Notes on the Leki Sierra hiking pole/monopod.
Copyright © 2002 NK Guy
Also sold as the Leki Sierra Antishock (A/S) Photo System (FS).
Hiking or trekking poles have been popular in continental Europe for a long time. Its a totally normal sight to see a vigorous hiker, striding along a trail in the Alps or wherever with a staff in either hand. But here in North America theyre still quite unusual and some people seem to think youre rather weird for hiking with a ski pole. Ignore them. Hiking poles are valuable for hikers of all ages. They take some of the weight of your body and transfer it to your arms rather than just your legs. Theyre particularly useful on steep hills.
The Leki Sierra is a lightweight hiking staff or pole which includes a standard tripod mount screw to which a camera can be attached. It can thus double as a camera monopod. Heres a brief review.
The staff is made of slender aluminium alloy tubes coated with glossy dark green or blue enamel, and comes in three adjustable telescoping sections. To loosen or tighten the friction-held sections you grip and rotate the entire tube - the pole does not have separate rotating collars. Its quite lightweight and seems very sturdy. The pole ranges in length from 78 to 145cm (about 30 to 57 inches for Americans) and weighs 340 grams (12 ounces).
The AS version of the pole also contains a springloaded antishock system - the end of each tube retracts into the next section by a centimetre or so - which is meant to act as a shock absorber for your wrists and arms when walking on hard ground. This seems to work reasonably well, though its a subtle effect. It can also be overridden if youd prefer not to have a shock absorber. The staff is straight - its not one of the poles with angled handles or whatnot.
The handle is a simple sleeve made of soft black synthetic foam rubber of the kind commonly seen on bicycle handlebars. (ie: its not a sculpted grip designed to fit your hand, like most hiking poles - for that you need the Leki Wanderfreund or Makalu FS poles) Theres a removable nylon wrist strap and a regular 1/4" tripod mount screw on the end. The staff comes with a rounded varnished wooden pommel which screws onto this tripod mount when you havent got a camera attached to it. Apparently some versions of this tripod include a small compass built into the pommel, but mine hasnt got one.
One detail of note is that the wrist strap attaches to the tripod mount screw, between the staff and the pommel. This means you can unscrew the pommel and add a monopod head and still have use of the strap. Some photo hiking staffs (eg: those made by Komperdell) have the strap attached to the pommel.
The end of the staff has a slightly flexible tip with a sharp carbide point for hiking on trails. It also comes with a rubber foot that fits over this metal point for hiking on concrete or stone pavements, etc. Finally theres a rubber collar (an interchangeable basket) which is useful when hiking on soft ground, such as snow or mud.
The pole is sold individually. Unlike some poles it doesnt ship as a pair. Though Leki Lenhart GmbH make a big marketing point of their German engineering, the pole is actually constructed in the Czech Republic.
What do I think of it?
As a monopod the Leki Sierra works about as well as youd expect. Attaching a camera straight to the monopod is fine, though its a little awkward as you have to rotate the entire pole or camera to screw it into place. Alternatively you can attach a monopod head. I bought a Manfrotto 234RC (Bogen 3229) quick-release swivel monopod head for mine, about which I have mixed feelings. Its great to clip on the camera and go, but the solid metal head weighs quite a lot and throws the centre of gravity of the pole way off - it becomes completely top-heavy and annoying to walk with. Im sure a lighter head would be more suitable. I might try Manfrottos monopod flex head someday.
One drawback of using this hiking pole as a monopod is that it only extends to 145cm, which means that average sized and taller people will have to bend over somewhat to see into the camera viewfinder. (unless you have a waist-level finder, of course) This fact alone may be enough to dissuade possible buyers of the product - its harder to keep the camera motionless when youre bending over. True photographic monopods, such as Manfrottos 479, extend to at least 160cm and are much thicker - probably able to support heavier gear. (Ive never read any ratings for maximum load of the Leki Sierra, so I dont know if its suitable for really heavy telephoto glass - I suspect it isnt) Though it should also be noted that the 479 weighs nearly twice as much as the Leki pole.
Im no expert on or connoisseur of hiking poles, and my only experience with other poles has been walking around in shops with them, but the Leki Sierra seems about as good as they get for an aluminium pole - it seems sturdy enough, it has the antishock system, etc. The only really notable difference is that the Leki Sierra reviewed here does not have a sculpted handgrip. That and the fact that adding a simple threaded bolt for a camera seems to double the price from a non-camera system pole. Ideally you want two hiking poles, but a pair of the Leki Sierras costs almost as much as a pair of titanium poles.
So. Should you bother to get one of these? Well, that really depends on the type of photography you do. Photographers who do a lot of hiking may find of these of benefit, though a monopod cant offer the stability of a tripod, and so the monopod isnt really as appropriate for detailed nature photography as a heavy stable tripod. Monopods are useful for supporting the weight of light and moderately heavy gear, but only prevent movement in one dimension - you can still have your camera wobble around and wreck a shot if you dont stand with your feet somewhat apart in a steady fashion. Monopods are certainly useful for photography in buildings or caves where tripods are banned. And since its just a regular walking stick you may be able to use it in places where photographic equipment is viewed with suspicion.
In the end, though, Im far more likely to use this thing as a hiking pole than I am as an actual monopod. I usually carry a lightweight Ultrapod II mini tripod with me, which generally serves me well. This tiny tripod has a velcro strap so you can strap the thing down to branches, fence posts, etc.
As noted, Leki also sell Wanderfreund and Makalu poles in FS (photo system) versions, but Ive never seen or used them.
Where do you find them?
Many outdoor recreation suppliers stock this product. A quick Web search reveals a number of online hiking and outdoor supply retailers that also sell them. Shop around - Ive seen prices ranging from around $55 US to $75 for the same product.
- NK Guy, PhotoNotes.org.
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