“ ‘Turbo Disc’ grip • AutoLock strap • Positive angle • Antishock-Spring-System • Carbide-Flextip • Interchangeable Basket System • Length 84-140cm. „
A recent trip to Snowdonia found me in a shop selling outdoors gear. This is always a bad thing as I rarely leave empty-handed. On this particular visit I left a proud owner of a pair of Leki Super Makalu Anti-Shock walking poles (or sticks, as I prefer to call them). I had been contemplating this particualr purchase for some time and had come close on a number of occassions. What tipped the balance this time was talking to everyone I met going up Snowdon that was using a pole. The feedback was all positive with people citing and increased walking range or heavier load carrying ability when using sticks. It sounded too good to be true, so when I found myself in a position to buy a pair it would have been rude not to. Leki are one of the better-known names when it comes to walking poles, and the Super Makalu Anti-Shock is near top-of-the-range in their "Mountain Series". The reason for this status is the number of 'features' that Leki have built into the once humble walking stick. No longer is it simply a piece of tree that you found along the way, it is now a 3-part telescopic aluminium walking pole with "triple-spring" suspension, tungsten-carbide tip and positive-angle rubber/cork handle with turbo-disc release mechanism. That all sounds very good, but what does it mean in practice? Well having used them for a couple of walks now I will give you my impressions. - Aluminium construction means that each stick is light, certainly lighter than an old tree branch would be (although the titanium models are lighter if weight is a big concern). Certainly they don't add significantly to the weight of a full day-sack and are even less noticeable against the weight of a large 'sack. - The telescopic system works well, just a few twists of the section to be extended releases the locking mechanism allowing the section to be pulled out, with a few twists in the opposite direction securing the se
ction. The fully compressed length of a stick is about 1.2m and they can extend to about 2.1m, so they should fit just about everyone. The manual recommends that the length of the stick should be set so that the forearm and upper arm form a right-angle when holding the stick. I found this to be OK for walking on flat ground, but a shorter length was better for ascents while a longer pole helped considerably on descents, providing a much greater reach for steadying yourself. - The triple-spring suspension system has three settings ranging from no suspension travel to 1.5cm and finally 3cm of travel. I found that on the way up, the 1.5cm travel setting gave me a useful boost off the stick and maybe reduced some of the stress on my elbows. On the way down I preferred the zero-travel option as it gave a much better feeling as to how much grip you had. The 3cm travel option is just way too spongey to be of any use, on an ascent most of your effort would go into compressing the spring for no real benefit whilst on the way down you need a firm platform which can take your weight, not something that is going to sag by 3cm before you can start moving. - The carbide tip is fairly small but very tough, meaning that weight placed on the stick is concentrated in a very small contact area. This ensures that an amazingly good grip is achieved, even on wet/slippery rock. It certainly did a better job of gripping than the soles of my boots! The only thing to watch out for is getting the tip stuck in a crack or similar. While the tip will flex up to 30degrees, any more that that and it will come off, leaving you with an effectively useless pole. Baskets are supplied as standard which help prevent the pole sinking too far into soft ground, bigger baskets are available for use in snow etc. - The 'positive angle' grip may sound like a gimmick, but it actually works quite well. It means that the axis of the handle is 15degrees off from the axis of th
e pole which means that when your arm is level, the pole is angled slightly back. I was sceptical about the benefits of this but it does appear to work, although I haven't tried a pole without this angling so I can't really compare. The grip itself is made out of a cork/rubber mix which is shaped to fit the hand. It provides an excellent grip and fits my hand very well although I did find that after a 9 mile round trip up/down Snowdon it was starting to chafe on my thumb. - The last part of the grip is the wrist-strap, a tough nylon affair with a padded, quick-drying insert. The strap length is adjusted using the 'turbo-disc' in the top of the handle. This decive controls the amount of force needed to release one end of the strap, allowing the loop size to be increased. The strap is long enough to cater for everyones requirements and the tension adjustment provided by the turbo-disc means that you can have just enough tension to support your wrist while walking but loose enough that should you fall/slip the wrist loop becomes much bigger making it easier to free your hand. Ideally these poles should be used in pairs, but I used only one, giving the other to my girlfriend. We both found it somewhat easier to walk with them, especially when carrying 'sacks, and it gave my girlfriend more confidence on the descent. I actually found that it sapped my confidence on descents, making me much more cautious about what I was doing and transferring a lot of my weight to the pole when I would have otherwise just jumped down a step or two. Maybe this is a good thing, especially in treacherous weather (and it was awful on the last trip down Snowdon) but it does slow down a descent. The other thing I noticed was that my arm started to ache towards the end of the walk, which is hardly surprising when you consider the amount of work it had been doing, but it was not something that I had been expecting. Certainly my legs still felt tired, but i
t will never be possible to compare the 'freshness' at the end of two walks as you almost instantly forget how tired you were the last time you did it. The last piece of advice I would give is that you should not be afraid to stick them in your pack when not using them, tuck them in the compression straps and get them out of the way when you don't need them or they slow you down and become a nuisance. In summary, I think there is a place in my pack for a walking pole, they don't weigh very much and can come in very useful. Whether or not you need to go the whole-hog and get suspension poles I'm not too sure. I found the mid-range suspension setting useful but I get the feeling that no suspension would have been fine.
I am not a great hiker or walker. I am more of a fair weather walker. A couple of years ago I broke my knee and after that every time my partner and I went walking I sent him off to find me a suitable stick!! He suggested I should get a pole for my birthday. So I did. I went for this model because I liked all of the features. The handle is made from a cork-like substance, which is great for sweaty palms. The "positive angle" was also worth the extra money. This is an adjustment of 15 degrees in the angle of the handle to make allowances for the bend of the wrist. I found this made it a lot comfier to use than the straight-handled versions. The triple spring gives a real boost when getting up steep hills. All in all it has enabled me to walk routes I would not have attempted a year ago. I've recently purchased an identical pole for my partner. He has borrowed mine on occasion and although he is very fit, he could sense an improvement in his stamina within a very short time of using the pole. Plus, when he's not using it I can use both poles!! You are recommended to use two poles, but buying two at once can be quite costly. However, just one pole has made a huge difference. So, don't let the price put you off. If you can't afford two, do what I have done and buy them one at a time, when you can afford them. They are worth their weight in gold.