LEKI Micro Vario Carbon Review

Review by Angus Whitby.

“It’s like having four legs!”

Many moons ago, a photography buddy of mine invited me on a winter walking adventure. Our intention was to lug his panoramic camera up into the hills and capture some of the stunning winter wilderness on medium format film. One evening whilst trawling over maps and organizing kit in preparation for the trip, my adventure buddy produced a fancy set of brand new trekking poles. Until that point, I hadn’t really considered them necessary for our trip having previously dismissed the use of trekking poles for anyone under 100 years of age. The trip would represent a first for me, having never participated in a multi-day winter adventure in the snow. Compared to the usual equipment list for lightweight walking in the warmer months, everything about winter adventuring is heavy; Heavy sleeping, heavy snow tent and heaps of layers. Add to this, an exceptionally heavy camera and tripod and the necessary tools for winter exploration including snowshoes and a snow shovel, my knees were sure to suffer! I listened to my buddy’s rationale for his rather luxurious purchase and in the end acquired a relatively inexpensive set of aluminium telescopic trekking poles for the adventure.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you: it was an utter revelation.
As expected, the pack was 50% of my body weight and I’m certain without those poles, the experience would have been very different! Being able to use them to propel ones self on an incline, brace on a descent and to use them to ‘reach’ out to adjacent rocks for balance whilst navigating tricky passages was invaluable, particularly where progress was hampered by deep snow. It really was like having 4 legs! From that trip on, I haven’t ventured anywhere, summer or winter, without my trekking poles.

Trekking poles are particularly handy for navigating rocky terrain, as above on the Larapinta Trail, Australia.
Image by Danny Williams

Fast forward to March 2019. The location is the Vålådalen Nature Reserve in Sweden. The activity is snowshoeing. I have in hand a set of trekking poles, but not the battered, sweat-stained old friends of yester-Gus. No, I have something much fancier…

LEKI are an industry leader in the world of walking poles and make poles for a number of different outdoor pursuits including Trekking, Nordic Walking and Skiing. It’s difficult to re-invent the wheel (or in this case, the stick) but LEKI have produced something in the Micro Vario Carbon that is rather unique. Unlike the traditional telescopic trekking poles (that ‘telescope’ into themselves) the Micro Vario Carbon is a folding design comprised of 3 main segments connected by a central cord. Once fitted together, a short length of pole concealed within the handle section extends and tensions the cord, locking the entire assembly in place. The Micro Vario Carbon also incorporates length adjustment via locking lever, which permits the user to set the pole between 110 and 130cm in length depending on their height. (Shorter users be advised that there is a Micro Vario Carbon Lady available with a slightly shorter 100-120cm adjustment range). As the name suggests, the entire pole is 100% carbon fiber with a total weight of 480g per pair. The result is an unbelievably lightweight and compact package.

Compact / 10.
Image: Angus Whitby

The Micro Vario Carbon isn’t a new product by any means and has been a popular model for sometime, winning numerous international outdoor awards during its time. The big change for LEKI’s latest incarnation of the Micro Vario Carbon is the addition of the ELD (External Locking Device). Buzzwords and acronyms aside, what previously was a small metal pin that popped out to lock the folding mechanism in place has been replaced by an elegant push button design with a smooth fairing to prevent it being accidentally pressed. I think it’s a welcome change from the old system and will make deploying and compacting the poles much easier, particularly when wearing gloves or for those with wrist injuries or arthritis that would otherwise struggle with the earlier push-button design.

The ELD – External Locking Device: a valuable addition.
Image: Angus Whitby

Field Testing

On my adventures in Sweden, these poles proved invaluable. Even before I’d set out, I didn’t have to worry about them being damaged in transit as I could fold them up and discreetly stow them in my pack, taking up little more real estate than a standard Nalgene water bottle. Gone are the days where you have to stop and attach your walking poles to your pack via fiddly little toggles and straps for sections of trail where trekking poles are not appropriate – the Micro Vario Carbon will easily stow in a water bottle pocket.

Complete with a set of LEKI’s Snow Flake snow baskets to prevent the poles from sinking in soft snow, the poles performed admirably, allowing me to power through soft snow with heavy pulk in tow, an experience very reminiscent of my first winter trip all those years ago. I was a little dubious of the thin wrist straps (my previous poles have always had a little more padding in this department) but they’re soft against the skin, are easy to adjust and are very flexible making hand placement changes a lot easier than thicker but inflexible straps. Likewise, the Micro Vario Carbon has an extended grip allowing for numerous places to hold the pole (useful for off-camber traverses). I made it a habit of folding the poles overnight and keeping them in the vestibule of the tent as snowfall overnight could easily conceal gear left on the ground. The folding design did prove troublesome at -20oC as snow trapped beneath the ELD button prevented it from being depressed but this was easy enough to clear.

Mush mush!
Image: Angus Whitby

Who are these poles for?

  • Walkers and hikers, young and old! If you’ve never used trekking poles before, the Micro Vario Carbon would make an excellent first pair.
  • If you’re looking to upgrade your old walking poles from a telescopic model, you’ll certainly appreciate the smaller pack size and are likely to enjoy a lighter weight pole at the same time!
  • Travellers specifically after a pole that will easily stow in a pack for airline or rail travel.

Further notes

LEKI produce the Micro Vario Carbon in an Anti-Shock model, which adds a small shock absorber to the bottom of the lower section. If you are in the market for a set of folding poles for winter exploration and alpine use, I would strongly recommend looking the LEKI’s Micro Vario Carbon Strong; a beefed up version of the standard carbon model with a 120-140cm adjustment range that retains the earlier pin design. Sadly they’re a wee bit too long for myself but if you’re a taller / heavier user, or are just generally a little harder on your equipment, they’re definitely worth a look.

Winter touring in Sweden.
Image by Lode van Ierssel

Product Specifications

  • Material: Carbon Fibre
  • Grip: ‘Aergon Thermo Long’ Foam
  • Collapsed Length: 40cm
  • Usable length: Standard Model: 110-130cm (suitable for users up to 188cm), Lady Model: 100-120 (suitable for users up to 170cm).
  • Weight: Approx. 480g
  • Supplied with plastic tip protectors and a small mesh storage sack.

Recommended!

Thanks for reading!

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