Leki joins the carbon trekking pole club with the three-section Carbon Ergometric. Featuring angled foam grips, padded and adjustable straps and interchangeable baskets, the Carbons take up less than 25 inches for stowage and weigh a scant 6.2 ounces each.
- Excellent build quality
- Light weight for a three-section pole – 6.2 ounces each
- Comfortable grips and straps
- Dependable joint locks don’t slip on the go
- High load-bearing capacity
- Effective vibration damping
- Collapse to a short 24 inch (61.5 cm) length
What’s Not So Good
- Stubborn length adjustment
- Straps can’t be removed without cutting them off
- At $199.95, they’re quite expensive
|2006 Leki Makalu Ultralite Carbon|
Trekking Pole Type
|Three-section collapsible, non-shock absorbing|
|Full carbon fiber|
|Carbide flextip (replaceable)|
|Angled, EVA foam and plastic|
|Padded webbing, adjustable length, adjustable tension, non-removable|
|Yes – diameter: 2 in (5 cm)|
|Screw-on Leki small trekking baskets, field-removable and interchangeable with other Leki baskets|
Weight Per Pole
|6.2 oz (175 g)|
|Minimum: 24.25 in (61.5 cm), maximum: 51.5 in (131 cm)|
The Leki Carbon Ergometric poles are light and strong. Trekking poles have come a long way in recent years, and the introduction of carbon fiber shafts dropped pole weight significantly below what’s possible using even the lightest aluminum alloys. In addition, carbon poles are stiffer and offer better vibration damping for greater comfort on the trail. At just over 6 ounces each (without baskets), the Leki Carbons are among the lightest of three-section poles. The grips are EVA foam with rigid plastic tops. They are molded to give them an angled shape that provides a more natural motion on the trail. The effective angle is less than the older Leki poles with bent shafts at the grip, but is still noticeable in use.
Foam-and-plastic grips are angled, not the shafts themselves as in other Leki models. Padded straps are adjustable.
The webbing straps are faced inside with absorbent cloth. They’re comfortable but do accumulate some sweat and rain. They also rub off sunscreen, resulting in some odd tan/burn/white patterns on the back of the hand. Strap length is adjustable, and can be locked using tensioning screws atop the grips. The straps are not designed to be removed so anybody wanting to save their weight will have to cut them off, making it a full-on commitment.
Shaft length adjusts using Leki’s newest SLS system. They lock quickly and if tightened adequately don’t slip in the field; this plays an important role in building confidence for using the poles in dicey situations. The test Leki poles don’t adjust in length easily, requiring some muscle to get to the desired position (this is a pneumatic issue rather than a friction one, as trapped air in the sections takes awhile to escape, rather like a tire pump). The bottom and middle sections have numbered gradations (in centimeters) to ease the task of matching pole lengths or recalling preferred uphill, downhill and level-ground lengths.
The newest SLS expander (left) is a departure from the previous Leki style, and they really lock down, tight. Length markings simplify returning the poles to favored settings (right).
The Leki Carbon Ergometric poles collapse quite small – a quarter-inch over two feet to be exact – making them easy to stow on or even in a backpack. In case you might not think of this as a big deal, my older Leki Makalu three-section poles are a whopping half-foot longer when completely collapsed, meaning they jut well above my backpack when stowed there for bushwhacking. Little things can make a big difference.
Shorter length when collapsed means less chance of snagging poles while stowed.
Leki provides the carbon poles with their small-diameter trekking baskets that are threaded and easily removable (but won’t come off unexpectedly). I normally leave them on but also swap them for snow baskets when walking in the white stuff. Pole ends are plastic with concave-face carbide tips. The tips grip well on smooth surfaces like granite and glare ice. Leki designs the plastic tips to first flex, then break before the pole itself is damaged; but in using three different pairs of Leki poles I’ve not broken one, so I can’t verify that premise. They’re friction-fit and user-replaceable if you’re very strong and have a bench vice. (Editor’s note: I can verify that they do break-away if over-stressed as claimed and replacements are inexpensive and easy to replace – a good, solid design. DJ)
I typically use poles for half to three-quarters of my hiking day. I generally set and forget the length and the Carbon Ergometric system rarely slips, usually holding the setting all day. There are few things more disconcerting than having a pole slide closed when I’m placing a good deal of my weight on it, so I appreciate these adjusters’ tenacity.
The light weight truly makes a difference in ease of arm movement and surprisingly, pole placement. I find it a bit easier to plant the lighter pole where I want it when I’m handling a tricky path or in the midst of stumbling. Another lightweight pole benefit is that I’m able to walk with both poles in one hand and my GPS in the other (a maneuver not as easy with heavy poles).
Doubling as a shelter pole, I found the Leki Carbon Ergometric poles well suited to the task of supporting my GoLite Hex 2. I join them using a Black Diamond Pole Link converter, which connects them in an overlapping fashion at the grip ends and makes a strong and rigid assembly that fends off brisk winds. Used singly as tarp poles presents no problems whatsoever.
|Shelter type and pole length required||Usable with this shelter?|
|Gossamer Gear/Tarptent Squall Classic (42 in/107 cm)||Yes|
|Tarptent Virga 2 / Squall 2 and Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo / Europa (45 in/114 cm)||Yes|
|GoLite Trig 2 (48 in/123 cm)||Yes|
|MSR Missing Link (54 in/137 cm)||No|
Light weight is its own virtue.
The Leki Carbon poles are stiff and rigid; I’ve never used a better three-section pole. I can confidently plant my body-plus-pack weight on a single pole, or hop over obstacles supported by the pair without excess flexing or joint-slippage. As a strength and bend test, I can place most of my weight on a single pole while wearing a backpack – a combined load of roughly 200 pounds (length was set to 120 cm). Under this weight, the poles bow only slightly and there’s no hint of impending failure and no joint slippage (presuming I’ve tightened them well).
The carbon shafts are stiffer, lighter, and offer better vibration damping than comparable aluminum shafts.
The Carbon Ergometric poles have a resonance I can see and feel, but the carbon shafts and EVA foam grips dampen it well and it’s neither distracting nor fatigue inducing on the trail. The poles are quiet on the trail and easy on the hands, differing notably from many aluminum poles in this regard. I never once wished for a shock-absorber system (acknowledging that shock-absorption and vibration-damping are two different things).
The test pair didn’t suffer more than minor cosmetic damage (some surface dings and scratches) and did endure the occasional direct blow to the shaft that could well have dented aluminum poles. (As with carbon bicycle frames, the user is well advised to inspect the poles occasionally for shaft damage that might lead to catastrophic failure.) Leki offers a lifetime warranty against shaft breakage, so your investment is covered if breakage should occur.
The carbide-and-plastic flex tips and the small trekking baskets are the same ones Leki has used for years, and have proven to wear well. The Leki straps show no wear, nor do the grips. The hard plastic grip caps keep the EVA foam from being chewed up on rocks.
The Leki carbide flex tips and pliable trekking baskets have earned a reputation for toughness and easy replacement. Expanders are sealed against dirt and water.
The downside of the Carbon Ergometric poles is their price; at almost $200 these are among the most expensive trekking poles made. By comparison, the Komperdell C3 offers similar performance for $50 less. The high price’s sting will lessen considerably if they serve well for several seasons; however, Leki only offers a one year warranty on their carbon fiber trekking poles.
Measuring Progress – The Carbon Ergometric vs. the Makalu Ti COR-TEC PA/AS
I did a side-by-side comparison of the Leki Carbons to my five-year-old aluminum Leki Titanium-series COR-TEC PA/AS poles. The two models are set apart by some key differences besides the shaft material, such as antishock and grips but the differences between them are quite interesting. (Note: despite the name, the Titanium-series poles are aluminum that’s alloyed with some titanium.)
|Leki Carbon Ergometric||Leki Makalu Ultralite Titanium COR-TEC PA/AS|
|Weight per pole (no basket)||6.2 oz||9 oz|
|Collapsed length (in)||24.25 (61.5 cm)||30.25 (76.5 cm)|
|Maximum length (in)||51.5 (131 cm)||53 (134.5 cm)|
I might once have offered a shrug at the approximately 3-ounce per pole difference, but have since had my eyes opened to what a difference it makes on the trail. It’s perhaps more telling to think of the metal poles as being about fifty-percent heavier. The carbon poles are also distinctly stiffer, bending much less than the aluminum poles when stressed side by side. This was frankly, a surprise. The carbon poles also dampen vibration much better than the aluminum model, and the amplitude of their vibration is less. My conclusion is that the Carbon Ergometric’s lighter weight is coupled with increased performance. While I don’t miss the shock absorption system of my older poles, I still enjoy the COR-TEC grips and greater grip angle.
Old (left) and new (right) grips and grip angles.
I can report that the Leki Carbons float, and that they head downstream grip-end first. I know this because I disrupted my test by knocking one into a snowmelt-fattened Sierra stream, losing sight of it in half a minute despite racing in pursuit. Several hours following the bank downstream never turned it up, leaving me with a single pole and hope that sometime this summer, a fisherman will find the best wading staff ever. Luckily, Leki’s excellent and understanding customer service folks took pity on me after my gear-testing blunder and sent me a new pole, so I was able to complete my field trials. It’s actually helpful to know these poles float, because in better circumstances they’d be retrievable from the water.
In the period I had only one Leki Carbon I tested it in mixed pairs with other poles. This was instructive in revealing differences, both obvious and subtle. The Carbon’s stiffness and vibration damping were unmatched in my comparisons.
Ergometric angled grips, dependable shaft length adjusters, lockable strap length…and they float!
Recommendations for Improvement
Despite being an excellent product overall, I would suggest the following improvements for the Carbon Ergometric poles:
- Make straps non-destructively removable for those who use straps only occasionally.
- Provide an adjustment key for strap lock screws.
- Reduce the price to make it more competitive.