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Ultimate Direction FK Ultra Poles Review

A lightweight and lightly-featured pole at a premium price for trail running and fast hiking
Ultimate Direction FK Ultra Poles
Photo: Ultimate Direction
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Price:  $190 List | $149.95 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, comfortable straps, easy to hold while running
Cons:  No length adjustment, doesn’t pack small, not versatile, expensive
Manufacturer:   Ultimate Direction
By Jeff Dobronyi ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 19, 2021
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52
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#16 of 16
  • Comfort - 20% 6
  • Weight - 20% 10
  • Locking and Adjustability - 15% 2
  • Packed Size - 15% 2
  • Durability - 15% 5
  • Versatility - 15% 4

Our Verdict

The Ultimate Direction FK Carbon poles are fixed-length carbon poles made specifically for mountain running and fast trail pursuits. To cut weight, the poles have no length adjustability and don’t collapse to a smaller size for packing. The grip is somewhat comfortable on its own, but the grip and wrist strap work together to produce a comfortable system for assisting hard uphill hiking and running. These poles aren’t meant to stand up to the abuse of rugged off-trail terrain, but for fast hikers and mountain runners, they are a great, albeit expensive, choice.

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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Lightweight, comfortable straps, easy to hold while runningComfortable grip, locks securely, packs small, highly versatileComfortable, easy to adjust, small packed size, lightweight, versatileLightweight, short collapsed length, surprisingly durableDurable, comfortable grip, packs small
Cons No length adjustment, doesn’t pack small, not versatile, expensiveCarbon is less durable than aluminum, on the expensive sideExpensiveNo length adjustability, average grip comfortHeavy, less versatile due to weight
Bottom Line A lightweight and lightly-featured pole at a premium price for trail running and fast hikingA simple, elegant, and well-built trekking pole with versatility for all usesThis pole is comfortable, easy to adjust, lightweight, and highly packableDurable with a short collapsed length, this is a fantastic value for a lightweight poleA highly affordable pair of poles with all of the features of more expensive models
Rating Categories Ultimate Direction... MSR DynaLock Ascent... Leki Women's Micro... Black Diamond Dista... Trekology Trek-Z
Comfort (20%)
6.0
9.0
9.0
6.0
8.0
Weight (20%)
10.0
8.0
6.0
9.0
4.0
Locking And Adjustability (15%)
2.0
9.0
10.0
3.0
7.0
Packed Size (15%)
2.0
9.0
8.0
10.0
8.0
Durability (15%)
5.0
7.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
Versatility (15%)
4.0
9.0
9.0
6.0
6.0
Specs Ultimate Direction... MSR DynaLock Ascent... Leki Women's Micro... Black Diamond Dista... Trekology Trek-Z
Measured Weight (per pair) 9 oz 17 oz 16 oz 12.5 oz 26 oz
Shaft Material Carbon Carbon fiber Carbon Aluminum Aluminum
Collapsed Length 49.2 in 14.25 in 15.5 in 13/14/16/17 in 15 in
Max Length 49.2 in 47 in 51 in 39/43/47/51 in 47 in
Pole Design Foldable Collapsible Foldable Foldable Foldable
Grip Material EVA foam Rubber / Plastic / Foam Foam EVA foam Foam
Locking Mechanism Pin-style DynaLock Speed​​Lock 2 Speed Cone Deployment Lever lock
Baskets/Tip Attachments? Yes, trail and powder baskets, tip protectors Yes, winter and summer baskets Yes, tips and baskets Yes, rubber and carbide tips Yes, powder and trail baskets, boots, and narrow tips
Size Tested 125 cm 100-120 cm One size 110 cm 100-120 cm

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Ultimate Direction FK Carbon poles stand out for their low weight but also for their lack of collapsibility and adjustability.

Performance Comparison


The fixed-length Ultimate Direction FK Carbon poles are great for...
The fixed-length Ultimate Direction FK Carbon poles are great for mountain running and fast hiking, but are light on common features.
Photo: Sam Willits

Comfort


The grips on the FK Carbon have gentle contours that didn’t always fit our testers’ hands perfectly. The thin, silky wrist straps, on the other hand, are very comfortable and make up for the grip’s shortcomings. The top of the handles don’t feature a rounded pad, so it’s uncomfortable to push down from above. That said, these poles are designed to give runners an edge on the uphill, with the hands placed through the wrist straps — in this configuration, these poles are very comfortable. And when running across the flats, these poles are light and comfortable to hold by the balance point in the middle of the shaft.

The FK Carbon's grips are somewhat comfortable to hold, but other...
The FK Carbon's grips are somewhat comfortable to hold, but other ultra-lightweight poles have better grips.
Photo: Sam Willits

Weight


The FK Carbon doesn’t claim to be anything other than lightweight, and indeed, it is the lightest trekking pole in our review. At 9.0 ounces for both poles, these are easy to carry when running or hiking quickly, and they have a low swing weight that makes them effortless to manipulate quickly and keep up with the pace of your footsteps. During sections of flat running, it is also easy to find a comfortable balance point to hold the pole by the shaft. This pole achieves such a light weight by employing carbon fiber construction, foam grips, thin straps, and wide-diameter shafts. The wider the diameter of the pole shaft, the less material is needed to produce a given amount of strength. Weight is this pole’s strong suit.

At 9.0 ounces, the Ultimate Direction FK Carbon poles are the...
At 9.0 ounces, the Ultimate Direction FK Carbon poles are the lightest in our review, making them a great choice for mountain runners and fast hikers.
Photo: Jeff Dobronyi

Locking and Adjustability


The FK Carbon has no length adjustment, and it doesn’t even fold or collapse. This could be considered a positive attribute by some users, for there is no mechanism to cause the pole to fail, short of breaking it. Indeed, dedicated mountain runners and long-distance thru-hikers might prefer this configuration due to its reliability and light weight. However, our scoring system considers length adjustment and collapsibility a merit, and this pole doesn’t match up to the competition in this regard.

The Ultimate Direction FK Carbon has no ability to collapse, fold...
The Ultimate Direction FK Carbon has no ability to collapse, fold, or compress. It is a fixed-length pole.
Photo: Jeff Dobronyi

Packed Size


Again, the FK Carbon doesn’t have the ability to collapse or fold to a smaller size for packing or stowing, making it unsuitable for trips requiring travel or for routes requiring poles to be stowed on or in a pack. To some, like dedicated mountain runners and hikers who want an extremely lightweight pole and who don’t plan on traveling, this won’t matter, but to most users, this is an undesirable feature.

The FK Carbons don't pack down at all, making them much less...
The FK Carbons don't pack down at all, making them much less packable than even the relatively large three-section telescoping poles.
Photo: Jeff Dobronyi

Durability


While we didn’t experience any durability issues with the FK Carbon during our test period, our experience with carbon poles is that they are dramatically less durable than aluminum poles and should be used with care. They are quite strong under compression, so they shouldn’t fold under pressure, but if the tip gets stuck in a hole or between rocks, and the pole is torqued to the side, these poles will snap quicker than more durable (and heavier) aluminum poles. An aramid sheath protects the lowest section of the shaft on the FK from getting chipped, which is a common occurrence over the lifetime of carbon poles.

One minor issue with the FK is that there is no locking mechanism by which the pole baskets are held into place, and during our first day out running with these poles, we lost a pole basket, presumably because we didn’t screw the basket on tight enough. Other poles on the market feature a groove or snapping mechanism that holds the basket into place, but that feature is absent here.

The FK Carbons feature an aramid sheath wrap around the lower part...
The FK Carbons feature an aramid sheath wrap around the lower part of the shaft, which protects the carbon pole from chipping in this high-impact area.
Photo: Sam Willits

Versatility


The FK Carbon lacks the versatility of most foldable and collapsible trekking poles because it cannot compress to fit onto a backpack when not in use. As such, this pole is suitable only for activities where poles are held in the hands for the entire time, like mountain running and some trail hiking. They could also potentially be used for backcountry skiing, though we did not test them for this use. They come with one pair of small trail baskets and one pair of large winter snow baskets, as well as tip protectors for the carbide points. These baskets twist into place, but there is no locking mechanism, and we lost a trail basket on our first day of testing by not tightening the basket enough.

The Ultimate Direction FK Carbon comes with two pairs of baskets and...
The Ultimate Direction FK Carbon comes with two pairs of baskets and one pair of tip protectors, helping to add versatility to an otherwise narrowly-focused product.
Photo: Jeff Dobronyi

Value


With few of the features of most other trekking poles on the market and far less weight, we find it hard to justify the high price of the FK Carbon. They excel for mountain running and fast hiking, but other poles on the market nearly match the FK’s low weight while also retaining comfortable grips and collapsible shaft sections. For users who want to shave every ounce and are willing to pay big bucks to do so, these are a good option, but for most users, these aren’t a good value.

Conclusion


The expensive and super-lightweight Ultimate Direction FK Carbon poles excel for mountain running and fast hiking, where every fraction of an ounce counts. However, you’ll miss out on common features of other trekking poles like collapsibility and length adjustability. If you’ll use these poles for their intended purpose, and won’t be traveling, then they might be worth the price. But most users should look elsewhere for more versatility.

The lightweight FK Carbon's are at home in the hands of runners and...
The lightweight FK Carbon's are at home in the hands of runners and fast hikers, but don't expect them to fold down and pack small, or to stand up to rugged terrain.
Photo: Sam Willits

Jeff Dobronyi

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