It may be hard to admit, but hiking can be hard on your body. For a walk in the woods, we do a lot to take a load off our feet, our knees, and our backs. But why do so many hikers leave behind an additional mode of support? The best trekking poles aren't walking canes; they're high-tech supports that ease the load on your body and make hiking more fun. They can add years to your own ability to hike.
If you've ever taken a walk through the woods or an impromptu hike without the proper equipment, you probably know what it feels like to wish you hadn't. A walking stick alone, never mind a set of the best trekking poles, makes any journey safer and more pleasant.
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Why Use a Trekking Pole?
Hikers and backpackers widely carry trekking poles. The best trekking poles offer added stability and support, letting you travel longer over difficult terrain. Trekking poles work to improve your hiking and give you longevity. Backcountry says that trekking poles provide support to your knees and other sensitive joints, as well as your back. They reduce the force of impact by as much as 30 percent on downhill hikes as well. As a bonus, they also operate similarly to ski poles -- they dig into the terrain and propel you forward.
Clearly, trekking poles can make a significant impact on your hiking. They not only save energy on each hike, but they also give you long-lasting endurance. By preserving your joints and your back, trekking poles make sure you'll be hiking for a long time. Poles are also useful as multi-tools. They can be used to defend yourself from aggressive wildlife, should you need it. They also can help against hazards like spiderwebs and poison ivy, and to probe into puddles and snow. Finally, they can double as a more stable alternative to tent poles, helping you save weight on the trail.
Picking the best trekking pole
Choosing the best trekking pole for you starts with sizing. The experts at REI offer an easy rule of thumb: when the pole tips touch the ground, your elbow should be at 90 degrees. This way, you get the most support and propulsion with minimal effort. Certain poles are adjustable, while others come at a set length. Adjustable poles are more versatile for different terrain but are heavier than their counterparts. They make it easier to get the length you need, but if weight is important to you, a set-length pole may be preferable.
After finding your preferred length, there are some different features to consider. Adjustable poles either fold or telescope. Folding poles are lighter than others and easier to deploy. However, they have slightly less durability than other pole constructions. That means that you should use them when weight is an important consideration. Some poles also offer shock absorption, which is especially helpful for hikers with previous injuries. It's also necessary to consider the materials of the poles, which affects durability and weight, as well as grip material. Grips vary based on how insulating and cushioned they are. According to REI, cork grips are best for hot weather while rubber grips insulate your hands from the cold.
How We Reviewed the Best Trekking Poles
In order to bring you the best trekking poles available, we scoured some of the top outdoor sites for their recommendations. Trusted outdoor experts like Switchback Travel, Outside Magazine, Outdoor Gear Lab, and Clever Hiker were all consulted for their top picks. We aggregated all of their best trekking poles to bring them here. The trekking poles we chose were the most durable, offered the most support, and were the best value of any included on these top lists. We also consulted professional and consumer reviews to make sure that the best trekking poles held up under customer scrutiny.
A pair of the best trekking poles can run anywhere from around $ to over $$. For those that run under $$, they suffer some structural integrity to come at a lower price. Those that run at a higher price are "no-compromise" options -- as long as your wallet isn't included. They are made of stronger, lighter materials. These poles lock tightly, hold up to a lot of abuse, and add only ounces to your pack. On the low end, cheap trekking poles give you a chance to try out the experience. On the high end, you can have your cake and eat it too, as long as you have the cash.
Our Ten Best Trekking Poles
Aggregated here are our top ten best trekking poles, selected from across well-renowned outdoor sites.
These poles are easily the least-expensive option on our list, and one of the least expensive trekking poles available at all. The BAFX trail poles come with ergonomic rubber grips and anti-shock springs. These give you a more comfortable hike and give additional support to your joints. They are also adjustable, extending from 26.5 to 52 inches, and come with mud disks which help with softer terrain.
On Amazon, the BAFX trail poles were given the Amazon's Choice award. One customer said the poles made them a trekking pole convert, and they enjoyed the shock absorbers as well. The poles cost from $ to $
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is made of lightweight carbon fiber and built for four-season hiking. As the name suggests, it works well in alpine conditions. Exchangeable tips allow you to adjust your poles to fit the changing terrain. Flick locks are easy to use with gloves on and make sure your poles stay at the length you need them to be. The poles are a little heavier, but make up for it with four-season utility. Just be aware, you get what you pay for. This best trekking pole option costs between $$ and $$.
The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z is a three-section foldable pole. It is made for alpine endurance runners, as well as weight-conscious hikers, as it is only 9 ounces. The folding design allows for quick deployment so that speed-based athletes, like alpine runners, can save time. The foam grip is moisture wicking, for additional hold, and includes interchangeable tips for a variety of terrain.
Customers were happy with their low weight, but found that there was a significant payoff in terms of durability. Some poles broke under serious stress. The pole costs from $$ to $$.
The Cascade Mountain Tech carbon fiber poles are some of the cheapest poles on the list, especially for a 100-percent carbon fiber build. They only weight eight ounces each, keeping them light no matter where you need to take them. While they don't include advanced features like shock absorption, they do come with interchangeable tips. They are available with either cork or foam handles.
At first blush, they do not appear to have any advantage over other trekking poles. However, they offer the construction and functionality of a pole that is much more expensive. It is a pretty affordable option coming in anywhere from $ to $.
Lysport Tri-Fold Carbon Fiber Trekking Pole Climbing Stick are well-known in the ultralight hiking community for their weight and collapsibility. They have a good range of collapsibility, ranging from 23.5 inches to 51 inches fully extended. As one of the most expensive poles on our list, Clever Hiker notes that this, coupled with their low durability, are negative marks. But, the LT5's portability is what really makes it stand out against the others.
One reviewer took them on a 500-mile trip, which they held up to easily. They cost from $$ to $$.
The Kelty Upslope 2.0 poles rival the BAFX trekking poles regarding affordability. Made of aluminum, these poles are a bit heavier than other options on the list. They also only pack down to 35 inches, around nine inches longer than the BAFX poles do. The metal tip comes with a rubber cover for use on concrete and pavement, and they are compatible with a snow basket.
On Amazon, 71 customers reviewed the Kelty Upslope 2.0 trekking poles. You can find this trekking pole for $$ to $
LEKI's Micro-Vario Ti Cor-Tec folds down to one of the smallest poles of any of its competitors. Using a push button to assemble and disassemble, these poles can fold to just 15.5 inches. These poles also include a speed lock which allows for quick adjustment of the pole's length. Alongside an ergonomic handle, the LEKI Micro-Vario is an easily portable pole at a mid-level price costing from $$ to $$$.
These Montem Ultra Strong poles sacrifice the lightweight carbon fiber of other poles for more durable aluminum construction. They also come with a telescoping system which uses flick locks. These are more secure than their twist lock counterparts, and using cheaper but stronger aluminum helps Montem include them for a low price. All parts of the Montem Ultra Strong are built based on durability, including the non-slip EVA foam handles.
The Halite trekking poles combine easy portability with the durability and low cost of aluminum. They collapse down to just 16 inches for easy travel. These poles also offer handles made of both cork and foam, and an Outerlock height adjustment system. This allows you to change the length of the trekking poles quickly, and on the fly. Its overall range is a bit shorter than others, with functional length ranging from 48 to 53 inches.
On Amazon, the Mountainsmith Halite only earned four reviews. With customers citing the length of the poles as a potential negative. The Mountainsmith poles cost from $$ to $$.
Komperdell Ridgehiker Cork Power Lock Trekking Pole are a solid, standard option for anyone looking for durability. Built with cork handles and an aluminum shaft, the Traverse poles are a good choice for three-season hiking. They come with an external lever lock, which gives a more secure lock when hiking. These poles collapse down to 27 inches for storage and can range between 41 and 55 inches for use.
They said the poles had a versatile basket size which made it useful outside of just snowy conditions. The poles cost from $$ to $$.
Which of the Best Trekking Poles Should You Choose?
Any of the best trekking poles included here would be a supportive choice for your hiking experience. The main thing you should look for is size, followed by price. If you're willing to shell out for a high-performance product, either of the Black Diamond products are good choices. Black Diamond makes of alpine gear, and they are sure to make the best trekking poles as well. For serious alpine hikers, the Alpine Carbon Cork is a sturdy, all-season set of poles that will see you through nearly any scenario. If speed is more of a factor for you, the Distance Carbon Z is light and easy to deploy.
For when money is an important factor in your decision, or you're just getting started with trekking poles, the best trekking poles for you are likely among the cheapest on this list. For a good, all-around pole that will see to the needs of new hikers and regulars alike, the Cascade Mountain Tech trekking poles are my choice. These poles give a solid, lightweight option without sacrificing price. In fact, they're among the cheapest poles on the list. They will give all but the most hardcore hikers a positive trekking pole experience.