75 years of LEKI: The tale of the trekking pole
1948: LEKI IS BORN
LEKI's story begins in the small village of Konradsgrün in the Czech Republic. After World War II, the Lenharts became refugees from Czech Bohemia and left their country in 1946 without possessions. They made a new home in Kirchheim unter Teck, Germany, at the foot of the Swabian Alb. The couple had little start-up capital, but in 1948, just one year after their wedding they began their first business making wood-carved company signs - the foundation of LEKI.
1953: THE BAMBOO ERA
In the summer of 1953, Austrian mountaineer Hermann Buhl set out on an expedition to successfully climb Nanga Parbat, the ninth-highest mountain in the world. For the ascent and descent, Hermann Buhl used poles made of bamboo long before the word "trekking pole" even existed. In the 1950s, bamboo poles were only used for skiing. Mountaineers commonly used them to help with balance, plus they were lighter than wood, sturdy, and relatively inexpensive. Most of the grips and straps at the time were made of leather. The baskets were huge by today's standards and combined a metal ring with leather straps. There was no mass production in those days, and each pole was handmade. The idea of the trekking pole was born.
1963: THE IDEA OF A TREKKING POLE
As a passionate skier, Karl spent a lot of time on the slopes of the Swabian Alb in winter, and in the summer months, the Tyrolean Alps captured his attention. Karl Lenhart was not satisfied with the quality of the poles at that time. It annoyed him when he lost a basket of his bamboo poles because the dry leather straps broke. His inventive spirit was aroused. With his machinery, he was able to build the first tip and basket system made of plastic. The LEKI Fix was born. The design of screwing the basket onto a thread is still one LEKI uses today. For Karl, this development was just the beginning. In the 1960s, LEKI began selling grips and straps and virtually started as a spare parts company.
1978: LEKI POLES AT MOUNT EVEREST
When Peter Habeler and Reinhold Messner met for the first time, they noticed their shared passion for mountaineering. Together they decided to attempt to summit of Mount Everest. After various difficulties, they reached the summit, exhausted but overjoyed, at 1 p.m. on May 8 - without oxygen but with LEKI poles. For the ascent and descent, they both used aluminum poles. The most notable innovation was the telescoping feature, which allowed them to stow the poles compactly when they needed their hands free. Habeler recounts, "I attribute my healthy and strong knees to the fact that I used poles early in my life." He recalls that hikers and tourists in the Alps laughed at the young climber when they saw him walking with poles. "You forgot your skis" was a phrase he heard very often. But the ridicule did not stop Peter and other climbers from using poles. On the contrary, they had become integral to their mountaineering equipment.
1984: THE PRODUCT GENIUS
In 1984 Karl's son Klaus became the sole managing director, laying the foundation for today's LEKI. Already in his early 20s, he focused on the product from day one. He was the genius behind the products, and most of the 250 LEKI patents can be traced back to his ideas. His obsession with developing the best pole in the world was legendary. When he sat with his family in a restaurant in the evening, he drew new grip ideas on napkins. He envisioned the first Aergon grip at the breakfast table using a banana and an egg for inspiration. Thanks to constant innovations, by the end of the 1990s, LEKI had become a strong and leading brand that defined the market for trekking poles. In 2000, Klaus made one of the most important decisions to date by constructing LEKI's own production facility in the middle of Europe and becoming one of the largest pole factories in the world. Poles for nine product groups are now produced there: Trekking, Mountaineering, Cross Trail, Trail Running, Nordic Walking, and for winter Alpine Skiing, Freeride, Cross Country Skiing, and Ski Touring.
2012: WALTRAUD LENHART TAKES RESPONSIBILITY
April 30, 2012, was a dark day in the history of the company. The tragic plane accident and the loss of Klaus Lenhart shook the family and the entire company. More than a few suspected at the time that the company would have no future without Klaus. LEKI's success up to that point was clearly based on his strong leadership. But in the moment of uncertainty, Waltraud Lenhart took responsibility. Under her leadership, LEKI experienced probably the most intensive growth phase in the company's history. Her recipe for success was different: she was the trainer on the sidelines and the guardian of the company's values. She gave young managers the space to grow and brought the right people to her side. On April 17, 2021, Waltraud passed away unexpectedly after a short, serious illness. Unfortunately, she didn't have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Nevertheless, she left behind a very successful and healthy company with a bright future.
2022: CLIMBING IS THE NEW EVEREST
This year, LEKI launched the "Hemp One Vario" project, which central word is "Hemp." But why hemp? Hemp offers excellent strength values. At this stage, at 290g, the pole is still heavier than a carbon or aluminum pole. For the first 250 hiking poles made of hemp, LEKI is working with a farmer directly on the Swabian Alb. The hemp field is located just six kilometers from LEKI headquarters. The seeds are sown in April and harvested in September. There is no industrial production yet; the hemp shafts are handmade by a partner in Innsbruck. Final assembly occurs at LEKI's production facility in Tachov, Czech Republic.