Leki Micro Trail Poles Review

22nd Aug 2018

Leki Micro Trail Nordic Walking Poles

I received an email from Leki asking if I wanted to review some of their Micro Trail poles and, as I usually do, I decided to do some research before deciding whether to go ahead.  The Micro Trail, as I soon discovered is designed for Nordic walking and trail running.  I do a fair amount of trail running and have used poles for this, but Nordic walking was completely new to me. 

I was sure I’d be able to review the poles for trail running but, with regards to Nordic walking, I really didn’t know if I had enough knowledge of the activity to do the product justice.  Luckily, a friend who is quite a Nordic walking regular said she’d give me some instruction and told me to just dive in and give it a go.  Leki got the poles in the post and I’m glad they did……

Features

I have used trekking poles for many years and have previously reviewed several Leki models.  I have always found them to be extremely well designed and beautifully constructed - Infact I haven’t experienced any Leki product that hasn't performed perfectly.

So, hopes for these poles was high and when they arrived, as always,  they were very nicely packed up in a branded box.  I opened it up to reveal a product that I was both familiar with and yet also rather unsure about.  The poles look like thin trekking poles with tiny baskets and very straight cork handles.  Very nice looking, but certainly different to what I am familiar with.  Leki had sent me their Micro Trail which they describe as ‘the ultimate trail running folding pole or packable Nordic walking pole.’  They sounded perfect for my requirements.

The Micro Trail is a full carbon model in the Z pole style (folds like an avalanche pole) with the poles linked by a durable internal plastic covered cord.  They weigh a very light 188 grams and the 120 cm length I requested has a folded pole length of only 38 cm.

The wrist leashes of the Micro Trail use the Trigger Shark Active strap for a better fit and more direct power transfer along with the Trigger Shark 2.0 handle which allows quick release of the strap and has a part cork covered handle.  

They are a fixed length pole available in 5cm increments from 105 to 130cm length.  Getting the right length is very important but I found the Pole Length Advisor facility on the Leki website made it easy to choose (available here).  They feature Leki’s Trail Tip which, for those unfamiliar with this type of pole, is a streamlined plastic base with metal end tip.  The Micro Trail is as stripped down as possible but has all the features you should need.  

What is Nordic Walking?

According to my Nordic walking friend, the origins of Nordic walking lie in Finland where cross-country skiers started training for their winter activities by doing summer walking with just the ski poles.  They originally called it ski-walking and, by adapting their skiing skills into walking, they developed a very efficient walking style that allowed them to get great benefits that could be transferred into skiing.  

Eventually, suitable poles started being made commercially and more and more people started enjoying Nordic walking as an activity in its own right. Nowadays, the activity is enjoyed by many millions of people around the world and is rapidly growing in popularity.

Watching someone walk with Nordic poles looks quite unusual - it involves planting the poles ahead of the walker one at a time to help drive power into the stride.  As I found from sessions with my friend, the basic techniques are easy to learn (although you can spend a long time fine tuning your skills) and developing a smooth and flowing style is the way to ensure you are minimising energy output and maximising the benefits.  

It is suitable for all fitness levels and is actually a very sociable activity perfect for groups.  In the UK many groups are springing up and the Nordic Walking UK website here has lots of information.   

In Use

I naively turned up for my first Nordic walking session wondering why I couldn’t just using trekking poles and, although in theory you could get away with doing so, it was soon evident that there are several key design requirements that set poles like the Micro Trail’s apart for this activity.

The leash system is very significant because, as I soon discovered, when Nordic walking the aim is to drive power through the arm in a particular way and this requires a leash that allows this efficient energy transfer.  The Micro Trail features Leki’s carefully designed Trigger Shark 2.0 and Trigger Shark Active Strap.  The strap is a harness style system that fits around the thumb and over the back of the hand.  It is extremely comfortable to wear and allows excellent power transfer.  This isn’t my first experience with this system as I have used it for skiing on the Leki Tourstick Vario Carbon poles which I tested here and I so I have come to understand how good it is.  

On the Micro Trail Leki have thought long and hard about leash comfort because it is such a key part of their performance.  the leashes feature a breathable soft inner material for moisture transmission and comfort plus a carefully sculpted shape that ensures no overlapping material to cause friction and the skin and straight grip contact.  I have worn the straps both with and without gloves and they are equally comfortable either way.  

The other part of the system is the simple connection that allows them to be attached to the pole.  On the leash there is a durable cord loop which slides over a plastic peg on the pole and clips securely into place with a locking catch.  It only takes a second to connect them and then, to disconnect, you press a the release button on the top of the pole and the leash loop can be slid off.  It is very efficient and you soon get very slick at using it.

In use,  I actually found the release system less useful for Nordic Walking (as we were generally walking on terrain that didn’t require frequent connect and release) than I did for the varied terrain of trail running where I sometimes want to disconnect and hold the poles but then want to be able to quickly reconnect them.  It works superbly with one caveat - the release button is quite a long way from the connector so it can be tricky to reach up and release the connector when you are tightly strapped into the leash.  I got used to this and found ways around it, but I can’t really see why the two elements need to be so far apart.

Being used to the sculpted and well padded handles of trekking poles, the rather straight and unpadded plastic handles seem like they won’t be very comfortable.  Infact, with poles of this design the sculpted handles can be a hindrance and these work superbly because they combine so comfortably with the leashes.  Leki have added a cork front which is grippy and soaks up sweat effectively, but they are minimalist and don’t need to be anything else.  

The z pole design is perfect for poles of this type (infact, it is really the only type of system I use in any poles nowadays) because you can put the poles together even on the move.  You simply have to hold the handle, drop the sections and pull to click them together.  This is probably less of a factor for Nordic walking where you will only put them together once, but for trail running I don’t have them in use all the time and like to sometimes be able to pack them away.  

Once fastened together the poles are rigid and strong and Leki have built these for hard use.  This rigidity is partly due to the solid tube construction and also due to the strong linkage between the sections and the strong cable that runs through the sections to hold them together.  Leki have struck the perfect balance between strength and lightness.  

Pole diameter is also very important for poles of this type.  Leki use 16/14/14/14mm tubes which means, as well as them being sleek in use, that you can easily hold the whole folded pole in your hand if you are running with them packed away.  This is also helped by the short packed length (my 120cm poles are only 38cm long when folded).

The Micro Trails feature Leki’s Trail Tip which offers an extremely compact and light weight tip designed to offer, as Leki describe it, ‘precise pole planting and uncompromising grip.’  I agree with all these descriptors but, of course, a tip with a very narrow profile will sink in to very soft ground.  This is something to be aware of and adjust for, but for any hard packed ground or trail the tip is a real treat to use.

For trail running the Micro Trail has been an absolute pleasure to use and, although I am still fine tuning my Nordic walking technique, they work superbly for this too.  Even better,  as my technique improves I am really starting to see what the buzz about Nordic walking really is all about!

Using Poles for Trail Running

The benefits of poles for trail running has led to a fast spiral in the number of people using them - it wasn’t that long ago that it would be very unusual to see them on the trails or in races but nowadays they are popular and, particularly in many European races, you would very likely be in a minority to participate in a race without them.

They help with climbing uphill, aid the conservation of energy on long sections, assist with balance, reduce impact on descents and allow users to develop a more sustainable rhythm. I am a recent but very firm convert to using poles for trail running.

Summary

Leki have always impressed me with their high quality and thoughtfully designed products and the Micro Trail continues that trend.  If Nordic walking is your thing you’ll soon see they are top level performers and if you haven’t tried Nordic walking please do give it a go - it is suitable for all ages and fitness levels, can be done on any open ground, is a really sociable activity (if you get out with friends or a club) and is really good fun.  Similarly, if you are a trail runner and haven’t tried using poles I strongly advise you to give them a try - I really wasn’t sure what I would think and now wonder how I used to cope without them.   The Micro Trail’s cost £130 and full details are available on the Leki website here and please do check out the Leki informational video below.

Posted by Paul