Leki Vario XS
Leki's Vario XS four-season poles are designed for kids, but are fully functional on trail or in the snow. Adults or children who use poles in the 80-110 cm (31-43") range will find these two-piece poles are easy to adjust both for length and strap position. Leki's HTS 5.5 aluminum balances strength and weight, making the Vario XS a four-season pole that can adjust for growing children.
- Easy to adjust length
- Easy to adjust 1" wide straps
- Molded grips with ventilation
- 26.5" when fully collapsed
The Vario XS replaced the Leki Vario Jr. SpeedLock and, while aimed at younger hikers and skiers, is a full featured pole that shorter adults might find useful as well. Given their 110cm/43" length fully extended they should work for folks well over 5' though they are a tad short for me at 5'7".
Since these poles were a bit on the sort side for me I once again enlisted the aid of my nine-year-old daughter when it came to testing. After a summer of use and abuse we're ready to tell you all about these four-season poles, though we haven't had any snow on them yet.
Leki knows a few things about trekking poles and used their experience to create a well-fitting, comfortable hand grip. On the left side of the pic above you can see the ventilated part of the grip that fits into the palm of the user's hand. There is an opening at the bottom so air can flow through or if hands were really sweaty, sweat could drop down. On the right side of the pic you can see the front of the grip where fingers wrap around. It is lightly textured, grippy and has a molded shape that is easy to hang on to loosely.
The strap is a uniform 1-inch wide giving a good amount of surface area to support weight without hand abrasion. As we'll see in the next section, the straps are easily adjusted to get the right fit. While we haven't had a chance for cold weather testing, there is plenty of strap available to open them up for use with gloves.
The bright yellow lever at the top of the grips releases the strap when lifted. This allows for adjustment to get the straps set to get the best fit and function. Mini Stranger had no trouble working the lever and adjusting the straps herself. In cold weather with gloves on the quick release function could be used for easy entry and exit.
The Vario XS can be set to a desired length between 80 and 110 centimeters or about 31 to 43 inches. That range allows the poles to grow along with a child, getting taller as they do. Mini Stranger is around 55" these days and seems to like the poles set at 90cm, so I expect her to be able to continue to use them as she grows.
The Speedlock + mechanism Leki uses on the Vario XS is small, yet secure. The curved lever didn't collect weeds as it wrapped tightly around the pole. Despite that tight fit, the curved shape gave great leverage when opening it. My daughter was able to open and close the levers herself to make adjustments.
The simple tension adjuster is one feature that stood out to me. It was very easy to change the tension of the lever with a small spin. Small and efficient is a great combo when it comes to gear.
Traction & Baskets:
Leki used a steel tip that was somewhat squared off on the end when new and has become slightly rounded with wear. This is not an overly sharp point, which is perhaps a little safer for children. Combined with about 2.5 inches of shaft before hitting the baskets the Vario XS seemed to stick to the ground pretty well when Mini Stranger needed them to.
Terrain encountered included dirt paths, mud, talus, rocks, boulders, and slabs. My daughter doesn't always use the best pole technique, but she does know how to stick a pole in the ground to keep from falling over. Walking behind her I never saw the poles fail to stick when she needed them to if she got them in the ground.
The baskets are what Leki refers to as "alpine" and they include the Vario XS in both their trekking and ski collections. We didn't have the poles to test during snow season, but we've definitely had them out in the mud a few times. The baskets are slightly flexible and show some minimal signs of rock wear. Wedged into a slight notch in the shaft they appear to be removable and replaceable, but securely held in place. Looking at Leki's website I found they offer a variety of baskets ranging from large powder sized down to a 40mm size they refer to as performance.
Features & Ease of Use:
While many hiking poles have a similar mechanism to hold and adjust strap length, I've never seen one that worked as well as this in terms of ease of use. Leki touts it as a security release feature because it is designed to be easy to release so the user can pull their hand out if it feels stuck. The thumb pushes the lever up and pulling the hand out stretches the strap, expanding the hole for easy escape.
My testing partner used the Leki Vario XS extensively this summer on day hikes, overnighters and one weeklong Baxter State Park trip. Trails included dirt, mud, talus, rocks, boulders, and slabs. Cold weather, gloves, and snowy trails are not something we can simulate. We'll continue to test these poles into snow season to see how they work and report back on what we find out.
We stayed away from people this year as much as we could, but we definitely weren't trapped at home. Most of our travels were in Maine, but we did get to do one family visit to our section of the Cohos Trail in New Hampshire.
If you really want to see the poles in action they make several appearances in this video. They definitely got a workout that day, especially on the way down the Saddle Trail slide heh.
Both my testing partner and I were really impressed with these poles. Mini Stranger found them lighter than the hand-me-downs she'd been using and a lot sharper looking. I was impressed with the mechanics of the locks and the strap release. The light weight feel was also noticeable as each pole comes in at 211g/7.4oz on my scale.
The Vario XS are designed and marketed as being for "juniors/kids", but they are not toys. The materials and engineering are the same that Leki brings to their adult poles, just shorter. For folks who need 110cm or less they would work just fine for adults. At 5'7" they are just a tad short for me as I prefer 115cm, but pole length is personal and not just based on height.
Despite my asking more than once, Mini Stranger was unable to come up with anything she didn't like about the Leki Vario XS poles. My only complaint came from the one time we didn't want her to use them. We were headed up the Saddle Trail slide on our way up towards Katahdin and wanted to stow the poles so she could use her hands freely. Completely compressed the poles were 26.5 inches long. That is actually longer than my adult sized Komperdells when compressed. We looked at them on the back of her pack and thought it looked dangerously large so Frau Stranger carried them for her.
Other than that minor complaint I have nothing but good things to say as well. For growing kids the Vario XS can expand as they get taller. For shorter adults these poles might save some weight over carrying poles longer than needed. Either way these poles appear to be well made and durable with an expectation they would last.
I've been using hiking poles for many years. Mini Stranger started off her hiking career holding onto her mother's hand, but graduated to using poles before she turned five so she has four or five years of experience herself.
Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps
(Sample for testing and review provided by Leki)
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The Vario XS replaced the Leki Vario Jr. SpeedLock.
Current Retail: $59.95-$64.95
Historic Range: $34.98-$74.95
212 g per pole
80-110 cm infinitely adjustable
Lock Security Strap
Aluminium (HTS 5.5)
Speed Lock +