With trekking poles, you can decrease your chances of injury and increase speed, all while lightening your load. There are a wide variety of trekking poles on the market, and trail runners, hikers, backpackers, and thru-hikers all have unique needs for their poles.
Factors like strength-to-weight ratio, packability, seasonal application, and grip style combine to create unique offerings for the ever-evolving specializations in the outdoors.
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, evaluating them based on comfort, packed size, durability, versatility, adjustability, and overall value.
Although there isn’t a perfect pole for every person out there, we’ve broken this list into categories to help find the best trekking poles for you. If you need help deciding, refer to our comparison chart, buyer’s guide, and FAQ below for more tips on how to choose the best trekking poles for your unique needs.
The Best Trekking Poles of 2023
- Best Overall Trekking Poles: LEKI Black Series FX Carbon
- Best Budget Trekking Poles: Kelty Upslope 2.0
- Runner-Up Best Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Pursuit
- Best Trekking Poles for Thru-Hiking: Gossamer Gear LT5
- Best Trekking Poles for Trail Running: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Running Poles
- Durable locking system
- Easy-to-adjust length
- Super expensive
- Comfortable foam grip
- Twist locks aren't our favorite
- Weight 1 lb., 0.4 oz.
- Packed size 22.7"
- Material 7000-series aluminum
- Lock style Dual Soft-touch FlickLock+
- Cozy cork grips
- Sleek, confidence-inducing locking system
- Durable but lightweight
- 1.5 mm hex bit tool built into pole shaft for quick maintenance
- Left flick locks are on inside of pole and sometimes catch
- Carbon fiber shafts are super durable
- Quite packable
- Pretty minimal strap design
- Super light
- Great for technical trail running
- Durable carbon tips
- Poles don't fold up
- Comfortable grip
- Simple, effective locking mechanism
- Comparatively long collapsed length
- Extra long for tall hikers and high UL tents
- Solid durability
- Easy to replace screw-off tips
- Cork option on the heavy side
- Simple-to-use lock system
- Comfortable straps
- Somewhat pricey
- Locks are a bit difficult to use while on the go
- Not the smallest pack size
- Lightweight but durable
- Comfortable ergonomic grips
- Solid value for the cost
- Plastic clasps aren't the most sturdy
- Not the most packable
- Super cheap
- Well-made design for the price
- Not super durable
- Quite heavy
- Durable but not overly heavy
- Sturdy locking mechanisms
- Large collapsed size
- Great handle ergonomics
- Rubber tops are helpful for downhills
- Not super packable
- Anti-shock system
- Comfortable cork and foam handle
- Twist-lock system not as durable as other designs
- Good adjustability
- Baskets tilt to match terrain
- Straps snap into place magnetically
- Lots of accessories to deal with
Trekking Poles Comparison Chart
|Trekking Pole||Price||Weight (Pair)||Packed Size||Material||Lock Style|
|LEKI Black Series FX Carbon||$269||1 lb., 0.1 oz.||16″||Carbon||External Lever Lock|
|Kelty Upslope 2||$45||1 lb., 2.7oz.||35″||Aluminum||Twist|
|Black Diamond Pursuit||$170||1 lb., 0.4 oz.||22.7″||7000-series aluminum||Soft-touch FlickLock+|
|Gossamer Gear LT5||$195||9.8 oz.||23.5″||Carbon||Twist|
|Black Diamond Distance Carbon |
|$169||6.3 oz.||N/A||Carbon||Fixed length|
|Leki Makalu Lite||$140||17.6 oz.||26″||Aluminum||Speedlock+|
|Diorite Gear Telescopic Carbon Fiber||$190||1 lb., 3.5 oz.||28″||Carbon||Friction Quick Lock|
|Black Diamond Alpine Carbon |
|$199||1 lb., 1 oz.||25″||Carbon||FlickLock Pro|
|REI Co-op Trailmade||$80||1 lb., 1 oz.||25″||Aluminum||Lever|
|Zpacks Carbon Fiber||$100||14.4 oz.||24.5″||Carbon fiber||Lever|
|Cascade Mountain Tech||$29||20.8 oz.||26″||Aluminum||Quick-lock|
|REI Co-op Flash Carbon||$159||13.6 oz.||27″||Carbon||Lever|
|Leki Black Series Carbon||$199||16.6 oz.||26.75″||Carbon||Speedlock 2+|
|Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro||$80||17.5 oz.||26.5″||Carbon and |
|TSL Outdoors Carbon 5||$179||16 oz.||16.5″||Carbon||Lever|
Why You Should Trust Us
We pride ourselves on a testing process that exposes flaws and highlights strengths while observing a range of equipment options. When evaluating the best trekking poles — a piece of gear that needs to exhibit durability — we make a point to test features that commonly break down to ensure that only the most reliable poles made it on our list. That includes the locking mechanisms, grips, and straps.
Chris Carter, one of the lead authors of this guide, has thru-hiked the Triple Crown of long trails in the United States: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. He knows the value of a reliable trekking pole for absorbing impact on the body, helping with stability over tricky terrain, or pitching a shelter at night. He’s quite particular about the poles he depends on in the backcountry.
We tested these poles in a wide range of environments and weather, over different types of terrain. As avid users, we’re familiar with the features that can set one pole apart from another. We make a point to analyze what makes each pole unique, testing each trekking pole option in the environments where they’re most likely to be utilized.
Buyer’s Guide: 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.
The LEKI Black Series FX is a perfect example of extreme packability. It packs down to a mere 16 inches, which would easily fit into most daypacks alongside other supplies.
For weight, you can’t beat the Gossamer Gear LT5. At 4.8 ounces per pole, you’ll hardly know they’re there, and can keep them handy for just-in-case scenarios.
One of the biggest factors for a good trekking pole fit is pole length. To estimate the ideal length, stand up straight (preferably wearing the hiking 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 from 5’1″ up to 5’7″ will use a 110cm pole. Hikers ranging from 5’8″ to 5’11” will need a 120cm pole. And those taller than 6′ will go with the 130cm option.
Obviously, a pole with a wide range of adjustability will work for almost everyone. Once you’ve measured your size, you can explore fixed-length options.
Fixed Length vs. Adjustable
There are viable reasons to consider each option. With adjustable poles, you can quickly change the length. This lets you fine-tune them on the trail to your personalized length. You can adjust them if you’re exhausted and want to transfer a bit more weight to your upper body.
Adjustable poles give you the option to extend or retract on the descent or on steep ascents. The downside is an increased possibility of failure or slippage at the locking points, especially with twist locks.
Fixed-length poles don’t offer as much fine-tuning but can generally handle a lot of weight and they have less room for error. Generally, fixed-length poles are more ideal for trail running and other fast-paced endeavors where adjustments will only slow you down.
Some fixed-length poles, 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.
Women’s Trekking Poles
Generally, women’s trekking poles have a smaller grip diameter (which offers increased comfort for smaller hands) and a shorter maximum length.
Another bonus of women’s trekking poles is that the minimum length is shorter, which increases packability. Also, the women’s options, due to their smaller size, shed a bit of weight.
In reality, it’s less about the sex of the given user and more about the size. Anyone looking for a smaller grip and a shorter pole should consider buying a women’s trekking pole.
When spending money on outdoor gear the product’s pricepoint, durability, and reliability come into play. The trekking poles on this list range in price from $45 (Kelty Upslope 2) to $260 (LEKI Black Series FX Carbon). As the price increases, the poles exhibit more features while shedding weight.
For the average user, finding a balance between quality and price can ensure you get the trekking poles you need without breaking the bank. At only $80, the Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro provides a lightweight carbon build for users looking to shed weight, and it exhibited more than adequate durability for our testers, especially for the price.
Trekking pole grips come in three primary materials: cork, foam, and rubber. Ideal grips will wick moisture well, be comfortable on your skin, and work as shock absorbers. Cork and foam are the most common materials used for trekking pole grips, and for most, the preference simply comes down to feel.
- Cork is extremely light, wicks moisture well, and is also very environmentally friendly. Cork grips are the best at absorbing shock, and also break in over time, forming to your hand. The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork offers an ergonomic cork grip.
- Foam grips are also very light, but rather than wicking moisture, they tend to absorb it. The tradeoff would be for grip, as EVA foam is quite tacky. Higher quality foam, like on the Makalu Lite, performs well across all categories. Between foam and cork, the weight difference is negligible.
- Rubber grips are rarely used in modern trekking poles, and tend to be utilized strictly for snowsports.
Most manufacturers of trekking poles offer the industry standard – carbide tips. They’re extremely durable and offer grip and pinpoint precision over a variety of terrain, performing equally as well over rock, ice, and softer, variable surfaces.
Carbide tips can inflict some damage on the environment, however, so some prefer rubber tips when traversing delicate landscapes. They can also be noisy over rocky terrain. Gossamer Gear includes some very handy rubber boots with their ultralight LT5 poles, which are easy to place and remove.
As the primary source of contact with the ground, any tip will wear down over time, and should be replaced when the metal wears up to or near the plastic.
Rubber tip protectors come with or are available for most trekking poles. They’re not only useful if you find yourself on shelves of rock or pavement, but can extend the life of your tips in storage (and keep them from snagging clothing in your pack).
Trekking poles generally come with “mud baskets.” They not only prevent splashing and give support in mud, but can also help when traveling over soft dirt or sand. They are especially helpful for thru-hikers who will encounter snow on high-elevation passes.
If you’re traveling over snow without baskets, you’ll find out the snow depth pretty quickly, and unless you can lengthen the poles to match that depth, they’ll be rendered useless.
Almost all poles available today come with standard-size mud baskets, and many even come with some extra powder baskets for all-season use. If you want to utilize your poles for winter sports, check to see if they come with powder baskets, and be sure to check compatibility if you order them from a different manufacturer.
Do You Need Trekking Poles?
Advantages of Trekking Poles
- Distribute some of the work and weight distribution to your upper body. Although using your arms can increase your overall energy use (see cons below), trekking poles are an effective and useful leg-saver, especially on longer or more strenuous outings.
- Save your knees and joints on descents. Studies show that using poles significantly reduces the impact on your knees while hiking downhill. When more weight gets factored into the equation, trekking poles can be essential for long-term health.
- Improve your balance on uneven terrain. That’s especially true over river crossings where slippery rocks can ruin your day.
- Help you maintain a consistent gait. Meaning, trekking poles can lead to a faster, more efficient pace.
- Add a multipurpose tool to your kit. Many options can be used as ski poles with the addition of powder baskets. They can also be used as tent poles for ultralight backpacking tents, or for making shade on sweltering days where coverage is lacking.
Cons of Trekking Poles
- Your overall energy output is increased. This may seem counterintuitive, but we’ve found the benefits of physiological preservation, balance and safety outweigh the effects of extra output.
- Additional cargo. If you choose not to use your poles, they become another piece of gear to carry or be strapped to your backpacking backpack. This is where packability becomes essential.
How to Properly Use Trekking Poles
If you’re buying trekking poles for the first time, or have simply never thought about the best way to use them, it can be helpful to understand the most efficient way for them to complement your stride.
Length: For setup, you’ll want your arms to be at a 90-degree angle when the tips are weighted on the ground in front of you. This is especially important to consider when buying fixed-length poles, as adjustable poles offer the benefit of micro-adjustments. If you are hiking with adjustable poles, it’s a good idea to adjust the length of the poles as you climb or descend a hill, keeping that 90-degree angle as constant as possible.
Wrist straps: The wrist straps should comfortably wrap around your wrists (not so tight that they’re squeezing, but not so loose that they’ll slip off your wrists if dropped). With your hands vertical on the grips, the top of the strap should rest where your wrist hinges if you were to lift your thumb from that position.
Stride: As an extra set of legs, the most efficient way to use trekking poles is to extend the opposite pole so that it hits the ground just before your opposite foot (i.e. the left pole should extend as you’re lifting your right foot to step). This allows the pole to absorb a bit of the impact of each step, taking some of the weight off your legs. On very steep descents, many prefer moving their hand to the top portion of the grip or adjusting the length, and placing both poles at once for balance.
Placement: Placing poles as you walk on mellow terrain is simple (see paragraph above). Over rock or talus, however, it can become a bit more complicated. It’s never good to have the pole wedged in between or just behind a rock as you step, as they may stick in the ground and break/bend under the force. Otherwise, you simply want to place them in a secure position that helps keep you balanced.
When on the trail, it’s not uncommon to see a wide range of trekking pole techniques. Some people sling them along and place them in random increments, whereas others really lean into the poles and transfer weight with each step.
While there are a variety of ways to have them bear weight when moving through technical terrain, the above technique (alternating opposite pole from leg) has proven to be the simplest, most efficient technique for walking along flat, moderate, and steady uphill terrain.
Trekking poles aren’t required, but they can certainly be helpful. For long treks with a heavy pack, they help distribute your weight and decrease the impact on descents. They’re also great for stabilization on rocky treks, when hiking along an exposed trail, or when river crossings might get a bit techy.
You could use a single pole or a hiking staff, but, in general, we recommend a pair of hiking poles. They provide a more balanced, ergonomic gait and increased stability.
Packable options allow you to stow a pole away when both don’t seem necessary, or if you need one hand free for snapping photos.
The trekking pole grip should rest comfortably in your palm when your arms are bent at a 90-degree angle.
In general, people 5’1″ and under will choose a 100cm pole. Those up to 5’7″ will use a 110-115cm pole. Hikers ranging from 5’8″ to 5’11” need a 120cm pole. And those taller than 6′ will go with the 130cm option.