The REI Traverse trekking pole is an aluminum alloy pole in the mid-price range. You can adjust the pole length with power lock levers. It ranges from a collapsed length of 24" to an extended length of 29". The Traverse has cork grips on its aluminum alloy shaft. Its weight, about 17 ounces, is comparable to the Black Diamond Carbon and Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles.
Claire Walters, the author of "Nordic Walking," tests the Traverse pole. Claire, at less than 5' tall, has small hands and would prefer the contour on the cork grip to be shifted higher (closer to the top of the grip, and to the bottom of her hand).
We found the strap adjustment frustrating. After we started hiking with bare hands, the wind freshened. We donned our gloves, then tried to lengthen the strap. We couldn't move it. A friend who was on-hand — a one-time mechanical engineer with technical skill, patience, and hand strength — tried and failed to lengthen the strap as well. We struggled during the remainder of the hike with too-short pole straps.
The grip showsing the adjustment block, which fits into a miniscule opening. A larger opening might allow the strap to move freely and allow the user to lengthen the strap. In the current configuration, the strap is difficult to lengthen.
When we returned, our engineering friend pulled out the wedge-shaped locking block using needle-nose pliers, and even with pliers, still had difficulties lengthening the strap. The little block that holds it in place is too large for the small opening and will catch when you try to extend the strap.
Unless you adjust the straps to a length you'll use all day before hiking, expect to be frustrated. We know two hikers who never use pole straps — this pole would be a good fit for them.
The grip of the Traverse shown with the block pulled out (using pliers). The adjustment block has teeth that grip the strap as you pull on it, and the strap that you're trying to pull out is held in by the block's teeth. Instead of pulling the top strap, which wouldn't be held by the teeth, in order to lengthen the strap, one must pull the bottom strap, which is held by the teeth.
When we hike 14ers, we start at 8,000 feet in the sun, and ascend to 14,000 feet, with cold, wind, and possible snow flurries. We need a strap that will lengthen if the weather deteriorates. We find the straps rough, and they chafe the wrist.
Our second comfort complaint is that the grip, made of a harder and less pliable cork, is not as comfortable and doesn't conform to the hands like the Black Diamond cork grips. The grips' contours are also poorly placed for smaller hands, a frustrating design flaw on a women's specific pole.
The grip on the Traverse is made of a harder cork than other options and does not mold as well to the hand. The strap is difficult to lengthen. We can only pull out the adjustment block to lengthen the strap using needle-nose pliers.
These poles weigh 8.8 ounces each, like the Black Diamond Carbon, and a bit more than the Leki Vario, which weight 16.2 ounces together. This weight is about average for a trekking pole and didn't detract from our experience hiking with the Traverse Power Lock.
Locking and Adjustability
The locking mechanism doesn't always catch. We had to unlock and relock it on occasion. It's an annoying issue.
This may be because the adjusting sleeve is too large to grip the base pole easily. We looked for play within the Power Lock itself but didn't find any. The two halves of the plastic Power Lock touch when we close the lever, and no further adjustment or tightening is possible.
REI Traverse's external locking mechanism.
The poles collapse down to 61 cm (24"), similar to the Black Diamond Carbon, at 60 cm (23") or the REI Flash at 58 cm (23"). The Women's Leki Vario, at 38 cm (15.5"), is significantly shorter when packed. All of these poles pack away well enough for casual hiking and backpacking purposes.
Here are five of the poles we tested, the Cascade, REI Flash, REI Traverse, Black Diamond Alpine, and Leki Micro Vario. They are collapsed to give a length comparison.
The poles did not break while we used them, but online reviews indicate that these poles may suffer when faced with wear and tear.
One review reported that the locking mechanism broke on the first hike. Another user reported falling and bending the bottom shaft. Yet another hiker used the poles on Mt. Rainier, and one pole broke in half at the plastic clip. Other Seattle area hikers went hiking into Alpine Lakes, and within 100 feet, the poles collapsed and failed. Tightening the screw did not work to keep the poles fully extended.
Other hikers confirm that the locking mechanism is a weak point for them as well, with both cracks and complete breaks reported. Another person ordered poles, and when they arrived, both poles were broken at the top where the straps emerge from the cork grip. We love REI's return policy, and you might have to use it with these poles.
REI Traverse Power Lock external locking mechanisms in the closed position.
These poles work for day hikes or backpacking. Though, if you really rely on your poles, you may want to consider a sturdier pair like the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork for long backcountry missions or multi-day trips. For snowshoeing or backcountry skiing, the lack of strap adjustability presents an obstacle.
The Traverse is best used for day hikes and shorter hikes, as both the strap size and the pole shaft length are difficult to adjust.
This hiking pole is in the middle of the price range. For a moderate price, you get a cork grip, adjustable length, a lightweight pole, and REI's gear guarantee, which you might need.
The REI Traverse is a fine pole for local day hikes and short hikes on fairly level terrain. If anything breaks, REI has excellent customer service. If you experience any problems with the poles breaking or collapsing, REI will either replace the poles or refund them for another pair.