The best trekking poles reduce joint impact, especially on your knees. Using trekking poles encourages a better hand and arm position for long hikes as well, improving circulation in your hands. Whether you are recovering from an injury or hoping to extend your hiking stamina, a great pair of hiking poles can make your adventures more enjoyable. Take a read of the benefits of trekking poles for hikers for a more thorough understanding of whether they are for you or not.
This quick overview of the best trekking poles gives you a basic idea of which poles might suit you best. Then read on to find out what to look for in a great pair of trekking poles.
Summary of the best trekking poles in 2020
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|Product||Type of pole||Weight||Grip||Pole material||Minimum length||Cost|
|Black Diamond Distance Z||Folding||370g (13oz)||EVA foam||Aluminum||43cm (17in)||$$|
|Leki Corklite||Telescoping||500g (17.6oz)||Cork||Aluminum||67cm (26.3in)||$$$|
|MSR Talus TR 3||Telescoping||625g (22oz)||Rubber||Aluminum||60cm (23.6in)||$$|
|Montem Ultra Strong||Telescoping||544g (19.2oz)||EVA foam||Aluminum||61cm (24in)||$|
|Leki Micro Vario Ti COR-TEC||Folding||540g (19oz)||Cork||Aluminum||38cm (15in)||$$$|
|Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber||Telescoping||431g (15.2oz)||Cork and EVA||Carbon fiber||61cm (24in)||$$$|
|Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork||Telescoping||475g (16.7oz)||Cork and EVA||Carbon fiber||63cm (25in)||$$$$|
|Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber||Telescoping||442g (15.6oz)||Cork or EVA||Carbon fiber||66cm (26in)||$|
|REI Traverse Power Lock Cork||Telescoping||567g (20oz)||Cork||Aluminum||69cm (27in)||$$|
|Leki Albula Lite V||Telescoping||520g (18.3oz)||Thermo foam||Aluminum||67cm (26.3in)||$$$|
For the full details of each pair of hiking poles, skip ahead to reviews of the 10 best trekking poles.
The different types of trekking poles
To meet the different needs of each hiker there are three main types of trekking poles to choose from.
These are the most common type of trekking poles due to their versatility. Small sections of poles fit together, like a telescope believe it or not!, to form a pole that is fully adjustable to your preferred length. They are fixed at each joint with a locking mechanism that is easy to use on the trail to extend or shorten the poles according to the terrain. Although usually not as light as folding poles, their design is strong and reliable.
Preferred by fast and light trekkers, folding poles are not as strong in general as telescoping poles. However, their ability to fold down, much like a tent pole, is appealing to travellers and those wanting to keep the weight as low as possible. Whilst some designs are not adjustable in length, there are a few folding poles that also have a telescoping section for a tailored fit, making them much more versatile than fixed length designs.
The lack of joins and connections make fixed poles very strong, but they are much less common than folding and telescoping poles due to their lack of versatility. They travel badly and can’t be adjusted to suit the terrain, and they can only really ever be used by the person who ordered them.
The minimum and maximum pole heights vary from pole to pole, so check the item specifications if you are very short or tall. It is worth noting that many women specific poles tend to be shorter than unisex poles, and they also have a smaller grip. So if you are on the shorter side then it is worth looking into this as an option to save carrying the extra weight of the unused section of pole.
What to look for in a great pair of trekking poles
To enable adjustable telescoping poles to stay at the length you require them to stay at, the poles will have a locking mechanism. These vary from brand to brand with the best trekking poles adopting a lever lock system which is much more reliable and easy to use than the classic twist lock system. Twist locks have the tendency to either get jammed too tight, or loosen and collapse – neither of which is ideal.
Along with comfort levels, one of the most important things to consider when choosing the best trekking poles is their weight. Over a short day hike, the extra weight of a heavy set of poles will largely go unnoticed, and may even be a welcome arm workout! However, lugging that extra weight around for days on end will soon become very tiresome on your arms and shoulders causing the poles to be more of a hindrance than a help. So unless you’ve got your heart set on the most durable, bomb-proof yet inexpensive trekking poles out there, you really need to be looking for something as lightweight as possible – especially for longer treks.
As mentioned above, the type of pole has a big effect on its weight. But the material that it is made of also has a large impact on how heavy it is. The two most common pole materials are aluminum and carbon:
Aluminum poles are durable and generally a little more friendly on the bank account. They are heavier than carbon poles but provide good levels of stability taking dents and bends without failing to function.
Carbon fiber poles are much lighter than aluminum but are generally a little pricier as a result. They are also more likely to break under heavy or improper use than aluminum poles, but many hikers find them extremely comfortable.
When it comes to the grips of your hiking poles, you’ll need to find something that suits the conditions you are hiking in and that feels the most comfortable in your hand. As mentioned, women specific trekking poles have a smaller grip than the unisex poles, so if you have tiny hands then you’ll find it much more comfortable gripping hold of a women’s trekking pole all day long! But regardless of the size of the grip, the material of the grip is the most important thing to consider. Here are your options:
Cork wicks away moisture effectively so is a great choice if your palms sweat easily, or if you are hiking lots in hot and humid conditions. Cork also conforms to the shape of your hand over time thus upping the comfort levels even further.
EVA foam (ethylene-vinyl acetate) is more durable and soft than cork. It is OK at moisture wicking, but not as good as cork. EVA also provides a little bit of shock absorption.
Rubber is often found on less expensive hiking poles. It is highly durable but less comfortable to hold than both cork and EVA grips. It also lacks the moisture wicking properties offered by the alternative options, making it a good option for winter hiking.
All trekking poles have wrist straps which can be as annoying as they are useful, with some people choosing to take them off altogether. The main consideration when looking at wrist straps is whether they are comfortable. Straps made of softer fabric to minimise abrasion or rubbing on the back of your hands are preferable, so try to find something that you barely notice.
Pack down size
Many poles are collapsible for easy storage and packing, but the collapsed length will vary. If you plan to travel often (especially by air) on the way to your treks, look for poles that can be packed in your luggage. Additionally, there will be times on your trek when you won’t want or need to be using your trekking poles. Scrambling up steep terrain often needs your hands free to help steady yourself. So easily collapsible poles that can be stowed away or secured onto your pack suddenly become much more versatile on the trail than those that don’t collapse.
If you tend to keep your trekking adventures going all year round then trekking poles that will step up to the challenges of snowy conditions are a must – unless you want a different pole for each season or type of trekking that is? So ideally your poles should be a little more durable and solid than those used for lightweight backpacking. And they should also have the capacity to attach powder snow baskets.
The 10 best trekking poles for your hiking adventures in 2020
With those characteristics in mind, here are 10 great options for your next set of trekking poles.Black Diamond’s Distance Z Trekking Poles are designed for the well-traveled hiker. The aluminum poles bend three ways, allowing them to collapse down small enough for carry-on luggage. The pole shafts are made from durable yet very lightweight aluminum, and for an even lighter (but pricier option) they are also available with carbon fiber shafts. The hand grip and wrist strap are made of moisture-wicking material to keep you comfortable and dry, and they are easy to snap and lock into place one-handed. The poles come in four sizes (ranging from 100cm-130cm) and are not adjustable, so measuring for the right size is very important. However at a tiny 370g (13oz), these are mega lightweight poles that are ideal for fast and light trekking, and are the lightest in this review.
If you are looking for a set of trekking poles that are extremely versatile, take a look at the Leki Corklite Trekking Poles. With excellent comfort from the cork grip, they are priced on the higher end of the poles on this list, but the lifetime warranty on all Leki aluminum poles makes the price more manageable. The poles come in one size but the telescoping design means that they are adjustable from 67cm all the way to 135cm, and the height is easy to adjust one-handed, even on the trail. The optional anti-shock spring makes for an especially smooth hike, and they can also be fitted with snow baskets for even more trekking options.
For a sturdy and reliable set of trekking poles, look no further than the MSR Talus TR 3. Although on the heavy side for aluminum poles, they do an excellent job at providing a highly secure locking system for extra stability in more extreme mountaineering conditions. The telescoping poles are designed to be adjusted with just one hand via the Trigger Release button for on the fly adjustments. Together with their ability to add snow baskets, and the comfortable ventilated hand straps that they come with, the Talus TR 3 are an excellent year round trekking pole option.
Montem Ultra Strong Trekking Poles are just the thing if you are shopping on a tight budget or just starting out; these aluminum poles are one of the least expensive on our list. Their telescoping design ensures a stable pole that can be lengthened to 135cm long and secured with a Quick Lock lever locks. As budget trekking poles the Ultra Strongs give you everything you need in a versatile, relatively lightweight and sturdy pair of trekking poles. They collapse down to a tidy 61cm (24in) long and will easily fit in any standard suitcase for international travel. The nylon straps and EVA grips (that look like cork!) are weather resistant and very durable. And to top it off, Montem also sells interchangeable tips and baskets if you need something specific for your trekking poles.
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If space is your primary concern, you will love the Leki Micro Vario Ti COR-TEC Trekking Poles. These folding poles separate in four places (for a total of 5 sections to each pole), allowing them to break down even smaller than most other poles on the market to a tiny 38cm (15in), and the smallest in this review. But it’s not just their size that will wow hikers and trekkers. They also have mega comfortable cork grips and a super simple Speedlock system that provides a 20cm adjustable range to ensure a perfect fit for the user. Then you just simply snap them together and go. Specially designed tension springs keep each section securely in place while extended, for sturdy support on hikes, trail runs or backcountry climbs.
Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles offer a truly ultralight option for hikers concerned about weight. The 100% carbon fiber walking poles adopt a telescoping design that is super strong, and at only 431g (15.2oz) is one of the lightest trekking poles in this selection. The adjustable poles feature two separate handles: moisture-wicking cork grips at the very top that mold to the shape of your hands, as well as EVA foam grips further down the pole for choking up on steep climbs. The poles also come with rubber tips, snow and mud baskets, adjustable straps, and a carrying bag. And to keep things as secure as possible, the Quick Flip Locks are easily adjustable to your preferred length on or off the trail.
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For year-round hiking, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles feature interchangeable tips, trekking baskets and powder baskets. The grips are also designed with multiple purposes in mind and are made from lightweight cork with an EVA grip extension beneath. The metal FlickLock Pro locking mechanism keeps the poles from slipping under heavy use, and the telescoping poles are made from 100% carbon fiber, making them both very lightweight and strong. The poles are not cheap, coming in at a price point on the higher end of our list, but the multi-season features and high-quality construction make them worth the cost if you are looking for poles that can do it all.
If the price of 100% carbon fiber poles seems out of reach, take a look at the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles, the least expensive carbon fiber poles on our list. The poles are lengthened up to 138cm (54.5in) and can be easily adjusted on the trail with the Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock system. In addition to durability, the carbon fiber construction keeps the poles lightweight to only 442g (15.6oz) per pair – an incredible feat for such low priced poles. Bonus tip kits are available to add mud and snow baskets, and rubber tips if desired. Choose between a cork or EVA grip when ordering to suit your preference and enjoy a truly excellent value pair of poles for moderate trekking and hiking.
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REI’s Traverse Power Lock Cork Trekking Poles are a great option if you are looking for something more basic. The telescoping poles are made from lightweight aluminum and are adjustable from 104cm (41in) to 140cm (55in) to suit your preference. They collapse down further to 69cm (27 in) for travel and storage, and are secured in place with a low profile PowerLock lever. The Traverse poles feature lightweight cork grips, and their ergonomic shape and the padded wrist straps are designed for ultimate comfort during long treks. The standard trail basket is suitable for multiple terrains and uses, in addition to reducing weight on the trail.
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For those that tend to find themselves often stomping up and down steep and challenging terrain with purpose, the Leki Albula Lite V trekking poles are a superb option. Leki’s lastest length adjustment system, the Speed Lock 2, makes them a breeze to lengthen on the downs and shorten on the ups without any compromise whatsoever on stability. But what makes these mid-weight telescoping poles really stand out from the trekking crown is their super comfortable Aergon handle that has no edges on the top grip, and the Trigger S Vertical strap/glove system that provides unrivalled support and convenience when hitting the trail hard.
For more information on the Leki Albula Lite V trekking poles, check out our full review.
If you are new to walking poles, don’t worry! They are easy to use. Simply grip the handles loosely and walk normally, keeping your elbows close to your sides and your forearm near a 90-degree angle when stepping. Experiment a little on your first outing to figure out the right amount of pressure for your needs. Whether you are new to hiking or a long-time veteran, the right pair of trekking poles can make your hikes easier and more enjoyable.
Trek on happy hikers!