As winter begins to approach, I start to reorganize my different “kits,” seeing what gear needs to be replaced and what still works. This past season I had the opportunity to work and ski with three different sets of LEKI poles. These included the LEKI Blue Bird Carbon S (my all-time favorite poles to date), the LEKI Aergonlite 2 Carbon, and the Micro Tourstick Vario Carbon. These three sets of poles would cover everything and anything you might ever need a trekking or ski pole for.
IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide and AIARE Level 2 course leader Josh Kling demonstrating how to take field weather observations during a hut based AIARE 2 on Red Mountain Pass, San Juan Mountains, CO. Pic by IFMGA Guide Jed Porter.
LEKI Aergonlite 2 Carbon $159/ pair
- Length/ Size 110 – 145 Continuously adjustable
- Adjustment area 110 – 145 CM
- Weight 16.9 oz
LEKI AERGONLITE 2 CARBON
These are a great workhorse adjustable ski pole. This could be your single set of poles. LEKI’s version of the locking adjustment mechanism, what they call the Speed Lock 2, worked great. All season long the locking mechanism worked flawlessly regardless of conditions (variations in temperatures, wet or dry). The lever seemed to be larger than some of the comparable ski poles on the market from other companies. This larger lever seemed to be easier to work with gloves on then others. I also liked the huge head on the handle. This extra large head worked great for grabbing the tip of my tech bindings to lock them. Now the handle of the Aergonlite are definitely not designed for doing this. I did eventually break the head of the handle after a full season of locking tech bindings. However, I would assume that if I used the poles in the manor they were designed, this would not have happened.
Often times when guiding I will use my poles to whack snow off branches on the ski up so my clients do not get nailed with tree-bombs (client care “pass”). The Aergonlite worked well and held up to significant tree beatings. They also showed durability for whacking the snow off the top of my skis when it balled up.
These were my go to poles for many tours in the San Juan Mountains that involved long skate outs on road cuts and high millage tours in intermixed with big ski descents. Perfect examples of tours where they performed great would be the Kendal Mountain & Turkey Chute link up or the Grand Turk & Sultan link up. The huge adjustment made these poles perform the same on steep and deep as they did skating out of a tour as they did skiing low angle fun powder. I chose to take off the ski strap, as skiing with a strap in avalanche terrain is typically not advised. This was easy to do with just popping the connecting pin out. Overall I would give this pole a solid B.
The Kendal & Turkey Chute link up. Having an adjustable pole for a tour like this makes the approach and final exit more enjoyable.
Dropping into the Turkey Chute, an 1,800 ft couloir. The top 1,000 ft is in the chute, the bottom 800 feet opens to a great apron.
- Performed great in all conditions.
- Was durable for normal* use. * I put ski poles through more use and abuse then a typically backcountry skier. If you are a 30-50 day a season backcountry skier, you should have no problem with these poles.
- Huge adjustability for large variety of tours.
- Broke tip of handle head off after using it repeatedly for locking tech bindings. While this is not at all what the handles are designed for, many backcountry skiers do use their poles to lock tech bindings. There is an other method of locking tech bindings with poles that does not use the head of the handle.
AMGA Certified Alpine and Rock guide Josh Kling discussing terrain options with Britt on Thompson Pass outside of Valdez, AK.
LEKI Blue Bird Carbon S $149.95
- Length/ Size 110 – 135 CM in 5 CM steps
- Weight 17.6 oz at a length of 120 cm
LEKI BLUE BIRD CARBON S
Ok, so you ski in the backcountry, you hate lifts, your shred powder. You need an adjustable pole, right? WRONG. The past few years, more often than not I have found myself not adjusting my poles when touring. I set the height I prefer, and pretty much stick with that length the entire tour. The LEKI Blue Bird Carbon are my fixed pole of choice, and my favorite of the three poles I used. If I do need to do any micro adjustment of the pole length, the 9” foam handle of the Blue Bird offers more than enough to keep me touring. What kept bringing me back to these tour after tour was actually that it did not adjust. Less moving parts meant less to break. The poles come with patented Triger S and Trigger S Vario straps. These straps automatically release under enough pressure, as in an avalanche or when clipping a tree. However, I still prefer, and advocate, backcountry skiing without pole straps on. This releasable strap did make it much easier to toss the straps in my pack and not use them VS other poles where the strap has to be unscrewed and disassembled. So while I don’t use the Trigger S in the manner in which it was designed (go figure) I certainly loved the quick release.
Typically when I tour, I have two sets of gloves. I skin in with a lightweight pair of leather gloves and then bring a heavier and warmer pair of gloves for the ski down. (Different blog post on the LEKI Elements Krypton S to come shortly). The Blue Bird Carbon S poles have the Trigger S system as well. This allows for my LEKI gloves to lock into the poles, similar to the releasable straps. Similar to the releasable Trigger S Vario Straps, I typically do not use the locking mechanism. However, at times it was a great addition that came at no additional cost.
IFMGA Ski and Mountain Guide Joey Thompson scoping out terrain with IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide Josh Kling during a hut based AIARE Level 2 avalanche course.
One could argue that a ski guides primary jobs is to risk management. When ski guiding this often comes in the form of snow and terrain analysis. A very effective and quick snow bonding test is the hand shear test (different blog post about on the fly tests). This test involves using the handle end of the ski pole to isolate a small column of snow. The low profile and sturdy one piece construction of the Blue Bird Carbon S do this flawlessly. If the pole handle is too large or high profile, it makes column isolation in stiffer snow difficult. The one piece pole also whacks snow off branches better than a sectional pole, purely due to nothing to break and no moving parts.
AMGA certified Alpine and Rock Guide Josh Kling pointing to something somewhere. He likely saw some coffee and wanted to head that direction.
Overall I would give the LEKI Blue Bird Carbon S pole a solid an A. Overall I had to hunt for things I did not like about this pole. In other words, this pole was a homerun for me. I’m psyched to ski with the same set again this year.
- Performed great in all conditions.
- Was durable for guiding Guiding typically puts more stress on gear than recreational use. This is both due to the significant more time the gear is used over recreational use as well as being used harder than a typical recreation. These poles held up great.
- The Trigger S system straps come off easily allowing for me to tour without dangling straps while in the backcountry.
- No moving parts means there is less to break.
- The carbon provided a great light swing weight, making them a blast to ski and turn with (I’m a turner, not a straight-liner).
- The Trigger S system releases very easily. This is ideal for being caught in an avalanche or clipping a tree. However, they seemed to release more than preferred. The release mechanism is a lever/ button on the top of the pole handle. On numerous occasions I would bump this and release the strap. If I had been wearing the strap, it would not have been an issue. As I stated before though I tend to not tour with any straps on. So when the strap would release unexpectedly, it would fall in the snow. Not system critical, but kind of a pain. I just leave the straps at home meow.
- The pole is not adjustable. Yes, this is one of the plusses, but there were times I wished I had more adjustability in the pole. This was more a problem of operator error. On tours with either a long skate in or out such as the Sultan Mountain or North Twilight Peak, a pole with significant adjustment is preferred. With proper prior planning though, I should have taken the Aergonlite poles, so not really a pole problem but rather a user planning issue.
Participants approaching their objective during an American Mountain Guides Association Alpine Guide Exam.
MICRO TOURSTICK VARIO Carbon $199
- Length 115 – 135 CM continuously adjustable
- Adjustment area 115 – 135 CM
- Weight 8.9 oz/ pole 253 grams/ pole
- Pack Size 39 CM
LEKI Micro Tourstick Vario Carbon
The Micro Tourstick Vario Carbon became my absolute favorite for alpine approaches over the past couple seasons. From approaching big ice climbs in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern, CO to alpine rock routes on Washington Pass, to glaciated ascents of Mt. Rainier, these poles rocked it.
My favorite feature of these poles was that they packed down tiny. This is critical for an alpine climbing. I want a pole that can get small enough to fit in my pack, as opposed to strapped on the outside. When I am alpine climbing I do not want anything dangling on the outside of the pack. These attributes would also ring true for backcountry split boarding, and these poles would excel at that application.
Many tri-section poles do not have any adjustment once they are assembled. The Micro Toursticks have 20 CM of adjustment (that’s 8” to us ‘Merican’s). That’s more than enough of adjustment for virtually any approach. This proved to be a huge plus in both soft snow where the pole penetrates the surface, as well as in talus fields where sometimes the pole goes between the rocks while you are actually standing on top of them. I did end up breaking both poles eventually. However, this came from extended use and abuse in talus fields from CO to WA.
These poles were also extremely light weight for how durable they were. They weigh in at 506 grams / pair. The equivalent pole from Black Diamond weighs in at 640 grams / pair. That makes the Black Diamond poles over 4 ounces or ¼ LBS heavier than the equivalent LEKI! For the weight weenies out there, that’s substantial! Overall, I would give these poles an A without question.
Particpants on the approach to an objective in the North Cascades during and American Mountain Guides Association Alpine Guide Exam. Having a tri- section pole, such as the LEKI Micro Tourstick Vario Carbon, that packs tiny is essential for travel in the alpine.
- Plusses: Overal given their weight and versatility in length, there really is no reason not to bring them.
- Performed great in all conditions (snow – dirt – talus).
- Packed down super tiny. With a pole that packs down this tiny, there really is no reason to not bring them. The Micro Tourstick pack down to 39 CM while the equivalent pole from Black Diamond packs to 41.5 CM (close to an inch longer). While this does not seem like much, if you have ambitions of fitting your poles into your pack, this extra 3 CMs can make a huge difference.
- Super light weight.
- Everything light weight has it’s limitations, and I found the limitations of the Micro Toursticks. Similar to other items though, I used and abused these poles likely more than a standard recreationalist would.
Full disclousre, I am a LEKI athlete and did not pay for any of these poles. That being said, I would gladly pay for any of the poles. And yes, I do like to point things out.
AMGA Certified Alpine Guide & Rock Guide, Assistant Ski Guide
AMGA/ IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide
AIARE Level 1 & 2 Course Leader
Wilderness Medical Associates Instructor