require re-attaching.”

REI  3.0

Extension only poles require a little practice to find the sweet spot where you can still move well and size them right. Time offers the best results and once you have your methods for locking and sizing the poles you’ll find it is very fast and easy.


T.R – “The release tabs are nice and big and easy to use with gloves (even lobster gloves).”


Craig – “Flick lock poles are actually very easy to use. The problem I ran into was trying to get them sized just right every time I extended them. It was waisted time trying to get the length spot on.”

Komperdell C3   3.5

Like the REI poles these took a little practice to get used to the length you wanted when extending them. Once that was found, however, it was smooth sailing.


“The flick lock was easy to use, even in the dark when you couldn’t see what you were doing.”


“At times the different shafts wouldn’t move equally. The bottom shaft might act like it was a little stuck while the upper moved easily.”


For the sake of space we will address weight all together and add a few quotes following. If you read closely enough above you’ll find that all poles (weights were listed in pairs) were within approximately 4oz of each other, with Leki (16.8oz) on the high end and the Komperdell Ultralite (12.42oz) on the light end. What’s most important to note here is that no matter which pair you are using we are talking about a total weight of less than one pound. In most cases, the two extremes aside the weight difference is less than 2oz, or 1 oz per pole. I doubt anyone using these poles would notice any real difference. To put it simply, if you didn’t know better, you’d think you had the lightest pair on the market regardless of which model it was.


Craig (Leki) – “Considering it is a collapsible pole with an extension it is very light weight.”

Jerry (Komperdell) – “They basically feel like extentions of your arm. I barely noticed them and came to rely on their leverage during steep ascents.”

T.R. (REI) – “. On the move the poles felt light and lively. I will say when you go back and forth with a lighter pole you can feel the difference, but…start with the REI pole and the weight is fine. They move around with great ease.”


Craig (REI) – “These aren’t the top of the line carbon poles. I didn’t expect them to be super lightweight. They lived up to expectations, that’s for sure.”

Matt (Leki) – “Definitely not your lightest pole out there, but I did not find their weight to be noticeable.”


We will group this category into pairs, based on the style of pole (collapsible vs extension) and the results. We looked at how easy it was to collapse and store the poles, along with accessing them, using them on varied terrain, and adjusting them on the fly.

Leki  (score- 4.0) vs Komperdell (score- 4.0)

You can see from the scores that our testers found the poles to be extremely versatile and that the overall opinions regarding the aspect of testing did not vary between the two brands. Scores ranged from a 3 to a 5, with 4 being the most consistent score given. They are very similar poles in the way they function and therefore not surprising that this would be the result.


Jerry (Komperdell) – “I used the poles for hiking, ultrarunning, and filming with a GoPro. When not using them, I quickly collapsed them into my pack. They are great to have for long efforts… an awesome toy for the summit quest.”

Craig (Leki) – “Of the three pole we tested the Leki poles were, by far, the most versatile in everyday use.”


Matt (Leki) – These poles are a little bit bulky, and depending on your setup, you may have to get them just right so that they ride well.”

Leki Poles

Komperdell C3 (score- 3.5) vs REI (score- 4.0)

These two poles pack and function similarly. The subtle differences are what make up the .5 difference between these two brands. Ease of the locking mechanism, foam vs EVA, wrist straps – all make up for miniscule differences in the overall versatility of the poles. Ultimately, either way you go you’ll be happy with the result.


Lara – (Komperdell) – “Loved the ease of breakdown and locking mechanism. Fit great on my UD Wink pack.”

T.R. (REI) –“I use the UD Anton pack and they easily sit in the loops.”


Pete – “These poles aren’t nearly as dynamic as other brands I’ve tested. It’s a good pole, but not outstanding.”


As stated earlier in the article our testers put all of these poles through about as many different scenarios as possible. We took them to the tops of mountains, over rocky trails, up cliff faces, and through knee deep streams. They saved us 90 miles into some of the toughest 100 mile races in the county (Wasatch 100 specifically). And hammered them on long desert treks in Southern Utah. The overall Durability average score for all brands was a 4.78. The lowest score average score was a 4.67, which basically means that of all our testers only one of them gave that particular brand a 4 instead of a 5. Essentially, won’t find better made products on the market and you can go wrong with whichever you decide to purchase.

Overall Comparative Analysis

It is the strict goal of not to dictate ultimately which brand you should buy, but to offer an objective test and review of what’s available, allowing you as the consumer to make the best decisions as to what will work best. That being said, certain statements can be made as to comparing brands and models.

The Leki Micro Vario and the Komperdell Expedition/Ultralite are extremely similar in design and function. Yet, there are subtle differences that might sway your purchasing decision. While our testers liked the push button Speed Lock of the Leki pole for set-up and take-down over the Komperdell twist lock feature, others appreciated the slimmer feel and lighter weight of the Komperdell poles over  the Lekis where they could seem a bit bulky. The reality is that whichever you choose to purchase, there is not a bad choice.

As for the REI vs the Komperdell C3 poles, it is worth reiterating that the REI poles are made by Komperdell, with the REI brand on it. Those two models are so similar in design and function, there is basically no difference. Your decision might be swayed more by brand loyalty vs function. The only real difference we found between the two models was the grip material – EVA vs regular foam. Outside of that they are basically the same pole. Good luck.

Overall Comments by Brand/Model


Leki Micro Vario Carbon ($199)

Jerry – “If you are planning to gain advantage by use of trekking poles, you want to ensure that through quality hardware. This means going for light weight, durable poles. These trekking poles fit the bill.”

Missy – “I’ve always loved Leki products and these did not disappoint.”

Mark – “At $199 I would hesitate to buy them without testing them first or comparing them to other brands but after testing and comparing I would definitely invest the money.”

Komperdell Expedition and Ultralite Vario ($180 / $240)

Lara – “If you seriously use poles, need them for long distance adventures and don’t want to carry bulky poles or excess weight, these are stellar.”

Jerry – “The quality is apparent. If you’re shopping trekking poles, get the good stuff.”

REI Carbon Power Lock ($129)

T.R. – “I’ve been a fan of REI for years (worked there too). The only knock on the poles have to do with the grip ridge. They did a great job with these carbon poles at a good price. If they fit your hand then make the purchase. If that ridge is bothersome then try another brand. Believe me…after 16 hours of running something as silly as a finger annoyance becomes a big deal.”

Craig – “This pole definitely stands in a different class from other other brands we’ve tested and that’s just fine. It will more than adequately meet the needs of any trekker or ultrarunner who has that middle of the range price point. You can’t go wrong, that’s for sure.”

Komperdell Carbon C3 Carbon Power Lock ($139)

Pete – “Obviously Komperdell represents the higher price range for trekking poles. It’s nice to know they also make poles in an affordable range for the everyday user.”

Mark – “For a full carbon pole Komperdell still represents a clear price point option for anyone wanting a great quality, light weight trekking pole.”

Check the links below to find out more about all of the great options we tested.

Leki Micro Vario

Komperdell Expedition Vario 4 

Komperdell Ultralite Compact 

Komperdell C3 Carbon Power Lock

REI Carbon Power Lock 


One Response to Trekking Pole Review

  1. varya says:

    Please be aware that the REI Carbon Power Lock Women’s Trekking Poles are packaged with a message hidden under the rubber basket that says that the locking mechanism must be tightened with a screwdriver and re-righted over time. Since the message is unreadable and since my black diamond poles lasted for over 2000 miles and never needed tightening, I did not carry a screw driver on my last long distance walk and my REI poles collapsed on me and I ended up with a concussion. I tried to state this on the REI website but they won’t allow me to post a criticism of their poles.

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