Back in November 18 I reviewed a new pole (by a different brand) and made a comment about the extension locking system always trapping the tip of my thumb when collapsing the poles. Well in the continual search for micro-improvements, it appears that LEKI were either reading that review, or more likely aware of the problem already, which seems to be common to most poles of the pop-out design. The new Carbon Black Series arrived in December with a new locking system that requires no thumb button manipulation.
Initially I was somewhat puzzled. You get these poles out of the packaging and try to set them up, and there is no obvious method. However going back to the basic rule of rule of RTM - 'read the manual' (more usually RTFM actually), all was revealed. Since no-one does read manuals though I might not be the only person to struggle with the operation first off. But that is also testimony to how significant the difference in operation is; these new poles are genuinely novel.
Construction and design
The main design and construction is much the same as the LEKI Micro Vario Carbon that we reviewed in the group test of May 2017. The handle is an 'edgeless and ultralight Aergon Thermo grip' which is a padded foam-style grip for the main part, with raised sections to locate fingers and the base of the hand, and a plastic head with a rubber top. It is all smoothly aligned, hence 'edgeless'. The fit is extremley comfortable and solid and the bulbous egg-shaped top section gives an alternative grip method for those who like holding their poles from above - sometimes useful on descents. This new version also still has the extra foam padding below the handle, which is great in particular for people who don't use their leashes and like to be able to move their grip up and down the pole.
The leash system is a thin nylon fabric-style strap which is also common with the Micro Vario Carbon version, and with which we had some small issues in our group test. It has a slightly unobvious adjustment system which involves pulling the strap upwards with some force in order to release the locking mechanism. For those who use their straps simply as a loop around the wrist so that you don't drop the pole, these are ideal straps since they are light enough to keep out of the way and easy to thread when you start using the poles. If you prefer to use the strap actively inside the palm of your hand as extra push down support, then they are slightly less good. They are a little awkward to get properly aligned and untwisted and the edges do end up cutting slightly into the skin if you aren't wearing gloves. It is a minor issue, but people who are very keen on actively using straps to their maximum when walking may prefer slightly thicker, better-padded leashes.
The poles consist of five sections which compress and fold into three sections with a tidy length of 40cm. The lower four sections are joined by a tough plastic-coated cable with the top two sections retracting inside the handle. So far no difference from the Micro Vario Carbon; but this is where it all changes.
Setting up the poles now requires you to first release the top pole clasp and then pull all the sections downwards as far as they will go. Once you have reached the limit you notice a green section just hidden in the top handle. A further tug then exposes this and clicks the poles into a rigid position. A second tug releases it. Once extended there is a tiny 0.5cm bounce in the system. This is much less than the Micro Vario which has quite a bit of extension when fully deployed.
The handle and the top section can be adjusted using a simple slider system and a locking clasp. The strength of the lock can be fine-tuned using a bike wheel-type twist mechanism but be careful here - I lost one of the tightening nuts, having loosened it too much on one occasion.
Overall the new system doesn't save much in setting up time, in fact it is no different really. It is still incredibly easy though, and the poles are versatile for a quick set up and down. It also gets round the afore-mentioned thumb tip pinch problem we had with the older button release versions.
Weight and robustness
At 404g for the pair, these are slightly lighter than the Micro Vario Carbon version. Added to that the lack of flex once under tension means that they feel even more robust and solid than their already sturdy predecessors.
I hear the odd report from people who seem to manage to break their carbon poles quite regularly. I think that either I am not using them in as extreme locations as these people, or I am lucky enough to only be using the top brands which are well made enough to stand the abuse. Either way, the previous LEKI poles that I have had for three years now are still going strong, and these seem to drop straight into the same bracket of robustness.
Size range and folded length
The usable size range is from 110cm to 130cm which is fairly standard. Those taller than 6 feet/180cm may wish for an extra 5cm when descending but those egg-shaped handle tops do allow you to grab them from above and gain some extra reach on steep ground. They fold down to a compact 40cm long and come with a nice red carrying bag and stoppers for the tips so that you can easily include them in your luggage without compromising the bag fabric, or stash them away in or on your pack after the walk-in.
As with the Micro Vario Carbon poles, they come with only one fixed basket described as a Nordic Walking basket, although they are removable so you could use other baskets if they were similar internal diameter. For a pole of this quality, an extra wide wet ground or soft snow basket would have been nice. You can buy padded tip covers for solid ground but these are not included with the poles; given the price tag, all the extras should arguably have come as standard.
This is another superb and well-designed pole that improves on the previous version. The new set-up mechanism may become the standard that others start to follow. As with their predecessor, they do have a high price tag and only one basket comes supplied, which seems mean for the money. The straps might not be to everyone's liking, but this is only likely to bother people that take their walking pole straps seriously (rather than just using them as glorified retainers). Overall, it's a very solid - yet lightweight- offering from LEKI.
With your foldable carbon companion, you're ready for any terrain.
Thanks to the Core Locking System, you can assemble and disassemble it at lightning speed and it even fits in your hand luggage due to its small pack size.
- Weight (pair): 404g (our measure)
- Folded length: 40cm
- Size range: 110 - 130cm
- 5 section carbon construction
- Continuous internal wire tensioner with a Speedlock 2 for length adjustment
- Single removeable basket
- Carrying bag
For more info see leki.com