The Life-Link AT Superlight pole is the newest member of the Life-Link Expedition series. Their claim to fame is their thick carbon fiber construction, stiffness, and durability similar to Life-Link’s Guide Ultra Light ski/approach poles that rarely ever break. Sounds good, but at 7 ounces each, they’re overkill for on-trail ultralight backpacking. So, what is their forte?
- Very strong and durable
- Very stiff
- Comfortable, slip-resistant grips
- Padded, absorbent, slip-resistant straps
- Highly suitable for serious mountaineering and bushwhacking
What’s Not So Good
- Edges of straps fray badly
- Small baskets collect mud and snow
- Baskets are difficult to remove
- Heavy for carbon fiber poles
|2006 Life-Link AT Superlight|
|Fixed length, 50 in (127 cm) tested|
|EVA closed cell foam grip glued to a Life-Link designed small diameter molded nylon and plastic grip. Strap is a woven back over Neoprene front with Lycra cover.|
Weight Per Pole
|Measured weight 7 oz (198 g), manufacturer claimed weight 6 oz (170 g) for 50 in (127 cm) length|
|44, 46, 48, 50, 52 in (112, 117, 122, 127, 132 cm)|
New in 2006, the Life-Link AT Superlight is a super stiff/super durable fixed length carbon fiber pole. They reside in Life-Link’s Expedition series, alongside the likes of their Guide Ultra-Light poles that have survived Himalayan expeditions with little or no breakage. In contrast to their super-duty credentials, I used them for lightweight backpacking and snowshoeing. At 7 ounces each, their weight doesn’t even come close to the Gossamer Gear Lightrek Plus poles at 2.5 ounces, or the Bozeman Mountain Works Stix Pro poles at 2.8 ounces (all weights for one 52-inch pole). So why go with heavier carbon fiber poles? After all, lightweight aluminum poles weigh around 7.5 to 9 ounces each, and that’s for adjustable models.
The AT Superlight is available in 44, 46, 48, 50, and 52 inch lengths. They have molded EVA foam grips with a hard plastic core and cap. Replaceable grips are compression fitted to the shafts. The attached wrist straps are thinly padded and covered with a slip-resistant and absorbent fabric. After three months of steady use the edges of the straps of my sample poles were badly frayed, which degraded their appearance (Life-Link assured me that the production poles would not have this problem).
The carbide tips are mounted in a hard plastic sleeve that is attached to the shaft with hot glue. The poles come with small 1.75-inch diameter cupped baskets that have a press-fit. They are lightweight and suitable for trekking, and can be exchanged for 3.5-inch snow baskets (not included) or replaced if needed.
To remove a carbide tip for replacement, simply heat it in boiling water, pull off the old one, and slip on the new one. There will be enough hot glue left on the shaft to hold the new tip. The slip-on baskets were more of a challenge to remove. Even by pushing the basket down with my boots, it was hard to remove but the basket eventually succumbed.
The carbon shafts taper from about 7/16-inch (11mm) at the top to about 5/16-inch (8mm) at the bottom.
I performed a stiffness test of the poles by suspending a pole between two chairs and pulling downward at the center with a digital fish scale. They bent about 2 inches with a lateral force of 25 pounds applied. These poles are stiff, but not as stiff as many aluminum alloy poles which bend only about 1.25 inches with the same amount of force. Their stiffness makes then very suitable for serious mountaineering and hard-core backpacking because of their compromise of stiff performance with a slight amount of forgiving flex.
I used the AT Superlights on nine major backpacking trips through a wide variety of terrains, both on- and off-trail. For on-trail hiking, their weight was more noticeable - while they are light, some feather-light poles would have been better. I didn’t notice any annoying vibration or noise when using them on-trail.
For off-trail hiking, the Superlights really come into their element. I used them for shelter support, vaulting across snowmelt-swollen streams, I caught them in cracks, I put my full weight on them stepping off of rocks and ledges, I bashed through brush, stepped over hundreds of logs, used them to dig a cat hole, and put many miles on them. They allowed me to vault across some gaps I might not have attempted otherwise. I even accidentally stepped on them. The only damage from all this is a few minor surface scratches.
While ultralight carbon poles will work for bushwhacking, you have to be careful with them because they are at-risk for breakage (and breaking your heart!). In contrast, I didn’t have to baby the Superlights a bit, and felt comfortable using them for any maneuver that I would do with an aluminum alloy pole. Their stiffness really made them responsive and supportive. I also liked their mass, which enabled me to use the poles to push brush aside more easily. The poles helped a lot to maintain balance through brush and slickrock, and crossing logs over streams. I could count on them to get a grip on a surface, and then lean on them to make my next move.
My biggest fear with carbon fiber trekking poles (and tent poles) is accidentally stepping on one in camp and breaking it. That’s not a problem with the AT Superlight. With the pole laying flat on the ground I did a step test with my full weight several times and the pole survived just fine. I’m sure you could break one if you really tried, but not from accidentally stepping on it.
Compatibility With Trekking Pole Shelters
|Shelter type and pole length required||Usable with this shelter?|
|Gossamer Gear/Tarptent Squall Classic (42 in/107 cm)||Yes|
|Tarptent Virga 2 / Squall 2 and Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo / Europa (45 in/114 cm)||Yes|
|Golite Trig 2 (48 in/123 cm)||Yes|
|MSR Missing Link (54 in/137 cm)||Yes|
I used the AT Superlight poles for tarp poles and to support a single wall tent (Gossamer Gear SpinnShelter and Tarptent Virga 2), and found that they work fine if I attached the guyline to the top of the pole (either end) then down to the ground. An adjustable length pole would work a little better. I also used the Superlight poles with snow baskets for snowshoeing and loved them. The fixed length poles don’t have the versatility of adjustable length poles, but for snowshoeing they worked just fine; skiing would be a different situation.
The only annoyance I encountered with the AT Superlights (besides the straps fraying) was the cupped baskets tended to fill up with mud or snow (noticeably increasing their weight at the tips), and I frequently needed to bang then on a tree to knock it out.
Getting back to my earlier question of “Why go with heavier carbon fiber poles?” the short answer is off-trail. These poles rock for serious mountaineering and bushwhacking. They are stiff, strong, and durable and will readily handle the rough stuff. They save a little weight compared to aluminum poles and offer the vibration damping of carbon fiber. They are built to last, and should stand up to years of use without failure. They are also an excellent value at $120.
The Life-Link AT Superlight is an expedition grade carbon fiber pole that is well suited for mountaineering and bushwhacking.
Recommendations for Improvement
I suggest adding a durable binding to the edges of the straps to make them more abrasion resistant. Also, a re-design of the trekking baskets might be in order so they don’t easily fill up with mud or snow. Making them easier to remove would also be an improvement.