Ok, let’s get it out of the way. Trekking poles may look a little nerdy. But we all just need to get over that. They aren’t nerdy. In fact, hiking with trekking poles has a ton of different benefits – from helping you build endurance to taking stress off your knees.
I first started hiking with trekking poles when I hiked the John Muir Trail, and I couldn’t believe the difference it made – going both uphill and downhill. And more recently on my trek to Everest Basecamp, my trekking poles helped me maintain a comfortable hiking pace by timing my stride with my breath. Now I won’t go on a backpacking trip without a pair of trekking poles.
In this post, we talk about all of the different benefits of trekking poles and why you should consider using them. We also share a few of the best trekking poles for men and women across different budgets.
Benefits of Hiking with Trekking Poles
Hiking with trekking poles helps build your endurance. When you hike without trekking poles you are only engaging your leg muscle muscles. When you hike with trekking poles, you are also using your arms which builds over all body strength and allows you to hike further without getting tired.
When backpacking with a heavy pack, using trekking poles helps support your knees and ankle joints. Trekking poles help you displace the effort required to climb upwards as you have the ability to utilize your arms to propel you forward.
Trekking poles, as I already mentioned, can help you develop a consistent rhythm, which over time can increase your average hiking speed.
If you are hiking in snow, on a slippery path, or over rocks, having four points of contact helps maintain balance.
Trekking poles can also be a great last minute tent pole replacement if you are in a jam. They also make for a great splint for medical emergencies, make you appear taller to wildlife, and can even protect you from snakes.
How to Choose Trekking Poles
When you are shopping for new trekking poles, there are a number of things to consider. In this section, we break down how to find the right pair of trekking poles.
Poles vs. Staff
Two poles are better than one. A singular hiking staff (think about a long wooden stick) is generally only effective when carrying little to no load on your back and when used on flat terrain. We recommend buying trekking poles which are sold as a pair and used in tandem, and if at any time you only want to use one, just throw the second pole in your pack.
Cork, foam, and rubber are the three most common choices. We love cork grips as they wick moisture from sweaty hands. They also conform to the shape of your hand over time and help absorb some of the vibrations from the ground.
Foam grips actually absorb moisture. They are also comfortable, but depending on how sweaty your hands typically get, foam grips can retain smells over time.
The third type of grip is rubber, which insulate hands from the cold. So, if you mostly hike in cold wintery weather, consider rubber grips. However, in warmer temperatures rubber gripped trekking poles can cause chafing or blistering on hands.
Selecting the type of grip you want on your trekking poles will narrow down your selection and is one of the first decisions you should make. One isn’t necessarily better than another, you’ll learn your preference over time.
Men’s vs. Women’s
Women’s trekking poles are generally shorter and have smaller grips which is important if you have smaller hands. Women’s poles traditionally come in shorter lengths as well.
Many poles come with straps which can be essential if you are using poles for winter trekking to prevent post-holing. Some trekking poles have removeable wrist straps which is nice for long distance hiking if you are paying attention to the overall weight of the poles.
Most poles made today are made of aluminum or carbon fiber. Aluminum poles are more prone to bending but are a much cheaper option. Carbon fiber poles are lighter and better at reducing vibrations, but they are more prone to snapping under high stress.
It’s important to think about where you will store your trekking poles when not in use, and how small they pack down. Will you strap them to the outside of your bag? Most daypacks and backpacking packs have trekking pole loops on the back. Will you pack them inside your pack? Are you planning on flying with them? Most airlines require that trekking poles be placed in checked luggage.
Some poles are shock absorbing. This is highly encouraged if you have weak or damaged ankles, knees or hips.
It is important you select poles that are adjustable so that you can shorten poles when going uphill and lengthen when going downhill. If you’re taller than 6 feet, the best trekking poles will have a maximum length of at least 51 inches.
In our personal opinion, this is one of the biggest things to consider when selecting poles. Most poles today use an external lever lock instead of twist locks. External lever locks are clamp-like devices that make adjusting your poles quick and easy.
Baskets on trekking poles are essential for treks on snowy or muddy ground (think snowshoeing). The more snow, the larger the basket you’ll want.
The Best Trekking Poles of 2018
There are so many options on the market today and the technology, as well as durability, of trekking poles is only getting better and better each season. We’ve outlined below our favorite budget, unisex, men’s, and women’s trekking poles of 2017.
THE BEST VALUE TREKKING POLES
Best Inexpensive Trekking Poles: A new outdoor gear brand called Montem is committed to selling high-quality outdoor gear for a fraction of the price as other outdoor brands. Their Ultra Strong Trekking poles run $50(can’t beat that price!), and they come with some pretty impressive features. They have very comfortable foam grips with an adjustable wrist strap, and they are incredibly quick and easy to adjust. If you are looking for your first pair of trekking poles and aren’t sure if you will like using them, these are an excellent option. Montem also has a lighter, slightly more expensive carbon fiber version, which will shave some ounces off your load if you are going backpacking.
THE BEST UNISEX TREKKING POLES
Best Technology: You really can’t beat the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z-Pole Poles . They come in 4 sizes to meet your height and are Black Diamond’s lightest foldable poles, weighing less than 10 ounces.
Best for Long Distances: Kim used the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles for the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail and stands by their durability. Fellow hiking friends went through 2-3 poles on the trail. Kim did have to order 1 replacement part, due to human error, and also raves about Black Diamond’s remarkable customer support.
THE BEST TREKKING POLES FOR MEN
Best Design: These Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec Men’s Poles are foldable and built for rugged use. The innovative grips are designed for repeated use with minimal wear and tear on your hands.
Best Buy: If you are looking for an economical buy the Leki Legacy Men’s Trekking Poles are budget friendly and durable for all types of adventures.
THE BEST TREKKING POLES FOR WOMEN
Best for Joints: If you are worried about protecting or knees or ankles when hiking, the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Poles are exceptional companions. These poles have a shock absorping cushion to absorp the shock from hard hits and control what you feel.
Best Buy: The Black Diamond Women’s Trail Poles are easy on your budget and great beginner poles. They are easy to adjust, durable and we love the cool blue color they come in.