How to Choose the Right Trekking Poles For You

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For a long time, trekking poles have been an essential item for people venturing into the wild.

Backpackers, hikers and trekkers have all used trekking poles to help support themselves over tricky terrain and slippery surfaces, to take the weight off of their knees and ankles and to limit the amount of stress on their joints during downhill walks.

Trekking poles play a very important role when it comes to outdoor safety and comfort, so when buying them it’s crucial that you buy the right ones for you.

That is often easier said than done, however, as you’ll need to consider the weight, grip, construction, shock absorption and price of each pole and compare them to your needs.

Here’s some help to get you started:

Different Types of Trekking Poles

There are many different types of trekking poles out there, with each style of pole being suited to different needs. Therefore, the ‘best trekking pole’ is simply the best one for you, as there is no universal ‘best’.

To help you decide which pole is right for you, consider the kind of terrain you’ll be using it on. Will the terrain be rugged and bumpy, relatively flat or slippery?

You’ll also need to consider how strong and durable your knees, ankles and hips are, as these are key areas that a trekking pole can help to protect and support (if necessary).

The different types of trekking poles are as follows:

  • Standard Trekking Poles - These poles don’t have any anti-shock features, making them lighter and less expensive as a result. Like all trekking poles, these will give you a great level of balance and support when walking and are a great place to start when buying trekking poles.
  • Anti-shock Trekking Poles - Anti-shock poles have a special anti-shock feature which is designed to take some of the impact and strain off of your body. This feature can be turned off and on (depending on the surface you’re walking on), and is highly recommended for people with weak or damaged knees, ankles or hips. Anti-shock poles work best when walking downhill, as that’s when a lot of damage can be done.
  • Compact Trekking Poles - Also known as ‘women’s trekking poles’ (although they’re also ideal for children) these are shorter than and have a smaller grip (making them ideal for people with smaller hands). This means that they’re lighter, easier to use, and will take up less space in your backpack.
  • Hiking Staffs - Hiking staffs (also known as travel staffs and walking staffs) are made for walking over relatively flat terrain. They’re best used on short walks or treks, as they’re not designed to help support a large load on your back. Hiking staffs are often adjustable and may contain all sorts of extra features (such as a built-in compass or the ability to turn into a camera stand).


Key Features to Consider When Buying Trekking Poles

When buying trekking poles there are a few things you need to consider:

Price and Weight
Why have I listed these two features together? Because weight and price often affect one another.

Typically, the less a trekking pole weighs, the more it’ll cost you. Lightweight trekking poles are generally considered to be better because they’re easier to use and won’t weigh down your bag as much.

Pole Materials
The main shaft of most trekking poles is made from one of two materials (aluminum or carbon fiber). Which material a pole is made from will have a large impact on its overall weight and price.

Let’s take a closer look:

  • Aluminum – High-grade aluminum is a strong and durable material, meaning poles made from this are unlikely to break under normal conditions. Aluminum poles are also cheaper than carbon fiber poles despite weighing more. Most aluminum poles weigh between and 9 and 11 ounces.
  • Carbon Fiber – Poles made from carbon fiber are lighter and more expensive than their aluminum counterparts. Although they are tough, they’re more likely to break than aluminum poles, so keep this in mind if you plan on hiking in harsh conditions. Typically, a carbon fiber trekking pole will weigh between 6.5 and 9 ounces.

Black Diamond Trekking Pole GripThe shape and feel of the grip on trekking poles seems to vary greatly between different brands, so when buying it’s best to try out a few different types to see what suits you the best.

For example, on some poles the grip is positioned at an upwards angle, so that you can hold it without having to bend your wrist (making it comfortable to hold and ergonomic in nature).

Other brands will have a long grip that extends some way down the shaft of the pole, allowing you more variety in your grip style. Trekking poles with extended grips are great when walking uphill as you’ll want to be able to hold your pole at a lower point.

The most common materials used to make trekking pole grips are:

  • Rubber – Rubber is great at absorbing shocks, vibrations and bumps and does a great job at insulting your hands from the cold. The main downside of rubber grips is that they can chafe against sweaty hands, potentially creating blisters. Rubber grips are therefore best suited to colder weather conditions.
  • Foam – Foam grips are the softest of all, and are great at absorbing moisture and sweat (making them useful in warmer climates).
  • Cork – Cork grips are the favourite of many experienced hikers, as they absorb shocks well (just like rubber grips) whilst also absorbing sweat and moisture (like foam grips), making them the best of both worlds.

When buying a set (or a pair) of trekking poles, bear in mind that one pole will usually be a designated as the ‘left’ pole, and the other as the ‘right’ pole. The shape of the grip will therefore differ between each pole, depending on the hand it is designed for.

The Locking Mechanism
A lot of trekking poles will be divided up into two or three interlocking sections that can easily be adjusted (to make the pole longer or shorter).

Having the ability to change the size of your trekking pole means you can adjust it to match your height and the terrain you’re walking on.

Here are the most popular locking mechanisms used on trekking poles:

  • Twist-and-Lock – By twisting the pole clockwise and anti-clockwise you can loosen and tighten the different sections, allowing you to easily alter the size.
  • FlickLock – Used primarily by Black Diamond poles, this is a lever system that can be easily adjusted (even while wearing gloves), making it ideal for colder climates.
  • Super Lock – Used primarily by Leki poles, this system is based around using a strong screw and expander mechanism and is known for its durability.
  • DuoLock – The DuoLock mechanism is used on many Kimperdell and REI trekking poles, and works by applying pressure to the inside of the pole’s wall to hold each segment in place.


Other Things to Consider

Wrist Straps
Black-Diamond-Trail-Trekking-PolesMost trekking poles these days come with adjustable wrist straps.

By fastening these straps around your wrists, you won’t have to worry about dropping your poles and losing them, as they’ll always be attached to you.

When looking at wrist straps, remember that they’ll be in close contact with your skin, so think about getting soft or padded straps that won’t chafe.

Pole Tips
The kind of tips (or spikes) on the end of your walking pole will affect how at digs into the ground and the kind of grip/support if gives you.

Steel and carbide tips are the most common, and will provide you with a decent level of grip on most surfaces (including ice).

It should also be noted that a lot of trekking poles will come with a set of rubber tip protectors. These can be put on when you’re not using your pole to protect the tip (meaning it’ll last longer) and to cover up the sharp edge (so that you don’t stab yourself with it and so that you can store it in your bag without fear of it stabbing your gear).

Related posts:

  1. Lightweight Trekking Poles – Are They Worth It?
  2. How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Traveling

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