In my early days of thru-hiking, I was vehemently against carrying trekking poles. I saw them as unnecessary, something that my parents or grandparents would use. In short, I regarded them as fancy-looking walking sticks.
I was wrong, of course. Trekking poles are extremely useful for many backcountry adventures, and even if you’re not worried about balance, they reduce the stress on your legs and knees by around 30 percent. When you’re wearing a heavy backpack all the time, that equates to a lot. I particularly value trekking poles for steep descents over loose shale or slippery ground, but they’re also handy for building momentum marching uphill. If your route includes river crossings, or boggy land, carrying a pole or a pair of poles will help to stabilize you and give you an implement to test the ground before finding your footing.
What is the optimum length for trekking poles?
Your elbows should be at roughly a 90-degree angle when using your poles. Adjustable trekking poles will suit most heights, but if you’re over 6 feet look for a set that is at least 51 inches long.
Should I buy folding poles or telescopic poles?
Folding poles, or Z-poles, are often lighter. They come in three separate sections, joined together by a cord, and they’re compact when stowed. They are usually more expensive than telescopic poles and are the preferred choice of many fast packers and ultralight backpackers. On the flip side, they’re more fragile.
Telescopic poles come as a single unit, or two- or three-piece adjustable sets. I recommend purchasing two- or three-piece adjustable sets; if you can’t change the length of your trekking poles they’ll be bulky, cumbersome, and quite literally just a pair of walking sticks.
Which material should I go for?
Trekking poles are mostly made from aluminum or carbon fiber. Aluminum is more durable. It will bend sometimes but rarely breaks. Carbon fiber is more prone to breaking but is ultra lightweight.
The grip on poles is usually plastic, rubber, cork, or foam. Cork and foam wick moisture and reduce chafing better than plastic and rubber.
What else do I need to know about trekking poles?
Trekking poles generally come with baskets, a plastic or rubber disc that attaches to the base of the pole, which provide additional surface area to prevent the pole from sinking. They’re useful in soft ground (sand, mud, bogs, and snow). For most treks, small baskets are sufficient. For snow, a basket with a wider surface area works better. You can change the baskets on your trekking poles without needing to change the poles themselves.
Now that you know about trekking poles, here are nine to consider. I'm here to help.
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These foldable Z-poles come in different lengths to be tailored to your height and weigh just over five ounces per pole. The shafts on the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles are made from 100% carbon fiber and the grips are foam, with moisture-wicking straps. They come with small, lightweight baskets suitable for mud and sand, and removable rubber tips for street walking.
The Leki Sherpa FX.One Carbon Poles are surprisingly lightweight given how sturdy they are, at just over eight ounces per pole. The upper section is made from carbon with a hollow core, and the lower section from aluminum. The handgrips are made from rubber with an inclined angle designed to support the wrists. Since they’re Z-poles, they fold down small enough to be stowed in a pack, and are particularly good for winter and mountaineering adventures.
Decathlon always offers great bang for your buck, and the Forclaz A300 Ergonomic Hiking Pole is no exception. It’s sold individually rather than as a pair, which is a good option for hikers who prefer to have a hand free. Made from aluminum, they still only weigh 8.5 ounces per pole and come in three sections with a push pin system for easy adjustment. Summer baskets are included.
The MSR Dynalock Explore Backcountry Poles come equipped with both winter and summer baskets, and comfortable foam hand grips. The pair weighs 1.25 pounds, so they’re not the lightest, but they’re extremely robust with a secure locking system, and perform well for winter treks and mountaineering.
The foam grips on the REI Co-op Trailbreaking Trekking Poles are bigger than most, making them a good choice for taller hikers. The telescopic poles come with wide baskets suitable for snow, and the sturdy lock system is well-suited to rough terrains. They’re particularly good for snowshoeing and mountaineering.
The Montem Ultra Strong Trekking Poles are, as the name suggests, pretty strong and made from aluminum, with foam grips and carbide tips. Considering how tough they are, it’s impressive that they only weigh a little over nine ounces per pole. There’s an extensive color choice for fashion-conscious trekkers, and considering the quality, the price tag is extremely reasonable.
Finally, some hiking poles designed for women! These adjustable telescopic poles are made from aluminum with a foam grip, and weigh a little over eight ounces per pole. Black Diamond has an extensive range of hiking poles, and these Trail Trekking Poles have foam grips and easy-to-swap baskets for four-season use.
You can get all-singing, all-dancing hiking poles made with the lightest carbon fiber and an abundance of features, but for sporadic hikers, a set of trekking poles that does exactly what it says on the tin is fine. Made from aluminum and with cork grips, the Ozark Trail Aluminum Adjustable Quick Lock Trekking Poles are not the lightest poles on the market, but at 10.4 ounces per pole, they’re certainly not heavy either, and you’ll struggle to find cheaper ones.
The Helinox Passport TL120 Adjustable Poles weigh a mere six ounces per pole and fold down small to fit in your backpack. Instead of a carbon fiber construction like most lightweight trekking poles, these are made from aluminum alloy, so are very strong. They come with a five-year warranty. Since they’re not the longest when fully extended, they’re not recommended for people over 5 feet 8 inches.