Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4 trekking poles review

Wow, these bad boys are LIGHT! After a winter spent using heavy duty aluminium Black Diamond poles for ski guiding the Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4 poles I was given for testing seemed unbelievably light in the hand. Were these things really going to support my weight?! What if I get them stuck between two rocks? Can they keep my DuoMid shelter off my face all night? Questions that would be answered soon enough as we headed off to Sweden for three days in the mountains.

First the figures. 107g per pole (including the basket). That makes them one of the lightest adjustable trekking poles on the market today. The  LT4's are available in two sizes, the regular can be adjusted from 90cm to 140cm and there is a slightly shorter 85cm/125cm model. Being adjustable they can also be used to support many of today's ultralight shelter systems. They cost $160 a pair. Unlike many adjustable poles they only have one telescoping section which means they can be slightly awkward to transport on planes but a 354g travel tube is supplied. Check Gossamer Gear's highly informative website for more more information.

In use they are remarkably easy on the hands. The very comfortable, cork-effect foam grip and light weight means they are very easy to swing. On easy terrain I rarely used more than my thumb and forefinger to swing them between strokes. The full carbon construction has a slightly different 'feel' when they strike hard surfaces but they are indiscernible to aluminium poles on the majority of ground that they will be used on. Sure, they flex ever-so-slightly more but I never felt like they were going to catastrophically fail on me, even when I was easing myself down steep rock steps, balancing my entire weight on them. Another bonus of their almost-weightlessness is that they're easy to lift and keep out of the way on short sections where you don't want to use poles.

Their big test came when crossing the many cold, fast flowing streams and rivers that our path crossed during our trip. Glacier-cold water and unlined shoes has a habit of quickly numbing your feet and feeling for the slippery, rock strewn river bed becomes indistinct. The LT4's were crucial at keeping me upright and coped with sudden changes of balance and footing perfectly. They never felt frail or under-gunned, even when sinking between rocks.

(photo courtesy of Jörgen at Fjaderlatt)

At night I used them to pitch my shelter, an MLD Sil-nylon DuoMid and that task too they accomplished with no feeling of frailty. The one slight problem I had with one of my LT4's was with the adjusting mechanism. I couldn't seem to get it to lock properly but after Hendrik showed me the proper technique we soon had them locked out securely. We wondered if this was caused by the cold, wet weather affecting the rubber expander. Time will tell.

Testing has only just begun but they coped with the less than perfect mountain weather of Sweden very well, a lot more than I initially gave them credit for. They are obviously designed and built very well to offer so much support for such a crazy low weight. I will update this review after a few more trips but for now they are 'Highly Recommended'.

(photo courtesy of Hendrik Morkel at Hiking in Finland)

20 comments:

Thomas W. Gauperaa said...

Thanks for the review - they seem really nice. Will seriously consider ordering a pair

mcalisterium said...

Totally bling! I've admired these from afar for some time. Doubt I'll ever pull the trigger though.

I usually just borrow Margaret's Alpkit Carbonlites, but need to think about getting some poles of my own. Fizan look like really good value @£50 and 158g each...

Anonymous said...

How are they doing compared to your Mountain King Carbon Compacts?
Same-same, but different = both pairs do the job equally well with the same feeling of reliability to them?
/ Karl

Joe Newton said...

Thomas - they are very nice, very well finished and plenty strong enough while remaining so very light.

Fraser - there are plenty of options out there currently!

Karl - I have a review of the Mountain King Carbon Compacts coming soon. Hendrik, myself and Jorgen all walked with a Mountan King and a LT4 at the same time. The LTf's are noticeably lighter while the Carbon Compacts are stiffer. "same-same, but different" sums them up I guess. The LT4's are the ones to go for when weight is your primary concern.

Phil said...

It's nice to see someone actually using these - Hendrik seemed to prefer to just carry them!

I've got a pair of the TiGoat AGPs, and they've been superb - as you say, weirdly strong for the weight. Saying that, I managed to break one of the poles crossing a peat bog on the TGO Challenge, not a 'normal' break, rather a vertical split in the lower section around the expander. TiGoat said that this was an unusual failure and sent me a replacement pretty much instantly & I'm awaiting their diagnosis.

However, I still had 5 days of the walk to complete, and I spent all of those with the poles stowed on my pack for fear of breaking the remaining pole, crucial for the support of my DuoMid. Would I have broken a 'normal' pole? I don't know, I know of at least one person that folded a Pacerpole in the Lairig Ghru. If I had though, I would have noticed the extra weight on my pack rather than the 200g of AGPs. Is there a point to this long rambling reply? No, not really. I think I need to do a blog post about it.

Basically, I'd be interested to see how you get on with the poles - part of me wants you to break them though!

Roger said...

Thanks for the reveiw. Today use a "heavy" pair of alu poles. They works fine. Considering a new pair. And of course of carbon. Awaiting furter reviews of the other poles.
What kind of lock have the L4?

harttj said...

Excellent review. As well as all the comments by others, most notably Phil.

Looking forward to understanding the context of "same, but different".

The trekking pole, to me, is a modern version of the Scout Staff. Certainly not a one trick pony. As Sir Baden-Powell said, "In fact, you will soon find that if you don't have your staff [trekking poles] with you will always be wanting it [them]."

I wonder how often on the TGOC Phil wished he had two working trekking poles?

Joe Newton said...

Phil - Hendrik was gracious enough to help me carry 'the other set of poles' so I could switch between the LT4's and the Carbon Compacts. He was also grateful we had a spare set of poles when we came to the fords! 50g tarp poles weren't going to get you across some of the rivers!

You make a good point about having to carry them if they break. I've broken aluminium poles before and I'm sure someone will break the odd pair of LT4's but that doesn't mean we should all carry 'unbreakable' poles. They would weigh a ton!

I will update this review later in the summer.

Joe Newton said...

Roger - the LT4's have a 'twist-to-lock' which appears to expand a small rubber bung at the top of the inner, lower section. It makes for a very clean design that doesn't get caught on undergrowth.

harttj - funnily enough I lent a friend a pair of my old aluminium poles on a recent backpacking trip but she ended up just using one, like a staff. She found that easier and more secure so I guess we don't HAVE to use two hiking poles and to be honest, on day hikes, I don't use any.

Martin Rye said...

Nice review Joe. Alan Sloman has some of them if I am right and has had no issues with them. Philip Wearner broke his. I like the look of them. For the DuoMid I would be concerned about pressure placed on them in a storm. Imagine a exposed pitch and very strong gusts battering the shelter. Would the pole take it?. The idea the DuoMid will shed the wind and there is no load on the pole in my view is wishful thinking. They are a tempting bit of kit despite that.

I like the debate on BPL at the moment. Science testing trekking poles. Highly amusing. My view is this. Done river crossings with them and without. With is better.

Done long descents without and with. With is better.

Done long walks with and without. Again with was better.

Met many a old hillwalker who said their knees wear on the way out and they were going to give up hillwalking. They started to use poles and never had a problem since. I have yet to meet anyone who found that not using poles meant they could carry on walking in the hills after their knees had become so bad they had come to a point of needing to give it up.

Joe Newton said...

Martin - I can understand your concern about relying on the LT4's to keep a shelter like a DuoMid up, I guess there is only one way of finding out!

I agree with you on the hiking poles debate, I can manage without but I prefer with. And as a re-constructive knee surgery 'survivor' I'm all for saving my battered knees on long backpacking trips.

Gustav Boström said...

I doubt that the LT4 would be too weak to keep the DuoMid up. If these can't take it I wonder if a normal tent pole would either. They are usually a lot thinner and weaker than a pole anyway. Six Moon Designs supply carbon fiber poles for the Lunar Duo/Solo and the Gatewood. These are not adjustable though, but they are very thin and light.
I know that breaking poles can be a problem with larger lavvus though, but then those poles are twice the length and the forces are a lot stronger. If you are not too far from the treeline you could also hang the DuoMid from a tree in worst case. That case is very unlikely though, since you have too poles.

Joe Newton said...

Gustav - a good point, well made. These trekking poles are sturdier than many tent poles, and you do carry two of them. But I like the idea of hanging the DuoMid, just think of the SPACE!

Martin Rye said...

Gustav I have seen tent poles flex in under pressure and pop back up in place in storms. The height of the pole and the fact the carbon Lightrek is not as flexible as a tent pole does make me cautious. I know folks have commented on not wanting to use carbon poles with the Hex 3 or what ever it is called now. I read one comment a while back about Ti Goat poles bending severely in the wind holding a Hex 3 up. The person wont use them again with that shelter for fear of breaking them Carbon rods work on tents like the Scarp in the corners. I broke my Carbon Pacer Poles a while back and wonder if they would in a real bad storm have been OK holding the DuoMid up? Joe needs to test them on a very windy night with lots down drafts buffeting the tent.

It would be good if the Lightrek took the load in a storm. I like them and wonder if I might get some.

harttj said...

Excellent discussion on trekking poles and their ability to function as tent/tarp supports. Here is my 2 cents worth.

Stuff happens.

We hike UL and we tend to take kit that might break more often. A risk I am willing to take for the weight gains and saving the knee pains.

If one is worried about a trekking poles ability to take wind, pitch it in a more sheltered area. Personally I prefer non exposed positions for my campsites. But Hike Your Own Hike. That is why I like to read this stuff. People have different opinions to mine, and it helps me learn.

Thanks to all for your active participation in this discussion. I know it helps me see things in a different light.

Joe Newton said...

Martin - the LT4's will get plenty more testing in the coming month. Hopefully there will be a bit of 'weather', no one likes it too easy, surely?!

Harttj - It's always good to find more sheltered camp sites IF YOU KNOW the weather will be bad but sometimes, especially on longer, more remote trips it could be difficult to ascertain the incoming weather. It's also nice sometimes to pitch in a more exposed spot if the scenery is particularly stunning. But, I agree with you, going UL does have some compromises and we must be willing to accept them.

Mark Roberts said...

I'm curious about your comments on the locking system. I just got a pair, and with mine you simply twist a few times to lock them. I usually just tighten them enough until they feel locked as I'm worried overtightening might crack the carbon. When tightened they seem pretty solid - but are you saying something different happens with yours?

I notices GGs instructions are a little outdated; they mention inserting the end of one pole in the handle of the other.

Joe Newton said...

Mark - nope, that sounds exactly the same as the mechanism on mine, we just struggled a couple of times to get one of them to 'bite'. We're not sure if this was something to do with the damp and cold.

Anonymous said...

Joe, if the mechanism won't bite, it's usually due to the expander inside the tube being set too small (by you) the last time you collapsed the poles.
An easy fix is normally to pull the sections almost apart, i.e. you have them at maximum extension, and then do the first twists in that position (until it just not grip). Then you can reposition the section to where you want it and do the last twists to make it grip securely.
Its got to do with a conical bit in a cylindrical pipe, so you have to have the cone in the right position inside the cylinder before things start to grab each others.
/ Karl

Joe Newton said...

Karl - thank you for posting this, it's useful information for current or potential LT4 owners. This was the technique Hendrik used to sort the problem for me (he has a pair of LT4s at home) and since then I've not had a pole slip.