There are many reasons why the use of trekking poles by hikers, backpackers, and snowshoers has increased dramatically in the past decade. By transferring some of the weight into your arms, they make uphill climbs easier. By offering stability on downhills, they reduce stress on your joints, especially your knees and ankles. And they provide balance when you’re fording fast-moving rivers. This guide will introduce you to a few topics that will help you choose the best trekking poles for your needs.
Types: Trekking poles can be broken into three primary types: Standard, Shock Absorbing, and Staff. The one that’s right for you comes down to what type of terrain you expect to be traversing.
Standard: Standard trekking poles are typically strong, lightweight, and telescoping. The telescoping feature is essential for any hiking or backpacking uses, when you want to strap your poles to your pack and go hands-free. There are two types of pole adjustment locking mechanisms. There are lever locks, and there are twist locks. Twist locks are not recommended for skiing or snowshoeing because it can be difficult to adjust them with gloves on. Lever locks are intended for all-around use. You can also find standard poles in both two and three sections. Two sectioned-poles are generally sturdier and better for skiing, while three sectioned poles are best intended for hiking or backpacking.
Shock Absorbing: Shock absorbing poles have internal air pistons that compress coiled springs. They add weight and cost, but they do help alleviate extra stress on your joints, especially on the knees and ankles. The spring on most shock absorbing trekking poles can be locked so it can transform into a traditional rigid pole when needed.
Staff: A hiking staff is a single pole and it’s an old tradition. They are typically taller than most other trekking poles and they offer stability while not occupying both hands. They’re very useful for casual walking, but can also be exceptionally useful when fording rivers or when walking down steep terrain that requires large steps over boulders. Some staffs can also serve as a center pole for lightweight tent setups on backpacking trips or provide the hiker with a stable monopod for taking photos.
Shaft Material: The two most common types of materials used in trekking poles are carbon fiber and aluminum.
Carbon Fiber: Carbon Fiber is the lightest material you can find for your trekking poles. The only drawback is that carbon fiber can bend under extreme stress. With reasonably care, they are durable enough to last for years. Hikers also appreciate carbon fiber’s unique ability to reduce vibration, and because it’s so light, it will actually reduce the energy expenditure that it takes to use them, making carbon fiber particularly desirable for climbing peaks, bushwhacking through tundra, or other long-mileage pursuits.
Aluminum: Aluminum is the go-to choice for an economical and durable trekking pole. Aluminum poles are typically constructed with high grade 7075-T6 or 7075 aluminum making them extremely tough. They are only a few ounces heavier than carbon fiber poles and they are noticeably more resilient under stress. For this reason, any activity that demands rugged use, such as mountain climbing, snowshoeing over a lot of steep terrain, or crossing rivers, aluminum is the material of choice.
Grips: Grips give the trekking pole a surprisingly refreshing sensation.
Cork: Cork grips are breathable in warm weather, while still insulating your hands in the cold. It takes some time to break them in, but once you do they fit the mold of your hand.
Rubber: Rubber grips do not retain moisture and they are the best insulator. This makes them the grip material of choice for winter or cold weather pursuits. They also are best for reducing vibration, so it’s a good choice for high impact activities like mountain climbing.
Foam: Foam grips are a good choice for warm weather hiking. They absorb sweat and have a nice texture to hold. As with rubber, foam grips can at times produce friction blisters or red hotspots from repeating rubbing.