If you find a grizzled looking hiker or backpacker on the trail, chances are high that they’re carrying a pair of trekking poles with them. Experienced hikers swear by trekking poles because they dramatically reduce the strain on your knees while hiking downhill, which means that you can hike further and faster without breaking down. Plus, when you’re backpacking, trekking poles can allow you to take some of the weight off of your legs and help you maintain stability even on rough terrain.
Today, trekking poles are lighter and more durable than ever before thanks to new materials and new technologies. But finding the perfect set of hiking poles for your next adventure can be tricky if you don’t know what features to look for. We’ll cover everything you need to know about how to choose trekking poles and review the 10 best trekking poles of 2019.
Should You Hike with Trekking Poles?
While trekking poles are used by a huge swath of the hiking and backpacking community, it’s important to keep in mind that there are advantages and disadvantages to hiking with poles.
The number one reason to use trekking poles is to relieve pressure on your knees. This is especially important on rougher terrain and downhill sections of trail, when plunge-stepping your way down puts a significant amount of shock and weight onto your knee with each step. A trekking pole can support your weight while you step, eliminating the vast majority of that shock loading. Ultimately, that not only protects your joints from aches over the course of a long day but helps your leg muscles endure for a longer hike.
Hiking poles do have several other benefits, too. They can be used for balance, giving you one or two extra points of contact when crossing over scree or picking your way through a creek. Poles can also help you establish a hiking rhythm, which can make the miles fly by. If you’re into ultralight hiking, trekking poles can even be multipurpose – when you get to camp, they can convert into support beams for your tent.
While these advantages are enough to convince most hikers that trekking poles are worthwhile, there are some drawbacks. The most significant is that even though hiking will feel easier with trekking poles, you’ll expend more energy with each step. That’s because you’re using your arm muscles in addition to your leg muscles. This situation becomes even worse if you lean over your poles, which can be quite tempting to do when working your way uphill. The more weight you put on your arms, the less efficient your hiking becomes and the more likely you are to tire yourself out.
In addition, trekking poles can be downright inconvenient in some places. When bushwhacking or working your way across loose screen, trekking poles can get in the way. In that case, it takes time to strap them to your backpack to free up your hands, and then the poles are just extra weight on your back.
It’s important to consider these benefits and drawbacks when considering whether trekking poles are right for you. Keep in mind that poles may be great for many of your hikes, but there may be specific trips when you want to leave them at home.
Choosing the Best Set of Trekking Poles
When it comes to finding the perfect set of trekking poles, there are a few things to consider. Most important, every set of trekking poles represents a tradeoff between weight, durability, convenience, and price. In order to find the right trekking poles, you’ll need to think about how you plan to use them and what aspects of these poles are most important to you.
- Telescoping, Folding, and Fixed Poles
The first thing you’ll need to decide on is the style of trekking pole that works best for you: telescoping, folding, or fixed.
Fixed poles are the simplest of these styles – they are simple a pole with no ability to collapse or adjust length. That’s great if you plan to have your poles out all day, but it can make them very difficult to stash on your backpack if you need to use your hands for scrambling or simply don’t need poles for a section of trail. In addition, fixed poles can struggle on uphill and downhill sections, or when sidehilling, since they cannot adjust in length to match the terrain.
Telescoping poles offer a lot more adjustability. This style of pole is typically constructed in two or three sections, which pull out from one another when you want to extend the pole. With telescoping poles, you can match the length of the pole to your height and the terrain’s slope – at least to within the minimum and maximum adjustment lengths of the poles. If you opt for telescoping poles, make sure to take a close look at the locking mechanism since this is often a point of failure on these poles. If the locking mechanism allows the pole sections to slip, your pole will be virtually useless.
Folding poles offer many of the benefits of telescoping poles, but with a completely different mechanism. Folding poles consist of two or three pole sections that are tied together, much like tent poles. Depending on the exact pole model, these poles may or may not be able to adjust in length after they are unfolded. Folding poles don’t have the issue of failing locking mechanisms like telescoping poles, but are often designed to handle less rugged conditions than telescoping poles.
- Locking Mechanisms
The majority of trekking poles are telescoping style poles, so it’s worth taking a closer look at the common locking mechanisms in use. The classic locking mechanism is a twist lock, in which you simply twist the pole sections to lock them in place or release the telescoping function. However, twist locks are extremely prone to breaking since they can easily be over-tightened or over-loosened.
Lever locks have recently gained in popularity as a more durable alternative to twist locks. This locking mechanism uses an external clamp that can be opened and closed with your fingers to release or lock down the pole sections. Lever locks last much longer than twist locks, although you may have to tighten or loosen the clamp with a screwdriver on occasion.
- Pole Material
Trekking poles are typically constructed from either carbon or aluminum. Carbon is more expensive, but weighs less than aluminum and is generally more durable on rough terrain. That said, when carbon poles do break, they snap and are immediately unusable. Many hikers also like carbon fiber poles because they absorb shock better than aluminum poles.
Aluminum poles are heavier and easier to bend, but this bending prevents them from breaking catastrophically like carbon poles do. When you bend an aluminum pole, you can often force it back into position to use for the rest of your trip. Aluminum poles are still the standard for the vast majority of hikers and backpackers who aren’t trying to cut ounces from their kits.
- Grip Construction
The grip on a trekking pole might seem like an afterthought, but there are actually a number of things to consider when it comes to pole grips.
First, the material the grip is made from. Cork is a popular grip choice because it’s relatively comfortable in your hand and conforms to your grip over time. Cork also wicks sweat well, making it an ideal choice for hot summer hikes. EVA foam provides many of the same advantages as cork, although it’s slightly less conforming and doesn’t wick moisture quite as readily. But, EVA foam does provide a measure of shock absorption that cork doesn’t, which is good for hiking over rough terrain.
Rubber is an inexpensive alternative to cork and EVA foam, so it’s typically found on budget trekking poles. Rubber is waterproof, but it can easily cause blisters on your hands during hot summer weather since it’s relatively hard.
The shape of the handle also differs from pole to pole. Standard handles are essentially cylinders, while ergonomic handles have slight divots where your fingers should go. Standard handles are comfortable enough for virtually everyone, while ergonomic handles are preferred by many hikers.
Choke-up grips are a must-have feature for hikers who plan to use their trekking poles to take on steep terrain. These secondary padded sections, just below the main grips, are designed to allow you to choke up on the pole when working your way up steep climbs or sidehills. That way, you can effectively adjust the length of the pole while hiking uphill without stopping to fiddle with the locking mechanism.
The question of weight lurks in every decision you and pole designers make about trekking poles. While a difference of one or two ounces in weight may not seem like much – you may not be able to tell the difference when simply holding two different poles in each hand – that small amount of weight is magnified over the course of a long hike.
If you frequently suffer from arm fatigue or want to travel fast and light, consider the lightest weight set of poles that meets your needs and feels comfortable. Keep in mind, though, that lighter poles are typically more expensive and less durable. So if you don’t plan on travelling far with your trekking poles, it’s okay to opt for a slightly heavier set.
- Interchangeable Baskets
A nice accessory feature to look for in trekking poles is interchangeable baskets. If you plan to use your poles for snowshoeing in the winter, the ability to switch from standard rock baskets to wider powder baskets is essential. Plus, having the option to switch out baskets on your poles makes it easier to replace the basket if you rip it up against a rock.
- Shock Absorption
Some pole models have an extra feature to help protect your knees and wrists: built-in shock absorption. This is ideal if you suffer from joint pain and are using trekking poles to minimize the damage to your knees. However, keep in mind that shock absorbers add a few ounces to each pole, and the fatigue from that added weight can quickly diminish the usefulness of the shock absorbers. That’s why most trekking poles don’t come with shock absorption, even though this seems like an obvious feature to add to poles.
The 10 Best Trekking Poles of 2020 – Compared and Tested
1. High Stream Gear Foldable Hiking & Trekking Poles – Editor’s Choice
These folding aluminum trekking poles from High Stream Gear are incredibly versatile for their budget-friendly price. The trekking poles collapse down to just 14.5 inches long in three sections, with a durable coated metal cord that connects the three sections. When folded, the poles are short enough to fit inside most daypacks – or you can stow them inside the pair of belt-attached pole carriers that come with these poles for free.
The poles feature a lever lock on the topmost section that allows the height to be adjusted within a small range. Hikers under 5’5” will need the smaller 100-120cm poles, while hikers 5’6” and taller will need the 120-135cm poles. Keep in mind that this limited adjustability can be problematic if you are right around 5’6” tall.
The poles feature cork grips with an ergonomic design, making them ideal for summer and three-season hiking. While these poles are heavier than carbon counterparts, there are no unnecessary features to add weight to the durable aluminum shaft. Plus, High Stream Gear offers a one-year guarantee on these poles to provide peace of mind.
- Durable and lightweight aluminum construction
- Fold down to 14.5 inches long
- Cork grips
- One-year guarantee
- Very budget friendly
- Limited length adjustability
- Hikers around 5’6” may be in between sizes
2. Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber Trekking Pole 2.0 – Best Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
These carbon fiber trekking poles from Hiker Hunger weigh under a pound per set, making them one of the most lightweight options for weight-conscious hikers and backpackers. The carbon fiber shafts are durable enough for trail use and provide natural shock absorption, but don’t expect these poles to hold up for heavy-duty bushwhacking and scrambling.
The poles are designed with a telescoping mechanism locked by a pair of lever locks on each pole. This design allows for a wide range of adjustability and a minimum length of just 21 inches for packing or stashing on your backpack.
We particularly liked the grip design on this set of trekking poles. Hiker Hunger built the primary grip out of wicking cork with an ergonomic grip design. The grip continues down the pole, switching to EVA foam with a raised design for additional hand traction, to allow you to choke up during climbs. The grips also have nylon handles so you can leverage your wrists when climbing.
The poles come with a variety of interchangeable pole baskets, including powder baskets that allow these poles to be used in the winter. Hiker Hunger also offers a one-year warranty on these poles to ensure you’re happy with your purchase.
- Lightweight carbon shafts, less than one pound per pair
- 21-inch minimum length
- Cork grip with EVA foam choke-up grip underneath
- Interchangeable pole baskets
- Narrow-diameter carbon shafts are not suited to particularly rough terrain
3. Equipeak Collapsible Folding Hiking & Trekking Poles – Best Folding Trekking Poles
These folding aluminum trekking poles from Equipeak share a lot in common with our Editor’s Choice High Stream Gear folding trekking poles. Both pole sets weigh around 20 ounces per pair and are constructed from extremely durable 7075 aluminum. The three-section folding mechanism is virtually identical and allows the poles to be stored in most daypacks when not in use. Furthermore, both sets of poles have ergonomic cork grips with EVA foam secondary grips for choking up while climbing.
That said, there are a few important differences between the two pole sets. Most notably, where High Stream Gear designed two lengths of poles to deal with the short length adjustment, Equipeak only offers a single pole. This means that both men and women of average height will have more leeway in adjusting this pole, but it may not be suitable for short women or tall men. In addition, the Equipeak poles don’t come with belt holsters for simplified carrying like the High Stream Gear poles do.
The Equipeak poles are designed for all-year use thanks to the inclusion of interchangeable pole baskets. You’ll find powder baskets as well as multiple baskets for different trail types. Plus, Equipeak offers a one-year risk free guarantee period for these poles.
- Made from durable aluminum
- Three-section folding mechanism
- Minimum 15-inch length
- Cork grip with EVA foam secondary grip
- Interchangeable pole baskets
- May not work well for short women or tall men
- No belt holsters for trail carry
4. Montem Ultra Strong Trekking Poles – Most Durable Trekking Poles
If you want a trekking pole that will last for many years of hiking over challenging terrain, these trekking poles from Montem are for you. The poles are constructed of heavy-duty 7075 aluminum, which offers plenty of resistance to bending and denting. Better yet, Montem doesn’t just guarantee their trekking poles for one year like most other manufacturers – the company will replace your trekking poles for life if they ever fail.
The telescoping poles use two lever locks per pole to keep the pole from making unwanted adjustments. The advantage to this design is that the poles are extraordinarily adjustable, from 24 inches to 53 inches. However, keep in mind that the 24-inch minimum length can be hard to pack in a suitcase and the poles will need to be strapped to the outside of your pack when not in use.
The grips on these poles are made from EVA foam, with a secondary foam grip that allows you to choke up. While EVA foam isn’t quite as comfortable for most hikers as cork, this shouldn’t otherwise dissuade you from these poles. Another nice feature of these trekking poles is that they are available in nine different colors so you can show off your style on the trail.
- Heavy-duty aluminum construction
- Lifetime replacement guarantee
- Wide adjustability range with lever locking mechanism
- Available in nine different colors
- 24-inch minimum length is somewhat long for packing
- EVA foam rather than cork grip
5. TrailBuddy Trekking Poles – Best Budget Trekking Poles
These inexpensive trekking poles from TrailBuddy are perfect for the hiker on a tight budget. For roughly half the price of comparable trekking poles, you get much of the same durable construction and lose very little in terms of features.
The poles are built from 7075 aluminum, which allows these poles to be used on almost any terrain with confidence. The telescoping design is fixed with a pair of lever locks on each pole, allowing these poles to extend from 24.5 to 54 inches in length. When fully disassembled, the poles have a minimum length of just 21 inches – pretty impressive for any telescoping poles, let alone such a low-priced pair.
Where the budget nature of these poles becomes more apparent is in the grips. While the grips are cork, the amount of cork is significantly less than on other trekking poles. That means that for anyone with large hands, the tops and bottoms of your hands will be on EVA foam instead of cork, and the seam between the two materials can cause chafing. There are also no secondary grips on these poles for climbing, although you can improvise a traction pad with duct tape.
Keep in mind also that TrailBuddy doesn’t offer any warranty period on these poles.
- Very inexpensive
- Durable 7075 aluminum construction
- Three-piece telescoping design
- 21-inch minimum length
- Cork grip covers small area, leaves hands rubbing on EVA foam and seam
- No warranty
6. Cascade Mountain Tech Adjustable Trekking Poles – Best Lightweight Poles
These lightweight carbon fiber poles from Cascade Mountain Tech weigh in at just over one pound per pair, making them an ideal choice for long-distance hikers and backpackers. Better yet, that impressively low weight costs a fraction of what other carbon trekking poles are priced at.
The carbon is durable enough to handle most hikers’ needs, although like most carbon poles you won’t want to test this set with bushwhacks or other extremely rough terrain. The telescoping design is sturdy thanks to two lever locks per pole, and the poles are adjustable from 26 to 54 inches. Note that the 26-inch minimum length is still relatively long, making these poles hard to pack and somewhat long to affix to a daypack.
The cork grips are somewhat short and blend into EVA foam over the bottom half of the primary grip. That can be annoying for long-distance users, but many hikers will still find the grips to be perfectly comfortable. The poles also feature a secondary EVA foam grip for choking up during big climbs.
- Very lightweight carbon design
- Durable on most trails and over long distances
- Three-piece telescoping design allows adjustability
- Choke-up EVA foam grip
- Cork section of grip is relatively short
- 26-inch minimum length is rather long for packing
7. Foxelli Trekking Poles – Best Pole Grips
These Foxelli carbon trekking poles are highly versatile and lightweight, making them a great choice for almost any hiker. The carbon fiber shafts allow these poles to come in at just 14 ounces per pair – heavier than other carbon poles but far lighter than aluminum alternatives.
That extra weight is thanks to wide-diameter shaft construction, which dramatically improves the shock absorption qualities of these poles. That shock absorption is further enhanced by the cork and EVA foam grips. The primary grip is made of thick, ergonomically shaped cork for comfortable holding throughout the day, and a generous EVA foam secondary grip provides plenty of space for choking up during extended climbs.
The poles come with a variety of interchangeable baskets, including powder baskets for four-season use, as well as a carrying case. Better yet, Foxelli offers a 120-day risk-free return policy and a rather long three-year warranty against defects in the poles.
- Wide-diameter carbon shafts are good for shock absorption
- Generous cork grip and EVA foam secondary grip
- Comes with interchangeable pole baskets for all seasons
- 120-day risk-free return policy and three-year warranty
- Somewhat heavier than other carbon trekking poles
8. TheFitLife Nordic Trekking Poles – Best EVA Foam Grips
These carbon fiber poles from TheFitLife are designed with fully EVA foam grips, making them the perfect choice for hikers who don’t like the feel of cork grips. The fully EVA foam grips also make these poles better suited for all-year use, since EVA foam is better at repelling water and snow than cork grips. The EVA foam extends all the way down from the ergonomically shaped handle to a long secondary grip for choking up on steep terrain.
The carbon fiber construction allows these trekking poles to weigh very little – together, both poles weight just 0.9 pounds. The downside is that these carbon fiber poles aren’t necessarily the most durable, although TheFitLife offers a 180-day money-back guarantee to provide some peace of mind in that regard.
The telescoping three-section design enables the poles to be extremely adjustable, from 26 to 53 inches. However, keep in mind that the 26-inch minimum length is still very long compared to other trekking pole options and can be somewhat hard to pack.
Note that while the poles come with interchangeable pole baskets, the choices here are somewhat limited compared to other trekking poles.
- Lightweight carbon fiber construction
- Fully EVA foam grips, including secondary grips
- 180-day money-back guarantee
- Three-section telescoping design with lever locks
- 26-inch minimum length
- Narrow carbon shafts are not extremely durable
- Limited selection of pole baskets
9. Trekology Trek-Z Trekking Poles – Best Adjustable Folding Trekking Poles
These three-piece folding trekking poles from Trekology are designed to provide the greatest level of adjustability that folding poles can offer. While folding poles won’t match telescoping poles in terms of length adjustments, these poles 20-25 cm of length adjustment depending on whether you need the shorter or longer version of the poles. In turn, this ensures that people who are right on the verge of the two pole lengths (around 5’8”) have the adjustment flexibility needed to make the pole fit comfortably.
The poles are made of 7075 aluminum and weigh under 20 ounces, putting them on par with the rest of the folding pole pack. The aluminum shaft construction is extremely durable and the poles pack down to just 15 inches when folded, making them small enough to fit inside your daypack.
The grips on these poles are made from ergonomically shaped cork, with secondary grips for choking up made from textured EVA foam. Together, these grips provide comfortable surfaces for any terrain you are likely to encounter and enough wicking to deal with summer heat.
Note that while the poles come with interchangeable pole baskets, Trekology does not provide a warranty or trial period for these poles.
- Folding pole design with excellent adjustability
- Aluminum construction for durability
- Under 20 ounces per pair
- Minimum 15-inch length
- Cork primary grips with EVA foam for choking up
- No warranty or trial period
10. BAFX Products Adjustable Trekking Poles – Best Shock Absorbing Poles
These extremely inexpensive poles from BAFX products are designed to protect your knees and wrists with built-in shock absorbers on the bottom of each pole. The shock absorbing springs are backed up by thick rubber pole tips and a TPR rubber grip, each of which further reduce the amount of impact being transferred from the pole to your body.
The downside to the rubber grips is that they can be quite uncomfortable during hot summer hikes. The rubber is textured for traction, but the textured surface can accumulate sweat and grime and lead to chafing over the course of a long day. In addition, while the rubber secondary grip is better than having no choke-up grip, it’s not as easy to grab as EVA foam.
In addition, note that these poles use a twist lock mechanism to keep the telescoping sections locked in place. This twist lock mechanism works well, but lacks the durability of more expensive lever locks. To help with this, BAFX products offers a one-year warranty on these poles.
- Built-in shock absorbers
- Very inexpensive
- Thick rubber pole tips and TPR rubber grips also absorb shock
- One-year warranty
- Rubber grips can cause chafing during summer hikes
- Twist lock mechanism on telescoping sections
Frequently Asked Questions
Having a comfortable and durable pair of trekking poles can make a huge difference in your ability to hike long distances without wearing down your knees. The best pair of trekking poles balances weight, durability, and cost – and choosing the right pair of poles ultimately comes down to what feels most comfortable for you.