For more challenging terrain, or simply as an aid to walking, the best set of hiking poles is something that you will find instantly helpful, so I’ve had a look at the top models available right now. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the best trekking poles of 2021 and see which one would best suit your needs.
Hiking is a great way to get out and about and explore this beautiful world of ours. If like me you are a fan of walking the Camino, West Highland Way, or any hiking route you will feel invigorated spending a day in the backcountry or hills.
Having the right gear makes walking in such wonderful surroundings – whether you’re tackling the Camino or any other long distance hike – far more enjoyable. Well-fitting hiking shoes or boots are part of the deal, as is a light yet strong backpack, and for me, another essential is a set of trekking poles.
Reviews of the Best Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock
Trekking poles that feature advanced anti-shock technology are not usually recommended to hiking beginners. This is because they are typically more complex and also heavier. However, if your pair of trekking poles absolutely needs to be shock-absorbing, the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock poles are among your best options.
Excellent damping and rebound control that is built into the handles of these poles is precisely what allows them to avoid the usual issue of anti-shock poles – an unpredictable rebound and bottoming out.
As it turns out, the anti-shock system found on Black Diamond Trail Pro aluminum poles works flawlessly and reacts very well to both hard and light impacts. The rest of the construction is similar to that found on most other Black Diamond models – this trekking pole is made out of premium materials and includes features such as Flick Lock.
Due to the additional tech used in the construction of these aluminum poles, some disadvantages are unavoidable. They weigh over 1 pound and 4 ounces and also come at a relatively high price. Although Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock trekking poles are not for everyone, their practical shock absorption and 4-season-ready construction earn them a spot in our roundup.
- The Good: Exceptional shock-absorbing system
- The Bad: Expensive and heavy
BAFX Adjustable Anti-Shock Poles
Are you looking for a cheap pair of poles that you’re going to use exclusively on non-technical trails? If that’s the case, these adjustable trekking poles made by BAFX may be the perfect choice for you. In fact, many folks consider these to be the best budget trekking poles available on the market.
The low price tag that accompanies these simple trekking poles introduces a couple of disadvantages, though. These include increased weight (1 lb. 8 oz.), a flimsy twist lock on each pole, as well as plastic as the grip material – it is prone to slipping and feels quite finicky.
On the upside, the BAFX poles are aluminum poles – they should serve you well for a decent amount of time. In addition, they come accompanied by rubber covers for pole tips and a set of mud baskets. Another thing worth mentioning is that the built-in spring found on this trekking pole can and will decrease the vibration that comes with using budget trekking poles.
Those who are planning to go on serious hiking adventures where they will traverse miles of rough terrain should definitely consider buying trekking poles of better quality. The BAFX trekking poles simply aren’t durable enough to be used on anything more than easy trails.
- The Good: Very affordable
- The Bad: Too basic for technical use
Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Poles
When people think of carbon fiber poles, they think of poles that come at premium prices. However, the carbon fiber poles offered by Cascade Mountain Tech can be obtained for less than $50.
On paper, these carbon fiber poles look like a mighty fine offering, with foam grip extensions, simple lever locks, and 1-pound weight. What’s even more impressive is the fact Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber poles come with some additional features, too. These include two sets of baskets for snow and mud, as well as rubber pole tips.
As you can see in the specifications info, you can get these carbon fiber trekking poles with either cork grips or foam grips. Although we usually recommend cork grips over foam grips, in this case we’ll advise going with the foam-grip variant – keep in mind that frequent use causes cork grips to break down over time.
The primary disadvantage of choosing to go with these carbon cork trekking poles (or foam-grip trekking poles, if you opt for that variant) is the overall durability. These are carbon poles and therefore don’t weigh much, but they’re also prone to snapping or cracking under a load. We think that it’s pretty safe to say that the overall construction feels rather cheap.
Still, if you take good care of these carbon fiber poles and use them only on easy trails, they will undoubtedly serve you for the years to come. They’re also significantly cheaper than the carbon fiber poles made by companies such as Black Diamond.
Since this pair of trekking poles offers great value for money, I find it to be one of the best gifts for outdoorsy people.
- The Good: Lightweight and inexpensive
- The Bad: Not very durable
Leki Cross Trail 3 Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
The very first Leki carbon fiber trekking poles that we’ll analyze are also the lightest pair of trekking poles from the brand. A feature-rich pole, Leki Cross Trail 3 carbon fiber trekking poles sport the company’s new strap design, which is very similar to the one found on their ski poles.
To put it simply, this “quick-release” concept allows the user to put the strap into a special slot and enjoy an energy boost while planting. Furthermore, this strap covers the whole hand and, therefore, adds some extra security when you’re traversing exceptionally steep sections. While this kind of design won’t suit everybody, it is certainly innovative and can be of great help in certain situations.
The rest of this trekking pole sports a construction that is similar to that of the other Leki-made trekking poles. As we said, these poles are exceptionally light, at only 14.5 ounces. They also feature the well-known SpeedLock 2 locking mechanism, which can be found in the company’s popular Leki Micro Vario carbon fiber trekking poles. In summary, these are quality, feature-rich trekking poles made by a reliable and proven brand.
However, as we said above, the all-new strap system may not be appealing to some hiking enthusiasts. But if you need a pair of lightweight poles and you’re intrigued by the design of these innovative carbon fiber poles, make sure to give them a try – you just may end up using them for years.
Make sure to also check out Leki’s more affordable models, such as their MCT Superlite fixed-length poles (these weigh only 11.1 ounces per pair).
- The Good: A feature-rich and lightweight trekking pole
- The Bad: Unique strap/grip design may not appeal to everybody
Mountainsmith Dolomite OLS
Almost all trekking poles available in the market are sold in pairs – if you’re looking to buy this equipment, you go to a store and get yourself a pair of trekking poles. However, some backpackers prefer traversing rough terrain with only a single trekking pole.
If you’re one of these people, you may want to consider getting yourself the Mountainsmith Dolomite OLS trekking pole. For only $30, you’ll get a relatively well-made aluminum trekking pole with a 3-piece telescoping design, EVA choke-up foam grips, and a cork handle. While its lever locks certainly aren’t anything to write home about, Mountainsmith Dolomite OLS is one of the best budget trekking poles you can get on today’s market.
Deciding to go with a single pole instead of a set of poles comes with some disadvantages, though. A single trekking pole is never as useful as two of them in the case of demanding hikes over difficult, steep terrain. Furthermore, a lot of shelters and tents that can be raised through the use of trekking poles typically require two of them.
Still, if you’re looking for a single aluminum trekking pole, Mountainsmith Dolomite OLS is a pretty good choice, especially when we take its low price into account.
- The Good: Good choice for folks who need a single trekking pole
- The Bad: Average build quality
Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec Aluminum Poles
Leki is a company that has built its reputation around its ergonomic and comfortable trekking poles. Due to the slight forward tilt present in most trekking poles made by this brand, their models have an exceptionally natural feel in the hands. What is more, the overall quality of grips found on Leki’s trekking poles is very hard to match.
Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec is a pair of aluminum poles that continues the company’s tradition of making great products. Each trekking pole weighs only 1 lb. 1oz., and features a minimalist design of wrist straps and some up-to-date features such as lever locks.
However, since it’s not as pricey as some of the brand’s other trekking poles, this pole doesn’t include the company’s proprietary SpeedLock 2 system, which is one of the market’s best locking mechanisms. However, it is still equipped with SpeedLock +, a simplified locking mechanism that works pretty good as well.
An important thing to mention here is that the company also manufactures Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec AS model. When compared to the standard Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec trekking poles, these sport a shock-absorption system and therefore come at a higher price. In our opinion, this is just another part of the trekking pole that could snap and isn’t really worth the extra money.
If we compare this trekking pole to the competition, we’ll see that the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork has the same weight but it offers better durability. However, it’s also a bit more expensive.
- The Good: Very comfortable grip
- The Bad: Not as durable as its main competitor (BD Trail Ergo Cork)
Leki Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA Aluminum Poles
The next trekking poles on our list are folding poles – they are also made by Leki and their name is Leki Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA. What makes these folding poles so special (besides their folding-style design, of course) is the competitive price of $140 and ergonomic cork grips.
This trekking pole folds down very small – its collapsed pole length stands at mere 15 inches. In other words, it’s one of the smallest trekking poles in our roundup. In addition, this trekking pole comes equipped with one of the best locking mechanisms out there – SpeedLock 2. You’ll be able to tighten it without any additional tools and make the poles even more durable than they already are.
Obviously, this kind of design comes with a couple of tradeoffs. Just like most other folding poles, these ones are also quite bulky, at 1 pound 4.3 ounces for the pair. In addition, a trekking pole of this type will almost always be less sturdy than a telescoping pole.
However, they are certainly more capable of taking a beating than the Black Diamond Distance Z or Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles, both of which we’ll analyze later in the article.
- The Good: Collapse down to mere 15 inches
- The Bad: Bulky for a folding model
Black Diamond Distance FLZ
The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z fixed-length poles, which we’ll analyze later, are the lightest poles in our roundup. However, Black Diamond Distance FLZ, which we’ll examine here, has wider appeal due to their adjustable aluminum construction. In our opinion, this pole is a better choice for most backpackers and hikers.
The Black Diamond Distance FLZ is among the best trekking poles made out of aluminum – it’s as simple as that. They are noticeably rugged and durable, and you’ll find them to be a very reliable companion on the trail. They are very easy to lean into and trust on the road.
Furthermore, we can safely say that the Black Diamond Distance FLZ trekking poles are a great choice when it comes to setting up an ultralight shelter. This is because these poles are very adjustable, which greatly simplifies the entire process. In addition, the thicker material out of which they’re made holds up better in strong winds.
However, the Black Diamond Distance FLZ runs into issues when compared to another set of trekking poles made by the same company – Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork. Coming at a lower price, the Ergo trekking poles do a better job at absorbing impacts, have more comfortable grips, and feel more durable.
However, those who prefer smaller packed sizes will definitely find Black Diamond Distance FLZ to be more up their alley – they are shorter and lighter. So, if you’re looking for a set of reliable ultralight trekking poles, these are among your best options.
- The Good: Durable, packable, and light
- The Bad: Not as rugged as the Ergo poles
Black Diamond Trail Back
As one of the world’s best-known manufacturers of trekking poles, Black Diamond is certainly a company with an extensive lineup of these hiking accessories. A trimmed and budget-oriented version of their popular Ergo Cork model, the Black Diamond Trail Back is a fan favorite.
While this trekking pole doesn’t feature things like cork grips or the overall ergonomic design, it does come with rugged aluminum construction and BD’s FlickLock locking mechanisms. Moreover, the model is significantly more durable than most trekking poles that can be obtained for less than $100.
Unfortunately, no trekking poles come without disadvantages, and the same is true for Black Diamond Trail Back. First of all, these poles are not the best choice for thru-hikers and backpackers due to the weight of 1 pound and 4 ounces per pair. Moreover, they are equipped with rubber grips, and these just can’t be compared to your standard cork or foam grip when it comes to chafing prevention or sweat absorption.
However, the rugged construction of these trekking poles turns them into a pretty good choice for anyone looking for a pair of sturdy but relatively affordable poles.
- The Good: Good all-around design
- The Bad: Not-so-comfortable rubber grips
MSR DynaLock Ascent Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
Most of the trekking poles in our roundup are designed for shoulder-season and summer backpacking. However, those who often traverse snowy regions during their hiking trips usually need something a bit sturdier. Are MSR DynaLock Ascent Carbon poles the right choice for such adventurers?
What makes these trekking poles so great for serious hiking is their no-nonsense carbon fiber construction. In fact, the carbon fiber used in the manufacture of DynaLock Ascent is reinforced with kevlar, which only adds to the model’s durability. These trekking poles are also easy to keep afloat in powder, as they come accompanied by wider winter baskets.
The rest of this pole looks and works just like most other trekking poles on our list. The overall weight is quite reasonable, at only 1 pound. Furthermore, the model’s collapsible design packs down to a length of only 8 inches.
For the price they come at, these trekking poles offer a serious bang for the buck. However, buying these for summer-only use would be overkill. Its winter baskets are needed only in the case of deep snow hikes. If you’re someone who hikes only during summer and shoulder seasons, a better choice would be to get something a bit lighter, such as Black Diamond Distance Z (which we’ll analyze later).
Moreover, we found that the foam grips featured on these trekking poles aren’t that comfortable – there’s a lot of exposed plastic here. However, if you need a pair of well-made trekking poles that you’ll be able to use year-round, you won’t make a mistake by going with MSR Dynalock Ascent.
- The Good: Lightweight, 4-season-ready design
- The Bad: Not the most comfortable foam grips
Leki Micro Vario Carbon
If you’re a member of the “lightweight crowd”, the Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles are one of your best options – it’s as simple as that.
Even though they weigh 1 pound 0.9 ounces for the pair, they successfully manage to squeeze a number of convenient features into their foldable, compact construction. Furthermore, these trekking poles are equipped with the well-known SpeedLock 2 locking mechanism. The user is getting close to 8 inches of adjustment, which is pretty impressive when compared to the competition.
Another thing we liked about Leki Micro Vario Carbon is that these trekking poles are exceptionally user-friendly. They are easy to set up or fold down – both of these operations can be done on-the-go, without having to stop.
The lower weight of the Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles becomes noticeable when you’re using them over a long day on the trail. They’re not as durable as some of the other trekking poles on our list, but their carbon construction is certainly sturdy enough for setting up a pole-supported shelter and crossing glaciers.
Besides the high price, another thing we didn’t like is the presence of foam grips instead of cork grips. However, the foam found on the grips of Micro Vario Carbon feels quite comfortable and should work great when it comes to extended climbs. We should also mention that the company offers the Micro Vario Carbon AS version as well, which comes at a higher price but includes a low-profile shock system.
- The Good: Packable and lightweight design
- The Bad: Expensive
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork
Are you looking for a single pair of trekking poles that you’ll be able to use year-round, ranging from backcountry skiing to summer backpacking trips? If so, these Black Diamond Alpine trekking poles are undoubtedly one of your best options.
Compared to some of the other trekking poles on our list, these feel more substantial when held in hands. This is because the rugged construction of these poles isn’t that susceptible to flexing under a heavy load.
Moreover, the Black Diamond Alpine Cork comes equipped with a couple of BD’s premium components. These include a full 3-piece carbon fiber construction, cork handles with special foam extensions, as well as FlickLock Pro lever locks made out of metal. While all of this will require you to reach deep into your pocket, it’s safe to say that the price of Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles is totally justified by the reliability and quality of their design.
Now, you may be wondering – does the Black Diamond Alpine pole have any disadvantages? Besides the high price, these trekking poles may be too feature-rich for an average hiker. A cheaper option, such as the company’s own Ergo pole may be a more suitable choice than the Alpine Carbon Cork if you’re not that serious about backpacking.
Furthermore, Alpine Carbon Cork does not pack down as small as some of the other trekking poles in our roundup (DynaLock Ascent is a good example). This can easily become a major problem for folks who usually strap their trekking poles to the outsides of their backpacks.
With that being said, we think that it’s pretty safe to say that the Alpine Carbon Cork has a rugged build that turns them into the best trekking poles for activities such as split boarding and ski touring.
- The Good: Phenomenal durability
- The Bad: Very expensive
REI Co-op Trailbreak
- Type: Telescoping
- Grip: Rubber
- Shaft Material: Aluminum
- Weight per Pair: 1 pound 1 ounce
REI Co-op Trailbreak is a lineup of trekking poles intended for those on a budget. Besides poles, it includes hiking accessories such as backpacks, bags, and sleeping pads. The pole we’re about to analyze here is the company’s least expensive offering but comes with everything that an occasional backpacker might need.
Those who decide to go with this pole will get a no-nonsense model that features a rubber grip, a telescoping design with lever locks, and an aluminum build. Pretty much nothing is exceptional here – the pole comes without padded straps, cork grips, or any carbon in its construction. That is precisely why it’s so affordable and why these trekking poles best fit folks who are looking to save some money.
What do you sacrifice if you decide to go with these trekking poles? As we said, this is not a premium pole and therefore doesn’t offer much in terms of durability. This becomes particularly evident if we compare it to a sturdier model, such as the Trail Ergo Cork trekking poles made by Black Diamond.
Moreover, as we said above, the REI Co-op Trailbreak poles are quite light on the features. Those who opt for this pole will miss out on things like burlier lever-type locks, long-lasting cork handles, or choke-up extensions. However, if you do get these poles and stick to not-so-demanding trails while using them, they will undoubtedly do the trick. Serious hikers, on the other hand, should definitely opt for a pair of higher-end hiking poles.
- The Good: Inexpensive but practical
- The Bad: Not for rugged terrain
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
Depending on the size you decide to go with, the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles weigh at around 10 ounces per pair, which turns them into BD’s lightest trekking poles. Best suited for thru-hikers and minimalists, this pole is so packable and light that it has even become highly popular with people who run long-distance trails.
What are other good things about these poles? Black Diamond Distance Z is constructed in a simple but ingenious way. A sleeve on the pole’s top section moves down from the model’s grip, its segments slide together and then pop into place with the help of a small button.
It takes a couple of seconds to deploy the Distance Carbon Z poles, and once they’re collapsed, they are significantly shorter than most other accessories of this type, including fixed-length poles. This can make a huge difference for folks who want to quickly and easily store the poles into their backpacks.
Are there any downsides to opting for the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles? Although it’s significantly lighter than aluminum, carbon fiber is more likely to snap under heavy load and it’s also more expensive.
Furthermore, the Black Diamond Distance Z poles are fixed-length poles – you can obtain them in four different pole length options, but none of them are adjustable. Being able to change the length of a pole on-the-go is a great feature, which means that the fixed length of these poles makes them a lot less versatile.
If adjustability is really important to you, make sure to check out the Carbon FLZ poles made by the same company. Their Distance FLZ poles, on the other hand, are a cheaper aluminum version – we have reviewed them above.
- The Good: Lightweight and foldable
- The Bad: Fixed pole length, expensive
Montem Ultra Strong Anti-Shock
The next trekking poles we’ll analyze are, in our opinion, a fantastic choice for hiking newbies looking for a good deal. It’s a great entry-level pole that comes at an excellent price and provides its user with a lot of versatility.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first – despite their name, the Montem Ultra-Strong poles are not the most durable hiking poles out there. This is because they sport a somewhat generic design, making us question their actual longevity. In addition, the poles come equipped with plastic locking mechanisms and these could easily snap if you tighten them too much.
However, the biggest disadvantage of these poles is that they have foam handles, even though the model is marketed as a cork-handle trekking pole. While this EVA-foam handles certainly provide a sufficient amount of comfort, do not purchase Montem Ultra Strong hiking poles expecting cork handles.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of good things about these poles, too. First of all, they are quite light and can collapse to 24 inches. In other words, strapping them to a backpack is entirely possible and can be done in several different ways. Furthermore, the model sports a standard 3-piece telescoping design – these poles best fit backpackers who frequently adjust the length on the go.
But the best thing about these poles is how versatile they are. The model shines as a “does it all” pole that can be of great use during your mountaineering adventures. It comes equipped with mud baskets, rubber tips, and its pole length can be adjusted on-the-go. Still, keep in mind that this is still an entry-level pole – for anything more serious than occasional hikes, your best bet would be to go with something a bit pricier.
- The Good: Versatile entry-level poles
- The Bad: Questionable durability
REI Co-op Flash Carbon
- Type: Telescoping
- Grip: Foam
- Shaft Made Out Of: Carbon
- Weight of a Pair: 14.8 ounces
Durable, lightweight, and equipped with aluminum locks, the Flash Carbon ultralight trekking poles are among REI’s best entry-level offerings. While it does come with a couple of sacrifices in terms of comfort and strength, this is a pretty good pole that provides adequate reliability for most trekkers and hikers.
As the name suggests, REI Co-op Flash Carbon sports a carbon-made shaft. As such, these poles aren’t that suitable for the most remote trips, but they’re certainly a decent choice for lightweight backpacking journeys and day hikes. They won’t perform that well when it comes to technical climbing, but they’re a great companion on simple cross-country trips.
In terms of comfort, these trekking poles feature foam grips. They do a great job at wicking away sweat from the user’s fingers and palms, but can’t really compete with cork-made grips in terms of overall comfort. One thing you’ll certainly like is the weight – at only 14.8 ounces, REI Co-op Flash Carbon is among the lightest trekking poles, at least when it comes to telescoping models.
Another great thing about these trekking poles is the durable locks they’re equipped with. Unlike shafts, these are made out of aluminum and are very durable and easy to use. In terms of packed size, however, these poles aren’t the best on the market – when collapsed, they measure 27 inches and can be difficult to fit into a small backpack.
Even with all of its shortcomings, we consider this pole to be a pretty good choice for anyone looking for a reliable but inexpensive model. If nothing else, this pair of hiking poles comes accompanied by REI’s well-known lifetime guarantee, which turns these poles into a very safe investment.
- The Good: Low weight & aluminum locks
- The Bad: Large collapsed size
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork
When it comes to hiking poles, folding designs and carbon fiber get all the attention. While these certainly are impressive innovations, they are not what every backpacker is looking for. Some outdoors enthusiasts only want a pair of reliable trekking poles that are both functional and affordable. And that is precisely what BD’s Trail Ergo Cork Poles are – they are, in our opinion, the best trekking poles overall.
Available at the price of around $130, these poles come with only a couple of compromises and provide a great value for the money. In fact, the all-aluminum design of this pole is just a tiny bit heavier than the Micro Vario Carbon which we have analyzed above.
However, that doesn’t mean that this pole isn’t durable enough – it fares quite when it comes to snow, rock, and dirt travel. Moreover, this pole also features BD’s well-known FlickLock length adjusters and ergonomically-shaped cork grips.
Even though it’s our top pick, this pole does have a couple of disadvantages. First of all, the 27” minimum length may be an issue for folks who prioritize collapsibility. While these poles certainly won’t get in your way when they’re attached to the exterior of your backpack, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re a few inches longer than a lot of other 3-piece models.
That’s about it when it comes to downsides – these are, in our opinion, the best trekking poles you can get on today’s market.
- The Good: Excellent construction
- The Bad: Long collapsed length
Best Trekking Poles Buying Guide
In this part of the article, we’ll be taking a detailed look at all those factors you need to keep in mind while shopping for your brand new pair of trekking poles. If you need more information on carbon fiber vs aluminum trekking poles I have written a full post on that. Here’s what you need to pay attention to:
Types of Trekking Poles
Folding Trekking Poles
The ultralight folding category was pioneered by Black Diamond and their world-famous Z-Pole range. Just like the poles that accompany tents, these can be separated into sections and then packed down more easily.
In this category, Leki has made a noticeable push with their popular Micro Vario range of folding poles. This line includes one of the world’s most beloved trekking poles of this type – the Micro Vario Carbon pole.
Most trekking poles of this type are quite limited when it comes to adjustability. Furthermore, they can’t bear as much weight as telescoping poles and typically have thin shafts. However, they don’t cause much arm fatigue when used for a long time and that’s precisely why they’re favored by travelers, climbers, trail runners, and fast hikers.
Telescoping Trekking Poles
When people think of trekking poles, they usually think of telescoping ones – that’s how popular and common this type of pole is. They are used by all sorts of outdoor enthusiasts, from professional mountaineers to day hikers.
As the name suggests, a pole of this type will consist of different pieces that expand from each joint through the use of a simple locking mechanism. When you’re out on the trail, you can use this mechanism to adjust the length of the poles. Obviously, the points of connection that these poles come with are their biggest downside, and that’s why it’s so important to get a model with a strong, well-made locking mechanism.
When it comes to telescoping poles, we prefer lighter models that are equipped with simple but convenient features: comfortable grips, quality carbon fiber or aluminum construction, as well as the already-mentioned secure locking mechanisms.
Fixed Length Trekking Poles
The final category of trekking pole is fixed-length, straight-shaft construction.
Truth be told, fixed-length trekking poles aren’t that common. This is because they are long and therefore quite awkward (or even difficult) to transport and store. In addition, these kinds of poles cannot be adjusted on-the-go, and that’s undoubtedly their biggest downside.
When shopping for a pair of hiking poles, one needs to pay special attention to weight. As a matter of fact, weight should be at the very top of your priority list.
A light trekking pole won’t tire your hand as quickly as the heavier one would, and this can be a huge benefit on long backpacking journeys. Always keep in mind that during long treks your arms swing forward thousands of times – even a 3-ounce difference can go a long way.
For ultralight backpackers, the choice is pretty obvious – their best bet is the ultralight trekking poles, even though such poles aren’t as durable as their heavier counterparts. On the extreme end are models such as BD’s popular Distance Carbon Z. While great for thru-hiking, poles such as that one aren’t durable enough for year-round use.
In our opinion, your best bet is to go with poles that are lightweight but not so lightweight that you have to constantly worry about them getting damaged or broken. Our top pick, BD’s Trail Ergo model, is one of your best options in that regard.
While it’s certainly not a make-or-break specification, the collapsed length of a trekking pole is an important consideration for folks who often have to fit this equipment into their backpacks or suitcases. It’s a vital factor for hikers who strap poles to the exteriors of their backpacks, too.
Obviously, folding models sport the smallest packed size and can sometimes even be stored in daypacks. On the extreme end are folding poles that have a packed size that is as little as 12 to 14 inches.
However, not all backpackers value compact packed size that much, which is precisely why 3-piece trekking poles remain the most popular trekking poles on the market. The average minimum length of these trekking poles stands at around 24” to 27”, allowing their users to attach them to their backpacks. In addition, they easily fit into most luggage.
Fixed-length poles, on the other hand, are something you should avoid if you’re often carrying this type of equipment in/on your backpack.
The durability of trekking poles is closely related to their weight. When they want to cut weight, manufacturers often decrease the diameter of a particular pole, as well as the thickness of its material. Obviously, a thinner model with a smaller diameter will never be able to withstand as much pressure as its thicker and wider counterpart.
The material itself is just as important. While it’s not as strong as carbon fiber, aluminum is often a better choice when it comes to longevity – it doesn’t break that easily. And that’s precisely why many manufacturers of trekking poles make hybrid models that contain both carbon and aluminum-made sections.
As with all other hiking equipment, one needs to pay special attention to his or her individual needs. If you are, for example, someone who hikes year-round and needs a pair of genuinely durable and reliable trekking poles, you may be willing to deal with higher weight in order to get a more long-lasting construction.
In case you opt for any type of trekking pole that isn’t an ultralight foldable model, there’s a pretty good chance your model will have some sort of a locking mechanism.
The classic trekking poles use something called a twist lock. This type of lock allows the user to tighten each piece (or section) of a trekking pole. Trekking poles featuring a twist lock provide inconsistent performance – a lot of hikers either make the lock too loose or over-tighten it, and doing both of these things can lead to all kinds of issues. In addition, the twist lock has gone out of fashion.
A much better (and more modern) solution than a twist lock is the lever lock. This is an easy-to-use system that utilizes an external clamp that you can close (to lock the trekking pole) or open (to adjust it). A lever lock provides users with additional confidence – the pole’s sections aren’t that prone to slipping when they’re in locked position.
When it comes to downsides, we have to mention that there’s always a small chance of accidentally opening the lever lock when you’re traversing bushy terrain. In addition, you may have to use a screwdriver to tighten the lever lock from time to time. Still, these are minor drawbacks – the lever lock is pretty much the new standard and something we recommend to all hiking enthusiasts.
In general, trekking poles are manufactured either from aluminum, carbon fiber or from a combination of these two materials (a good example would be a 3-piece trekking pole with one part made out of aluminum and two parts made out of carbon fiber).
Premium trekking poles are typically made out of carbon. This is due to the fact that this material is stiffer and lighter. However, it also comes at a higher and is more brittle – when it breaks, it’s gone forever (as opposed to aluminum, which is still usable even when bent or dented). While it usually sports a thicker diameter construction, a carbon-made trekking pole is always more prone to snapping under hard stress.
Durability and price are the two primary reasons why so many outdoor enthusiasts go with aluminum trekking poles. Just look at our top pick, the Black Diamond Trail Ergo – it has a confidence-inspiring design and feels super stable on all kinds of surfaces.
In the end, a weekend backpacker will probably be content with a trekking pole made out of aluminum. However, poles made out of carbon and nothing else besides carbon are still the best choice for weight-focused backcountry adventurers.
Pole Grip Materials
The grips found on trekking poles are typically made out of rubber, foam, or cork.
A well-made cork handle won’t only feel great in your hand but it will also wick away the sweat as you’re walking. In addition, these types of grips conform to hands over time – cork poles best fit hikers who often go on long-distance backpacking adventures and hike in all 4 seasons.
If grips made out of cork aren’t really your thing, foam is the next best thing. EVA foam has moisture-wicking properties, provides a decent amount of shock absorption, and feels exceptionally soft.
This would be the third option and one that you’ll typically find on the cheapest trekking poles. While they do lack the premium feel of cork and foam grips, rubber grips shed snow and rain – they’re ideal for cold-weather activities.
Another important consideration is the design and quality of wrist straps. There’s a wide variety of strap designs on the market, ranging from simple nylon to heavily padded. However, a lot of backpackers ditch these all together – they don’t want to be tied to their trekking poles in case they fall.
When it comes to strap selection, the most important thing you need to look out for is potential irritants. If there’s any part of the wrist strap that feels inadequate, keep in mind that it will probably irritate you far more after you’ve walked 10 miles with it around your hand.
Generally, the straps featured on most high-end hiking trekking poles feel quite comfortable. Even the simplest ones, like the wrist strap found on Leki’s popular Micro Vario pole, is very comfortable and smooth. Leki’s Cross Trail 3 trekking poles, on the other hand, come with straps that provide full-hand coverage. However, a lot of outdoor enthusiasts find these to be too restrictive
A lot of trekking poles come equipped with a second grip, which is typically situated right below the primary one. In the vast majority of cases, they are made out of foam. They can be of great help when you’re climbing steep hills and need a secure hold that will improve your leverage and balance.
If you’re someone who often traverses steep terrain, this feature is a must-have. If you’d like to save some money, however, there’s a simple DIY alternative – wrap the part of the trekking pole that’s right under the main grip with some duct tape.
Standard Handle vs. Ergonomic Handle
Another important question you need to ask yourself is whether you should or shouldn’t get yourself a trekking pole with an ergonomic handle.
As you can probably already guess, these grips have a slight forward angle, putting your hands into a more natural position when you’re using the poles. However, this doesn’t really work for everybody – what feels natural to one backpacker may feel totally awkward and dysfunctional to another. To put it simply, it’s a matter of personal preference.
Adding shock absorption to this type of equipment seems like a wise decision, doesn’t it? These trekking poles come with an integrated “give” that makes it easier for your wrists and knees to handle long descents.
However, a quick look at our roundup of the market’s best trekking poles will show you that there’s only a couple of anti-shock models in there. This is because shock-absorbing hiking poles often weigh more and these extra ounces can make a huge difference when you’re hiking for miles on end.
Cheap Trekking Poles
Frail locks, straps chafing your hands, cork disintegrating into your palms, uncomfortable foam – these are all characteristics of cheap trekking poles made by no-name brands. To put it simply, a poorly made and therefore very cheap hiking pole is rarely a good choice.
However, that doesn’t mean that you have to spend hundreds of bucks in order to feel safe and secure on the trail. Today’s market offers dozens of quality models that can be obtained for less than $100. In addition, those looking for a simple pole for around-town use and light backcountry walks should just forget about the bells and whistles and get a regular aluminum model at an affordable price.
Best Trekking Poles – The Verdict
As you can see in our roundup, trekking poles come in all shapes and sizes – some are foldable, some have anti-shock properties, some are ultralight, and some have comfortable choke-up extensions. But all of them have one thing in common, and that’s the fact that they’re the best that the market has the offer. In other words, you can’t really make a mistake by going with any of the trekking poles from our list.
As far as we’re concerned, Black Diamond’s Trail Ergo is the best of the best – it’s a pair of simple but incredibly well-made and functional trekking poles that totally deserves the status of our top pick.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.