Why use trekking poles for trail running?
Trekking poles have gotten lighter weight and more packable over the years. They are compact and easy to use. They can help you increase your speed, have better form and improve your performance. Those are just a few of the reasons to use them. We recommend them for anything from day hikes to backpacking to trail running.
Leki Trail Varios Trekking Poles Review
By Tahoe Mountain Sports Ambassador Mike Tebbut
At 6’2” and 165 pounds, I tend to put most equipment I use to the test, and a pair of running/trekking is no exception to that. I am fortunate to have the trail start 30 feet from my kitchen door in beautiful Kings Beach, CA at Lake Tahoe, opening to the huge network of terrain towards Truckee and Reno. There are endless miles of trails to link up, serving me and my long distance running habit very well.
I am a big fan of poles for backpacking, running steep trails like my favorite backyard trail that gains 870’ feet in ½ mile at an average grade of 29%, and when running ultra long distances like the 175 mile Tahoe Rim Trail. Back in 2015, I set the Unsupported Fastest Known Time on the TRT and used poles every step of the way. They became like natural extra limbs for me, especially crucial in the end miles as I would double pole plant at the bottom of a tall rock step and descend with all my weight on the poles as I swung softly into my next step, avoiding a little of the relentless knee pounding from running this far.
The Poles and Initial Impressions
The Trail Varios come with the hefty price tag of $219.95 and the carbon fiber poles are offered in two different sizes 105-120cm and 115-130cm. They weigh in at 470g (16.8oz) per pair, which is about about 3oz heavier and $20 more than Black Diamond’s equivalent adjustable Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking Pole. I have not used the BD trekking pole but did use their Distance Carbon Z Pole (non-adjustable length) successfully on my Tahoe Rim Trail Run. However, shortly after the TRT I snapped the carbon fiber shaft on one pole and broke the plastic cord that holds the poles together on another one. Black Diamond warrantied the broken shaft, but did not warranty the cord that broke and rendered the poles useless.
Upon receiving my new Leki poles, I knew they were going to be a more durable pole for the rigors I would soon put them through, and we all need a pole we can trust to make it to the end of the trail. I gave them the double pole plant test time after time, with the Trail Vario barely flexing under the stress of my full body weight. Everytime I did this with the BD Z Poles, they would flex considerably and I always feared of breaking them.
The Trigger Shark 2.0 Grip with detachable wrist strap seemed kind of cool and convenient. Though I was a little concerned with quickly snapping the nylon loop of cord on the wrist strap that snaps into the handle, but saw that it would be an easy DIY repair by tying on a new loop of cord. This is a new wrist strap system for me and would take some getting used to the different leverage and pull on these as opposed to a traditional wrist strap.
The Trail Vario is an adjustable five section collapsible pole, allowing for micro adjustments in length to accommodate everyone’s individual height and works great with lightweight backpacking tents that require a hiking pole as part of its structure. It has the shortest pack length of any Leki or Black Diamond pole at just 30cm.
These poles assemble/disassemble with the ease of a good avalanche probe or tent pole, in which you toss it out by the end and pull it tight as the parts all swiftly snap into place. This allows you to hardly break stride in your running when transitioning from using them on uphills to stowing them away on the downhills. It takes less than a second to push the wrist strap release button on top of the pole and release the wrist straps, and is the same when popping the wrist straps back in, making it super convenient if constantly transitioning between ups and downs and not breaking down your poles in between.
Impressions after 100+ miles of use
This pole is not quite as light as I would like, but the added weight is worth the additional durability this pole provides over other lighter weight poles on the market. Though I did get used to the snap in wrist strap system and like it, the jury is still out with me on whether I prefer a traditional wrist strap over this and the different leverage of pull it creates on the pole. Fortunately, Leki makes a near identical pole in the Micro Vario Black Carbon that has a traditional wrist strap, for those that find this preferable. I disassembled and assembled these poles many, many times while running and never had any problems. After popping the wrist straps on and off the poles countless times, the nylon loop attaching the wrist strap to the pole is proving way more durable than I would have ever thought.
They stow away well on my Ultimate Direction PB Adventure vest, in which I cut the bottom out of the outside gel pocket on the side of the water bottle, converting it into a sleeve and used in conjunction with one of the elastic water line loops, to have the poles remain securely in place during the most steep and jarring downhills I could find.
I really like these poles and find them to good fine line between weight and strength!
Say Yes to the Leki Micro Trail Vario
This review is from Rachel Mccullough.
A little background
I tested these poles over miles of hiking, both on-trail and off-trail, as close as my backyard and as far away as Yosemite. I’ve been hiking with poles for about 3 years now and I do remember it took a while to get used to hiking with them and being efficient before it became second nature. So, if you’re trying these out as your first poles, there could definitely be more of an adjustment than I talk about here. The key is to practice with them and soon you’ll love hiking with poles too. Plus, they’ll save your knees! These poles seem like they’d be great for running as well, but I haven’t tested them out for that yet.
Wow, these are sooooo light!
My poles before these were adjustable, heavy and not exactly collapsible. So, coming to these Lekis was like night and day. The funny thing is that until trying these I thought my standard poles were just fine.
Now I can’t imagine going back.
Especially since so many of my hikes are 20+ miles, just having a lighter weight will make the day a lot easier.
What I love about these Leki Trekking Poles
I didn’t have many complaints about my standard adjustable poles, but my main one was that they didn’t collapse small enough to fit into my smallest size day pack. My solution was to pawn them off on someone with a bigger day pack when we hit the 4th class hiking sections.
These Lekis completely solve that and might earn me some friends back. They quickly and easily fold into 3 segments in a z-like fashion. And it’s so easy and smooth that it’s not a big deal to keep changing your mind about whether you want them out for use or in your pack.
The Trigger Shark grips and straps
I know about this kind of strap from the alpine ski world, but if you haven’t seen them before, they are a special strap that fits your hand snugly. On the strap, there is a loop of cord in between your thumb and pointer finger that easily and quickly attaches and detaches from the pole.
I love the ease of getting in and out of the poles once I have the hand straps on. Each pole can be released with just the thumb of one hand, making it easy to ditch them for a minute to dig into your pack or go to the bathroom.
Never will I have to ask myself whether I should bring my poles. With these, the answer is always yes. They are super light and easy to stow, even in a small pack. They get me one step closer to switching over all my gear to newer lightweight versions for backpacking.
What I am not sure about yet
Are they sturdy?
My other poles were heavier, so they just felt sturdy. These have done nothing to betray me, yet, I am still a bit hesitant to put as much weight on them through the hand straps as I used to do with my others. This only comes up on steeper downhills, when I am leading with the poles and then weighting them to hop down. I think they should be able to take it, but they seem so light. They’ll have to earn my trust over time!
Trigger Shark straps
I know, I know, I said this is one of the reasons I love them. And it’s true. But I am still getting used to how to manage the poles while doing things that I don’t want to release them for, like sipping from my Camelbak or taking a photo with my phone. With the poles still attached, either in my hands or flipped to the outside, it’s slightly more challenging to grip whatever else I’m trying to use. I am guessing this is something I’ll figure out how to be more coordinated with over time.
I happened to be out on a day where the weather just couldn’t decide what it was doing. One minute it was sunny and I felt toasty and the next it was cloudy and blustery. The wind had a springtime bite to it when it kicked up. So, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted my gloves on or off and every time I changed my mind, I had to also take off the Trigger Shark straps and put them back on. If the weather could just make up its mind, it would make these much easier to use!
If you haven’t used poles like this before, it takes a bit of playing around with (or reading the instructions if you like to do that kind of thing!) to get used to adjusting them, folding them and unfolding them. Make sure you learn how to use them at the store (thanks, Dave), watch these videos or read the instructions before taking them out!
The bottom line
If you want lightweight, easily foldable poles, these are a big win in my book. The design is well thought out. There’s nothing extra.
Rachel McCullough is an avid runner, hiker, mountain biker, rock climber, yogi, skier and photographer living in Truckee, CA. Follow @rachelmcphotos on Instagram for stunning images of beautiful Sierra scenery. When Rachel isn’t enjoying her free time in the outdoors, she’s leading Tahoe Silicon Mountain events for entrepreneurs, teaching skiing at Northstar California or building impeccably designed websites for her clients at McCullough Web Services.
Mike lives in Kings Beach with his wife and dog. He’s a runner at heart but also loves backpacking and backcountry skiing. He held the fastest known time on the Tahoe Rim Trail (read about it here) and has been supportive of other athletes going for the fastest known time even though they broke his record. He’s even skied the entire Tahoe Rim Trail. One of his favorite places to go backpacking is the John Muir Trail and he’s done it multiple times – sometimes fast and sometimes slower so he can enjoy all the natural beauty. He coordinates the best aid station for the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run and makes a mean burrito.