Whether you’re a rambler, a backpacker or a seasoned trekker, you may not yet have adopted walking poles as an essential part of your kit.
But there are more than a few good reasons as to why you should.
Also known as hiking or trekking poles, they are not just for those with weak knees on steep downhill trails.
Poles can work to prevent injuries and back pain in everyone by improving posture as you walk on changing terrains.
They also reduce damage to your joints, particularly knees, by spreading the load across different muscle groups, which helps to reduce fatigue over long distances.
Essentially, they provide extra stability and comfort and can even provide a full-body workout.
There are ultralight carbon walking poles and there are heavy-duty aluminium poles.
There are compact, foldable options and there are basic, bulky ones.
So to help you decide which poles are right for you and your next trek, we’ve pulled together eight of the best options on the market right now.
Not sure what you’re looking for? Scroll down to our buying guide at the end of the article.
- Our Bestselling Hill Walking Poles made from lightweight...
- Suitable for men & women of all heights & builds - Three...
- Pole accessories included - Removable ferrules and mud...
- Our comfortable one-piece moulded EVA handles are sweat...
- We are a UK based brand - our poles come with easy to follow...
- Anti Shock, Absorbing Poles - With the High Quality 7 Series...
- Extra Long Eva Foam Handles with Straps - Soft and...
- Build to Last- We use Aviation Aluminum to make the...
- Extendable- Our poles feature our Quick Lock so you can...
- Risk Free Purchase : We will take responsibility for all the...
- LIGHTWEIGHT to Increase Your Footprint : Our Aluminum 7075...
- STURDY and BUILT TO LAST: Trekology Walking stick's tough...
- METAL FLIP LOCK - easier to adjust than twist lock, and...
- BUILT FOR YOUR COMFORT - EVA foam handles are comfy to use...
- Get Your Complete Set today! Each set comes with two poles...
- Shaft material: Aluminum
- Packed size: 68.5 centimetres
- Weight: 510 grams
Anyone looking for a versatile, light yet sturdy pole designed for comfortable four-season use will appreciate the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles.
The aluminum construction is great for a mixture of trails, hill paths, paved roads (for short sections) and open hillsides.
These poles are a telescopic design and use a dual FlickLock to secure them at the desired height – making them quick and easy to adjust. The lever locks are sturdy and hold fast even on the steepest hills.
The adjustable range spans from 74 centimetres right up to 140 centimetres, one of the biggest ranges on our list.
Packed down the poles measure almost 70 centimetres, which could be an issue for anyone that wants to place them inside a backpack rather than fixed to the outside.
The ergonomic cork grip wicks away sweat with an updated soft touch grip top for better handling.
This makes them comfortable from the first step and avoids rubbing or blisters. The grip also has a 15-degree corrective angle for optimal positioning and avoiding strain on the wrists.
The Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork poles also come with interchangeable carbide tech tips and low profile trekking baskets as well as wide powder baskets for winter adventures.
The clicking of the hard metal tips is definitely noticeable on hard surfaces, so anyone walking exclusively on this type of surface should swap them for rubber tip ends.
The left and right poles are clearly marked with a tag, and the hand loops are strong and comfortable. For hikers that aren’t desperate for ultra light poles and want a pair of trustworthy sticks at a good price, you can’t go too far wrong with these.
- Shaft material: Carbon
- Packed size: 40 centimetres
- Weight: 480 grams
A well-rounded lightweight option, the Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles are built from carbon with a foam grip.
Their compact and foldable construction doesn’t sacrifice any quality, with carbon shafts that will happily take the strain of a trekking pole-supported shelter, see you down rocky descents or guide you across glaciers.
With 21 centimetres of adjustment, Leki’s Speed Lock 2 system makes them incredibly easy to set up and fold down whilst on the move.
The foam grips don’t wick moisture away as well as cork but are plenty comfortable enough and Leki even offer a pricier Vario Carbon S version that includes a low-profile shock system for added trail comfort.
Unfortunately the Micro Vario Carbon Poles are one of the pricier options on the market. This is fine if your focus is to travel light and fast, but the portability of the light carbon comes at the cost of durability.
If you will be hiking consecutive long days then the weight savings will be noticeable and the outlay will be totally justified by your improved experience.
- Shaft material: Aluminium
- Packed size: 66 centimetres
- Weight: 590 grams
Another great telescopic pole, Cascade’s Aluminium Mountain Tech Poles are ideal for day hikes or entry-level users at an affordable price.
Alongside their excellent value, they are easy to set up and features cork handles – making them great in the winter for warmth and in the summer for enhanced grip against sweat.
The poles come with various attachments and snow/mud baskets, a lower extension, tungsten carbide tips, and still weigh in at under 600 grams. They even come with a handy travel bag and tip covers.
There is also the option to buy the more expensive and lightweight carbon fiber version that way 450 grams.
The simple lever locks and foam grip extensions are great, as is the option to choose between foam or cork and the included tips and baskets.
Although impressively light, they don’t feel like they’ll last as long when put under pressure. The carbon shaft is more likely to get a crack or snap under a load than budget aluminium poles.
The cheap-feeling plastic adjustment system makes us question their longevity, but with the correct care and basic usage you’ll get a good pair of poles for a fraction of what you’d pay for something from a company like Black Diamond.
- Shaft material: Aluminium
- Packed size: 40.5 centimetres
- Weight: 595 grams
Another great set of poles for entry-level users and easy local trails and day hikes are Montem’s Collapsible Trekking Poles.
Whether you want to use one or both poles, you’ll be able to improve your uphill hiking speed and gain increased stability going downhill.
Made from aluminum alloy 7075 (in theory the same material used in airplanes) the poles’ sturdy weight-bearing system is capable of supporting over 135 kilograms. With this extra strength comes an increase in weight.
Not suited to experienced hikers who might feel slowed down by this, they do offer more durability than most other budget poles and will certainly outlast any carbon fibre poles.
As the name suggests, these trekking poles fold into three pieces and the shafts include “quick twist” locking system so your poles never collapse without untwisting. This is a nice feature not available on many folding poles and stops any unwanted slippage.
Their design allows them to pack down to around 40 centimetres in length, which is 40% less than traditional poles. This makes them handy for overseas travel and also if you want to just use one, the other fits neatly inside most backpacks.
Montem’s flick-lock arrangement means that users can easily tweak their length for different inclines or to lend them to a friend. The poles can be anything between 115 centimetres and 135 centimetres.
The synthetic cork-like grips provide good grip on bare hands and gloves. As they are not natural though, they won’t wick away moisture like real cork, but the grip shape is still comfortable.
The adjustable nylon wrist straps have protective padding and will stop you accidentally dropping them. Tough rubber tips and removable snow baskets come as standard.
Anyone looking for a sturdy, do-all pair of beginner’s poles will be happy with their purchase. If you plan to use the poles for extensive backpacking and long days, we would recommend sticking with the pricier options on the list.
As with most outdoor gear, you get what you pay for and you’ll need gear that you can rely on, particularly in mountainous regions.
- Shaft material: Aluminium
- Packed size: 66.7 centimetres
- Weight: 490 grams
Leki’s Makalu Lites are heavy-duty aluminium trekking poles for long-distance trips. These poles are a great combination of thin, light and stable as well as being impressively comfortable.
Just like the original Makalus, the Lite model offers impressively comfortable AERGON Thermo Grips and an intuitive Speed Lock adjustment system.
The adjustable length spans from 100 to 135 centimetres, making it suitable for virtually all adults, and the snap release is quick and easy as opposed to the old twist and tighten.
Leki’s tweaked locking mechanism prevents slippage even when leaning heavily on them going up and down steep inclines.
With a slight forward tilt, the grips feel natural and Leki’s build quality is second to none. The textured strap also wicks sweat away and the lack of buckles improves their useability and reduces rubbing.
With revised performance attributes, the weight and packed size are not quite what we’d like them to be for this price and there are no additional tips and baskets included.
For anyone looking for a durable pole for long-distance hikes, these are a great choice. The interchangeable snow baskets (purchased separately) make these a year-round, one-quiver pole.
It’s worth noting that Leki also makes the Makalu Lite Cor-Tec AS pole, which includes a low-profile shock-absorption system.
- Shaft material: Aluminium
- Packed size: 53 centimetres
- Weight: 540 grams
One of the best budget poles on the market is TheFitLife hiking pole.
Midweight, surprisingly strong and all-round great value for money, the poles can be extended from 65 centimetres all the way to 135 centimetres with ease and have measurements printed down the side to help you quickly identify the correct length.
Packing down to just over 50 centimetres, the poles are easy to extend and simply require a twist of the pole itself to lock in position. These lock mechanisms are more prone to collapsing or slipping under pressure/weight.
Suitable for everything from thick clay mud or water-logged fields to hills, dales and trails, they are a versatile beginner’s pole. Sharp tungsten carbide tips grip ice, with an assortment of included tips for other terrains and a rubber feral end stop for use on paved roads.
Wrist straps and rubber handles allow for greater purchase of the poles and prevent losing them off the side of a cliff. Extra long Eva foam handles are soft and comfortable to absorb moisture from the palm but these can be switched out for cork handles at an additional cost.
Shock-absorbing properties are able to reduce damage or discomfort from impact force, although at this price point we do question how long they’d last.
TheFitLife Hiking Poles come in either aluminium or carbon and you can choose between a twist or flip lock and rubber or natural grip options. The poles come in a waterproof bag complete with shoulder strap for storing and transporting.
- Material: Carbon
- Packed size: 33 centimetres (for shortest option)
- Weight: 285 grams
Distance Carbon Z is Black Diamond’s lightest trekking pole ever, making it ideal for thru-hikers and long-distance trail runners.
Folding down to a mere 33 centimetres, they can go in a day sack with ease but are easily as durable as some of their bigger, bulkier competitors.
Recent improvements have made this model stronger and with improved joint support. A three-section foldable design allows for fast-response deployment and the support makes them 30% stiffer.
A sleeve on the top portion moves down from the grip, the sections slide together and connect and then a small button clicks everything into place. From packed down to fully deployed takes just a matter of seconds.
Non-scarring rubber tech tips and a breathable Eva foam grip are nice details. There is also a on-slip foam mini-grip extension if required. The metal ferrules can be replaced with the included spare pair but proper rubber tips, for silencing them on paved surfaces, are hard to come by.
Alongside the price tag, the main downside is that the length can’t be altered. The Distance Carbon Z trekking poles come in different sizes for different heights, but once you’ve made your choice there is no adjustability factor.
Also remember that carbon is renowned for being more brittle than aluminum – so a few major treks and the Carbons Zs would probably need replacing.
The Distance Z is geared more towards the lightweight mountain running and technical climbing crowd but will be a great addition to anyone’s hiking gear.
Note that there is also a carbon version that is 60 grams lighter but costs almost twice as much.
- Material: Carbon
- Packed size: 36 centimetres
- Weight: 455 grams
From fast ascents to remote traverses, MSR’s DynaLock Ascent poles are four-season-ready and relatively lightweight.
The DynaLock Ascent resembles a standard trekking pole, with collapsible construction, small packdown size, and a reasonable overall weight but with a few added bonuses.
Definitely one of the more versatile options on the market right now, the sturdy design and included snow baskets make them suitable for snow travel as well as summer and light shoulder-season work.
Their Kevlar-reinforced carbon fiber build makes them tough without weighing you down and the ability to tighten the clamping force on the fly for no-slip security will leave you feeling reassured as you push hard uphill. Wider winter baskets keep the poles afloat in powder snow but are easily removed.
We found that the foam grips of the MSR aren’t as comfortable as a traditional hiking model and are aware that for any summer hiker this pole would be an overkill in terms of both weight and price.
If you want a year-round pole that can be used on countryside trails as much as ambitious high routes, then these MSR poles could fit the bill.
How do I know which poles are right for me?
Hiking poles help to alleviate some of the weight you carry and can reduce compressive force on the knees by up to 25%.
At the very least they can be used to probe the depth of puddles, mud and snow or hold back thorny pushes and pull down spider webs.
Designed to propel you forward and upward, poles aid your balance and improve stability, but not if you get the wrong ones. Below we’ve outlined a few things to take note of before you make your purchase.
Do I really need poles?
There are plenty of advantages of trekking poles, as mentioned above.
Although using your arms can increase your overall energy use, it’s an effective and useful leg-saver – which is critical when you’re going up and over mountain passes with a heavy pack on your back.
They improve your balance on uneven or slippery terrain, and maintain a consistent gait, leading to a faster and more efficient pace.
The drawbacks are that your overall energy output is increased as you are now utilising your arms as well as your legs.
If you’re taking to a trail where poles are an overkill, they become just another piece of gear that you have to carry.
If you’re not 100% sure if you need two poles, start with one as this is usually enough to help propel you forwards and maintain a better degree of balance.
One of the most important factors to take into account and ensure a good fit is height.
Put on the shoes or boots you’ll be walking in, stand up straight and bend your arm to a 90-degree angle.
At this angle your hand should be comfortably and naturally on the grip. To get an idea before buying online, just measure the distance from the floor to your elbow and this will give you the length.
As a rule of thumb, hikers of 155 centimetres and under will need a maximum of 100-centimetre poles, whilst those up to 168 centimetres will use a 110-centimetre pole.
Anyone between 170 centimetres and 180 centimetres needs a 120-centimetre pole, and anyone taller than this should opt for the largest 130 centimetre plus option.
Fixed-length or adjustable
When considering pole length, you will also need to factor in whether you want a fixed length or adjustable pole.
Fixed-length poles can only be used by the purchaser (or anyone of their exact height) and can’t be fine-tuned on the fly.
The upside is that they are generally more sturdy and can handle a lot of weight, and the lack of levers and locks reduce the chance of failure or slippage.
Adjustable poles are a bit more versatile and allow you to quickly change the length. This is useful if different hikers want to use the same pole (or one each) and lets you fine-tune them on the trail if your footwear or requirements change.
You can also make them longer on the descent and shorter on steep ascents for maximum relief on the joints.
Weight & Packed Size
Both types of pole mentioned above pack down to a range of sizes. Some are fixed length when deployed but break down for packing, whilst some adjustable ones are telescopic but don’t pack down particularly small.
The packed-down length isn’t critical if you are planning to carry the poles on the outside of your backpack.
For anyone who wants to travel light with a smaller daysack or those who plan to travel abroad with their poles, seek out a pole that packs down small enough to fit in your luggage.
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Charlotte walks anywhere and everywhere she can. Although she hasn’t ticked off as many official routes as she’d like, she has walked her way around large parts of Latin America, Southeast Asia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
Bucket list routes:
Last update on 2021-01-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API