If you’ve ever seen a bighorn sheep maneuver down a virtually sheer rock face with impunity, or watched one of those Grand Canyon mules deftly navigate a loose, cliffside path into the canyon, you’ve no doubt wondered how they manage such feats without plummeting to certain death. The short answer: Those extra two legs. Much the same way a car is more stable than a motorcycle, four-legged creatures are far better equipped for handling the ups and downs of varied topography without missing a step than us two-leggers. The logical solution for bipeds? Get some trekking poles, and turn your two legs into four. But with so many types to choose from—standard or antishock? aluminum or carbon?—it can be difficult to decide which kind best suits your needs.
IF…stability is your primary concern, a standard pair of poles will do the trick. How much you spend mostly depends on the weight and material of your poles. Aluminum poles are somewhat heavier, and therefore less expensive (generally less than $100), than their carbon counterparts. Carbon poles spare several ounces, helping to avoid fatigue over the course of a hike, but you’ll pay for them (closer to $200).
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork, $160; blackdiamondequipment.com
Black Diamond Trail Compact (Aluminum), $100; blackdiamondequipment.com
IF...you’re looking to give the joints and tissues of your legs a break, antishock poles are the way to go. Shock-absorbing springs within these poles help buffer the pounding your knees otherwise would bear on their own during a steep descent. Antishock poles also come in carbon and aluminum varieties, and the feature generally adds about 10 or 15% to the cost of the poles—far less than a knee replacement. You will pay in weight, though, as the antishock feature adds a few ounces.
Leki Corklite Antishock, $160; leki.com
Whatever you choose, any trekking poles will help make you more sure-footed, and better able to channel your inner bighorn—just don’t go around head-butting other hikers.