The Best Trekking Poles For Day Hikes Or Backpacking Trips

“You got me trippin, stumblin, flippin, fumblin…” For the most part, Fergie’s top hit, “Clumsy,” perfectly illustrates my lack-of-balance when hiking. That is before I found trekking poles!

If you find yourself in a similarly unstable predicament, we suggest you invest in a pair of trekking poles (or a hiking staff!). Here is a simple guide to help you get back on your feet *pun intended.

best trekking poles

Types of Poles

Why use trekking poles? Sold in pairs, trekking poles are used to enhance stability and reduce pressure on your knees.

Hiking staffs have a similar purpose, however, they are ideal for flatter terrain and a small load on your back.

Trekking Pole Considerations

Price

The best trekking poles range from $50 to $160. Prices differ primarily due to differences in material.

Weight

Most trekking poles are relatively light in weight. Lighter poles have less swing weight, which make them easier to move and ultimately will save you from greater amounts of fatigue.

Size (for packing)

The minimum length of a trekking pole is how short it collapses. Therefore, shorter poles are easily packable. The maximum length is how tall the pole becomes when each section is fully extended.

Materials (aluminum vs. carbon fiber)

Most trekking poles are made of aluminum or carbon fiber. On one hand, aluminum poles are more durable and affordable. Depending on the diameter, aluminum poles range between 18 and 22 ounces per pair. They may bend but are unlikely to break. On the other hand, carbon fiber poles are ultralight and more expensive. These poles range from 12 to 18 ounces per pair. If you plan to hike in off-trail, rugged areas, carbon fiber poles are more prone to splintering and breakage.

Durability

Before purchasing any outdoor gear, durability should be a number one priority. As mentioned above, aluminum poles are more durable than carbon fiber. In general, the most durable trekking poles come from trusted suppliers like REI Co-op and Black Diamond. 

Pro Tip: If you’re not sure about the quality of a pair of poles, check its online reviews on sites like REI.com or OutdoorGearLab! There, you will find real-customer experiences on the durability of said gear.

Trekking Pole Features

Adjustable trekking poles

Many trekking poles offer adjustable lengths for different terrain. 

Pro Tip: Adjustable poles are great on varying, steep terrain. To enhance stability and lighten pressure, shorten your poles when walking uphill and lengthen them when going downhill.

Telescoping

Telescoping trekking poles are collapsible, which makes their length adjustable and easy to pack. Though minor, the main drawback is the extra weight. Additionally, non-adjustable, fixed poles are often more durable.

Folding

Folding trekking poles offer the same portability benefits as telescoping poles, however instead of collapsing, they fold. Similar to the telescoping poles, the main drawback is the extra weight (though folding poles are lighter than telescoping poles). Unlike telescoping poles, however, folding poles aren’t adjustable in length. 

Non-adjustable trekking poles

Fixed

Non-adjustable or fixed trekking poles are the affordable, durable, and lightweight option. Their simple design, however, does not offer the same portability and length variation as their adjustable counterparts.

Ultralight poles

Weighing under one pound, ultralight poles are quick and easy to move. Over long hikes, the lightweight, normally carbon fiber design will cause less fatigue than heavier products.

Camera mount

Are you looking to capture some photos? Some trekking poles and hiking staffs include a built-in camera mount, so your hiking gear can double as a monopod! Check out the Mountainsmith FXpedition Heritage Monopod!

Locking systems (how they work)

Both adjustable and non-adjustable trekking poles include locking systems to maintain length when in use.

External lever lock

Quick and easy to adjust, an external lever lock is a clamplike mechanism that can be used with or without gloves.

Push-button lock

To collapse the poles, pushing the button will release the lock. Use just one pull to lock the poles back in place.

Twist lock

The screw-on design is strong and durable.

Combination lock

To maximize strength and minimize weight, some poles use a combination of locking systems. For example, a pole may use an external lever on its upper shaft and a twist lock further down.

Grips (cork vs. foam vs. rubber)

Trekking pole grips come in three main materials. First, cork grips are best for hot climates and sweaty hands. Its porous makeup helps resist moisture and easily conforms to the shape of your hands. Foam grips also help wick moisture but are much softer. Finally, rubber is best for cold weather, as it protects your hands from shock, vibration, and frosty temperatures. In warm weather, however, rubber handles make your hands prone to chafing and blisters.

Straps

Wrist straps allow your grip to be relaxed on the pole handle, ultimately decreasing wrist strain and fatigue.

Pro Tip: To properly wear a wrist strap, put your hand up through the bottom of the strap and then pull down to grip the pole.

Baskets

Baskets are the removable discs at the end of a trekking pole. Larger baskets are used in snowy and muddy conditions to prevent the trekking pole from sinking.

Tips

Pole tips are made of carbide, steel, or rubber. Carbide and steel tips are used to increase traction on slippery terrain. Rubber tips are used to protect other gear when the poles are stored in your pack.

Pro Tip #1: If you plan to hike in a fragile ecosystem like Moab, Utah, rubber tips help reduce your impact on the terrain.

Pro Tip #2: For walking on hard surfaces like pavement, you can purchase angled rubber tips such as the Leki Fitness Walking Tips.

Shock absorbers

Shock-absorbing poles contain internal springs that reduce pressure when walking downhill. In the most shock absorbing poles, these springs can be shut off. 

Pro Tip: Shock absorbing poles are often heavier and more complex. However, if you experience joint pain and instability, we highly recommend investing in a pair such as the Black Diamond Trail Pro.

Trekking Pole Length (how to size)

The right size trekking pole will put your elbows at a 90-degree bend when the tips are on the ground. While an adjustable trekking pole will easily adhere to different heights, keep your height in mind when buying a fixed pole. To find the best height: length ratio, refer to this chart:

How to use trekking poles

Trekking poles are not your average walking stick – use these tips to maximize the efficiency of your poles!

First off, maintain a natural arm swing and practice alternating your poles and legs. It may feel awkward at first, however, it won’t take too long to fall into a rhythm. For extra stability on steep climbs or descents, double plant your poles, take two steps and repeat. 

As mentioned before, your elbows should normally be at 90°. There are a few ways to maintain this angle on steep uphill and downhill hikes. When walking uphill, shorten your poles a few centimeters. If your shoulders feel uncomfortably lifted, you likely need to reduce the length. On downhill terrain, lengthen the poles so your body is upright and well balanced.

Traversing Obstacles

On adventure hikes, you will undoubtedly encounter a few obstacles. Different terrain, however, requires a different technique. Here’s the beta:

Water: When walking across rivers and streams, ensure your pole is securely planted on the bottom before each step. Make sure to lengthen the pole before crossing deep water! Puddles are pretty easy to maneuver. However, if you are especially keen on Leave No Trace principles, you can plant your poles on both sides and hop right over.

Big Rocks: Use the double plant technique and push on the poles until you reach the top. The same technique can be used when stepping over logs!

Pro Tip: For an extra boost, keep the poles slightly angled behind you. This way, you can push off for help moving forward.

The Best Trekking Poles 2020

After spending hours researching the latest trekking poles, these are our top recommendations.

Top 3 Adjustable Picks

Our #1 Pick: Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles

Price: Check Current Price: Men | Women

Weight: 18 oz

Type: Telescoping

Shaft Material: Aluminum

Grip: Soft rubber

Why We Recommend This Product: The Trail Pro Shock is a durable, reliable, and versatile choice for a good price. Features Control Shock Technology, combined with the quick deployment and collapsibility of the new SmashLock quick-release technology.

Our #2 Pick: Alpine Carbon Cork Treking Poles

Price: Check Current Price: Men | Women

Weight: 17 oz

Type: Telescoping

Shaft Material: Carbon Fiber

Grip: Cork

Why We Recommend This Product: Most Black Diamond alpine carbon poles are built for specialized uses. The Alpine Carbon Cork, however, is their most versatile version. As with most Black Diamond products, these poles are lightweight, strong, and durable. The thick carbon shaft maintains a low weight, but does not sacrifice reliability – one active customer noted her pair has lasted seven years (and they’re still going strong)! They’re placed at #2 due to their high price, but if you are willing to invest the extra buck, the Alpine Carbon Cork poles are your best bet.

Best Budget Pick: Montem Ultra Strong

Price: $60

Weight: 19.2 oz

Type: Telescoping

Shaft Material: Aluminum

Grip: Foam

Why We Recommend This Product: Brightly colored trekking poles for under $100? Yes please! Not only do the Montem Ultra Strong poles come in various color options (in case you get lost, of course), but the incomparable low price is great for light day hikes and travel. The low price, however, comes with one main drawback – the Montem Ultra Strong poles are not Ultra Sturdy and don’t perform well on rough terrain. 

Top 3 Non-adjustable picks

Our #1 Pick: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z

Price: Check Current Amazon Price

Weight: 9.3 – 10.4 oz

Type: Folding

Shaft Material: Carbon Fiber

Grip: Foam

Why We Recommend This Product: These trekking poles were designed for thru-hikers and mountain endurance runners. With this in mind, the Distance Carbon Z poles are ultralight without sacrificing durability. Their folding system is easily compressible and will fit in a daypack! The Carbon Z poles are stiff, but for extended backpacking and alpine trips, opt for a heftier design like the Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles shown below. (These trekking poles are not adjustable in length).

Pro Tip: Due to their lack of versatility, fixed-length trekking poles are increasingly uncommon. However, you can swap in a pair of fixed length ski poles for the same effect! Here are two great options:

Our #1 Ski Pick: Fixed Length Carbon Ski Poles

Price: $120

Weight: 16 – 16.2 oz

Type: Fixed

Shaft Material: Carbon Fiber

Grip: Rubber

Why We Recommend This Product: The Fixed Length Carbons are the strongest and most lightweight ski poles Black Diamond makes. Designed to withstand aggressive ski edge hits, the Fixed Length Carbons incorporate the same features as any fixed trekking pole, but with twice the durability.

Top 3 Ultralight picks

Our #1 Pick: Gossamer Gear LT5 Three Piece Carbon

Price: $195

Weight: 10.6 oz

Type: Telescoping

Shaft Material: Carbon Fiber

Grip: Foam

Why We Recommend This Product: Gossamer consistently produces some of the lightest backpacking gear on the market. Their trekking poles are no exception. The LT5 is more durable than the lighter Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Pole, but as with most ultralight poles, it is best to use these on established trails. The LT5 Three Piece Carbon poles are expensive, however, Gossamer Gear offers replacements sections in case you damage one.

Our #2 Pick: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Pole

Price: $159.95

Weight: 9.3 – 10.4 oz

Type: Folding

Shaft Material: Carbon Fiber

Grip: Foam

Why We Recommend This Product: As mentioned before, these trekking poles were designed for thru-hikers and mountain endurance runners. With this in mind, the Distance Carbon Z poles are ultralight without sacrificing durability. Their folding system is easily compressible and will fit in a daypack!

Best Budget Pick: Black Diamond Distance Z

Price: Check Current Price

Weight: 11.4 – 13.5 oz

Type: Folding

Shaft Material: Aluminum

Grip: Foam

Why We Recommend This Product: The Distance Z is the aluminum version of the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z, but $60 cheaper and more durable. For most hikers, the extra ounce or two is worth the saved $60.

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