Life-Link Guide Ultra Light Trekking Poles REVIEW

Product performance review of the Life-Link Guide Ultra Light Trekking Poles, lightweight poles for backpacking.

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by Alan Dixon | 2005-05-03 03:00:00-06

Overview

Life-Link Guide Ultra Light Trekking Poles - 1
My wife, Alison, going over a High Sierra col. A feature that sets the Life-Link poles apart from all others is their adaptability for technical snow use. They convert to a short avalanche probe and have an optional self arrest grip, "The Claw."

Life-Link claims that "The Guide Ultra Light is one of the lightest and most dependable trekking poles on Earth!" While no pole is perfect, and we do have a few beefs with the poles, the statement has merit. The Life-Link Guide Ultra Lights were our highest rated poles. They were among our stiffest poles. They were also within a few tenths of an ounce of being our lightest adjustable poles due to their two-section design, a short overall length, and carbon fiber lower shafts. (Note: the recently released REI/Komperdell all carbon fiber poles are quite a bit lighter.) One feature that sets the Life-Link poles apart from all others is their adaptability for technical snow use. The Guide Ultra Lights: 1) convert to a short avalanche probe, 2) can be adapted with a self arrest grip called "The Claw," and 3) have a rough sandpaper-like shaft grip section, the " Friction Zone," which lets you adjust them easily with heavy mitts on. No other poles come close for technical winter/snow use.

The Guide Ultra Light's major limitation is size and adjustability. This is true of most two-section poles. With a maximum extension of 48 inches they won't fit some tall hikers (one of our 6' reviewers found them too short), or work with some trekking pole-supported shelters. (Note: the almost identical Life-Link Carbon Race poles extend to over 57 inches and should accommodate most shelters and tall hikers.) Finally, at 30 inches, they aren't all that compact stowed. They may not fit into a small pack or duffel bag and on the trail they extend beyond the top of most backpacks when stowed.

What's Good

  • Hybrid construction - aluminum upper and carbon fiber lower keeps performance high and cost low
  • One of the stiffest and lightest adjustable poles we tested
  • Low swing weight due to carbon fiber lower shaft
  • Technical use on snow - converts to short avalanche probe, optional self arrest handle
  • Oval section locks less prone to jam or spin than traditional circular locks
  • Good value at $99 for lightweight carbon fiber poles

What's Not So Good

  • Size limited: 48-inch maximum extension - won't fit tall hikers or work with some shelters
  • Size limited: doesn't compact as short as three-section poles, may not fit in pack or luggage
  • Section locks sometimes needed a light "jiggle" to slide for length adjustment (Note: the section locks did not jam)
  • Newly released, comparable all-carbon poles are 30% lighter

Specifications

• Trekking Pole Type

Collapsible two-section trekking pole

• Shaft Material

Hybrid: Aluminum upper shaft, carbon fiber lower shaft

• Tips

Replaceable carbide flextips

• Grips

Grip materialGrip SizeStrap included?
EVA foam with a hard plastic top capmediumyes

• Weight

Weight per pole (oz)Weight per pole (g)
BackpackingLight measured7.8 without baskets224
Manufacturer claim7.0 with baskets198

• Pole Length

inchescentimeters
Minimum length 30 76
Maximum length 48 122

• Model Year

2004

• MSRP

$99.00

Note: The Life-Link Carbon Race poles are two-piece and similar to the Guide Ultra Light but longer. Specifications for Life-Link Carbon Race Poles: 8.8 oz (250 g) each without baskets, 57.5 in (146 cm) maximum length, 39.25 in (100 cm) minimum length.

Usable Features and Ease of Use

The Life-Link Guide Ultra Lights have a traditional aluminum upper shaft and a carbon fiber lower shaft. With only one adjustment joint and a maximum length of 48 inches, much of the weight of the poles goes into stiff shaft sections. The beefy shafts equate to strength and durability. The carbon fiber lower section uses thick wall sections, hardly flexes at all, and looks very durable.

The Guide Ultra Lights have more features than the other poles we reviewed. They convert to a short avalanche probe by unscrewing the lower shaft from each pole and then screwing the lower shafts together to make a 56 inch avalanche probe - not long by rescue standards but better than nothing. The conversion to a probe takes less than a minute. You can also buy an extension piece to make the probe longer. The upper shaft/grip of one pole can be replaced with "The Claw" self-arrest grip. While not a substitute for an ice axe, it does a credible job in snow that is not too hard. The Claw is plastic and does not penetrate and arrest as well in hard snow like neve (consolidated granular snow). Finally, nice under any conditions, is a rough sandpaper like shaft grip section, the " Friction Zone," that lets you easily adjust the poles, even with heavy mitts on. No other poles come close for technical winter/snow use.

The medium sized grips fit both my hand and my wife's. Both of us found them comfortable and non-fatiguing. The straps are wide and substantial, and the webbing is comfort lined with a soft neoprene like foam. The plastic cap at the top of the grips is a nice durability feature. The Life-Link oval section locks haven't jammed or slipped in almost a year of use. I occasionally have to jiggle the locks to adjust them to a new length. This only takes a few seconds, requires no force, and is more of an irritation than a serious functional problem with the poles.

The replaceable carbide flex tips of the poles have a cup shaped (non-serrated) end. The tips gripped well on all surfaces. I especially liked the Life-Link trekking baskets which are smaller diameter and more conical than other trekking pole baskets. They get in the way less and don't snag as much as other trekking baskets. There are optional snow baskets for the poles. It is easy to change baskets.

Shelter (pole length needed)Usable with this shelter?
Six Moon Designs Europa 2 (104 cm)Yes
Golite Trig 2 (123 cm)Marginal (122 cm)
MSR Missing Link (137 cm) No

I'm 5'8" tall and found I had more than enough length from the poles, but one of our 6' reviewers found them too short. At maximum extension the poles work with all the shelters I use - various tarps, Tarptents, and a Six Moon Designs Europa II. The poles are marginal with a GoLite Trig 2 and do not work with the MSR Missing Link. The poles are very stiff and strong enough to support a shelter. The longer Life-Link Carbon Race poles would be more than adequate for most shelters, including the Missing Link, as well as long enough for hikers who are too tall to use the Guide Ultra Lights.

Weight/Swing Weight

With a carbon fiber lower shaft much of the weight of the pole is in the upper aluminum grip section of the pole. A light lower shaft makes for a lower moment of inertia and good swing weight. On the trail, the Guide Ultra Light poles easily swing back and forth with each stride without causing a lot of fatigue and it's easy to put the tip right where you want it.

Lateral Stiffness/Stability

These poles are stiff. The only poles I evaluated that were stiffer than the Life-Link Guide Ultra Lights were the heavier Exped Alpinist Carbon poles. The Life-Links have a strong ovalized upper section of aluminum and a substantial carbon fiber lower section. A single adjustment joint removes a flex point over three-section poles. The three-section Leki Ultralight Ti AirErgo aluminum poles, which weigh near the same, are downright whippy and flexible in comparison.

Trail Vibration

Life-Link Guide Ultra Light Trekking Poles - 2
The Life-Link Guide Ultra Lights were among the best poles at absorbing vibration when traveling over rock and hard trail.

Carbon fiber is a wonderful thing for reducing vibration. Years ago I noticed reduction in vibration when I switched from a metal to carbon fiber fork on my road bike. The same is true for trekking poles. On hard trails and on rock, the Life-Link Guide Ultra Light poles absorb that uncomfortable zing up the shaft that metal poles exhibit. On a side by side comparison, the Guide Ultra Lights damped vibration as well as any pole tested - even the all carbon fiber ones. This is probably due to the carbon fiber lower shaft and the substantial strength of both upper and lower shafts. Finally, I am not a fan of poles with a spring shock absorbing mechanism. More weight, more stuff to go wrong, and I don't like the squishy feel of the springs. Carbon fiber with its low weight and good feel is a better solution to trail vibration.

Durability

The beefy shafts equate to strength and durability. When you really flex the poles they are stiff and solid with none of the creaking and crackling noises I hear flexing some of my other carbon fiber poles. The flex tips, trekking baskets, and the 5-inch Friction Zone grip combine to protect the most abuse pone section of the pole - the bottom 7 inches. This is where the poles get banged against sharp objects and get stuck between rocks. The single section lock leaves only a single point of failure and the oval section locks work as well now as when I got the poles. Another durability feature is a hard plastic cap to take abuse at the top of the pole. This is especially nice if you use it as a shelter support. I've used the poles for almost a year now and they show every indication of lasting another 10 years.

Value

For a light, very rigid, and durable pole the Life-Link Guide Ultra Lights are hard to beat. They were among our lightest sectional poles but also among the stiffest and most durable. They were comparable in weight and stiffness to other sectional carbon fiber poles but cost $30 less. Add their snow adaptability and they are a bargain for a high performance pole.

Recommendations for Improvement

Take the jiggle out of pole length adjustment. The most annoying thing about the Life-Link poles was that I occasionally had to jiggle them a bit to adjust them to a new length. This took only a few seconds, required no force, and was more of an irritation than a serious functional problem with the poles. To be fair, they never jammed or slipped and I was always able to adjust them. The Life-Link Carbon Race poles I tested needed no jiggling to slide to a new length.

Life-Link is under stiff competition with the introduction of new all carbon fiber poles from Komperdell (also sold by REI under their own brand name). The two-section Komperdell Carbon Tour Duolock poles are longer (53-54 inches, 135-137 centimeters) and about 30% lighter (5.6 ounces, 159 grams per pole) than the Guide Ultra Lights. But the Komperdell poles have none of the snow amenities of the Life-Link poles and their long-term durability remains unproven. Even so, it may be time for Life-Link to consider an all carbon fiber pole.


Citation

"Life-Link Guide Ultra Light Trekking Poles REVIEW," by Alan Dixon. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/life_link_guide_ultra_light_trekking_poles_review.html, 2005-05-03 03:00:00-06.

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