Maridav / Shutterstock
Maridav / Shutterstock
Maridav / Shutterstock
By Justine Harrington, OnRamp
So you're ready to jaunt into the rugged terrain of the backcountry? Well, you and me both, but before you do, make sure you're equipped to make the most of nature's treasures. Contrary to what some purists believe, good outdoor gear isn't something that offers the outdoorsman an unnatural advantage; after all, mankind has invented and created this gear out of the earth's very materials. What's more natural than that? If you're looking to conquer nature, or even just to spend some time hiking its marvelous landscapes, a good pair of trekking poles can help improve your stability, balance, and trail speed. They can also serve other purposes, like doubling as tent poles. Here you'll find our absolute favorite trekking poles, ranked for their quality, cost value, and comfort.
Best Overall: Black Diamond sits comfortably atop the trekking pole industry, and with good reason. Nobody does it better than them, and this pair is proof of the company's supremacy.
If you’ve done a bit of research before landing here, you’ll likely have already encountered Black Diamond’s trekking poles, whether it was this pair or another. The Alpine Carbon Cork pair is one of their most popular pairs, as it strikes the ideal balance of quality, comfort, and cost value for most customers. Though we’d advise ultralight hikers to look elsewhere, for anyone else, these are a sure pick. They’re great in any weather or terrain; in fact, their reliability is mostly to thank for their popularity. But long-distance hikers also appreciate their cork grips, which are more comfortable and irritate the skin less than other, plastic-based hand grips.
Hybrid aluminum and carbon fiber shafts
Cork grips wick sweat away
Simple FlickLock adjustability
Interchangeable carbide tech-tips
Can’t secure them when fully collapsed
FlickLock covers can easily break
Best Value: Affordable, reliable, and comfy in the hand. What else could you ask for?
Look, we get it. You don’t want to refinance your house to go on a hike. And we agree that it can be a little silly how we justify our love for shopping by purchasing outdoor gear we don’t need. But it’s also true that good gear can greatly heighten our enjoyment of the outdoors, and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. It’s possible to reject needless consumerism and still buy things that have a practical use. This pair by Cascade Mountain Tech demonstrates this deftly. It compares to more expensive brands like Black Diamond while costing half (or more) of the price. Sure, these poles certainly aren’t as rugged, but they’re pretty darn tough.
Great for beginner hikers
Pair weighs less than a pound
Adjustable wrist straps
Not as dependable as aluminum poles
Best Ultralight Poles: If you're passionate enough to go down the ultralight route, chances are you already know it might cost a pretty penny. This 9-ounce pair of Z-poles is costly, but excellent in terms of durability and practicality.
Weighing in at a mere nine ounces, this carbon fiber pair has developed notoriety amongst those in the ultralight community. While you might think that the words ultralight and trekking poles create an oxymoron, this isn’t the case. Yes, trekking poles are usually unnecessary, and the ultralight credo is to only take what you really need, but for some (including those with injuries) poles are a necessity. So if you’re attempting to hike the AT or merely trying to cut weight, these are worth a look.
A feature we particularly like is their Z-design, which allows the poles to be folded up for easy storage. Historically, the Z-poles have been nonadjustable, so you’d be stuck with a fixed length, which is a nightmare for those who plan on using their trekking poles as tent poles, too. However, this pair offers FlickLock adjustability, so you’re in the clear.
Great for travelers
Sleek, attractive design
Can fit in a carry-on bag for air travel
Length can only be adjusted so much
Not ideal for truly extreme conditions
Best on a Budget: If owning a pair of trekking poles with aircraft-grade aluminum shafts, cork grips, and quick-lock mechanisms for the price of a pizza pie doesn't make excite you, check your pulse.
There’s simply no beating the price for these Cascade Mountain Tech Aluminum poles, especially considering the array of attachments included. The handles are comfortable, and the snap locks are reliable enough to trust on serious hikes. You can expect them to perform admirably with very little slippage.
Includes mud baskets and snow baskets
Also comes with boot tips
Adjustments can be made quickly
Straps may not accommodate tiny hands
Could bend under a lot of weight
What are the benefits of using trekking poles?
The advantages depend on what type of hiking you’re doing. If you’re climbing in elevation, having poles helps you ascend with less effort thanks to the increased leverage. For declines, they help provide stabilization and balance, as three or four points of contact are almost always going to be more stable than two. They also help relieve pressure on certain joints, like the knees. Further, in inclement weather, they help you grip the terrain (although some slippery poles can actually make it more dangerous than going without). Finally, some people feel they can hike faster and longer since trekking poles help distribute one’s body weight more evenly, resulting in less fatigue over the course of a trek.
What features are most important when it comes to trekking poles?
Here are the essential features you’ll want to consider:
Height: Is it adjustable? If not, don’t plan on using them for tent poles. Make sure the height suits you properly; otherwise, it’ll totally defeat the purpose of using trekking poles.
Grip: Is it comfortable enough for you to hold it for long periods of time? Keep in mind that it’ll be rubbing against the surface of your skin constantly as you grip it, and that friction will, in time, create some irritation. Choosing the grips’ material is important. Typically, cork is thought to be superior to EVA and other plastic-composite grips because it wicks sweat, it’s comfortable, and it’s smooth against the skin.
Locking mechanisms: Are they easy to adjust on the trail? Do you need tools? The last thing you want on a long trek is to get stuck holding poles that are too short or too long for you because you don’t have the proper tools with you.
Miscellaneous: Other factors are also important, such as the material of the poles’ shafts (aluminum vs. carbon fiber), the type of grips used, and the length of the hand straps.
Justine is a freelance writer covering the latest in travel and cooking.
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