Trekking poles are one of those things that most people don’t realize how important they are until they start using them. Let me tell you; they are essential for anyone doing long distance hikes, or for anyone with knees that give you fits. They will help take the load off going uphill and will save you from a bad spill going downhill too. So keep reading to learn everything you need to know about trekking poles.
Cork, foam, rubber, tips, telescopic, etc, etc. There’s a lot of information available when it comes to trekking poles. Some of it is useful, some of it will be a matter of personal preference, and some of it is purely aesthetic.
Weight will matter
What I want you to focus on primarily is what the intended use is going to be. Day hikes or long hikes? That’s a good starting point. From there you can think about some short-term and long-term goals. For my poles I felt that I’d primarily be using them for shorter day hikes over rocky terrain that you find in the Texas hill country. I also wanted something that would still be comfortable when I start doing longer distance through hikes. So weight is a big factor for distance.
The two main materials used for poles are going to be aluminum and a carbon composite. When it comes to weight you want to consider the overall weight for packability for longer distances, but also the lighter the pole the easier it will move with use while you’re using them on the trail.
Get a Grip
Once you harness that in then you can think about the handle.
There are different materials that you’ll find trekking poles featuring. Cork, rubber, and foam are the top three. They’re all intended for comfort, but some do better on warmer hikes (cork and foam) and colder hikes (rubber).
Cork will absorb moisture and eventually start molding to your hand, but I feel like they would still be a little slippery if your hands get really sweaty. Personally I use the foam poles. I like the way they feel in my hand, especially when I need to grip them a little tighter when using them for stability.
Unlike traditional wooden walking sticks, trekking poles can also be collapsible. HOW they collapse is going to vary. Some are telescopic feeding into itself, some are foldable which is helpful if you’re familiar with tent poles (and coincidentally can also be used as tent poles for ultralight camping), and some don’t actually fold at all and have a fixed-length which will reduce weight as they have fewer parts.
Keeping them in place will also depend on the style you pick up. I like the Black Diamond poles with FlickLock adjustments. You push out the knob to unlock, adjust and then push down the mechanism.
There are also push and button lock poles as well. It will really just depend how sturdy of a hold you want, and how much extra weight these extra parts add. When it comes to long distance each ounce counts.
When it comes to how high you need to have your poles the general rule is you want to have a 90 degree angle going from your hand on the pole to your elbow and up your shoulder. This will create a nice balance for hiking.
If you find that you’re needing some extra stability for going up/down hill then you can adjust them and make them a tad shorter or longer respectively to lean into them a bit more. This helps redistribute the weight of your body and put more energy into the poles and not your knees.
But this isn’t absolute. If you feel you need to make adjustments for optimum comfort then adjust them poles! That’s why it’s important to spend time with fixed length poles to ensure the best comfort while hiking.
We start getting a little technical when it comes to hand straps. Most straps I’ve seen are either nylon or a type of Neoprene. What’s most important is how you USE the straps. The correct way to use the hand straps is to insert your hand from the bottom of the loop and grab your handle. In doing so you create a nice grip around your wrist as well as extra stability on the handle, and the extra weight off of your wrist will be transferred to the strap.
It’s one of the more common mistakes when it comes to trekking poles, but one you’ll benefit from more by doing correctly. This will also give extra comfort to your hand so you don’t get blisters around your thumb and index finger. The poles should be labeled left & right, and that’s not just for the sake of doing so. While the poles may be exact, the straps are inserted specifically for those wrists.
And What Else?
The remaining things to consider for your trekking poles are essentially all of the add-ons. The baskets and the tips are going to be your main areas of focus and these will depend solely on the terrain you plan on using them on.
The baskets are the round caps towards the bottom of the pole that can be used to protect from mud and snow. These should always be replaceable, and interchangeable based off of where you’ll be.
The tips on the bottom are exactly the same. Rubber tips for flatter surfaces where you just need some traction, and more pointed tips to dig into dirt and snow. They sell just replacement tips that would be ideal for longer-distance trips.
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Black Diamond is my #1 choice for trekking pole. It’s a brand chiseled from the mountains, and I know they make a quality product. That being said there are definitely a number of great companies putting out great product, so depending on your budget, just look for something that hits all of the key categories listed above.
Black Diamond’s Trail Trekking Poles are a great price point and are going to be suitable for most day hiking situations.
Montem is a great brand that’s definitely making a name for itself in the low cost, high quality outdoor gear market. They noticed that mediocre product was being sold in outfitter stores that was not up to par. They focus mostly on trekking poles, rain jackets and day packs, but the assortment of trekking poles gives an opportunity for a large variety of hikers. The price for top notch gear can’t be beat either.
At $59.99 these Ultra Strong Trekking Poles offer great quality at a great price. Then add a lifetime warranty and you’d be hard pressed to say no.
If you’re just looking for something to get comfortable with then Cascade Mountain will get you there. They have almost perfect reviews on Amazon, so that’s definitely saying something.
For $19.99 these Aluminum trekking poles will get you everything you need to get going. Great place to start.
Leki makes a pretty fancy trekking pole, but with some things I guess you get what you pay for. These are definitely out of my range, but the specs ensure you’re getting an easily foldable, and light weight piece of equipment more than suitable for long distance.
The Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles feature a better grip angle, weight in at just over a pound and have an external locking device for quicker collapsing.
What are your go-to poles for hiking? Let me know in the comments below and share your tips from the trail.