Trekking poles, also know as hiking poles and hiking staffs are useful equipment for many hikers, walkers, trekkers, backpackers, snowshoers and even those that do not want to use a cane. The reasons why hiking poles are preferred are quite simple – they enhance your stability and provide support for your knees on all types of terrain.
Trekking poles will not decrease your overall energy expenditure since you’ll be using your arms more than you would when walking without poles. They do, however, help distribute your energy usage in a way that can help your hiking endurance.
Types of Trekking Poles
Trekking Poles: Trekking poles are usually sold as a pair and enhance your stability and can reduce force on your knees while hiking, walking or backpacking. Unlike fixed ski poles or wooden hiking sticks, trekking poles are adjustable in length and some include internal springs that absorb shock to further reduce impact.
Hiking Staff: Sometimes called a walking staff, hiking stick, wooden stick or travel staff, this is a single pole that’s most effective when used on relatively flat terrain and with little or no load on your back. Hiking staffs are adjustable and some include a shock-absorbing feature. Trekking pole and hiking staff manufacturers have started to integrate built-in camera mounts under the handle so the staff can be used as a monopod.
Trekking Pole Features
Adjustable: Most trekking poles adjust in length to enhance stability on different terrain. Most trekking poles adjust from about 24 to 55 inches long. Typically, you will want to shorten the poles when going uphill and lengthen them when going downhill. Check out our how to use trekking poles article to learn more about their use.
Ultralight poles: Ultralight trekking poles offer the advantage of less swing weight, which makes them easier and quicker to move. Over the course of a long hike less weight means less fatigue, especially if you are doing hours long hikes or days long treks. Ultralight poles are also easier to pack. The pole shaft’s material is a key determinant of the pole’s overall weight.
Shock-absorbing poles: Shock absorbing poles offer internal springs that absorb shock when you walk downhill. With most poles, this feature can be turned off when it’s not needed, like when you’re walking uphill. Shock absorption is recommended if you have weak or damaged ankles, knees or hips. It adds a bit to the cost of the poles.
Non-Shock absorbing poles: These hiking poles do not have a shock-absorbing feature and are lighter and less expensive as a result. While they don’t absorb as much impact when going downhill, they do provide a similar level of balance and support as shock-absorbing poles.
Accessory mounts: Some trekking poles and hiking staffs include built-in accessory mounts such as a camera mount under the handle, enabling the pole to be used as a monopod.
Trekking Pole Locking Mechanisms
Trekking poles are identified by their two or three interlocking sections that allow for adjustment in length. This adjustability (which typically ranges from 24 to 55 inches) lets you adapt the poles to your height and the terrain. Locking mechanisms such as flip-locks are used to secure the poles at your desired length and keep them from slipping while in use.
Most poles use one of these four types of locking mechanisms.
Push-button lock: Poles with this locking mechanism snap into place and lock with a single pull. Press the push button to release the lock and collapse the poles.
External lever lock: A lever-based, clamplike mechanism that is quick and easy to adjust, even when wearing gloves.
Twist lock: Uses an expander and screw setup that is consistently strong and durable.
Combination lock: Some poles use a combination of the other locking mechanisms to achieve a balance of strength, light weight and ease of use. For example, a pole might use an external lever lock on the upper shaft and a twist lock on the lower shaft.
Trekking Pole Shaft Materials
The pole’s shaft makeup is a key factor that contributes to the pole’s overall weight.
Carbon fiber: Carbon fiber is lighter and more expensive and average between 13 and 18 ounces per pair. They are good at reducing vibration, but under high stress, carbon-fiber poles are more vulnerable to breakage or splintering than aluminum poles. If you hike in rugged, remote areas, this is something to keep in mind.
Aluminum: Aluminum poles are durable and an economical choice. Aluminum trekking poles usually weigh between 18 and 22 ounces per pair. The actual weight can vary a bit based on the gauge of the pole, which ranges from 12 to 16mm. Under high stress, aluminum can bend, but is unlikely to break.
Trekking Pole Grip Material
Cork: This resists moisture from sweaty hands, decreases vibration and best conforms to the shape of your hands.
Rubber: This insulates hands from cold, shock and vibration, so it’s best for cold-weather activities. These grips are more likely to chafe or blister sweaty hands, so it’s less suitable for warm-weather hiking.
EVA Foam: This absorbs moisture from sweaty hands and is the softest to the touch.
Other Trekking Pole Considerations
Wrist straps: Most poles allow you to adjust the length of each strap in order to get a comfortable fit. Models with padded or lined straps can prevent chafing.
Baskets: Trekking poles usually include a small, removable trekking basket at the tip end. Larger baskets can be substituted for use in snowy or muddy ground.
Pole tips: Carbide or steel tips are commonly used to provide traction, even on ice. Rubber tip protectors extend the life of the tips and protect your gear when poles being carried around. Angled rubber walking tips (usually sold separately) are for use on asphalt or other hard surfaces.