Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles Review
It has been a pleasure to test a variety of Leki poles for skiing and general mountain use over recent years. They have always proved to be both innovatively designed and of stylish and high quality build. Amongst these I have enjoyed testing incarnations of their superb Micro Vario Carbon model and so, when they contacted me with a request to review the latest incarnation, I was very happy to say yes.....
The Micro Vario Carbon’s are made from 100% carbon aimed at creating a lightweight and yet very rigid pole. They are constructed in the now familiar avalanche pole style where the sections clip together and are held in place by a continuous wire tensioner. I have to say that, having used at least 10 types of poles with this system, I would never consider going back to using a ‘traditional’ closure system for general mountain use (although I consider the standard style still well suited to skiing).
The pole clips open and releases using an interesting new click lock system which I will explain in more detail later. They also have a adjustable section that offers 20 cms of adjustment. This means they can be fine tuned to fit different users but I also vary the pole length a lot during use anyway - I will set them longer for descents and sometimes even set one longer than the other if traversing steep ground and want my uphill pole to be shorter. The adjustable section slides up and down from in and out from near the handle section and locks using Leki’s Speedlock 2 system.
The handle of the Micro Vario Carbon is made from Leki’s edgeless thermo aergon grip. This is a dense and durable foam that is moulded to have a very smooth profile (hence ‘edgeless’), but with finger grips moulded into it to offer a very comfortable and efficient grip. At the top there is a contoured ‘bulb’ that allows you to put you hand over the top offering an alternative grip position which works very well if you are descending steep ground. The foam also continues some distance down the shaft allowing you to hold the pole further down. This is a very useful feature when contouring steep slopes.
The wrist strap is constructed from an extremely low profile broad tape that Leki refer to as their skin strap. This is made from a strong yet breathable material designed to be comfortable in use and yet thin enough to not get in the way if you don’t need to use it. The skin strap length can be adjusted with a small cam system located in the handle top. Finally, Leki supply them with a small size but removable basket and mesh storage bag.
The Vario Carbon’s have been used on various day walks in the Peak District, Snowdonia and Scotland and they recently accompanied me on a trekking trip to the Nepalese Himalayas. The terrain has varied between rock, grass, snow and icy snow.
The Micro Vario Carbon's come with a drawstring storage bag that serves its purpose perfectly. It is made of very thin nylon and weighs just about nothing. However, just as it is great for storing the poles in your gear store, it also helps keep the inside of your pack clean if the poles are muddy and, like me, you prefer to carry them inside your pack .
Once out of the bag, you will want to check out the styling. I actually really like the graphics and subtle styling of the pair I received. Leki certainly produce plenty of more colourful products and so this is an interesting departure - but I think the darker blues and blacks looks great.
Next, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how light the poles are - particularly because they look quite burly in construction. The poles weigh 234 grams per unit and this low weight is possible because of the carbon construction and weight saving features like the stripped down wrist straps. Avalanche probe style poles are generally also going to save weight because the construction needs less tubing compared to the pole type where one tube slides inside another.
Putting the poles together is a breeze. All you need to do is hold the handle and let the lower sections drop down. Next, you slide the locking section into place until you hear the reassuring click as they lock together. It only takes a few seconds and then you are ready. Besides that, there is the Speedlock 2 clamp that secures the extension section. Speedlock 2 works really well and one feature I also appreciate is how easy it is to maintain in the field. If the tension needs adjusting all you need to do is screw the thumbwheel by hand - no tools needed here.
The extension section allows adjustment between 110cms and 130cms. While you might leave it adjusted at your preferred length most of the time, this adjustment does offer the opportunity to change the length for steep descents or if the poles are being shared between users. I am a mere 5’8” in height and find the mid range length perfect for most situations. You might want to check they will work for you if you are particularly short or tall.
The handle of the Micro Vario Carbon utilises Leki’s edgeless Aergon Ultralight Thermo grip. This is a very comfortable dense and durable foam that is designed to fit your hand comfortably - and it certainly is very comfortable. I have quite large hands and find the grip is spot on. However, as Leki say the Aergon grip will suit any hand I also had some friends try it and they also found it very comfortable. This is helped by the shaped finger grip that provides really good positioning for the fingers.
I very rarely use the wrist loops on trekking poles as I want to be able to change hand position and don’t like to be ‘locked in’ if I slip. For this reason, I think the very lightweight wrist loop is genius. It weighs virtually nothing, sits comfortably out of the way and yet it is there if you need it.
Having said that, I know many people really like to use them and so I have spent a reasonable amount of time using them during the testing process. I have still found them fine. The broad tape is comfortable and they seem to ventilate well. I also found that in winter conditions they didn’t absorb water and freeze up as some others are prone to doing. There is an adjuster in the top if needed.
The other features of the handle that I really like are the foam extension section that stops someway down the handle. I use this a lot to allow a different holding position if traversing steep ground. Lastly, there is a shaped plastic hand grip on the very top of the pole which is great to hold when, for example, depending very steep ground. The handles of your poles are the thing that is really going to make a difference to your carrying comfort and I really feel that Leki have got the Vario Carbon spot on - but do consider whether that wrist strap arrangement will suit your requirements.
The carbon construction creates a very stable pole that is reassuringly robust. This is helped by the wire cable core that clamps the sections together very efficiently and there really is very little play once the pole sections are fastened.
The poles come with Leki’s Nordic walking basket which is a small size option. I find this suitable for many situations but it can be swapped for a larger snow basket when needed. The only comment on this is that, on a premium pole of this type, I would expect Leki to include both larger and smaller options as standard.
Finally, after bashing across that moor or approaching that climb, you’ll want to put your poles away. In all previous avalanche probe style poles that I’ve used the closure system has been a metal pin that slots into a hole. This secures the poles well but, when time to put them away, it is extremely easy to get the skin of your finger or nail caught as you press the button to close it. On some poles I almost fear putting them away in anticipation of this trapping action.
So, I really love what Leki have done on these. The pin is safely covered by a push button closure system that works superbly. All you need to do is press and the pin releases without the worry about a nipped finger. It is really superb and a great evolution in the design of this style of pole. Oh, and once they are folded down the 38cm overall length means they will fit easily into a rucksack. Spot on.
The Leki Vario Carbon really are the perfect pole for many users. Leki have created a brilliant product that will be a faithful companion on many adventures. They are durably constructed, superbly designed and I really do think they have thought of everything. You will need to decide if the wrist strap suits your requirements and it would have been nice to have a snow basket included, but, if pushed for a score, I really would give these a perfect ten.
There is plenty of information about the Vario Carbon on the Leki website here and they retail for £164.95.
Reviewed and posted by Paul