How To Buy Trekking Poles

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.