Hiking Poles Shopping Guide

Most of us who are active think that we have a pretty good grasp on the whole walking thing, right? And sure, doing a simple hike in a local park might not require a good walking stick, but for serious treks you should consider getting yourself some good trekking poles (also referred to as hiking poles).

These hiking poles are not just for backpacking or mountaineering. According to some experts, trekking poles are good for people with bad knees cause they lessen impact on your knees by around 40%! Even if you don’t have bad knees (someday you will), they are still good for making your activities more of a low impact thing.

There has been several studies in regard to the benefits of trekking poles. According to a 1999 study in The Journal of Sports Medicine, trekking poles can reduce the compressive force on the knees by up to 25%. This translates into literally tons of weight that your body will not have to support during the course of a regular hike. In another study by Northumbria University released in 2010 tested hikers in the true outdoors. According to Dr Glyn Howatson, “The results present strong evidence that trekking poles reduce, almost to the point of complete disappearance, the extent of muscle damage during a day’s mountain trek.

If you’re new to trekking / hiking poles, then you might be wondering what exactly these things are and why you need them. Those of you who do a bit of skiing probably already know that their design came from cross country ski poles. In fact, trekking poles were first designed to be used by snowshoers. But theses days trekking poles are used by everyone from trail runners to hikers to hunters.

You can find trekking poles in different lengths in order to get the best fit for your height. And for those of us who enjoy having as little as possible with us when being active, you can even get trekking poles that fold up and fit in a backpack or cargo pocket.

As you shop around for the best trekking poles on the market, you’ll notice that you can find something to fit any budget. There are plenty of cheap trekking poles under $100 that you can buy, some that are even under $50. Of course, if you spend a lot of time trekking, then you’ll likely want to spend a bit more for some higher quality walking sticks. Even then, you’ll see plenty of high quality trekking poles with affordable prices.

So, how much should you spend? Well, think about it like this – you only need to buy trekking poles once since they are built to last. So, spend more now for the best ones that you can afford and you’ll be doing yourself a favor in the long run. Overall, they offer a pretty good value for the money and they have a long life span. If you expect to get a lot of use out of these things, then spend more for better quality. But don’t sweat it if you can’t go with a top of the line set of trekking poles cause you can find plenty of great cheap models that are worth the money.

Features To Look For in Trekking Poles

As you evaluate all the different trekking pole models that are out there, you should look for the features that are most important to you. As you do a bit of comparison shopping, you will notice that features vary between the different brands and models.

Adjustment Mechanism

You can choose between twist-and-lock poles or poles with lever lock action. The twist and lock variety is normally found on cheaper models. But, the level lock action models are both higher quality and easier to adjust.

Design

There are three types of designs that you will see when looking at these. They are:

  • folding/tent
  • two-section telescoping
  • three-section telescoping

Each of these has their advantages and disadvantages, which really just leaves the design down to personal preference. For the most lightweight & compact trekking pole, go with the folding tent pole design. For the strongest trekking pole, go with the two-section model. And, if you want the perfect combo of the two, go with the three-section model.

A three-section telescoping pole is the most common because it perfectly balances rugged durability while being compact and lightweight enough to pack. So, most people who are hiking, backpacking, mountaineering and climbing will find this to be the perfect type of design.

Materials

Carbon fiber and aluminum are the two types of materials that you most commonly see trekking poles made out of. The aluminum ones are heavier than the carbon fiber ones. Carbon fiber is the stronger of the two, however it cannot withstand dents or bangs and can get cracks and be useless. I find that the carbon poles are better at shock absorption, but all it takes it accidentally kick it one time to break it. So, if you’re a bit clumsy like me, aluminum is probably a better choice since you can still use it with a dent and the carbon just up and breaks on you. But hey, if you’re not rough on the poles, definitely get the more lightweight carbon!

Basket Size

The baskets on the poles vary depending on what the conditions the poles are designed for in the wild. For instance, small baskets are great for hiking while larger ones are good for snow. And if you try a pole with a large basket in the woods, then it will end up getting stuck is bushes and other organic debris. That being said, there are a few brands (Black Diamond, Leki) make some poles with baskets that can be changed out, but most of them do not have this capability.

Shock Absorbers

This features has some advantages and disadvantages. It’s great for lessening the shock impact on your way back down a trail, but doesn’t offer much on the way up. Also, on rocks and where there’s water, you get less stability with the shock absorbers than without. Of course, the perfect solution here is a pole that gives you the ability to disable the shock absorbing feature.

When going uphill you should lengthen the poles for better forward motion. When going downhill you should shorten the poles for better stability and balance.

Weight

Depending on the material of the pole, you will notice a difference in the weight of the poles. At first glance, the few ounces difference might not seem like such a big deal. But, you need to consider how you will be using these poles, cause if you’re lifting these in your arms for thousands of steps a day on a weekend backpacking trip, then those few ounces are really going to add up. Every piece of hiking equipment should be lightweight. With lightweight hiking poles you are able to move faster and easier. Therefore, you will save energy and postpone exhaustion. Lightweight poles are also easier to pack.

The Handle

Another important feature to pay attention to is the handle. Not only will you find differences in the material used for the grip, but also some of the handles are ergonomically shaped.

Foam, rubber and cork are what you most commonly see used in the grips. Cork is cooler than rubber and conforms to your hand. But, they can be heavier and make your hands sweatier than foam. But rubber is the heaviest. For those sweaty hands, rubber won’t absorb moisture and foam absorbs the most. Foam feels the least cold, if that matters to what you’re using the poles for outside, but are not good for snow.

Rubber is best for:

Foam is best for:

  • climbers
  • mountaineers

Cork is best for:

  • backpacking
  • other warm-weather activities where moisture-wicking is important

Portability

If you intend to travel with your trekking poles or cover a lot of space with them, then packability might be important to you. Shorter poles and folding poles are the easiest to get into a suitcase or backpack.

Poles are not among the most necessary pieces of hiking gear. However, many hikers use hiking poles because they provide extra support and balance, reduced impact on knee and hip joints and increased forward motion. This is especially beneficial for the elderly as well as well as outdoorsmen with old injuries they are wary of. Using hiking poles is the most beneficial on rough terrain where joints suffer the most. Today almost 90% of hikers on long tours use hiking poles.

Our top rated trekking pole reviews summaries are below. If you want to learn more check out our trekking pole reviews page here.

Trekking Poles

RankBrand & ModelShaftOur RatingPrice
1Montem Ultra Strong Trekking PolesAluminum$$
2Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking PolesAluminum$$$
3Montem Ultralight Carbon Fiber Trekking PolesCarbon Fiber$$$
4Leki Corklite Trekking PolesAluminum$$$$
5Bearios Carbon Fiber Trekking PolesCarbon Fiber$$$
6Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking PolesCarbon Fiber$$$$
7Montem Folding Collapsible Trekking PolesAluminum$$$
8Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking PolesCarbon Fiber$$
9Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber Trekking PolesCarbon Fiber$$$
10Foxelli Carbon Fiber Trekking PolesCarbon Fiber$$$$
More Trekking Poles

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