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Best trekking poles: find balance and take the strain off during challenging hikes

best trekking poles: hiker with a pole
Whether using as a pair or on their own, trekking poles give you balance, stability and support in the backcountry (Image credit: Getty)

The best trekking poles increase your shelf life as an adventurer. By giving you additional support on tough terrain, they allow you to take the strain off your joints on long ascents and knee-bashing descents. With the summer hiking season approaching, be kind to your body and make sure you've got a pair when you hit the trail head.

A trekking pole is basically a highly evolved walking stick, designed to give you an extra contact point with the terrain so that you can share the impact of each step and take strain off your legs and knees. The best trekking poles are adjustable, allowing you to change their length depending on whether you are going up or down hill, while also easily slipping into your backpack. These days, most are made from lightweight materials like carbon fiber or aluminum alloys.

best trekking poles: epic trekking pole shot

Trekking poles can assist you in your bid to discover incredible sights (Image credit: Getty)

They have plenty of other uses too. When you get to a river crossing, you don't want to get your best hiking boots wet or end up with an unplanned wild swim. Trekking poles allow you to probe beneath the rushing water and support you and the rest of your party's safe passage. You can use trekking poles and tent fabric to mock up an improvised stretcher in an emergency. The best trekking poles are also great for doing Gandalf impersonations. So many uses!

Such a versatile piece of gear has become a stalwart on the trails, with hikers, mountaineers and trail runners all singing the humble pole's praises. So, before heading into the backcountry this summer, get a couple of the best trekking poles for your hiking backpack. Your legs will thank you.

How we test the best trekking poles

Our reviewers test trekking poles on trails in a range of environments and conditions, from walking and running on technical hills and peaks to ambling along coastal paths and through woodlands, on day hikes and longer treks. Features (including construction materials, design, collapsed size, usable length, weight, strap, grip, tip quality, and overall usability) are tested against claims made by the brand, and we assess factors such as value for money, durability and functionality.

 The best trekking poles for lightweight adventures

best trekking poles: Leki Black Series SLS XTG

(Image credit: Leki)

Leki Black Series SLS XTG

Versatile, top-performing lightweight poles from a highly respected specialist brand

Specifications

RRP (per pair): £130 (UK)
Weight (per pair): 370g/13oz
Pack length: 68cm/ 26.5in
Operational length: 110–135cm/43–53in
Compatibility: Hiking, trekking, backpacking, mountaineering

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight
+
Versatile
+
Comfortable in the hand
+
Easy to adjust
+
Decent sized extension grip area

Reasons to avoid

-
Twistlock system can be over tightened
-
Expensive

Constructed 100% from top-quality carbon, the snappily named Black SLS XTG sticks from mountain-shenigans experts Leki are exactly the ever-reliable top-performing poles you know they’re going to be before you even put your hands through the straps and get the tips dirty. At 185g per pole, they’re pretty much perfectly weighted to feel substantial and sturdy while not causing arm fatigue or adding to pack weight too much. The three-piece telescopic design is extremely easy to adjust to your required length, and once that’s done the Super Lock system (TÜV Süd-tested to absorb 140kg of downward pressure without collapsing) keeps them dialled in. 

Wristloops made with breathable and soft ‘Skin’ fabric are a pleasure to use and simple to adjust even when wearing gloves, and the ergonomically molded ‘Aergon Thermo’ handgrips are comfortable over many miles of walking. There’s a long lower grip area for use on off-camber trails and steep ascents, which it is featured to prevent slippage. At the pointy end they boast a carbide flexitip short nib, designed to facilitate precise placement and give you extra confidence on technical terrain. They come with a trekking basket, and can be used on all sorts of terrain, from snowy mountainsides to coastal trails.

The best trekking poles for robust support

best trekking poles: Helinox Ridgeline

(Image credit: Helinox)

Helinox Ridgeline

Tough, four-section poles for hiking the hard yards

Specifications

RRP (per pair): £160 (UK) / €149,95 (EU)
Weight (per pair): 408–476g / 14.4–16.8oz
Pack length: 51.2–61cm/20.2–24in
Operational length: 120–135cm / 47–53in
Compatibility: Hiking and trekking on any sort of terrain

Reasons to buy

+
Hard as nails
+
Super packable
+
Quick and funky assembly

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Relatively heavy

If you’re looking for a pair of poles capable of performing on any sort of terrain, which won’t take up too much space in your pack, the Ridgelines are well worth running your eyes over. Made to a four-piece design, they collapse down much smaller than most telescopic poles, which makes a big difference when you’re transporting them. Sections are thicker than most telescopic poles too, and the extra girth – combined with the quality of the DAC aluminum alloy used in their construction – gives them much more strength. 

The tough tungsten-carbide tips have a pointy profile, allowing for precision placement on technical trail. And we were really impressed with the assembly method, whereby each section slots into place and is held in position by pop-out buttons, with a single lever tightening and securely locking the whole pole in place. Once that’s all done, you can adjust the height from the top section. The shaped top grip feels good and comfortable in the hand, and there is a lower grip area (albeit a small one). They’re pretty pricey, but other grumbles are minor, and include the fact that the wrist strap isn’t overly comfortable. Available in four lengths/versions, Ridgeline poles come with rubber tip covers for use on hard surfaces, and they are covered by a 5-year warranty.

best trekking poles: Leki Makalu Lite COT-TEC AS Pole

(Image credit: Leki)
Versatile and well-designed trekking poles with in-built shock absorbers

Specifications

RRP: $140 (US)/£95 (UK)
Weight (per pair): 493g / 1lb 1.4oz
Pack length: 68cm/27in
Operational length: 100–135cm / 40–54in
Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking and day walking

Reasons to buy

+
Built-in shock absorbers
+
Adjustable length

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavier than some other poles

These aren’t the lightest trekking poles on the market, but they are trekking poles that will reduce the strain on your body thanks to built-in shock absorbers. The poles, which are made from 7075-series aluminum that’s been heat treated for strength, have Leki’s Dynamic Suspension System inside. It’s elastomer-based antishock system that reduces the impact of each pole plant by around 40%, absorbing vibration and protecting your muscles, joints and ligaments from fatigue and overuse syndrome. The poles adjust with Leki’s SpeedLock Plus system, which uses clips that flip open, and press shut to keep the poles the length you choose. How tightly the sections lock is adjustable via twisting, raised speed dials. Grips made from 80% natural, ground cork and 20% rubber absorb sweat to keep the grip from feeling slippery. They’re positioned at an 8° angle to keep wrists neutral when you’re walking. Wicking, buckle-free wrist straps are easy to adjust and super supportive. Carbide Flextips bite into terrain, and though they’re long lasting, they can be replaced. The poles come with three season baskets. Snow baskets are sold separately.

Best trekking poles: Komperdell Hikemaster Compact Powerlock

(Image credit: Komperdell)

Komperdell Hikemaster Compact Powerlock

A century of alpine experience and knowledge goes into these excellent Austria-designed and made poles

Specifications

RRP: £80 (UK)
Weight (per pair): 516g/1lb 2oz
Pack length: 58cm/23in
Operational length: 90-120cm/35-47in
Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running

Reasons to buy

+
Tough
+
Amazing heritage
+
Excellent locking system

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy
-
Large pack size

Built by a company that has been making poles for nigh-on 100 years in the shadow of the Alps, and still construct their equipment in Austria, comes this popular and perennial high-performer. A three-piece pole, it’s very adjustable (with measurements provide on the middle section for easy reference), and the powerlock 3.0 system for securing each piece in place is extremely strong and exudes confidence (no twisting required, and therefore zero chance of user error leading to over tightening and jamming issues). The aluminum shaft makes these tough characters. If you do manage to break one, however, you can avail of Komperdell’s fantastic 3-year repair service, which is offered free of charge for all their telescopic poles, no matter how the damage occurred. The Trek 170 grip is comfortable, as is the padded strap, and down at the pointy end, the prodding power is provided by a tungsten/carbide flex tip.

Best trekking poles: Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock

(Image credit: Black Diamond)

Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock

A full-suspension trekking pole that not only distributes weight brilliantly, but also makes trekking comfortable and less jarring on joints

Specifications

RRP: $140 (US)/£110 (UK)
Weight (per pair): 590g/1lb 5oz
Pack length: 68cm/27in
Operational length: 105-140cm/41-55in
Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running

Reasons to buy

+
Supremely comfortable
+
Gentle on wrists and elbows
+
Extremely robust

Reasons to avoid

-
Long pack length
-
Relatively heavy
-
Can't lock out the extra suspension

Trekking poles are excellent for transferring weight and stress away from knees and ankles, but that does mean wrists and elbows take up extra strain. For trekkers taking on longer distances over hard rocky terrain, while carrying a full pack, and people prone to joint soreness, this be problematic - and shock absorbing technology can help. Black Diamond aren’t the only brand to offer extra bounce their poles, but their proprietary progressive four-stage control-shock technology is superb. Located in the dual-density grip, it dampens the impact of repeated pole strike on tough terrain, and has a smooth rebound action. The padded wrist strap adds an extra level of comfort. These top-end telescopic poles also feature BD’s superb FlickLock Pro locking system, which allow for easy adjustability combined with a rock solid clamp. These four-season poles are made with aluminum, making them more robust (but heavier) than carbon models, and come with interchangeable carbide tips (rubber tips available separately) and low-profile trekking baskets. Also available in female-specific model.

best trekking poles: Cascade Mountain Tech Aluminum Quick Lock Trekking Poles Cork Grip

(Image credit: Cascade Mountain Tech)
Bargain priced, good-quality trekking poles with impressive features for the cost

Specifications

RRP: $25 (US) / £40 (UK)
Weight (per pair): 680g / 24oz
Operational length: 66–137cm / 26–54in
Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking and day walking

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable
+
Good cork grips
+
Replacement parts available

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavier than carbon poles

Arguably the best trekking poles you can buy for the price, Cascade Mountain Tech Aluminum Quick Lock Poles have a wide range of adjustability so that you can climb and descend even the steepest slopes, and always have poles that are the right length. The three-section poles are made from durable aircraft grade aluminum. The sections lock to length with clips that flip open and click shut. Cork grips are easy to hold onto, and they won’t get slippery on humid days or when your hands sweat. The poles have tungsten carbide tips for aggressive, no-slip grip on every imaginable trail surface. But they also come with four sets of tip covers – rubber boot tips, mud baskets, snow baskets and small rubber tips – for four seasons of use. They’re light for aluminum poles at 10.4 oz without the rubber tips. And they come in a carry case. The poles have a one-year warranty, and because Cascade Mountain Tech wants to make sure you get many years of use from your poles, each section is replaceable in case it’s damaged or in case it wears out.

Best trekking poles: MSR Carbon Ascent

(Image credit: MSR)

MSR Carbon Ascent

A trail-tackling toughnut of a pole, built to last with kevlar-reinforced carbon

Specifications

RRP: $150 (US)/£130 (UK)
Weight (per pair): 470g/1lb (small), 500g/1lb1oz (large)
Pack length: 36.2cm/14.25in (small), 44.5cm/17.5in (large)
Operational length: 100-120cm/39-47in (small), 120-140cm/47-55in (large)
Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running

Reasons to buy

+
Very robust
+
Small pack size
+
Supremely versatile

Reasons to avoid

-
Size choice presents an issue for some people

A Z-folding three-piece trekking pole constructed from kevlar-reinforced carbon fibre, MSR’s Ascent Poles are specced up to level that makes them suitable for mountainside exploration and snow and ice activities, as well as being comfortably at home on hillsides and lower trails. The quick-deploy connection means the poles can be assembled in a single second. MSR’s Dynalock system gives you 20cm to play with, in terms of quick and easy adjustment, with a very reliable and secure lock-off. There are two sizes to choose from – large (120-140cm) and small (100-120cm). Both pack down to a delightfully diminutive size, and neither add much weight to your kit bag. Complimented by an easily adjustable strap, the handle of the poles is impressively padded with EVA, and there’s a lower grip (also padded) on each pole too, ideal for hill work when you don’t want to stop and adjust the length. The poles have a carbide tip offering great grip in all conditions and the snow baskets feature a unique MSR televator offering extra stability and confidence. They also come with a summer basket.

Best trekking poles: Leki Cressida

(Image credit: Leki)

Leki Cressida

A robust and highly adjustable pole with a super-comfortable grip designed specifically for women

Specifications

RRP: $120 (US)/£105 (UK)
Weight (per pair): 440g/15.5oz
Pack length: 64cm/25in
Operational length: 90-125cm/35-49in
Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running

Reasons to buy

+
Ergonomic grip
+
Extremely robust
+
Women specific

Reasons to avoid

-
Long pack size
-
Snow baskets sold separately
-
No lower grip

The standout feature on the Cressida pole is the Aergon compact grips, made from 80% cork for its thermal and comfort qualities, and 20% latex for strength. These are expertly ergonomically designed and sized specifically for smaller hands, because the Cressida is manufactured with female hikers and trekkers primarily in mind (also makes a good pole for younger hikers). The three-piece telescopic shaft is constructed from high-strength aluminum, which makes them reliably robust (Leki’s aluminum shafts are guaranteed for life against breakage) and super stable. The poles are fully adjustable, with Leki’s highly reliable and easy to use Speed Lock 2 clamp system. The ‘Skin’ strap is light and breathable, and the replaceable short carbide flex tip offers precision pole placement and has inbuilt flex. The Cressida comes with trekking baskets.

The best trekking poles for value

best trekking poles: Vango Basho

(Image credit: Vango)

Vango Basho

Excellent value walking poles for day hikes and easier longer hikes

Specifications

RRP (per pair): £29 (UK)
Weight (per pole): 223g / 4oz
Pack length: 50cm / 20in
Operational length: 115–135cm / 45–53in
Compatibility: Day hikes and low-level backpacking expeditions

Reasons to buy

+
Superb price
+
In-built suspension
+
Decent lower grip area

Reasons to avoid

-
Not as light as others on test
-
Less robust than others
-
Sections don’t attach particularly securely

These brilliant budget trekking sticks are perfect for people perhaps trying poles out for the first time. The price tag is low, but the level of performance is actually very good. Made to a three-section folding design, they are constructed with Duralumin’ 7075 (fortified aluminium) they’re not as flexible, light or structurally strong as carbon poles, but they do seem robust enough for most hiking conditions (be careful on boulder fields and in deep snow, when breakage could occur). 

On less technical trails they will reduce the stress and strain on knees and ankles, like all good poles do, but they’re also gentle on your wrists, because they come complete with in-built shock absorbers (which can be turned on or off with a twist of the grip), which is ideal on unforgiving surfaces such as concrete, duckboards and sun-baked trails. One downside is that the sections seem to detach quite easily if the dip digs in, however, they do come with trekking baskets. The wrist strap is easy to adjust and well padded, and we were particularly impressed with the handgrips, which are designed to let your hands breath. The lower grip area (an element often overlooked on more expensive poles, but crucial when you’re walking off camber or up steep slopes) is excellent too.

best trekking poles: Forclaz M-trekking 500 Ultra Compact

(Image credit: Decathlon)

Forclaz M-trekking 500 Ultra Compact

Bargain-priced poles with a lot of design tech and trail capability

Specifications

RRP (per pole): £35
Weight (per pair): 552g / 19.5oz
Packed-down length: 36cm/14in
Operational length: 110–130cm/43½–51in
Compatibility: Hiking, trekking, backpacking, mountaineering

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent price (sold individually)
+
Smart assembly design
+
Great grip (upper and lower)
+
Quality nib

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavier than many other poles
-
Some components potentially weak

Made with aluminium and weighing in at 275g per pole, these Decathlon Forclaz sticks are not the lightest hiking poles out there, but they have a whole lot of smart technical design features and, given that they’re half the price of some other models, they are exceptionally capable on the trails. First up, the five-piece structure assembles and collapses in a clever way: you push the top section down, which connects the lower pieces together (with pop-out buttons keeping them firmly in place) and then adjust the length of the overall pole, securing it with a latch on the top section. 

They are, to be honest, a bit more fiddly to break down, but it’s a knack you quickly master, and the result is an impressively compact, three-section Z-shape, kept manageable with a supplied Velcro strap. The clip that holds the assembled and height-adjusted pole in place is plastic, which does make us wonder whether it will last as long as those with metal components, but the tubes themselves are relatively wide (20mm at the thickest point), which makes them really robust. Other features include a wide, comfortable wrist strap, a shaped foam handgrip with a good lower extension section for tackling off-camber and steep trails, and a tough tungsten tip. Overall we’re extremely impressed with what you get for your dollar with these poles. Note: they are sold individually (although you could – and arguably should – use two) and the price above is per pole, not pair.

Best trekking poles comparison table
PoleRRPWeight (per pair)Packed lengthOperational length
Leki Black Series SLS XTG£130 (UK)370g/13oz68cm/ 26.5in110–135cm/43–53in
Helinox Ridgeline£160 (UK) / €149,95 (EU)408–476g / 14.4–16.8oz51.2–61cm/20.2–24in120–135cm / 47–53in
Leki Makalu Lite COR-TEC AS Pole$140 (US)/£95 (UK)493g / 1lb 1.4oz68cm/27in100–135cm / 40–54in
Komperdell Hikemaster Compact Powerlock£80 (UK)516g/1lb 2oz58cm/23in90-120cm/35-47in
Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock$140 (US)/£110 (UK)590g/1lb 5oz68cm/27in105-140cm/41-55in
Cascade Mountain Tech Aluminum Quick Lock Trekking Poles Cork Grip$25 (US) / £40 (UK)680g / 24ozN/A66–137cm / 26–54in
MSR Carbon Ascent$150 (US)/£130 (UK)470g/1lb (small), 500g/1lb1oz (large)36.2cm/14.25in (small), 44.5cm/17.5in (large)100-120cm/39-47in (small), 120-140cm/47-55in (large)
Leki Cressida$120 (US)/£105 (UK)440g/15.5oz64cm/25in90-125cm/35-49in
Vango Basho£29 (UK)223g / 4oz50cm / 20in115–135cm / 45–53in
Forclaz M-trekking 500 Ultra Compact£35 (UK)552g / 19.5oz36cm/14in110–130cm/43½–51in

Choosing the best trekking poles for you

Now that you’re convinced of their usefulness, there’s a surprisingly diverse range of trekking poles to choose from, all offering different qualities. Before you invest in poles, the most important thing is to think about when and where you’re most likely to be using them, and consider the following factors: 

1. Size

Using the correct length pole is clearly crucial, and getting the height right involves the consideration of a few factors, including personal preference and the variability of the terrain you are traversing. On flat surfaces, the accepted wisdom is that the top of the straight placed pole should be at hand level when your arm is in front of you with your elbow bent at 90 degrees. However, when climbing steep slopes, it’s better to shorten the pole so you don’t overstretch, and the opposite is true for long descents: lengthen the pole to avoid bending too much. 

Pack size – the minimum length the poles can be reduced to when not in use – is also a very important consideration, especially if you’re likely to be travelling to the trailhead. Even while on the trail, there are likely to be stretches when you’d prefer to put your poles away for a while, and the ability to stash them easily in a daypack – or even in a hydration pack if you're running – is important.  

best trekking poles: trail runner using poles

Regardless of size, if you are trail running you'll want light poles (Image credit: Getty)

2. Design

Trekking poles can be rigid, telescopic or collapsible. If you’re only ever likely to use poles when walking out from your backdoor or a car park, basic rigid designs are fine. However, if you regularly take on technical terrain, an adjustable design is better, and this also means other people can use the equipment. Telescopic and collapsible poles are obviously much easier to carry around in backpacks. 

The majority of the best trekking poles are three-section models. Look closely at the locking system used to secure poles once they’ve been adjusted. Also, the inclusion of a lower grip area is a very useful design feature, so you can alter hand placement without changing the length of the pole while ascending and side hilling. If you want to use your poles in a variety of conditions, including on snow and sealed surfaces, check which basket and tip options they come with. Note – if you’re intending to use them in all seasons, ensure the loop is big enough to get your hand through when wearing hiking gloves, and make sure it’s easily adjustable with a glove on.

3. Materials

There are three main factors to consider when looking at the material used in the best hiking poles: weight, price and durability. Carbon poles are obviously very light, but they’re also typically expensive compared to their aluminium cousins. There are budget options out there, however, and if you’re doing lots of long-distance hikes, then saving grams is important and the investment is well justified. 

Carbon poles are strong, but can become brittle in certain conditions and when placed under stress at certain angles, and when they break it’s typically catastrophic and final. Aluminium poles are typically cheaper and more robust, and they can often be bent back into shape after a mishap. With the grip, often there’s a choice between foam (more durable, but water absorbing) or cork (more comfortable and waterproof, but prone to chipping).

best trekking poles: close up of trekking poles

Comfort is king on a hike (Image credit: Getty)

4. Comfort

Try before you buy – not just to ensure you can get the right sized pole, but also to check that the grip and hand loop is comfortable. Pay particularly close attention to the ergonomic feel and material used in the grip. If you're buying poles to use while trail running, do you wear running gloves? If so, make sure you've got them on when you try your potential new poles for the first time.

5. Cost

The best hiking poles are an excellent addition to every explorer’s trail-kit bag, and the more you use them the more you will appreciate them. We'd go as far to say that they are a hiking essential. There are very cheap home-brand pole options out there, but you will get what you pay for. For durability, it’s worth making an investment.

Writer, editor and enthusiast of anything involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing adventure stories. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades here.