In 2009 I retired my Leki Super Makalu poles that had served me through the entire Appalachian Trail and two-thirds of the New England Trail, and replaced them with Gossamer Gear’s Lightrek 4 carbon fiber trekking poles. I was sick of the shock absorber spring in the Lekis breaking, the locking mechanisms in the pole sections failing, and the bent pole sections getting stuck when trying to collapse them. I finally gave in and upgraded to the LT4, and I’ve never looked back. Since 2009, I’ve put the LT4s through over 5000 miles of backpacking, with 200 miles of the New England Trail, more than 273 miles of the Long Trail, 2650 miles of Pacific Crest Trail, and 2000 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
The LT4 is the lightest trekking pole on the market, at 8.0 ounces per pair, but that’s not why they’re so great. The reasons for their greatness are mainly their simple functionality and their lack of stupid gimmicks.
The handles are large (about seven inches long) and soft to the touch, which allows you to shift your grip on them in several ways if you need to shorten or lengthen them quickly as your footing changes. For real variability in the pole lengths, the twist locking system is simple and easy to use.
Leki has mostly done away with the faulty twist locks in their poles because they have been nothing but trouble for everyone who used them, but Gossamer Gear’s twist locks have had almost no failures since the beginning. The only issues I’ve had with the twist lock is that they fit so snugly into the top section of the poles that they can sometimes stick a little too well– sometimes when I unscrew the lower section, I have to pop it into the ground a few times to loosen it so I can then telescope the poles. Also, if I loosen the expander too much, it might not have enough grip to re-tighten, so I’ll need to pull the pole apart and set the expander back to “almost tightened” so it has a purchase on the inside of the upper pole. This takes no more than a few seconds at most.
Care and Feeding of the LT4
The second thing most people say when they feel how light the poles are is, “I’d break these in no time.” That may be true, but in my experience, user error is by far the primary cause of pole breakage. In my 5000 miles of backpacking with the LT4s, I’ve broken two sections (one of those was not really while hiking, but while doing something really dumb in camp). Compare that to the six times I bent, broke, or otherwise mangled my Lekis in 2500 miles of backpacking– The LT4 gets the edge for durability there. In the Sierra Nevada on the Pacific Crest Trail, they survived as I crossed raging creeks, and postholed through dozens of miles of deep snow. In New England, they’ve survived the most treacherous and body-breaking miles of rocks and slides on the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail, plus several more river fords.
There are two tricks I’ve found to increasing the longevity of the poles (which work for any trekking pole, not just the LT4). The first is simply to not treat the poles like they’re a solid piece of the mountain, and to realize that they’re just a stick in your hand. Everyone who worries about breaking their poles puts their full weight on them, expecting them to hold as steady as a boulder or a tree. You need to remember that a pole is a great aid for balancing and shock absorption, but it’s not actually an extra leg. Your legs are the muscles you need to rely on for moving. Arms, with or without poles to extend them, are nothing more than twigs in comparison.
The second trick is to stop using wrist straps. LT4s have the option of coming without straps, which is the option I always use. Leki product representatives insist that you will damage your wrist joints if you don’t use the straps, but I’ll point to my 5000 miles of strap-free pole use with no wrist problems as evidence against that. Straps have some minor benefits, but they artificially lock the poles to your hands and limit your flexibility. Without straps, you can easily let go of the poles when you need to (like when you trip and fall), and you can quickly stow them when you’re in a situation where they’d just get in the way (like when climbing a ladder or boulder).
A final note about maintenance for the LT4s is that since the carbide tips are glued to the base of the pole, I send my poles back to Gossamer Gear when I need them to be replaced. Gossamer Gear replaces the tips at no extra charge (usually around $15 for the tips themselves), and you don’t have to worry about breaking the pole when you hammer away at it while trying to remove the tip. This hasn’t been an issue in the long run, since I’ve only needed to replace the tips on the poles 4 times, which means the tips have lasted an average of 1250 miles per set. With the Lekis, I had to replace the tips 4 times, also, but I got only half as many miles out of their tips on average.
The last thing I love about the LT4 is just that it’s made by a very small company. That doesn’t make the poles better than any others, but it means their customer service is stellar. In fact, that is one of the things that initially appealed to me— if I have a choice between two great products, I’m more than happy to go with the one made by a small company made up of people I can get to know and have a lasting relationship with. Gossamer Gear is just that kind of company.
Disclosure: I paid full price for my first set of LT4s and both sections I purchased to replace broken pieces. Over the years, Gossamer Gear has sent me a new pair of poles to replace the older versions I’d originally used, and given me discounts on replacement parts. That may have affected my views on their customer service, but not my opinion of the poles’ performance, which I was convinced of long before they gave me any discounts or deals.