Decrease injury and increase speed. It’s time you started hiking with 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.
We’ve spent months researching and testing the best trekking poles to fit a variety of uses and budgets. From the mountains of Colorado to the California desert, we’ve put these poles through the wringer. We evaluated based on comfort, packed size, durability, and value. We also considered versatility and adjustability.
And although there isn’t a perfect pole for every person out there, we’ve broken this list into categories to help find the right pair for you. If you need help deciding, refer to our buyer’s guide below for more tips on how to choose the best trekking poles.
The Best Trekking Poles of 2020
Best Overall: Black Diamond Trail Ergo Trekking Poles ($130)
Anyone looking for a sturdy, reliable, easy-to-use trekking pole will appreciate these. The ergonomic cork grip felt great from the very first step. And a variety of testers (with varying hand sizes) found they fit well and didn’t rub. The Dual FlickLock is easy to use, and we appreciated being able to quickly adjust the height.
The lock is also plenty sturdy. It didn’t budge even on sustained uphill treks. These poles are 27 inches packed down. And while that easily fits on the back of a pack, it may be a concern for some. For the majority of hikers, though, this won’t be a problem.
And the quality pole paired with a reasonable $130 price tag makes these a great go-to trekking pole.
Weight: 18 ounces
Packed size: 27 inches
Runner-Up Best Overall: LEKI Makalu Lite Core-Tec Trekking Poles ($120)
These poles earn high marks for being thin, light, and stable. Plus, they’re impressively comfortable. Like the BD Trail Ergo, they pack down to 27 inches. And they weigh slightly less than the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Trekking Poles. At $120, these are also a great value.
The textured strap seemed to aid with wicking sweat away, and we really liked the lack of buckles. The locking system was easy to use, even with gloves on. And the interchangeable snow baskets (sold separately) make these a year-round, one-quiver pole.
Weight: 17.1 ounces
Packed size: 27 inches
Best Budget Trekking Poles: Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles ($25)
Trekking poles for just $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 $45 and weigh 7.8 ounces per pole.
Weight: 20.8 ounces
Packed size: 26 inches
Best for Trail Running: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Running Poles ($150)
Created in collaboration with ultrarunner Joe Grant, these poles are built for fast-and-light adventures. Weighing in at just 95 g per pole (120 cm length) these are the lightest poles Black Diamond makes. The durable foam grip offers up just enough comfort, without any added weight.
These are a fixed-length pole, meaning they don’t fold down for easy packing. But a mid-shaft ring does make for a well-balanced horizontal carry. Anyone looking to log big miles running on the trail should check out these ultralight poles.
For those who want a folding pole, check out the Distance Z, discussed in more detail below.
Weight: 6.7 ounces
Packed size: Fixed length, doesn’t pack down
Best Trekking Poles for Kids: REI Co-op Trekking Poles for Kids ($55)
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
The Best of the Rest
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.
For those looking for a lighter option, the Distance Carbon Z ($170) is the same excellent design but shaves a couple of ounces. It’s a popular folding option for trail runners and was GearJunkie Editor-In-Chief Sean McCoy’s choice for the Leadville 100.
Weight: 11.4-13.4 ounces
Packed size: 17 inches
Known for making ultralight camp chairs, Helinox brings this same tech to the Passport line of trekking poles. These fixed-length, folding poles are impressively light and packable. They weigh just 11 ounces per pair, and the single locking button makes for fast deployment.
These did well on the trail and are ideal for day hikes and trail runs. Our testers found the foam grips comfortable even during long days on the trail. The tungsten carbide tips are ultra-durable, and you have the option to use rubber tips (included) for hard surface use. Plus, you can hike happy knowing they’re backed by a 5-year warranty.
Weight: 11 ounces
Packed size: 13.8 inches
Material: DAC alloy
These poles manage to strike the balance between light and strong. The collapsible three-section design keeps them light, and 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 slightly lighter (14-ounce pair) women’s-specific version.
Weight: 14.8 ounces
Packed size: 27 inches
Anyone looking for a sturdy, do-all pair of telescoping poles will appreciate the Montem Ultra Strong Trekking poles. The foam grips help them fit comfortably in the hand without any chafing or excessive sweating.
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
The sprig-loaded, anti-shock system helps minimize 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 fairly light, comfortable, and priced to win.
Weight: 17.5 ounces
Packed size: 26.5 inches
Material: Carbon and aluminum blend
Do You Need Trekking Poles?
Advantages of Trekking Poles
- Distribute some of the work to your upper body. Although 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 poles.
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.
How to Choose a Trekking Pole
Weight & Packed Size
The packed-down length isn’t of vital importance to most hikers and backpackers. But for those who plan to travel with their poles, it’s best to look for a pole that packs down small enough to fit in your luggage. Something like the LEKI Micro Vario is a solid option.
One of the biggest factors 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.
Fixed Length vs. Adjustable
There are reasons to consider each. With adjustable poles, you can quickly change the length. This lets you fine-tune them on the trail to your personalized height. And it allows you the option to make them longer on the descent and shorter on steep ascents. The downside is an increased possibility of failure or slippage at the locking points.
Fixed-length poles don’t offer as much fine-tuning but can generally handle a lot of weight and have less room for error. Some, like the trail-running-specific Black Diamond Distance Carbon Poles, don’t fold up. Others are a fixed length when deployed but break down for packing.
For further help choosing, the video below from REI offers some great tips.
Have a favorite pair of trekking poles we missed? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.