Decrease injury and increase speed. It’s time you started hiking with trekking poles.
I get it. Trekking poles can seem unnecessary and, dare I say it, just a little bit dorky. For the longest time, I placed them in the category of useful only to the old, the injured, or during the most extreme outings.
But upon heading out for a 3-day backcountry trip near Lake Tahoe, I decided to give them a try. I came back from that beautiful backpacking trip a changed woman: an ardent believer in the awesomeness that is the trekking pole. Read on to see the pros and cons as well as the best trekking pole choices for every budget.
Trekking Pole Pros
- Distribute some of the work to your upper body. While using your arms can increase your overall energy use (see cons below), it’s an effective and useful leg-saver.
- Save your knees and joints on downhill treks. Studies show that using poles significantly reduces the impact on your knees while hiking downhill.
- Improve balance on uneven terrain, river crossings, or slippery rocks.
- Maintain a consistent gait, leading to a faster and more efficient pace.
- They are multifunctional and can be used as tent support.
Cons of Trekking Poles
- Overall energy output is increased.
- If you choose not to use your poles, they become another piece of gear to carry.
Best Trekking Poles
There are a lot of trekking poles out there. Trail runners, hikers, backpackers, and thru-hikers all have their favorite pair and argue about the comparison of strength to weight to value.
Some hikers also like to use only one trekking pole. It’s a good alternative to carrying one in each hand and still offers some of the benefits of hiking with two. Plus, you can share a pair with your hiking partner and still have two poles if needed to set up a tent.
To get you started, though, here are three great trekking poles that span the gamut to fit a variety of budgets.
Best Overall Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Distance Z, $100
These three-section aluminum poles fold up easily and extend quickly thanks to the rapid deployment system. The foam grips are lightweight and proved comfortable from the very first multiday use at Lake Tahoe. And at around 12 ounces for the pair, they won’t weigh you down if you decide to carry them.
Weight: 11.4-13.4 ounces
Packed size: 17 inches
Best Budget Trekking Poles: Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles, $23
Trekking poles for less than $25? Yes, you read that right. These poles are a fan favorite and a budget-lover’s dream. At 10.4 ounces per pole, they’re certainly not the lightest option out there, but they get the job done. For casual outings, these work and won’t break the bank.
If you’re looking for carbon poles on a budget, check out Cascade Mountain Tech’s carbon trekking poles. They clock in at just $36 and weigh 7.8 ounces per pole.
Weight: 20.8 ounces
Packed size: 26 inches
Best Trekking Poles for Endurance Racing: LEKI Micro Trail Vario, $143 (35% Off)
These carbon-fiber poles are light and strong. Ultrarunners and ounce-counting thru-hikers will appreciate their ability to pack up small and take a beating day after day on the trail. Our adventure-racing contributor loves them and was happy to report they withstood some of the harshest conditions in Patagonia.
As she explained, “Compared to other poles we’ve used in the past, these were the lightest and smallest (in terms of packed-down size). They held their length and strength throughout the entire race. That’s saying a lot, as we’ve had many poles snap and ‘die’ in the wilds of Patagonia.”
Weight: 14.2 ounces
Packed size: 16.5 inches
Best Trekking Poles for Kids: REI Co-op Trekking Poles for Kids, $55
New for 2019, these trekking poles are designed specifically for kids. They easily grow with your child from a minimum length of 27.5 inches to a maximum length of 45.3 inches. The aluminum shaft is light and sturdy, and the plastic handles are built to comfortably fit small hands. Kids love gear that makes them feel grown up, and we like anything that helps kids get on the trail.
Weight: 15.5 ounces
Packed size: 27.5 inches
Good Trekking Poles for Hiking: Best of the Rest
Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles: $32 (20% Off)
Made of aluminum, the pair weighs in at 18.5 ounces and has proved plenty sturdy over many miles and a variety of terrains. The biggest drawbacks are the weight and twist-lock mechanism, which can easily wear out. But if you’re on a budget or want to test out trekking poles before committing to more, the Upslope is an excellent option.
Weight: 18.5 ounces
Packed size: 25.5 inches
Known for making ultralight camp chairs, Helinox brings this same tech to the Ridgeline Trekking Poles. The lever button is simple to use, and we appreciate the quickly adjustable height. They stood up on the trail and will last through many seasons. That said, they’re not the lightest, smallest, or cheapest trekking poles available.
Weight: 15.9 ounces
Packed size: 24 inches
Material: Aluminum alloy
These poles manage to strike the balance between light and strong. The collapsible three-section design keeps them light, while the sturdy lever locks keep them at the desired length. We like how easy they are to adjust and were impressed that they never slipped, even when putting a lot of weight on them. The foam handles are comfortable, and the adjustable wrist strap allows you to get a custom fit. These are also available in a women’s version.
Weight: 14.8 ounces
Packed size: 27 inches
Anyone looking for a sturdy, do-all pair of poles will appreciate the Montem Ultra Strong Trekking poles. The foam grips keep hands from getting overly sweaty and fit comfortably without any chafing. The flick locks make these poles easily adjustable. And we like that they can fit hikers ranging from 4′ to 6’8″ and up to 400 pounds.
Anyone wanting to go fast and light should look elsewhere, but these do nicely for most hikers.
Weight: 19.2 ounces
Packed size: 24 inches
LEKI Micro Vario Carbon DSS: $154 (30% Off)
These top-of-the-line poles deploy with the press of a button and adjust quickly thanks to the speed lock system. When folded up, they’re just 15.5 inches long and weigh in at 17 ounces for the pair. Best of all, the Dynamic Suspension System reduces impact by approximately 40 percent.
Weight: 14.2 ounces
Packed size: 14.7 inches
The spring loaded antishock system helps absorb impact and makes long days on the trail easier. The cork and foam handle is quite comfortable, and we like how easy it is to adjust the length. That said, twist-lock poles are not our favorite simply because they tend to wear out over time. But these poles are light, comfortable, and priced to win.
Weight: 17.5 ounces
Packed size: 26.5 inches
Material: Carbon and aluminum blend
How to Choose a Trekking Pole
Aside from budget and weight, the biggest factor for a good fit is height. Stand up straight (preferably wearing the shoes you’ll hike in) and bend your arm to a 90-degree angle. Measure from the floor to your elbow to calculate your length.
In general, people 5’1″ and under will choose a 100cm pole. Those up to 5’7″ will use a 110cm pole. Hikers ranging from 5’8″ to 5’11” need a 120cm pole. And those taller than 6′ will go with the 130cm option.
Of course, many trekking poles are adjustable on the fly. These allow you to fine-tune them on the trail to your personalized perfection.
And this video from REI offers some great tips on choosing the best trekking poles.
Have a favorite pair of trekking poles? Let us know in the comments and we’ll test them out for future updates to this article.