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There are a handful of hiking essentials you should take with you on every outing to stay safe and happy on the trail. But trekking poles are oft-overlooked.
There are a lot of instances where the hiking poles can be helpful: If you’re heading out on a short-but-rocky hike, poles can help you maintain more even footing on the terrain and can save you from a rolled ankle. If you’re climbing a 14er and will be out for upwards of six hours, that extra stability makes all the difference for your tired joints when you’re descending. And if you’re on a backpacking trip, your back will thank you for the extra support to carry that heavy pack.
Think about it: When you hike with poles, you have three to four points of contact with the ground instead of just one or two. Watch any four-legged animal scramble through steep or technical terrain where your own footing is unsure, and you’ll easily see even more of its advantages.
While we can’t promise that a pair of trekking poles would turn you into a mountain goat, they do reduce your chance of slipping, twisting an ankle, or taking a tumble. But while every trekking pole may look pretty much the same, they’re certainly not. You want to consider the durability of their material, how adjustable they are, and whether you want features like shock absorption. At the end of this guide, we go into more detail on what to look for in a trekking pole.
To help in narrowing down which are worth your money, we field-tested some of the top models from brands like MSR, Black Diamond, and Gossamer Gear to round up our favorites. Whether you’re on a budget, want a shock-absorbing pole, or are intent on buying the absolute best, we have you covered.
Here are the best trekking poles:
- The best trekking poles overall: MSR Dynalock Explore
- The best trekking poles on a budget: Cascade Mountain Tech 3k Carbon Fiber
- The best trekking poles for thru-hikers: Gossamer Gear LT5
- The best shock-absorbing trekking pole: Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock
- The best trekking pole for casual hikers: Leki High Fives Wanderfreund Pole
The best trekking pole overall
MSR’s aluminum Dynalock Explore is a do-everything, all-season trekking pole with superb comfort, excellent strength and durability, and easy-to-use clip locks.
Pros: Exceptional features for the price, small when collapsed, strong and durable
Cons: Heavier than some poles, rubber tips not included
Made from high-strength 7075 aluminum, these poles are heavy enough to be confidence-inspiring in their durability but not so heavy they felt like a burden. I found the extra durability to be well-suited to mountaineering, a week backpacking in New York’s Adirondacks, snowshoeing, and day hikes.
The first thing you’ll notice when breaking these three-section trekking poles out is they have incredible, hassle-free locking levers. The anodized aluminum levers click open and shut effortlessly, and each clip has a thumb-operated tension adjuster that tightens and loosens the clamp, which locks the poles so they don’t compress when you lean on them.
This ease-of-use for length and tension is invaluable when you’re at the end of a long day and need to adjust your poles with exhausted, maybe swollen hands.
Once on the trail, I found the firm foam handle grip to be textured but not sticky. As the trail climbed and my hands got sweaty, the grip surprisingly felt more secure. Even when I gripped the extended foam below the poles’ ergonomic handholds while side-hilling, I had the same solid grip.
These poles come with both trekking and powder baskets and are able to fit most adults. When I collapsed these poles for storage, they were compact enough to fit inside an overnight backpack and my checked luggage.
The best on a budget
Even though these carbon Cascade Mountain Tech poles weigh roughly 1 pound per pair, they’re sturdy, affordable, and leave you money to spend on the rest of your hiking kit.
Pros: Included storage bag holds poles and extra accessories, great price, all parts and pole sections are individually replaceable
Cons: Not as sleek as other options, plastic clips and wrist straps aren’t as high quality as other poles
Cascade Mountain Tech’s three-section poles adjust to 54 inches with plastic quick lock clips. The tension is easy to adjust with the small wheel. The poles come with two sets of rubber tips for urban and indoor use, and both a small and larger snow basket.
The grip is a sweat-diffusing cork, and felt better to the touch than foam (to me). What’s more, I found on muggy days, my grip never slipped. Below the handhold is a foam grip, which I used frequently while hiking; I’d slide my hand down the pole and use it to boost myself over rocks or washed out roots instead of shortening the pole.
I also appreciated the poles’ reflective logo and highlights on the poles’ upper sections for visibility in low light, too.
The webbing wrist straps are simple and easy to adjust and have a soft piece of fabric sewn to the inside of the webbing to reduce wrist chafing. However, this sewn-in fabric already started curling slightly on the edges and the stitching was starting to fray after just half a dozen hikes for me.
The parts, in general, aren’t as high-quality as you’d find in other poles, and they are carbon fiber, so they will snap if you set a heavy pack on them, say. Also, the metal tips have a reputation for being brittle. But I had no durability issues over a month of testing. If something does break, Cascade Mountain Tech sells replacement pole sections and parts, so there’s no need to buy an entire new pair.
The best for thru-hikes
Gossamer Gear’s LT5s are lightweight, sleek, and an excellent choice for anyone looking to shave weight.
Pros: Super light and streamlined, featherweight swing
Cons: More fragile than other poles, no winter basket
Possibly the lightest three-segment poles made, Gossamer Gear’s LT5s expend internally with a twist-to-lock mechanism instead of using lock clips. With no external locking hardware, the LT5s are the cleanest-looking poles I tested — and they never got hung up while sliding into my pack, either.
The LT5s are incredibly lightweight. The swing weight is so negligible, more than once I forgot I had them in my hands. They’re not as burly as some poles and therefore best for experienced hikers or walkers and trekkers who are gentle on their gear.
Their weight and smooth profile make them best suited for ounce-shaving thru-hikers and fast and light day hikers.
Gossamer’s EVA grips look like cork but are actually foam, soft and textured on the back for a quality hold. To save weight, the foam doesn’t extend past the handholds.
The LT5’s minimalist wrist straps are fleece-lined and tacked to adjustable webbing. Where other poles adjust from the pole head, these adjust from the back of the wrist. It’s a quick and simple system that lets me get these poles on and off with ease. It also makes it easy to tighten down and release.
In a month of regular hiking and walking, they held up perfectly to normal wear and tear. There’s no question they’re strong enough to support your body and to hold up a trekking pole-supported shelter, but don’t go whacking these on rocks or levering them under a rock or root.
The LT5s come with trekking baskets and textured rubber tips, but no winter basket.
The best shock absorbing
Black Diamond’s Trail Pro Shock poles let you hike longer and avoid being incredibly fatigued.
Pros: Shock absorber reduces fatigue, interchangeable tips
Cons: Doesn’t compress as small as some other poles, winter baskets not included, tool needed to adjust tightness
If you’re trekking on roads, rocks, or other hard surfaces, your poles’ carbide tips transmit tiny shock waves through your hands, arms, shoulders, and back on every step. This is especially true if the pole is metal and not carbon. If you’re on the trail long enough, continuous hours of imperceptible shock waves add up to more fatigue.
As a hiker who often ends the trekking day with a sore neck or sore upper back, I was pleasantly surprised to feel less beat up after a day with these poles. Regardless of terrain, I was less sore after a month of excursions than usual.
Black Diamond points to the two-piece foam grips for this, which gives four-stage shock absorption with smooth rebound control. The grips are ergonomic with a smooth foam extension on the shaft for grip on steep inclines. The softshell wrist straps were my favorite wrist straps of any pole on this guide. They were inspired by Black Diamond’s climbing harnesses and didn’t chafe my wrists, no matter the hike.
Adjusting the Trail Pro Shock poles is easy, too. A single flick lock frees the lower section of each pole. After adjusting them to length, the flick locks shut with a positive click so you know you’re ready to hit the trail. If the clips loosen, however, you need an Allen key to tighten them.
I tested the women’s poles which are shorter than the men’s — 49 inches versus 55 inches, respectively. They have a shorter collapsed length — 25 inches to 26 inches for men’s — and the women’s poles are just over an ounce lighter per pair than the men’s.
The best for casual hikers
Leki’s collapsible Wanderfreund is a sophisticated and distinguished modern take on a solid traditional walking staff.
Pros: Elegant one-handed solution for mellow terrain, cork handle, collapsible
Cons: Won’t help climbing steep hills
If you prefer to keep one hand free for a map, dog leash, or rock scrambles, or won’t be tackling technical terrain but want some support for achy joints, you can hike with just one trekking pole.
The Leki Wanderfreund aluminum pole is topped by an ergonomic cork handle with a hole in the center to provide a multitude of options for grip. I most frequently wrapped my pointer finger through the handle’s central opening but, at times, also hiked just holding the horn.
The pole adjusts from 25 inches to 47 inches (remember, you hold the staff different than a standard hiking pole, so you might not need as much height as on a standard set of poles). The height clips solidly in place at your preferred length with a high-quality plastic toggle that sits flush when closed. The tip is as aggressive as those found on all-terrain hiking or mountaineering poles, with plenty of grab for exploring bike paths and walking trails.
While on walks in the woods, I used the permanent metal tip but on paved or hardpacked paths, I preferred the included rubber tip. It slides over the tip of the pole and gave me a pseudo-hiking shoe grip. The pole is snow basket compatible, too, but it doesn’t come with any.
What else we recommend
Leki Cressida Cor-Tec Trekking Poles: These aluminum poles have a cork grip, silky hand strap, are incredibly lightweight and yet also incredibly durable. They’re beloved by hikers of every shape and size, and are a very close second-choice for best overall with the MSR Dynalock Explore being slightly more affordable.
Black Diamond Distance Z poles: These poles are incredibly lightweight and a crowd favorite for thru-hikes as the uber-durable poles fold down super small for packing but extend long enough for human support, or to hold up a tent. However, the average hiker will want adjustable (telescopic) poles, not foldable, to help on differing inclines.
What to look for in a trekking pole
The poles we reviewed here are made from either aluminum or carbon. If you’re someone who’s hard on gear, aluminum is more dent-, ding-, and abuse-resistant. If you’re gentler on gear or want lighter-weight equipment, carbon fiber is strong and light but more brittle. Keep in mind, aluminum bends. When carbon fails, it breaks.
The best trekking poles are adjustable, too. With a twist of the pole sections or a flick of a clip, sections fold or retract making them easier to stash in a backpack or carry in a suitcase. For walking, poles quickly telescope to length.
Buy trekking poles that are easy to collapse and deploy so that when you don’t need them you can easily stash them. Then, when you do need them, you’re able to easily pull them out of your pack again. If you plan to travel with your hiking poles packed in a suitcase, choose a pair or a pole that collapses small enough to fit in your bag.
How weather and hiking surfaces affect your poles
The specific weather and terrain you think you’ll encounter dictates the kind of baskets you’ll need. If you plan to use poles in snow, deep mud, or sand, you’ll want a pair that has or is compatible with saucer-sized winter baskets. Snow baskets like these also prevent your pole from plunging into sand or deep mud. Most poles come standard with quarter-sized trekking baskets, though some do allow multiple baskets to choose from.
You’ll also typically find poles with carbon-metal (carbide) tips that bite into rock and dirt for grip. If you’re on pavement, concrete, or cobblestone, or if you’ll be using your poles indoors, slip rubber tips over the carbide spikes to avoid causing damage.
Keep in mind that with hard use, carbide tips wear out. Some trekking poles do allow them to be replaced but don’t be surprised if you notice wear and tear.
Don’t forget shock absorbers and wrist straps
If you have joint issues, or if your back, neck, or arms are sore at the end of a day hiking with poles, choose poles with a built-in shock-absorber. Shock poles diffuse the vibration of your poles tapping the ground. A pole strike seems insignificant until you multiply it by the thousands of steps a hiker takes on any given outing.
Don’t underrate the value of a good wrist strap, either. The best wrist straps support your weight when you lean on them to give your hands a rest. A soft and supportive wrist strap takes the weight without chafing your skin, too.
How we test
Each set of trekking poles featured in this guide went through a series of on-trail tests to determine how well it compared based on these four categories: Durability, ease of use, versatility, and value. Specifically, here’s how each category factored into which trekking poles ultimately made this guide:
- Durability: A quality trekking pole should hold up to the harshness of whatever a hike or backpacking trip throws at it. As mentioned above, aluminum poles are far more durable than carbon fiber (though carbon fiber does still have its benefits). If it’s durability you seek, opt for an aluminum pole — or be ready to replace or repair your carbon fibers every few trips.
- Ease of use: Using trekking poles is a fairly straightforward task, though most do offer at least some amount of customization in terms of their length, basket compatibility, and type of tip offered. The best poles should be easy to adjust (even while in the middle of a hike) and have simple mechanics for installing or uninstalling baskets and tips.
- Versatility: Chances are quite high you’re not in the market for two sets of trekking poles, so the set you buy should be able to manage a wide variety of terrain and use. Whether that means it comes with the accessories needed to handle snow, sand, and mud as well as it can handle dry terrain, or does it all out of the box, this is an important feature for any quality trekking pole.
- Value: Judging a trekking pole’s value isn’t just about how much it costs but rather the combination of the previous three categories (as well as how they stack up concerning its sticker price). It’s better to spend a little more on a quality pole designed to last than to spend less money more often for something that’s shoddy and won’t last more than a hike or two.
Originally published at https://www.businessinsider.com/best-trekking-poles on .