For two weeks last summer I used the Ultimate Direction FK Trekking Poles while guiding trips on the Pfiffner Traverse in Rocky Mountain National Park. The FK Poles were new for spring 2018 and are part of an adventure-oriented collection that also includes the FK Tarp, FK Bivy, and FK Gaiters. FK is short for “fastest known,” as in “fastest known time,” which is suggestive of the design ethos — an emphasis on performance and weight, not necessarily comfort or convenience.
The pre-production poles were given to me by Ultimate Direction, which was not expecting (but which will be thankful for) a review. As a longtime friend of the UD brand manager, Buzz Burrell, I end up with a lot of UD products, only some of which gets mentioned here.
Review: Ultimate Direction FK Trekking Poles
The Ultimate Direction FK Trekking Poles feature a single-piece shaft, foam grips (with extensions), woven nylon wrist straps, and carbide tips. Their length cannot be adjusted, and they do not collapse.
The FK Poles are stronger and stiffer than any trekking or ski pole that I have ever used, while also being among the lightest — just 3.7 oz (105 g) in my size 115 cm without straps or baskets. They are an absolute joy to use.
However, because they cannot be adjusted or collapsed, the FK Poles have limitations. They are best for local trips without extensive scrambling, because they don’t fly or stow away well; and they are not compatible with many trekking pole-supported shelters without additional pole jacks.
I found just one flaw with my FK Poles, which was reportedly addressed before full production. The tips quickly wore out and will require premature replacement.
- 4.0 oz (per pole, 115 cm)
- Single-piece fixed-length carbon fiber shaft
- Lower shaft wrapped in aramid (generic Kevlar) for abrasion-resistance
- EVA foam grip with extensions
- Woven nylon wrist strap
- Available in lengths 110 cm through 135 cm, in 5-cm increments
- More information
Strength and stiffness
All things being equal:
- Carbon fiber shafts are stronger and stiffer than aluminum shafts; and,
- One-piece shafts are stronger and stiffer than multi-piece shafts.
So in terms of strength and stiffness, the FK Poles already have two things going for them: they’re made of carbon fiber, and they’re one-piece.
But with the FK Poles, there’s a third ingredient at play, too: the shafts are over-sized. The maximum diameter of the FK Poles (at the top of the shaft) is 20 mm, which is an:
- 11 percent increase versus standard 18-mm shafts, like on the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork ($170, 7.5 oz) and Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock ($30, 7 oz); and,
- 48 percent increase versus 13.5-mm shafts, like on the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles ($170, 5 oz for 120 cm).
By increasing the shaft diameter, pole strength and stiffness both increase exponentially. If you’re a physicist or engineer, please chime in on the accuracy of UD’s claim: “Increasing the diameter doesn’t just increase the strength proportionally, it squares the strength, and cubes the increase in stiffness!”
The FK Pole is so strong and stiff that it almost feels like another material. I’ve been using carbon fiber poles for 15 years, and these feel utterly different.
If you build it, will they come? In the case of one-piece fixed-length poles, few manufacturers have been willing to find out. There are only a few other models in this space:
- Black Diamond Vapor Carbon 1 ($150, 5.5 oz for 115 cm), is the most similar, with long foam grips and carbide tips, but narrower shafts;
- Black Diamond Expedition 1 ($60, 6.6 oz for 115 cm), which are identical to the Carbon 1 but have aluminum shafts;
- Gossamer Gear LT3 C (3.1 oz for 115 cm) are very light, but thin-shafted and relatively wobbly;
- Komperdell Carbon Trail Ultralight ($150), for which the weight is unknown; and,
- Leki Vertical K ($160, 5.0 oz for 120 cm) have Nordic-style grips and 16-mm shafts.
Adjustable poles out-sell fixed-length poles by multiples. If you buy the FK Poles, you’ll learn why. They:
- Don’t travel well (or for free, unless you’re on Southwest or have baggage perks);
- Stick about two feet above the backpack when stowed, making them unwieldy when scrambling or bushwhacking;
- Are incompatible with many many trekking pole-supported shelters;
- Break catastrophically, with no opportunity to repair them completely by simply replacing a broken segment; and,
- Cannot be adjusted for different terrain types (e.g. extended steep downhills), outdoor activities (e.g. trekking and alpine touring), or users (e.g. you and your SO).
Only one of these issues can be easily addressed. If your shelter has a fixed height (e.g. if it’s not at 125 cm, it’s floppy), you can bring pole jacks/extensions made of aluminum or carbon fiber tubing.
Room for improvement
I found only one flaw with the FK Poles: its carbide tips. UD tells me that these tips were improved between my sample pole and the product models.
The specific problems were:
- The carbide pieces unscrewed with use, putting them at risk of falling out completely. My solution was to super-glue them in place permanently.
- The tips wore down quickly, requiring premature replacement.
For instructions on how to replace trekking pole tips, refer to this tutorial. Use the Leki Universal Carbide Flextip because they will have little effect on the height of the FK Poles. Normally I recommend the Black Diamond Flex Tips because they are less expensive and because the resulting change in pole height can be negated with an adjustable-length pole.
Questions about the FK Poles, or have an experience with them? Leave a comment.Buy now: Ultimate Direction FK Trekking Poles
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Could you explain what you mean by carbon fiber poles being stronger than aluminum ones? (It’s always been my understanding that carbon fiber poles are more prone to breaking than aluminum poles. Is this wrong, or do you mean something different by ‘stronger’?)
Per weight, CF is stronger than aluminum. So if you have two poles of equal strength, the CF pole will be lighter. Or, if you have two poles of equal weight, the CF pole will be stronger.
I’ve seen CF and aluminum poles break, and have broken both myself (although it’s been a while). In all cases, the pole — regardless of its material — would have snapped or bent beyond usability.
From an engineering perspective, a given material will yield/fracture when the stress (force/area) exceeds a certain level. Area is proportional to radius squared, so the strength claim seems accurate at face value.
The claim on stiffness is a bit less clear but seems conservative. If we consider the pole as a cantilevered beam, the stiffness of the pole is 3E*I/L^3 where “I” is the moment of inertia. For a circular beam, I is proportional to radius^4, rather than cubed as UD claims. So doubling the radius would increase stiffness by 16x.
I’ve made what I think are logical assumptions above but it’s entirely possible that UD modeled it differently in either case. So I’d rate their claims as reasonable, particularly since one is spot on and the other is more conservative than my admittedly quick assessments.
For those interested, there are lots of online references for beam bending, but Wikipedia is plenty good: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deflection_(engineering)#Cantilever_beams
I like CF for its strength and stiffness, but it’s prone to abrasion from rocks, especially the lower part of the pole. Aluminium takes wear much better. My solution: I made my own hybrid poles, upper two segments in CF, lower segments were reused from an aluminium Leki Sherpa XL. They weigh 226gr. each (8 oz) which isn’t UL but light enough, and they’re stronger than the original Lekis – plenty strong enough to hold a HMG Ultamid 4 in 45mph winds.
Good idea! Which poles did you use for the upper 2 segments? Also Leki or does it work wit h any manufacturer?
You use 115 cm poles.
How tall are you ?
6 ft with a 32-33 inch pant inseam
By the book, I should use 120 cm. But when hiking off-trail and on rugged trails (i.e. lots of rocks and step-ups), which I do nearly exclusively, I find I like the shorter length. It seems like more often than not, the poles are out in front of me and I’m leaning on them as I climb.
Have you used these poles in combination with a pole jack to set up the Sierra Designs High Route? If so, is there a specific pole jack that would work, being that the pole tip fits into the grommet at the bottom of the tent? I haven’t seen anything like that online, but I could do a little fabricating. These are intriguing poles, but they may not be worth fooling with considering I have a few trekking pole supported tents that require poles of different lengths.
I have not used a pole jack with the FK Poles, and don’t have a jack recommendation. Sorry.
When I was using them, I was camping in a hammock and didn’t need the extra height or adjustability. If you have “a few” trekking pole supported shelters, I think you’ll probably want an adjustable jack. You might buy a pair of CMT Quick Lock Poles that you can cut down and play with.
Just after 3-4 times
I needed to replace the tips.
I ordered the Leki flextip (short)
but the diameter of the Leki Flextip seems to narrow
the pole is wider already from the tip of the pole…
Other more suitable tips for replacement than the Leki flextips ?
Get the Black Diamond tips
The Leki tips definitely don’t fit these poles.
How easy is it to remove the straps? On the UD website I don’t see a photo of the connection point to the pole. Is a tool needed or can they be removed/added in the field?
Very easy to remove the straps, just cut them. Not sure there is a way to remove them in the field in such a way that you could re-install them.
For my poles ordered June 2019, the straps are looped under a fixed bar in the top of the poles, which is much different than other poles I’ve owned. The straps themselves are secured with an adjustable Velcro loop. By opening it, you can just unthread the straps from the poles. No tool is necessary, and this is easily accomplished in the field. Re-threading the straps under the bar is more annoying, but doable.
I find the strap connection point a little awkward for palming downhill, but it doesn’t bother me much. As someone with a history of breaking adjustable poles, I’m happy so far with the weight, rigidity and strength. Time will tell on the tips.
The pictures you were looking for:
Hi, Andrew, great work.
Regarding tip replacement:
– I have tried the Black Diamond Flex Tech Tips, and they don’t work: they barely enter 1 cm in the pole, a no-no.
– I have tried the tips I bought for old Gossamer Gear LT3s: they are better. They have approximately the same length of the original tips, but they get in just halfway, so I’m very dubious about the reliability of it all -as a side effect now my poles are 123 cm long, instead of 120.
Has anybody found the “right” tip replacements? Haven’t found anything in the UD website, and I’m really dubious about using the Gossamer Gear tips, they look like a fragile solution.
Contact Ultimate Direction directly.
I bought new set of tips from them.
email [email protected] and ask for new tips.
I have received confirmation that the tips of these poles are not designed to be removed. I broke a tip over the weekend and it revealed the tip is glued to the pole. I emailed support and they informed me that they will send a new pair if I show proof I destroyed the old ones.
Based on Andrew’s review and some of the comments it’s clear the manufacturing/design has been evolving.
I’m new to trekking poles. I’m thinking about these ones. I’d be using poles only for local day-hikes and don’t need poles for a shelter set-up. Also, I won’t be needing to do a lot of scrambling, so I don’t think I’d need to stow the poles on my backpack often, if at all. So, these fixed-length poles sound appealing. The only reason I can think of needing adjustable poles would be for adjusting the length for ascending and descending. Do you adjust your pole length when you ascend or do you just choke up on the pole? And what about when you descend – do you extend the length of the pole or leave it as is? Do you have a sense of whether or not most others do just fine ascending or descending with a fixed-length pole or if they really prefer an adjustable pole for that reason?
Also, I may want to use poles for snowshoeing also. Do you use the same length poles for snowshoeing as for 3-season hiking? Or do you prefer a longer pole in snow? If you prefer a longer one, how much longer do you like your snowshoe poles to be?
Finally, you mentioned that your recommended pole length is 120 cm, but you found you prefer 115 cm. Is that pretty typical for people to like a pole 5 cm less than what manufacturer’s recommend?
Thanks so much for your helpful articles on trekking poles!
I never adjust the length of the poles when climbing or descending. Instead, when climbing I choke down on the extension grips. And when descending I stretch out my arm a bit more.
For snowshoeing you would need some extra length, 5-10 cm depending on the density of the snow.
I’m uncertain how common it is to prefer shorter-than-recommended lengths. In my case it’s mostly because I do a lot of off-trail travel, and I find that shorter poles are more agile on very uneven ground or in brush.
Hi, Andrew. I have these poles in a couple different sizes and love them. Bought on your recommendation. Unfortunately, the plastic tips have broken on all of them (same issue as you and others). Others have noted that Black Diamond and Leki tips don’t really work, and Gossamer Gear tips are less than ideal. The customer support over at Exxel (parent company of Ultimate Direction) has been courteous, but unable to give me any information about replacement tips. Do you know anyone over at Ultimate Direction that could shed some light on sourcing tips that would fit the wide diameter of these poles? I’d hate to through three pairs in the garbage simply because I can’t find replacements for what is generally understood to be a consumable part. I’d appreciate any help.
I wish I could give you good news. I am in the same situation with a set of mine. I was able to get Black diamond tips onto them, but One of the tips did not sit deeply enough and it bent in half after a while.
I thought that one option might be boiling the tips, to soften the plastic, and then installing them while they are soft. If you try that, or if you find another solution, let me know.
Gotcha. Going through Leki’s website, it seems they offer several different replacement tips for different models. This one (link below), with a 14mm opening, looks promising. I’ll be checking out the others on there too. Thank you for repsonding and the original endorsement. Truly great poles, and great to lend to those new to sticks because of the lightness and static size.
How did the larger diameter tips work?
Nope. They’re part of a special “antishock” system (photo link below) with a pin and insert (service video link below). Clever design, but not helpful for the hack purpose being discussed here.
Leki doesn’t list the inside diameters of other replacement tips on their product pages. I’ll be requesting that info, but I’m not hopeful.
I’m going to try your idea, and the next thing being considered is a sturdy aluminum insert for the UD pole that will also fit into a standard replacement tip from BD or Leki. Quest Outfitters has a lot of options on that front (link below). I’m more optimistic there.
Backcountry is also selling the FK poles for relatively cheap (odd sizes), so one could spend $52 and cannibalize them for the same, likely-to-fail-soon tips. No thanks.
I’m just using other poles for now, trying to take advantage of the remaining time before The Sierra freezes over. This will likely be a winter workshop project. I’ll keep you updated. If you have any other ideas, I’m all ears. Thanks, Andrew.
Poles and sleeves:
Did I say $52? I meant $30 + s/h. https://www.steepandcheap.com/ultimate-direction-fk-carbon-trekking-pole
Despite my best efforts, I was unable to get any useful information from Leki on the relevant dimensions of their various replacement tips. My request was likely too unusual for a service rep to understand/accommodate. They were polite, but ultimately unhelpful. If something in their product line does work I do not know.
The “stint” idea I had did not work. The taper of the main pole prevents it.
My closest success was finding some tips on Amazon with a 12mm inside diameter at the collar––the largest I could find. That’s just 1mm smaller than the outside diameter of where it needed to be. They also turned out to be very close in length to the original tips. In the vein of the way you mentioned, I used a heat gun to deform the plastic while carefully forcing the trekking pole into it: heat, pound, repeat. The opening of the plastic collar (the 12mm diameter opening) got very close to where it originally sat on the pole (where the pole is 13mm in diameter). The plastic was visibly bulging as it was being displaced by the trekking pole. However, the plastic ultimately folded rather than continue to deform. This happened twice, the fold being at the small end near the metal insert that holds the carbide tip. It looked similar to how the original tip failed.
I cut into the area where the fold occurred. It seems the very tip of the trekking pole is likely too wide to sit far enough into the skinny end of the plastic. I previously thought the problem was with the inside collar diameter, but now believe the skinny end is the main constraint. The 9mm outside diameter of the very tip of the un-sheathed trekking pole is just too fat, leaving too much hollow plastic. It would never have been strong enough to lend confidence.
I may try this again with some other kind of tip, or see about filling in the void at the end of a replacement tip with some kind of flexibly epoxy. Not sure yet.
Steve, please keep us posted. I love these poles but broke a tip and don’t want to discard them.
The same here, love the poles, it is too bad there are no tips readily available