A quick rundown of some of the key features below with full feature list and specs here
These poles are aptly named “Superlite”. They feel noticeably light in hand as well as out on the trail. Not only are the poles themselves very light, the fact that there are no straps attached makes them feel even lighter. When you are carrying them in hand on the run – either extended or collapsed, this is very noticeable. Whereas with other traditional wrist loop poles, you obviously have the additional weight of the straps themselves, you also have the effect of the straps themselves dangling and swinging around. Now these do sound like very small details, but over the course of a very long race or outing, those details do tend to add up.
The poles also have a very thin profile (diameter), which when collapsed (3 sections x 2 poles) makes the entire bundle much thinner than other collapsible poles. I find this, along with the much lighter weight, makes them much easier to carry in hand for longer periods. It also allows them to be stowed much easier – they slide into my Salomon custom quiver more easily, and can be more easily looped into various attachment bungees on a running vest.
[An older model UD Jurek FKT vest – I’ve never been a fan of front bungee attachments, but the light weight plus small/thin size of the Leki poles makes it a consideration now]
[UltrAspire Zygos 5 – which I used at Standhope 100M. I never, ever considered this type of pole storage option before – but again, the poles are so light, thin, and pack so small that it’s now a viable option]
The new Trail Shark grip-strap system is vastly superior to just having wrist loops. I cannot understate this enough. Aside from being easier to remove poles by clipping the hand grip on/off from the pole itself, you don’t have to grasp your poles all the time. The clip holds them in position at the center of your hand so you can control them without having to actually squeeze the grip.
You can let them more or less dangle for a lot of the hiking motion – over the course of multiple miles long climbs in a long race – this adds up!
Check out the picture sequence below – notice how you can utilize a “catch and release” technique, where you grip the handle as you are planting the pole, then “release” as you push through, then “catch” for the next stride. It seems complicated, but it’s really not – once you get used to it, it becomes second nature. There’s a lot less tension in your arms and upper back as opposed to having to grip the pole handles the entire time.
Essentially this is no different than classic nordic ski technique arms and poles action. Of course Leki also has a vast line of nordic poles with the Shark system especially prized by biathletes who must be able to use both hands poles free quickly to shoot.
[Releasing the left hand grip at the end of the push. Right hand is planting – you can even see that my grip is also quite loose as I’ve already started the push]
[Catching with the left hand, ready to plant the pole]
[Right hand- catch and plant, Left hand – notice again how you don’t need to grasp the pole]
You can also easily unclip the grip from the pole by pressing the top red button.
[Red button pressed down to un-clip, then lift hand up]
To clip back in easily slide the cord into the yellow “blade” and push down hard.
[The pole stays perfectly centered in your hand without having to grasp the handle – in the pic on the right, the pole is hanging & not touching the ground]
I do have to note that I did have a bit of an adjustment period with the Trail Shark grip-strap system. The Leki system really transfers the force more directly from your wrist into the pole. I found that you can really focus on pulling with your back muscles as there’s more of a direct kinetic chain of force into the pole. With traditional wrist loop poles, I found that I have to really push into the straps wrapped around my hands in order to increase the force. That motion seems to engage the triceps more and for me feels more fatiguing.
[I had zero blisters or irritation over 26+ hours / 105+ miles of racing]
I could see the traditional wrist straps potentially being an issue for some runners – if you don’t like the idea of having something strapped on your hands at all times. Personally, I tended to use cycling-style gloves anyway with regular wrist loop poles. I got some thumb blisters from the straps, and they can also tend to dig into your wrists.
The Leki straps cover much less of my hands so they’re actually an improvement for me. I used them for a full 100M with no blisters or irritation at all.
[The wrist straps/gloves are very low coverage – much less than a normal cycling-type glove]
I must say conclusively that the benefits of the Leki wrist straps far outweigh any downsides. They are much easier to click into the poles as opposed to maneuvering your hands into wrist loops in the correct orientation. Furthermore, my previous poles had left and right straps, due to the orientation of the adjustable velcro straps.
The Leki poles have no left or right – you just click into any pole. No more fumbling around looking for that L/R tag in the middle of the night out on the trail!
Longs Peak. No issues wearing the Leki straps over gloves – it is more of a process to take the straps off to put gloves on underneath. Perhaps you could customize a glove with a small hole where the nylon loop could pass through? OR – I just discovered this myself – Leki also makes Nordic gloves with the integrated Trail Shark loop!
As a final note – I also found them much more usable during steep descents and even flatter technical terrain. Poles can be very helpful during descents when your legs are beat up at the end of a race. But I always had to weigh the benefit vs. the cost of having to strap in/out and hold them the entire time. With the Leki’s, I could just leave them hanging and then just direct them to a spot when I wanted some extra control or wanted to catapult-hop over something. In general, I use them much more since they’re so much easier to click in and out of.
[Longs Peak – in the Keyhole]
This is Leki’s top of the line trail running pole. The price is high, but without a doubt you will get performance returns for the cost. I find the Leki Trail Shark grip-strap system to be far superior to traditional pole wrist loops. The poles themselves are likely the lightest and thinnest on the market today. The grip-strap system is so efficient and easy to use, you will find yourself actually using your poles more – on more moderate climbs, technical terrain, and descents. If you are looking for the ultimate performance pole for trail running – the search ends with the Ultratrail FX.One Superlite ! It will be my go-to ultra running pole going forward.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
This is the pole I have been using for several years now. It has served me well through several mountain 100 milers, and has been highly durable. But the performance benefits of the Leki system have now relegated it to backup status.
[Leki is clearly thinner, packs shorter, and overall less volume when collapsed – both 120cm]
The Carbon Z is thicker, heavier, and does not fold up as small as the Leki’s. The Carbon Z’s traditional wrist straps are not as performant as the Leki system, as outlined throughout the review.
[Leki has a much more streamlined handle – you don’t need as much grip area since you’re clipped in. Note – no L/R pole distinction either]
Summarizing some key differences between the BD and Leki below –
BD has left & right poles, have to check the small tag before looping hands in
Wrist straps take longer to loop in/out than Leki’s simple click system
Some force is lost into the wrist loops as opposed to the Leki straps
You have to grasp the poles at all times, whereas you can let the Leki’s dangle
When packing the poles in the custom quiver or pole bungees, you have to worry about wrapping the wrist loops around the poles so they get tucked in and don’t flop around and you can leave the Leki “glove” part on.
- With Leki wrist loops, you don’t have to wear wrist straps all the time, so it’s easier to take gloves on/off.