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7 Best Trekking Poles of 2018

Whether you're thru-hiking across the country or heading out on a quick weekend jaunt, trekking poles can add a lot of stability and comfort to your hike. Trekking poles shouldn't be considered essential, but many backpackers love them for a variety of reasons.

The biggest benefit with trekking poles is reduced impact on your knees, especially on long uphill and downhill sections of trail. They also provide stability on difficult terrain or while fording rivers, and some even use trekking poles to pitch ultralight tents.

We researched and tested dozens of trekking poles to create this list of our favorites. All the poles listed below have a great balance of durability, comfort, weight and value. We hope this list helps you find the ideal trekking poles for your needs.

For more of our top gear recommendations, have a look through these popular CleverHiker Gear Guide links:


WEIGHT (PAIR): 10.6 oz.

SHAFT MATERIAL: Carbon Fiber

GRIP MATERIAL: Foam

BEST FOR: Ultralight Hiking

The Gossamer Gear LT5 carbon fiber trekking poles are incredibly light and comfortable. They're adjustable with two simple twist-lock systems and they're highly regarded in the ultralight backpacking community. The biggest downsides with the LT5s is that they're pretty pricey and aren't quite as durable as aluminum poles. That said, we've been impressed with how well these ultralight poles hold up on truly rugged backcountry terrain. Gossamer Gear does offer the similar and slightly lighter LT4 trekking poles, but we like that the LT5s break down smaller for portability when not in use.


WEIGHT (PAIR): 17 oz.

SHAFT MATERIAL:  Carbon Fiber

GRIP MATERIAL: Cork

BEST FOR: All-Around Quality

The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles have been a staple in the backpacking community for a long time. They are tough, 4-season poles that are incredibly reliable in almost any condition. The easy flick-lock system makes adjusting length simple and feels very secure. Though not the lightest option on the market, these poles are very tough and their grips are quite comfortable. For burly all-weather terrain, these are the poles we'd choose. But for lightweight, long-distance backpacking or thru-hiking, we'd probably choose a slightly lighter model. 


WEIGHT (PAIR): 19.2 oz.

SHAFT MATERIAL: Aluminum

GRIP MATERIAL: Foam

BEST FOR: Budget Buy

The Montem Ultra Strong trekking poles are a solid budget buy. They're durable, compact, easy to use, and much more affordable than the high-end poles on this list. Equipped with a flick-lock lever system, they are collapsible down to 2 feet, which is great for stowing when not in use. The hand grips are pretty soft and comfortable to the touch. The two biggest downsides with the Montems are they're pretty heavy and utilize lower quality materials. That said, if you're new to trekking poles or on a tight budget, the Montem Ultra Strong poles are a great buy. 


WEIGHT (PAIR): 14.8 oz. 

SHAFT MATERIAL: Carbon fiber & aluminum

GRIP MATERIAL: Foam

BEST FOR: All-Around Value

The REI Co-op Flash Carbon trekking poles are a great option for those looking to trim a few ounces without breaking the bank. These poles have a simple and secure flick-lock system and comfortable foam hands grips. The combination of aluminum and carbon fiber is unique for trekking poles, offering the weight savings of carbon fiber and the durability of aluminum. These poles are a high-quality, value option for three-season backpackers and hikers. They come in both unisex and women's versions. If you're looking for a budget option and don't mind carrying a few more ounces, the REI Co-op Traverse Power Lock Cork poles are a solid choice as well.  


WEIGHT (PAIR): 16 oz.  

SHAFT MATERIAL: Carbon fiber

GRIP MATERIAL: Foam

BEST FOR: High-End Quality & Packability

The Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles are jam-packed with quality features and still keep weight to a minimum. The break-apart design makes these poles incredibly packable, while retaining the ability to adjust the length with a flick-lock system. Though we usually prefer cork grips, we find the foam grips on the Micro Varios to be exceptionally comfortable. The Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles are pretty expensive, but they're also a high quality product. These poles come in several other variations, including a shock absorbing DSS model, women's versions, and less expensive, but heavier Ti COR-TEC models.


WEIGHT (PAIR): 18 oz.

SHAFT MATERIAL: Aluminum

GRIP MATERIAL: Cork

BEST FOR: All-Around Value

The Trail Ergo Cork poles from Black Diamond aren't the lightest poles on the market, but they are tough, easily adjustable, and dependable. Their ergonomic cork handle is very comfortable on the hands and their dual flick-lock system makes adjusting to different lengths easy. The collapsed minimum length is a bit longer than we'd like, but it's also not too much of a problem. For durable aluminum poles that fall in the 16-22oz range, the Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good value buy.


WEIGHT (PAIR): 9-10 oz.

SHAFT MATERIAL:  Carbon Fiber

GRIP MATERIAL: Foam

BEST FOR: Ultralight Packability

The Distance Carbon Z-Poles from Black Diamond are incredibly light, strong, and convenient. They have a folding Z-pole design which allows them to break down to a small size for easy storage. The one downside with these poles is they come in four different fixed lengths (100-130cm), which could be an issue depending on your specific needs. For example, hikers who use poles to support their shelter should measure carefully to make sure these poles will be the correct length to serve both purposes. The Z-Poles also come in an aluminum version (13oz) that will save some money, but add a little weight. 


Critical trekking pole considerations

PRICE - Trekking poles range in price from very cheap (think steel China-made knockoffs) to very expensive (top shelf carbon fiber and cork). Cheap pole sets can cost as little as $20 and expensive models can run $200 or more. We recommend a range of quality trekking poles on this list from budget buys to high-end products and talk about the pros and cons of each.

WEIGHT - Trekking pole weight should be at the top of your considerations when determining the best option. Similar to the theory behind hiking footwear, when you're lifting your arms thousands of times a day, every ounce matters for energy conservation. This won't matter as much on short day hikes, but weight should be a top consideration for longer treks. 

MATERIALS - The two most common materials used for trekking poles are aluminum and carbon fiber. Carbon fiber poles are far lighter, but they're also more expensive and more likely to break if bent the wrong way with force. Aluminum poles are heavier, but they're more economical and likely to bend but not snap under pressure. Some poles combine both materials, using an aluminum lower shaft with carbon fiber upper.

DURABILITY - As with most lightweight gear, the tradeoff is usually durability. Carbon fiber poles are lighter, more energy efficient, and far more comfortable in our opinion, but they also tend to be less durable over the long run. Aluminum poles, though heavy, tend to be the more durable option and can be repaired more easily in the field. Both are good options depending on your needs and hiking style. 

POLE DESIGN:

  • Telescoping: Telescoping trekking poles tend to be the most common option. They usually consist of two or three sections that nest into each other with a locking mechanism to hold them in place when extended. They are highly adjustable and can pack down small.
  • Folding: "Z-type" folding trekking poles usually have three sections that fold to roughly 1/3 of their full length. Held together by an internal tension cord, each section unfolds to create a single shaft when locked into place (similar to a tent pole). Though they pack down small and are often lighter than telescoping poles, most models are not length adjustable. Some folding trekking poles do offer one telescoping section, which will allowing you to adjust the length of the pole.
  • Fixed: The least common type of trekking poles on the trail are fixed-length, straight shaft trekking poles. They're not adjustable and don't collapse, making them difficult to stow away when not in use. Due to their storage impracticality, we don't really recommend fixed poles.

COMPACTABILITY - When not in use, it’s nice to have trekking poles that can pack down small for storage on the outside of your pack or in luggage for travel. Compactability is determined by the number of locking sections, which relates to their ability to collapse or telescope into smaller sections. Generally, folding Z style poles offer the best compactability with the smallest collapsed length.

LOCKING SYSTEMS - Trekking poles have either an internal or external locking system to hold the pole's sections in place. Internal locking systems usually employ a "twist lock," which expands a small bracket inside the poles when twisted to hold the sections in place. External locking systems, or "flick locks," use a lever to put pressure on the shaft and hold both sections in place. Twist locks are slightly more complicated than flick locks, so they tend to malfunction a bit more, especially when lots of dust and debris builds up in the poles. Flick locks tend to be more reliable over time, but we've had success with poles using both locking methods.

GRIPS – Good grips are very important in trekking poles. This will be a source of friction against your hands, so uncomfortable grips can lead to sore spots or even blisters. Grips are generally made with three materials: cork, foam, or rubber. Cork is premium and wins for durability and comfort. Foam is also comfortable, but tends to break down quicker than rubber or cork. Rubber grips are durable, but they're usually heavier, slightly less comfortable, and can be slippery when wet. Look for grips that feel comfortable as soon as you put your hands on them, with no pinching, pressure, or awkward angling.

STRAPS – The most important thing about straps is knowing how to use them correctly. Your hand should actually enter from below before grabbing the grip. This will create a loop around the back of your hand with two sections of strap running through your palm. This method will allow you to put a lot of pressure from your upper body on the pole, without requiring an exhausting hand grip. Straps are often made of nylon webbing, which can produce chafing. Fleece or soft chamois straps tend to be more comfortable, but they may make your hands sweat in hot weather.

BASKETS – Most poles come with removable baskets (a wide circular plastic section, like on ski poles) near the tips. Their main purpose is to keep the poles from driving too deep in snowy conditions. We feel that pole baskets are mostly unnecessary for hiking, unless we're on snowy trails.

TIPS - Pole tips are usually comprised of a plastic body that holds a durable point at the end, typically made of hardened steel. They’re designed to bite into dirt, rock, and ice to increase stability and traction. To maintain optimal functionality, tips should replaced every 1,500-2000 miles or so.

SHOCK ABSORBERS - Shock absorbers are small, spring-like mechanisms near the tips of poles which help reduce the impact of the pole striking the ground. Internal shock absorption systems are more common on high-end poles and will increase price and weight. Some people love the cushion they provide, but we generally avoid them. The springs in them create a less secure pole plant and can make ascents a bit more difficult, due to the springs absorbing some of your uphill push. They can also be somewhat squeaky, which can get annoying after a full day on the trail.

ADJUSTMENTS - When properly adjusted, your arms should form a 90-degree bend when the poles are held with their tips on the ground. It’s important to make sure your poles are adjusted properly and feel comfortable, as you can easily stress your neck, shoulders and wrists with poles set at an improper height.

When heading uphill, you may want to shorten your poles about 5 to 10cm to provide better planting and traction. With slightly shorter poles, you should be able to maintain uphill momentum. When heading downhill, lengthen your poles 5 to 10cm to help maintain solid footing and stability.

GENDER-SPECIFIC: Some brands offer gender-specific poles, but that mostly amounts to tweaks in color, grip design and pole size (length).  The majority of trekking poles are unisex and work equally well for men and women. We recommend buy the ones that fit you best.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATION - Trekking poles can cause damage to trails, soil, vegetation, and rocks bordering the trail. High-traffic trails - especially after periods of snow melt or rain - are susceptible to erosion and wash outs. Always be mindful of where you plant your poles and practice LNT backpacking.

BEST – Keep in mind that what’s “best” for us, might not necessarily be best for you. We work very hard to detail the strengths and weaknesses of every item we review with the ultimate goal of putting the decision-making power in your hands. In the end there’s rarely one clear “best” choice, but hopefully we can help you find equipment that will work best for you.


Lightweight Footwear & Trekking Poles Video 

As part of our Lightweight Backpacking Gear Basics video series, we put together this video on footwear and trekking poles. Some of our feelings have changed a bit in the years since the making of this video, but there's still a lot of useful info in there. If you just want trekking pole info, skip to minute 3:40.

MORE INFORMATION

If you enjoyed this review you'll probably like our other gear lists as well. Here are some popular resources from the CleverHiker Gear Guide.

 

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