My first experience with trekking poles was on the Appalachian Trail in 2007. For long-distance hikers, it’s pretty common to use two poles for extra shock absorption, extra propulsion, and extra balance. I got a good deal on a pair of Leki Super Makalu Anti-Shock poles and put them through the wringer on the AT. By the time I retired the set in 2009 I had hike about 3000 miles with them. I guess that’s a good recommendation, right? Well, yeah. But even better are what I replaced them with.
Gossamer Gear has been making the Lightrek series of poles for several years now, and they are becoming almost as popular among AT and PCT hikers as the big names like Leki or Black Diamond. Why? Oh, let me count the reasons!
1. The biggest draw that sets the LT4’s aside from Leki and Black Diamond is the weight. Gossamer Gear’s specifications list a pair of LT4’s as 7.2 ounces per pair. My Leki Super Makalus weigh in at almost 10 ounces per pole! Now, I weighed my current pair of LT4’s at 8 ounces per pair, which is a trivial difference from spec as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s due to the guys at GG weighing their poles without the optional baskets on the tips, which I always use. Whatever. Pick up a pair of these poles after using Leki or Black Diamond, and it will blow your mind. For comparison, Leki’s Carbonlite AERGON poles, the lighest in their product line, weigh 12.8 ounces per pair. That’s still more than 50% more than the Lightrek.
2. The weight wasn’t actually the reason I decided to make the switch from Leki to Gossamer Gear– it was the simplicity. The LT4’s are collapsible just like my Super Makalus, but they are only two sections instead of three, have no anti-shock springs, and are insanely easy to tighten and loosen. Over the course of my years using the Lekis, I broke 5 sets of anti-shock springs and have permanently jammed every tightening unit. I now find it nearly impossible to extend or collapse my Super Makalus, which require four tighteners per set of poles (two poles, each with the lower and middle section needing to be tightened). To be fair, Leki’s customer service is great, and they will usually replace broken springs and jammed tighteners, but I’d rather have no hassle. And that’s how the LT4’s work.
Okay, so that’s basically two reasons for choosing the LT4’s over traditional poles, but I’ve been so happy with these poles that I don’t think I’ll ever bother with another pair for three-season hiking. The LT4’s are just so wonderfully crafted, so perfect in function and form. Adjusting the lengths of the poles takes no effort, compared to the straining and cursing and wondering if I’ve tightened my Lekis enough. When I want to take my LT4’s apart, again no effort. And there’s a delightful sound of suction when you take the lower section out of the upper– the poles are so well manufactured that they slide easily into each other but don’t allow room for air to slide past the expander. Very cool.
Now, some things to keep in mind if you want to make the switch to LT4’s.
First, durability is a major concern for most hikers. I’ll admit that I saw several sections break on my PCT hike. In fact, every hiker that carried them broke them at least once, as far as I know. Sound bad? Well, everything breaks, eventually, if you hike 2650 miles with it. Here’s what my experience was: I’ve used my LT4’s for 200 miles of the New England Trail, a 325 mile section hike on the Appalachian Trail, and 2650 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. I finally broke one section of these poles around mile 2445 of the PCT. That’s almost three-thousand miles of hiking without breaking them. The most embarrassing part is that I broke it by trying to jam it really hard into solid ground at an angle. I didn’t even break it while hiking!
You can’t treat these poles like they’re made of solid iron, but you don’t have to baby them. Just know that they are strongest when being pushed straight into the ground, like any cylinder. I often use them to catch myself from falling, or to vault over a large puddle. They can take it.
The cost is another thing that might make some hikers hesitate. The poles are around $160 before shipping, which seems pretty expensive compared to those $10 poles you can find at Walmart. But seriously– it’s a phenomenal product made in America by a small company staffed by guys who love what they do (give them a call, they’re great to talk to). And it’s cheaper than other carbon fiber poles out there. Leki’s are $180 and Black Diamond’s are $160 (but not entirely carbon fiber).
Now, I’ll probably pick up a pair of Leki Thermolite XL poles for winter hiking, just so I can bang them up without worrying about snapping another LT4, but once the snow is out of the equation, I see no need for anything heavier or more complicated. Gossamer Gear wins again!