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Gear Review: REI Peak UL Trekking Poles

I never used to use trekking poles, despite recommendations from friends who said that they saved their knees from stress and provided additional balance in dicey situations. A few years ago I finally picked up a pair of REI poles… and then carried them in my pack without useing them for a season or two.

Finally, in the past couple of years I made an effort to use them more consistently – perhaps because as I passed the age of 50 I occasionally experienced some knee stress. While I was once anti-pole (but not anti-Pole! ;-), I have now pretty much switched over to the other side and I use them more often than not when backpacking. (I have not yet gotten to the point where I use them for day hiking, however.)

Earlier this year I picked up a new pair of REI Peak UL Trekking Poles. They are phenomenally light, weighing only about 3/4 pound per pair. In large part, the weight reduction is due to the carbon fibre pole material. This, of course, increases the price; they are not cheap at a list price of $130/pair.

They worked quite well for me on the three pack trips I have taken so far during the 2005 summer season. In fact, they seem bit less prone to bending and scratching than my old metal poles.

One odd feature is the addition of small compasses to the top of the handgrip on each pole. At first I thought this would be completely useless – and I wondered who the heck would need two cheap compasses! However, I have to admit that it is convenient to be able to quickly get a general fix on the compass points while hiking. (This sort of compass obviously is only good for general direction and can’t replace a real compass for serious orientation.) I still feel a bit silly carrying two compasses though.

I sometimes use a tarp and bivy instead of a tent and, when I do, the poles must serve as supports for the tarp. They seem to work fine in this role but, since I us the poles pointed end up, I think that the compasses will eventually become scratched. Oh, well.

My older metal “ultralight” trekking poles collapsed a few inches shorter than the Peak UL poles. This isn’t an issue while hiking with them, but they do protrude a bit more from the top of the pack on those occasions when I carry them instead of using them. This is a bit more of a significant issue – though still not a deal-breaker – when using a smaller ultralight pack.

The only other problem I encountered has to do with the “DuoLocks” that let you adjust and secure the pole sections by twisting them. I found that if you loosen them too much you sometimes cannot tighten them again: you’ll loosen them up and adjust the poles, only to find that when you turn them to relock the sections they never do lock up. When this happens the solution is to separate the pole sections and manually expand the locking device a bit – just enough so that it is a bit hard to reassemble the poles. Put the poles back together and turn to lock. To avoid the problem, I only loosen the DuoLocks just enough to adjust the poles.

***Bottom line:
I like my REI Peak UL Trekking Poles. The poles work quite well and they seem to provide a good combination of very light weight and sufficient strength. While the built-in compasses may seem a bit goofy at first, there are situations in which they are a convenience. It is important to not over-loosen the poles to adjust them, and these poles do not break down quite as short as some of the other 4-sections models.
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September 4, 2005 - Posted by | Gear Reviews

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