The ergonomics, or shape of the pole handle is probably the single most important factor concerning how “comfortable” a pole is. While material is important, it isn’t as important as the actual ergonomics, design and shape. This is where there is more personal preference involved, similar to many other things regarding shape and comfort people have different opinions about, as opposed to the much more black-and-white functionality of materials.
Cork: Cork is typically the nicest material used. Cork (like your Birkenstocks) can shape to your hand with time and is smooth, durable and continues to wear well even after years of use and abuse. It absorbs very little water, doesn’t take in much sweat from your hand yet feels pleasant and resists chafing during warm to hot weather hiking.
Rubber: Rubber is slightly better than cork for cold weather or mountaineering use because it insulates slightly better and is around equal to cork for shock and vibration dampening. Most users don’t find it quite as comfortable during hotter hikes or after years of use when the rubber handle gets worn down and looses its shape some. While we tested, there were always more folks getting chafed hands with rubber grips compared to cork or foam, though depending on the trip, this varied some. Some users noted very little difference in rubbing between handle materials, while others would get the worst rub marks and blisters from rubber grips during warmer to hot hikes compared with cork or foam. If you would consider yourself to have “softer hands” and aren’t using your poles someplace cold, we advise sticking to cork or foam.
Foam: Foam is the lightest and most moisture wicking of the three most common grip materials, but is also by far the least durable. While it was great for desert hikes around the Grand Canyon, most of the foam grips we tested lost their shape the quickest and got nicked and dinged the most easily. A lot of folks will deal with this with their super light poles because the pole is likely to break before the grip wears out.
The diameter of a grip can vary a lot from model to model and manufacturer to manufacturer. If you have a smaller or larger than average hand grip diameter, this can possibly be the biggest contributing factor to a poles level of comfort than any of the other points mentioned above. If you have large or larger than average hands, the grips on Montem poles are certainly grittier than normal and awesome for both larger and smaller hands.
I have Leki poles with rubber handles but they get very sticky in hot weather, can you get covers that slip over?