REVIEWS AND TESTS
Ski Tests & Reviews
Pole Review: Leki Tour Stick Vario 2014
Leki Tourstick Vario Carbon Poles
Leki Tourstick Vario Carbon in collapsed mode
Leki Tourstick Vario Carbon at min and max lengths (20cm range)
The Leki Tourstick Vario Carbon is designed as a high-end, carbon/aluminum collapsable backcountry alpine ski pole with a 20cm adjustable height range when assembled. It collapses into three sections at the push of one button, the pieces connected by a polyurethane coated, Kevlar-reinforced cable with accessible spring tensioner. The poles are approximately 40.5 cm (~16 inches) long when broken-down into the three sections. (see photo below). The Tourstick Vario Carbon model comes equiped with a 30 cm (~12 inches) thermo-foam backcountry grip with a zeo-buckle, wicking adjustable strap.
"The latest edition to LEKI's innovative MICRO series is the Tour Stick Vario. Our 60+ years of experience in designing and building our own poles is evident in every detail. The Micro Tour Stick vario is full-featured, super compact, lightweight and offers stiffer, stronger, more reliable performance than normally seen in other folding poles. With 20cm of adjustability and a full compliment of interchangeable basket options, LEKI's Tour Stick is the ultimate choice for 4 season use."
Country of Manufacture
263 grams each (measured)
The Leki Tour Stick Vario is a fairly lightweight, extremely sturdy touring pole with a remarkable range of performance throughout 4 season activities and built with superb quality...at a premium price. Leki once again proves they know how to engineer and manufacture industry-leading sport poles. Some of our testers claimed previously for years and years: "....I will never use a collapsable pole, they're clutzy, heavier than I like, unbalanced and never hold up under rigorous use...". Everyone who tested the Tour Stick Vario Carbon poles came back saying they wanted to keep them. That says a lot.
We winter-tested them in Vermont and New Hampshire for alpine skiing, touring and snowshoeing in ice, powder, manky snow, . We Spring-tested them in muddy, rocky hiking and skiing conditions. We tested them in dry, dusty Summer hiking conditions. They were lugged around in ski cargo boxes for weeks on-end, unprotected at fiull-extension, bouncing around with 4-6 pairs of skis....edges and bindings doing their best to scar the shafts, baskets, tips and grips, often buried at the bottom of the pile of skis (yes, 4-6 pais of alpine skis with bindings are heavy) Leki's Toursticks never faltered, failed, chipped or showed any wounds other than some scratches. The baskets and grips were abused, mashed and crushed but showed no signs of failure under our negligent abuse.
The cabled section joints were flawless out of the bag, with tight, exact fit tolerances and very long, secure, no-slop connections, and maintained their fit tolerances perfectly after our season of abuse with no slop, no deviations, no problems. The plastic-coated, Kevlar-reinforced cable never lost tension and showed no signs of cuts, nicks or wear of any kind, keeping the pole sections tight and locked-in when assembled. The quality of the section joints is impressive.
Feature image from Leki showing sping-tensioned cable (not an elastic shock cord)
At first glance, the stock plastic Leki Tourstick Vario baskets appeared to be somewhat unimpressive. They were not very large, but gave a surprising amount of support in soft and sloppy snow, only diving down a bit in truly weightless fluff. Their design prevents most snagging on brush as you poke through the woods, and they clear snow very well when you pull your pole out of deep snow. They held up under the somewhat rough conditions in the ski box with no creases, cracks, deformations or separations. We did not test any alternative baskets.
The concave carbide tips are anchored into aluminum socket collars which are inserted into the bottom of the pole shafts and never once came loose, chipped, cracked or suffered any damage during our winter, spring and summer tests on ice, snow, turf, rocks roots and everything else you can think of. They remained sharp and effective, and that's important in a multi-season pole.
Grips & Straps
The Tourstick Vario poles have what Leki calls "Aergon Thermofoam Tour Grips", which are made of a thin, dense, high-traction foam running nearly 25.4 cm (10 inches) long. These are ideal for hiking up, down and traversing terrain since you can grip high, low or in the middle and maintain excellent traction on the pole with bare hands or gloved hands. This comes in handy when traversing across a sidehill since you can grip the downhill pole at the top of the shaft and the uphill pole lower-down on the shaft and minimize wildly differential arm positions. The more you use them, the more you like them. They don't seem to hold moisture, which is a good thing.
The somewhat ergonomically-shaped grip strap has a medium width, fitting most gloved and bare hands pretty well. The best part is Leki's simple and effective strap adustment mechanism. There are no troublesome buckles on the strap. To make the strap shorter or longer, give the strap a sharp upward pull against the anchor point in the top of the grip and the locking mechanism opens up with a click. Adjust the strap length, then click the strap cap back down and it's locked. Simple, fast and effective.
Strap lock open with an upward tug
Strap lock closed with an downward push
The Tourstick Vario has an variable adjustment of approximately 20 cm (~7.8 inches), between its mininimum 116 cm and maximum 136cm (~45.5 - 53.5 inches) lengths when it's assembled. Flip the plastic release lever at the bottom of the grip, slide the pole to the desired length, then flip the lever back to lock it down. The shaft adjuster holds the section securely and never once slipped in wet or icy conditions. If the poles have one potential weakness, it could be the plastic lever. Compared to the rest of the pole components, the plastic locking lever seems a bit less burly and impressive. We never had an ounce of trouble with the plastic adjustment locking lever, but if it was made out of aluminum or similar alloy, we would think it matches the rest of the quality of the poles. The weight difference would be negligible.
Length lock open below grip
White length lock lever closed. Section tension release button (push to drop handle and release cord tension, allowing instant collapse of sections)
The Leki Tourstick Vario poles are probably the best example of modern collapsable poles we have seen recently, and might just set the standard for this kind of multi-season functionality with a bias toward skiing. We loved these poles. They are stiff, solid, reliable and pretty darn lightweight. They collapse quickly and easily, and reassemble quickly and easily. They allow quick and solid height adjustments. Many of the testers grew up using high-quality alpine racing poles, so the initial impression of the longer grip and higher swing weight of the Toursticks was temporarily odd, but every tester immediately became accustomed to the slight differences and eventually tried hide them every time it was someone else's turn to review the poles. Our only reservation is the $199 usd retail price, which is not outrageous, but gives many people a reason to pause when considering these poles. Once they live with the quality and consistent performance of the Toursticks, they might just think it was one of the best investments they could make for multi-terrain skiing and hiking adventures. You get what you pay for in this case. We think these poles will last for many seasons of heavy use because of their component quality and well-engineered assembly. People who want more finger/hand support in the grip should look around for the version of these poles equipped with the TourStick Trigger S grip which is a finger-molded alpine-racing style grip.
Trigger-Grip version (image courtesy Leki USA)
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