Trekking poles are vital pieces of gear for trekking and hiking. They make walking over rough terrain easier, especially on long downhills. They also enhance your stability and provide support for your knees on various terrains. Some studies even show that trekking poles can help reduce impact force on your knees by up to 40%. It’s no wonder why some hikers & trekkers always bring their favorite trekking poles on the trail.
But choosing a pair of trekking poles is not as easy as it sounds. Many first-time users struggle to find reliable and long-lasting poles. And that’s quite understandable. With a set of trekking poles available at nearly every price point, it can feel overwhelming to find the right one that will work best for you. So, to help you out, we’ve come up with a list of things that you should look out for while purchasing new trekking poles.
In this guide, we’ll cover the key factors to consider.
1. Shaft Material
Most trekking poles are made of either carbon fiber or aluminum. Carbon is stronger, stiffer and lighter compared to aluminum. It can reduce vibrations and feels more comfortable than poles made from aluminum. These trekking poles are well-suited for ultra-light hikers and backpackers, or anyone who wants the lightest gear possible. With reasonable care, they are durable enough to last for years. But it’s prone to cracking and comes at a higher price. Carbon-made trekking poles can splinter and crack in extreme conditions. If it cracks or dents, it is done for; you can’t repair it. And they don’t come in cheap as well.
Aluminum, on the other hand, is stronger, heavier, cheaper, and perfect for all types of terrains. It is a great option for those who have a limited budget but want something that’s durable. They are only heavier than carbon poles by a few ounces. A pair of aluminum trekking poles weighs around 22 ounces. Unlike carbon, aluminum does not dampen vibration but can handle a lot of stress and breaks rarely. Trekking poles differ in many ways, depending on the type of material used.
2. Adjustability and Locking Mechanism
The adjustability and locking mechanism of trekking poles are often overlooked. But they’re important to consider when buying trekking poles. Normally, trekking poles are divided into 2 or 3 sections that slide into each other. Each section is separated by a locking mechanism which determines the length of the pole. Adjusting the length can boost stability on varying terrains. The length can be adjustable from 25 to 55 inches. It can be lengthened when going downhill and shortened going uphill. Doing so will make it easier to walk.
Most trekking poles usually feature twist lock and level lock style mechanisms. Poles with the level lock mechanism are easy to adjust and don’t take too much time. Twist-lock mechanisms are rudimentary and cost less. But they’re difficult to undo & can malfunction on dusty trails. Whatever the mechanism, you need to familiarize yourself with the measurements on your poles. There’s likely to be a “STOP” mark at some point on the poles. Never try to extend the poles further than this mark. And don’t forget to check the full extension and compression length of each trekking pole.
3. Grip Material
Having a proper grip is essential for any trekking pole. Bad handles can create discomfort and cause blisters. There are 4 types of grip materials used in making the handles of trekking poles. They are:
This material offers the most comfortable grip than most materials. Cork is a sustainable material that has mild shock-absorption properties. It not only offers a strong grip but also absorbs vibration and molds itself to your hands over time. It even resists moisture so it’s ideal for those with sweaty hands. Handles made from this material are comfortable, durable but quite expensive. If you use your poles often then cork grips are the best choice for you.
This material is the softest to touch and it can absorb sweat from your hands. They are more comfortable than grips made of cork. With foam grips, you won’t have to worry too much about your hands slipping. It prevents rubbing and keeps your hand slightly cooler than cork grips. Trekking poles with foam grips are super light weighing below 16 ounces. Foam is the lightest option available so it’s perfect for long treks that usually take more than a week to complete.
Rubber handles reduce shock and vibration. They are durable, inexpensive and comfortable. It has insulating and vibration dampening properties. Rubber is the best option for cold weather hiking, thru-hikes or mountaineering. Depending on the person, hikers can comfortably use rubber grips for long periods. But rubber grips don’t absorb any water, meaning it’s more likely to cause blisters and sweaty hands. This makes it least suitable for use during hot weather. They are also the heaviest of all the grip materials.
Grips of trekking poles made with plastic are the cheapest. You don’t have to worry about cashing in too much when you’re buying poles with plastic grip. You can use this on short treks with easier routes & trails. But they are not as popular as they tend to be uncomfortable and sweaty. Plastic handles are only good if you plan on using them for short periods.
4. Basket size
Most trekking poles feature a small basket at the end. The size of the pole basket depends on what type of activity you plan to do. Large baskets are ideal if your hike or trek goes through muddy ground or snow. But they get stuck up on roots and bushes which is why poles with small baskets are ideal for summer hiking. Most manufacturers tend to design their baskets with varying sizes and that’s why it is hard to interchange the baskets. But you can find some trekking poles with interchangeable baskets. Remember, trekking poles are going to be more versatile if they’ve removable baskets.
5. Shock Absorber
One of the main features to look for in a trekking pole is its ‘shock absorbers’. Not only do shock absorbers make trekking poles more comfortable, but they also manage to reduce the impact force on both your hands and knees. It is a device with springs that is designed to absorb shock and vibrations. In some modern trekking poles, shock absorbers can be switched on and off. So, look out for poles with that on/off feature.
Poles with shock absorbers are ideal if you have issues with hips, knees or ankles. But they can destabilize your poles while crossing streams, hopping on rocks, or any other situation where you may need additional balance. They also add a little to the total cost of the pole.
In general, a lighter trekking pole is more ideal than a heavier one. Lightweight trekking poles give you the benefit of less swing weight. They are also easier to handle and expend less energy. But heavy poles are often more durable than the lightweight ones. We recommend buying poles that weigh in between 250 to 350 grams (per pole).
Keep in mind, the shaft material determines the overall weight of the trekking pole. So, if you buy one with an aluminum shaft then your pole is going to be heavy. Consider buying carbon made trekking poles if you need something that’s light.
You can find a good pair of trekking poles from $50 or even less to high as $150. But cheap poles (under $50) probably won’t last long and are not ideal for long-distance trekking. Plus, cheaper poles tend to be heavier and aren’t as sturdy as you need them to be. So, it pays to buy trekking poles that cost around $50 or more.
Extra things to consider when buying trekking poles:
- Make sure your poles come with wrist straps to prevent chafing.
- Look for trekking poles with replaceable tips. And always go for carbide tips as they are more durable than steel.
The “best” pair of trekking poles varies from user to user. No set of trekking poles is right for everyone. But if you keep these things in mind, you will be able to narrow down your choices and find the right one for you.
If you have any questions you want to ask us about trekking poles, comment below, and we will be sure to get back to you.
Want to go hiking this year but can’t decide on which place to go? Then check out our blog post about “10 Bucket List-Worthy Hikes in 2019“.