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REI Hiker Shocklight Staff
Owner Review By Bob Dorenfeld
February 6, 2014

Tester Bio
Name: Bob Dorenfeld

I'm an active hiker, snowshoer, skier, backpacker, amateur geographer and naturalist. Home base is the Southern Colorado Rockies, where I usually journey from 7000 ft (2100 m) to above treeline, with occasional desert trips to lower altitudes. Six to 12 miles (10 to 20 km) hiking in a day is my norm, including elevation change of as much as 4000 ft (1200 m) in a day. Most of my backpack trips are two or three nights, sometimes longer. Often I hike off-trail on challenging talus, snowfields, or willow brakes, with occasional bouldering.

Email: geartest(at)sageandspruce(dot)net
Age: 55
Location: Salida, Colorado, USA
Gender: M
Height: 5' 6" (1.68 m)
Weight: 135 lb (61 kg)

Product Overview

Manufacturer:    Recreational Equipment, Inc.
MSRP:    US$69.50
Shaft Material:  Aluminum 7075-T6
Adjustable:  Yes
Listed Maximum Length:  57 in (145 cm)
Listed Minimum Length:  29 in (74 cm)
Listed Shock Absorbing:  Yes
Listed Accessory Mount:  Yes
Measured Weight:  10 oz (280 g)

 REI photo
Photo:  REI
The REI Hiker Shocklight Staff (or pole, as I'll call it in this review) is a lightweight but tough hiking pole with a number of useful features for trekking on the trail.  At 10 oz (280 g) and with an aluminum shaft it's not ultra lightweight, but also not very heavy either.  The cork top knob is probably its most striking feature: as far as I know, it's the only high-performance hiking pole on the market that offers both a cork top grip and the usual side grip with strap.  Other features include adjustable length, shock springs that can be turned on and off, and an accessory-mounting screw hidden under the top knob.  Currently the pole comes in one color, tan with blue highlights.  When I purchased my poles in 2008 they came in gray/black.  The only significant difference I found between my poles and REI's current production model is color.

Field Performance    

I'm a relative newcomer to hiking poles - until 2008 I never had the need of any extra support aside from the occasional stick I'd pick up (and leave) on the trail.  But after borrowing a friend's pole I experienced how at least one can really aid balance, especially on tricky or steep terrain.  I purchased a pair of these poles in 2008, and I've hiked, snowshoed, and Nordic skied an estimated 2000 mi (3200 km) using one or both of these identical poles.  (Since I hike with one pole, and pick one at random, they have about equal miles on them.)  They have been exposed to high-altitude sun and weather conditions, rain, and snow.

Two polesI also wanted to have shock absorbency, which this pole does very well.  The internal spring is resistant enough so that I very rarely reach the end of its 1 in (2.5 cm) travel along the pole.  It appears to me (without a tool to measure resistance) that the internal spring offers increasing resistance as it compresses, and over six years I haven't noticed any change in that behavior.  The shock feature is turned on by rotating the top shaft clockwise (looking down from the top), and off by rotating counter-clockwise.  I have noticed over the years that the shaft will rotate to turn shock absorbency on just by pressure of the pole's tip in the ground, so I think the twist resistance has lessened over time.  However, this hasn't been much a problem, as I'll just occasionally give the pole a quick twist to turn off the shock feature.  When the shock feature is off, there remains a small (1/16 in (0.16 cm)) give along the shaft, but that's never bothered me while hiking.

This photo on the left shows one pole extended to its full 57 in (145 cm) and the other one at my own normal length of 36 in (90 cm) (measured top to tip).  To extend or retract the pole, I hold adjacent sections in my hands (with the top of the pole to my right) and twist the upper (right) section toward me about a half-turn, then slide the section in or out as needed.  This can be hard to do with gloves on, as I find that significant friction is needed on the pole's surface to loosen the sections and my gloves tend to be more slippery than bare hands.  There are three pole sections, thinnest at the bottom.  A plastic sleeve protects the section junctions.  The only time I need to extend my pole fully is when I'm crossing a stream and need the extra height to negotiate a log or rock bridge.  I found that as long as I'm careful to twist the sections tight, they won't unexpectedly compress in use; the few times that's happened I could only blame myself for not tightening them completely.

extendedA caveat:  I'm always very careful when extending either the top or bottom sections to not go too far and have the poles separate.  They are not easy to correctly re-attach!  The photo (right) shows the maximum to go on a section pair - look for the clearly printed "STOP" arrow and stop at the arrow tip.

When I first saw these REI poles with the cork grip I knew I had to have a pair - and for several years I used only the top grip, never the handles with straps.  The cork is very dense but comfortable in all weather conditions, and doesn't slip much at all in my bare or gloved hands.  It's also very durable, as shallow scratches tend to get rubbed smooth after use.  A nice extra is that the cork top screws off to expose a threaded screw that will match some cameras and binoculars.  (The thread is commonly called "1/4 inch" in the United States, and, following the Unified Thread Standard, is Coarse UNC with a thread-per-inch count of 20.)  I've used the mount point a couple of times to steady a large pair of binoculars for wildlife viewing - very helpful to reduce vibration and hand/arm fatigue.

top detachedThis photo at left also shows the hand strap, which I find to be pretty comfortable.  One side has some thin padding that I place toward the hand and wrist.  The strap length is easily adjusted by pulling on the free end to tighten, or on one of the attached sides to loosen.  Friction on an internal plastic part inside the cork top holds the strap length constant during use, and I've never had the strap change on me while hiking.

I like the handle grip - lots of friction to keep my hand on it with or without gloves, and long enough so that I can move my hand around to the top or a bit lower down as I need to while hiking.

My current pole-trekking style is to switch off between holding on top of the cork, and the more traditional method on the grip, either with or without the strap in place (depending on how challenging the trail is).

hand on top
hand on grip

The REI Hiker Shocklight baskets are removable and interchangeable: a small dry-land basket and a larger snow basket are both available (the pole as purchased comes with the small one, the snow baskets are available as extras).  The baskets are attached via a peg-and-groove mechanism, which requires some considerable force to twist on or off.  I found that the best way to do this is to clamp the third (lowest) pole section in a vice, then with my hand I'll slowly twist the basket off the beveled edge (see photo for a close-up).   This is definitely a weak design - over time the plastic bevel area on the basket bottom is scraping off and eventually it may not hold on to the pole very well; but for now, after changing baskets twice a year, it's holding up well enough.  The photo also shows the blunt tip that provides some purchase on hard surfaces like rock and ice, and which has held its shape well over the years.
basket case
Snow basket (installed) and hiking basket, showing the slide-peg attachment

Being able to pack a pole (or two) is important to me, and this pole's completely retracted length is 29 in (74 cm), which is small enough to easily attach to the outside of just about any pack, from day- to backpack.  Although this REI pole's minimum length is longer than some other poles on the market, I've never found it hard to find some attachment points on my various packs that can hold it.  I prefer to have the top extend over the pack, and the bottom tip flush with the pack's bottom so I can set the pack down when needed.

Final Thoughts    

The REI Hiker Shocklight Staff is the only hiking pole I've ever used regularly.  Occasionally I'll borrow an ultralight pole and will appreciate its lighter heft, but since weight is not my only concern, I'm very happy with the features on this pole.  It's sturdy enough that I have great confidence it'll support me when I need it coming down a steep slope, and I use the comfortable cork top as much as the strap and grip.  The spring compression is tight yet responsive on the trail.  Although rarely used, I like having the screw-top option for mounting a large pair of binoculars.  The hand straps are easy to adjust and keep their position.  Over the many miles I've trekked with them the poles' aluminum shafts have received their share of dings and scratches, but this does not detract from their functionality. 

Some of the downsides of this pole include: baskets that are difficult to change out (a plastic thread would be better),
and pole sections that are too easy to over-extend and pull apart, requiring some effort to reattach them.  I also wish that the on/off twist action to engage the pole's shock spring was more resistant to avoid accidental change of this feature while hiking.

Nonetheless I heartily recommend the REI Hiker Shocklight Staff for general trekking use.

  • comfortable cork top hand grip & conventional side grip with straps
  • good compression, easy twist of pole to turn off/on
  • twist release of pole sections for adjusting length, and the sections stay in place during heavy use
  • accessory attachment screw is hidden under cork top
  • removable basket options include snow & dry trail
  • compression feature sometimes turns itself on while pole is being used
  • basket attachment and removal is awkward and too difficult
  • pole sections can be pulled apart too easily if not paying close attention when adjusting length (requiring some effort to reattach)

Reviewed By
Bob Dorenfeld
Central Colorado Mountains

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