have become standard equipment for many hikers, trekkers, backpackers
and snowshoers. The reasons why are simple: They enhance your stability
and support on all types of terrain. When shopping for trekking
poles, your key considerations should be weight, price, shock absorption,
shaft construction and the type of grip. Here's how to choose.
Use Trekking Poles?
poles offer a number of practical advantages:
- They provide
better balance and footing.
- On downhill
hikes especially, they decrease the amount of stress on your legs
- On uphill
climbs, poles transfer some of your weight to your shoulders,
arms and back, which can reduce leg fatigue and add thrust to
- They make
crossing streams, loose rocks and slippery surfaces such as ice
and snow patches easier and safer.
- They help
you establish a walking rhythm.
- They can push
back overhanging vegetation from the trail and probe soggy terrain
for holes and boggy spots.
are most helpful to those with weak or damaged knees or ankles,
particularly when going downhill, because the poles absorb some
of the impact that your body would normally sustain. According to
a 1999 study in The Journal of Sports Medicine, trekking poles can
reduce compressive force on the knees by up to 25%. This translates
into literally tons of weight that your body will not have to support
during the course of a regular hike.
It should be
noted that using trekking poles will not decrease your overall energy
expenditure since you'll be using your arms more than you would
when walking without poles. They do, however, help distribute your
energy usage in a way that can help your hiking endurance.
of Trekking Poles
start shopping, consider the strength and health of your ankles,
knees and hips. You'll also want to keep in mind whether you'll
be using your poles on rugged or relatively flat terrain and the
amount of weight you typically carry in your pack.
Poles can be
categorized as follows:
poles: These offer internal springs that absorb shock
when you walk downhill. With most poles, this feature can be turned
off when it's not needed such as when you're walking uphill. The
antishock feature is recommended if you have weak or damaged ankles,
knees or hips. It adds a bit to the cost of the poles.
poles: These do not have the antishock feature and are
lighter and less expensive as a result. While they don't absorb
as much impact as antishock poles when going downhill, they do provide
a similar level of balance and support.
or women's poles: These are shorter and have smaller
grips for hikers with smaller hands. They are easier to swing because
they weigh less and are also simpler to pack. Youth poles for kids
are also available.
staff: Sometimes called a walking staff or travel staff,
this is a single pole that's most effective when used on relatively
flat terrain and with little or no load on your back. Hiking staffs
are adjustable and some include the antishock feature. They may
also include a built-in camera mount under the handle that can be
used as a monopod.
walking poles: Long established in Europe, Nordic walking
is gradually becoming popular in the U.S., too. It's a social activity
that offers a total body workout. Nordic walking poles are a modified
version of trekking poles.
These 2 factors
go hand in hand. Typically the less poles weigh, the more they cost.
Lightweight poles offer the advantage of less swing weight, which
makes them easier and quicker to move. Over the course of a long
hike this means less fatigue. Lighter poles are also easier to pack.
The makeup of
the pole shaft is a key determinant of its weight and price.
aluminum (7075-T6 or 7075): The stronger and the more economical
choice, aluminum poles usually weigh between 18 and 22 ounces
per pair. The actual weight (and price) can vary a bit based on
the gauge of the pole, which ranges from 12 to 16mm. Under high
stress, aluminum can bend but it is unlikely to break.
fiber: The lighter and more expensive option, these poles
average between 13 and 18 ounces per pair. They are good at reducing
vibration and are also quite strong. Under high stress, however,
carbon-fiber poles are more vulnerable to breakage or splintering
than aluminum poles. If you hike in rugged, remote areas, this
is something to keep in mind.
are identified by their 2 or 3 interlocking sections. This adjustability
(which typically ranges between 24 to 55 inches) lets you adapt
the poles to your height and the terrain. If you're exceptionally
tall or short, check the size range of each model to make sure it
suits your body.
Most poles use
a twist-and-lock system in which you find the desired length and
then twist the pole hard to the right to hold. Some popular varieties:
This trademarked feature on Komperdell poles applies a wide area
of pressure against the pole walls to achieve secure length settings.
This Black Diamond brand system is also strong. It's a lever-based,
clamp-like feature that is quick and easy to adjust, even when
- Super Lock
System: Leki's system uses an expander and screw setup that
is consistently strong and dependable.
- Stop Lock:
This Komperdell system does not adjust pole length, but rather
prevents pole sections from completely disengaging.
shape and feel of a pole's grip varies from brand to brand, so it's
preferable to try several models. Some grips are angled or positioned
into the upper pole section so that they are ergonomically at a
neutral angle. This can improve comfort and pole compactibility.
Others feature grips that extend down the shaft, allowing you to
grasp the poles more easily on short uphill sections. Keep in mind
that many brands designate left- and right-hand poles on either
the grip or the strap. Several materials (or a blending of materials)
This resists moisture from sweaty hands, decreases vibration and
best conforms to the shape of your hands.
This absorbs moisture from sweaty hands and is the softest to
This material insulates hands from cold, shock and vibration,
so it's a popular choice for cold-weather activities. The downside
is that it's more likely to chafe or blister sweaty hands, so
it's less suitable for warm-weather hiking.
As noted above,
some poles come with an extended grip that allows a lower grip position.
This feature is particularly useful on steep traverses so you don't
have to shorten the length of your up-slope pole.
Most poles allow you to adjust the length of each strap in order
to get a comfortable fit around your wrist. Since your palms and
wrists will be in nearly constant contact with the straps, you may
want to consider models with padded or lined straps to prevent chafing.
Trekking poles are usually outfitted with a small, removable trekking
basket. Larger baskets can be substituted for use in the snow or
on soft, muddy ground.
Carbide or steel tips are commonly used to provide traction on most
surfaces, even ice. Most poles also come with rubber tip protectors
that extend the life of the tips and protect your gear when poles
are stowed in your pack. These tips are also good for use in sensitive
areas where you don't want to negatively impact the ground. Angled
rubber walking tips (usually sold separately) are for use on asphalt
or other hard surfaces.
to Use Trekking Poles
Each model differs
slightly, but trekking poles usually adjust in size from about 24"
to 55". Those in the compact pole category extend to a maximum
of 49". All trekking poles feature numbers on the shaft to
help set length. The sections should be easy to adjust and shouldn't
come loose once you've selected a length.
To set the length,
loosen the locking mechanism and slide each section to the desired
length. Your elbow should be at a 90º angle. For maximum strength
be sure to keep each section about the same length and avoid extending
any section all the way to the end as this can stress the pole.
If the pole sections
are not locking together, pull the pole completely apart, wind the
expander nut to the widest setting you can while still allowing
the nut to fit back into the pole cavity, and then reinsert the
pole and twist to lock.
Proper pole length
varies by the terrain:
- When hiking
uphill: Shorten the poles by a few inches to increase load-bearing
- When going
downhill: Lengthen the poles a few inches for better balance
- On level
ground: Your forearms should be parallel to the ground when
you're holding the grips and the tips are on the ground.
- On traverses:
The down-slope pole should be longer than the up-slope pole (or
you can simply grab the pole lower if it comes with an extended
Since wrist straps
bear much of the load, it's important to use them correctly. Be
sure to put your hand up through the bottom of the strap, not down
from the top, before grasping the grip. Adjust the strap so it fits
snugly around your wrist.
Off the Antishock System
system helps absorb stress when going downhill, but it's best to
turn it off when walking uphill or on level terrain. To do so on
most models, simply push down to compress the spring and then turn
the pole to lock it in place. Be sure to see the owner's manual
for specific details.
The most common
complaint about trekking poles is that the locking mechanism will
sometimes slip during use. This can usually be prevented with regular
cleaning and drying of the locking mechanism. This maintenance also
helps to add significantly to the lifespan of the poles by preventing
Here is the general
procedure for most poles (check the manufacturer's instructions
to confirm the procedure for your model):
separate the sections by unlocking or loosening each section until
they can be pulled apart easily.
2. Once the poles
are dismantled, remove any dirt or moisture from the expander system
and the seams between sections.
3. Use a soft
cloth to dry the connection points and the inside of the poles as
much as possible. If necessary, use a soft nylon brush to remove
any dirt or debris that may have gotten inside the poles. Note:
Never use any kind of lubricant or alcohol-based product on the
internal mechanisms as that could cause corrosion.
4. Inspect the
expander pieces for damage and replace parts if necessary.
5. Once you have
dismantled and cleaned the poles, allow them to air dry for at least
several hours before reassembling.
Q: Can I use
trekking poles for backcountry skiing?
It depends on the type of skiing. Sectioned poles are a great choice
for backcountry downhill skiing with some models designed with that
use in mind. On the other hand, classic cross-country ski touring
requires a more aggressive pushing motion, so a standard one-piece
skiing pole is usually better for that. Also, ski touring poles
should be a bit longer, so taller people might find that trekking
poles won't extend far enough to suit them.
Q: Do trekking
poles negatively affect trails? How can I reduce my environmental
like hiking boots, trekking poles can cause at least some impact
to a trail. They can scratch rocks, erode trails and potentially
even harm vegetation alongside the trail. To minimize your impact,
follow these practices:
- Keep the tips
of your poles on the trail and not on the trailside vegetation.
- Avoid using
poles in particularly sensitive areas where wildflowers or other
vegetation are directly beside the trail. If you're on flat terrain,
consider saving them for uphill and downhill sections only in
order to minimize soil damage.
- Use rubber
pole tip protectors to cover the carbide point so they won't dig
into the ground as deeply. The use of pole baskets can, in certain
circumstances, also minimize the penetration of pole tips into
- Remove pole
baskets in areas where they can unnecessarily snag and damage
Q: What are
the downsides of antishock poles?
antishock feature is especially helpful for those with weak ankles,
knees or hips, but it does add somewhat to the weight and price
of trekking poles. If you primarily want trekking poles for balance
and support, you can probably do without the antishock feature.
Q: Any other
uses for trekking poles?
Yes, trekking poles offer multiple secondary functions.
commonly use their poles as a handy place to store duct tape for
in-the-field repairs. Simply wrap a few strips around the poles.
backpackers who camp with a tarp shelter rather than a tent often
use their trekking poles as support poles for the shelter.
- Hikers can
use their poles as a probe when confronting a water hazard.
- If you injure
an ankle or knee while hiking, poles can double as an emergency
crutch or even a makeshift splint.
This list is intentionally extensive. Not every person will carry
every item on every day hike.
a printer-friendly version, click Print at right.
safety, survival and basic comfort)
Map (with protective case)
Jacket, vest, pants, gloves, hat (see Clothing)
Headlamp or flashlight (plus spare)
First-aid kit (see our First-aid checklist)
Matches or lighter
Fire starter (for emergency survival fire)
Repair kit and tools
Knife or multi-tool
Kits for stove, mattress; duct tape strips
Extra day's supply of food
Water bottles or Hydration system
Water filter or other treatment system
Tent, tarp, bivy or reflective blanket
the Ten Essentials
Multifunction watch with altimeter
Cell or satellite phone
Energy food (bars, gels, chews, trail mix)
Energy beverages or drink mixes
Food for kids
_____________________ for kids
Route description or guidebook
Interpretive field guide(s)
Notepad or sketchpad with pen/pencil
Bag for collecting trash
Post-hike snacks, water, towel, clothing change
Trip itinerary left w/friend + under car seat
Warm weather clothing options
Quick-drying pants or shorts
Long-sleeve shirt (for bugs, sun)
Insulating fleece jacket or vest
Bandana or Buff
Cool weather clothing options
Wicking long-sleeve T-shirt
Wicking long underwear
Hat, cap or headband (synthetic or wool)
Gloves or mittens
Insulating fleece jacket (or vest) and pants
Rain jacket (or soft shell and waterproof hat)
Rain pants (or soft-shell pants)
Boots or shoes suited to terrain
Socks (synthetic or wool)
Sandals (for river fording, trip home)