Leki Tourstick Vario Carbon V pole review
A while ago we reviewed some Leki Toustick Vario Carbon poles (you can read the review here) and, despite us openly claiming previous allegiance to Black Diamond models, we really liked the Leki's. We actually liked them so much that they have become the most used option in the Peak Mountaineering pole cupboard (yes…..we really do have a cupboard just for poles!).
We were delighted, then, to recently be asked to review the latest development in Leki pole technology. The new Leki Tourstick Vario Carbon V has all the bones of the other top end choices in the Leki range and adds some interesting new design features. It looked like our upcoming visit to the Alps would provide the chance to give them a proper test……
So, where to start? The Tourstick Vario Carbon V has it all really. The design is the now familiar avalanche probe Z pole style which I reckon, if your budget allows, is the only type worth purchasing nowadays (Leki do still suggest the traditional 3 section poles offer more security reserves for large or heavy people though). Z poles offer rapid deployment by simply dropping the lower sections and then pulling them into place where they will clip securely. They also allow for a compact folded length that allows easy storage inside a rucksack (much better than fastening to the outside when doing activities like climbing) and the design makes them comparatively light. The Tourstick Vario Carbon V’s weigh 276 grams per pole and the folded length is approximately 40 cms.
The disadvantage of Z poles can be that some are a fixed length but many manufacturers get around this by adding an adjustable section and the Vario Carbon V’s feature this too. This allows, via a Speedlock 2 locking system, up to 20 cms of rapid adjustment which means you can have it longer or shorter depending on terrain, whether in ascent or descent and, of course, the height of the user. The adjustment range is between 115 and 125cm.
The Speedlock 2 system adjusts so quickly because it features a ratchet lever style closure which presses the adjuster firmly against the inner pole. I have favoured this system since it came onto the market years ago because it is all external leaving no fiddly inner parts to jam or fail and it is less prone to becoming frozen. It can also be easily adjusted with one hand and works easily with gloves on. The Speedlock 2 system also features a tensioning wheel that allows simple and effective adjustment of the amount of force with which the cam grips the pole shaft. This adjuster is a great design that I haven’t seen on poles before.
The Toursticks feature, as is common with Z pole models from many manufacturers, a cable that runs through the inside of the pole sections. This works a bit like the elastic that links tent pole sections or, more exactly, the cable inside an avalanche probe. I say more exactly because in a tent pole it is enough for the elasticity of the shock cord to hold the pole sections together whereas in an avalanche probe the cable needs to lock the sections in place as the pole will be both pushed into snow and then pulled back out. With Z poles they need the same push pull functionality.
So, the Tourstick cable is made from Filigrane tensioning rope with a protective PE coating and when the sections are pulled into place (and secured with a click into place push button) this gets tensioned. For this to work efficiently the cable needs to be at the correct tightness level and with some earlier Z pole models users had to adjust this manually. In the Toursticks Leki have added a spring which ‘guarantees optimum tension and automatic rope length adjustment’. That all sounds complicated but all you really need to know is that the cable is always at the correct tightness.
The upper two Tourstick sections are made from carbon fibre which offers excellent structural rigidity and light weight. These sections are coated for durability. The lower section is made from aluminium which provides better durability in areas where the pole is likely to be contacting skis or rocks. It is a combination offering a perfect balance of light weight and durability.
Beyond that, the Toursticks have ultralight Aergon Mid Grip handles with a beautifully crafted extension section. The handle and extension are thermally insulating and can be used in either hand. The standard baskets fitted to the Toursticks are a broad diameter model well suited to soft snow (or boggy Peak District moorland!). However, they also feature tool less replacement making it very easy to swap for smaller baskets if you are using the poles in other conditions.
The final surprise with the Toursticks that we tested was the Trigger S Vertical leash system. This is a really clever system whereby the leash is attached via a clip in point at the back of the handle. A Flexband is then worn over the hand and it keeps the leash in the optimum position for power transmission. This also offers additional safety because, in an emergency, the loop is designed to detach which would arguably be much better if you were hurtling down a slope or were caught in an avalanche, than having the leashes stay attached.
The system fastens over your hand or gloves by sliding over the hand (and a second loop sits in the crook of the thumb) before securing with a velcro fastening strip. Once fitted it can stay in place and the same applies if wearing gloves as, if you don’t fasten the hand strap too tight, it is easy to slip them on and off at the same time as your gloves.
The typical orientation for poles will be with your hand pushing down onto the pole but Leki have also considered that, depending on the position required, users may at times also need to push down on the top of the pole with their palm or may need to grip at a diagonal. Cleverly, the hand leash incorporates an elasticated section that offers a range of likely positions without needing to unfasten the leash.
We were heading to the French Alps for skiing and a bit of ski touring (although the weather didn’t help too much with the touring plan) and so it was a perfect chance to test the Toursticks in their natural environment (I do see these as a brilliant winter pole although they will perform in any conditions). This visit also gave us the chance to get a range of views and by the end of the trip 13 people had used them for everything from piste skiing through to walking forest trails and in a ski touring mode.
First impressions from everyone was that they are, like the Leki products we have used before, a beautifully crafted product. The attention to detail is superb and their red and black design is very smart. Leki provide a drawcord storage bag and this is the first ever pair of poles I have used that come in a neat presentation box. Very neat.
The second observation from most users is that they are very light. When you first see them you’ll expect them to be considerably heavier than they feel when you pick them up. This is in part due to the combination of carbon fibre and alloy for the tubes combined with other lightweight design details. The upper sections are carbon fibre but Leki believe the lower section, which is more prone to damage, is better constructed from aircraft alloy. It is certainly a combination that has stood up well to lift queue abuse over the last week and I can vouch for the longer term durability of this combination because the other Leki Toursticks I tested (and have used extensively since) use the same material combo.
Fixing the poles together couldn’t be easier. We tend to hold the handle, let the lower sections drop down and them simply pull them into place until the lock button clicks. Leki have added alloy sleeve reinforcements at the joins and this, as well as adding strength, means the sleeve sections slide together very easily.
The beauty of having detachable leashes is, of course, that you could leave the leashes off if needed. The handle is very comfortable and it may be enough just to hold it. People sometimes worry about dropping a pole and losing it but in many years I have never had that happen. I know all the research says that poles are more efficient (and so offer more protection to knees etc) when used in pairs but I often just take a single pole which I like to swap between hands. When criss crossing slopes or in other circumstances where switching between hands then it can be more hassle to use the leash. I like the flexibility of detachability.
If the leash is used it is a simple job to feed this over the hand and then velcro adjust it. The leashes are specifically left and right handed but, once you have got used to the fitting, it is an easy job. To attach the leash to the pole you click down the switch on the top of the pole handle which slides a pin aside and the small cord loop then slots into place. Releasing the switch locks the leash securely. To remove, the button is pressed down and the cord loop can be slid off.
I won’t deny that this takes some getting used too and we certainly had a few choice words from some of the testers at times. Other that tried for a short time never really got beyond using 2 hands for this operation (pressing the switch with one and then pulling up the loop with the other. The biggest test was for lift served pisted skiing where everything happens quite fast as you reach the barrier and then the chair itself
I used the poles more than anyone else over the week and developed a system that worked well (even though it was still affected by the type of gloves I wore). To fit the leashes I could simply slot the cord loops in and then pull down until they were secured. This soon became quick and second nature. Then, to release, I pushed the release button with my thumb and flicked the cord loop out with my index finger. This also became quicker with use and practice - although I did fluff it and resort to using my other hand a number of times!
I have quite large hands and, especially when wearing the Flexband over well insulated gloves, the fit was snug. This was an advantage when trying to release the leash and some other testers with smaller hands found that the looser the leash the harder this action was.
All other features of the Tourstick worked superbly and every aspect of these high end poles has clearly been carfefully designed and executed.
Everyone that tried the Leki Tourstick Vario Carbon V was extremely impressed by the design, the features and the performance of this top quality pole. The versatile design means they will perform for everything from hillwalking to skiing and the legendary Leki quality is evident in all aspects of the design and construction. The poles are expensive but will serve you well.
The jury is generally out on the Trigger S Vertical leash attachment but I have come to see them as a useful and worthwhile innovation for some activities. Having said that, I have created this view following a period of discovery and practice and I will warn potential buyers that you will need to be willing to practice and experiment with the system - don’t expect to master it immediately.
The Tourstick Vario Carbon V is a great product and I applaud Leki for their innovative approach to development and research. They retail at £160 and full details are available on the Leki website here. There is also a useful video below showing the Trigger S Vertical system below (this features a different type of pole but is still worth watching to see the leash system in action)....
Posted by Paul
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