What makes for the best trekking poles? It's a tricky question considering the use of poles can be a divisive subject. Advocates of trekking poles are evangelical in their enthusiasm, aghast anyone would contemplate hiking without them, while non-users are borderline offended at the suggestion their legs need extra support – almost as though someone is suggesting putting stabilizers on their mountain bike.
Increasingly, however, it’s recognised that the best hiking poles are an invaluable addition to the kit list every hiker (and many runners) need, especially those doing any significant distance or carrying pack weight. You might not need them every inch of the way – which is where a good-quality, lightweight, collapsible and easily stored pole is worth its skinny weight in gold – but for stability on technical terrain, safety during descents, efficiency of effort and myriad other reasons, they’re excellent.
As the popularity of poles has increased, so has the selection available. Confronted by this bewildering array, it’s important to get your hands on the right pole for your height, and the style and specs need to be compatible with the adventures you have planned.
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In this buying guide we’re featuring the best trekking poles designed for various applications, including hill walking, backpacking, trail running and snowshoeing – but not Nordic walking, a pursuit that has a different set of requirements. We haven’t included anything at the very bottom end of the market, where materials are typically heavier and less hard wearing.
We highly recommend the Leki Micro Vario Carbon for all-round design and performance, and the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ AR for versatility, while the Alpkit Carbonlite twins and the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon poles are both brilliant value.
The best trekking poles you can buy right now
Leki Micro Vario Carbon
A rugged high-performing pole that punches well above its svelte weight
RRP: $199.95 (US)/£164.95 (UK) | Shaft: Carbon | Weight per pair: 480g/17oz | Pack size: 40cm/16in | Operational length: 110-130cm/43-51in | Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running
The construction of these collapsible poles makes them super light and responsive, but tough too. The carbon shaft absorbs plenty of impact when the carbide tips hit rocks. They fold down to a very pack-friendly 40cm (15 inches), and are easy to assemble, with the three interconnected pieces (linked by a through-running wire tensioner) slotting firmly into place with a spring-loaded system. The top section allows quick and simple height adjustments to be made via a telescopic design, useful for when you’re switching from flat terrain to a gradient, and Leki’s new Speedlock2 system with an external locking system is excellent. The ultralight Aergon Thermo grip is comfortable and surprisingly generous for such a lightweight pole, and the technical foam extends down the shaft so you can quickly lower your hand placement. Leki’s slightly macabre-sounding ‘skin strap’ is actually made from a light, tough and breathable fabric, and is easily adjustable (even with gloves on). They come with a mesh storage bag and small removable basket, but you will need to invest in extra baskets to use them in snow or soft mud.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ AR
The multitool of the pole world, combining versatility with high performance and trail hardiness
RRP: $190 (US)/£140 (UK) | Shaft: Carbon | Weight per pair: 388g/13.69oz | Pack size: 38cm/15in | Operational length: 105-125cm/41-49in | Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running
Designed unashamedly for gadget-loving trail gallivanters, this model boasts an ‘Accessory Ready grip’ that pairs with Black Diamond’s Distance Tent to instantly transform trekking poles into tent poles. They’re also compatible with an adapter for cameras and other kit that means the pole can become a monopod. But the Carbon FLZ AR is far from gimmicky – the ultralight carbon build is easy on the arm but hardwearing where it matters. A classic Z-pole, it folds down to an impressively small stash size. Assembly is simple (just pull down on the slider shaft) and the strong and reliable FlickLock feature means you can adjust the height of the pole easily while out on the trail. The comfortable handle has a lightweight EVA foam grip, combined with a breathable, moisture-wicking strap. The tip is interchangeable, and the poles come with both carbide and rubber options.
Alpkit Carbonlite Twins
Fully featured featherweight poles perfect for hillwalking in Britain and beyond
RRP: £60 (UK) | Shaft: Carbon | Weight per pair: 338g/12oz | Pack size: 63cm/25cm (51cm if fully dismantled) | Operational length: 63-134cm/25-53in | Compatibility: Hillwalking, backpacking, trail running
The apex offering from Alpkit’s quiver of trekking poles, these extremely competitively priced three-piece poles are impressively specced for the price tag. The carbon shafts mean they’re very light in the hand, and resistant to corrosion. A telescopic and highly adjustable three-piece pole, it can be set to any length between 63cm and 143cm (the middle section has cm markings). Sections are secured in place with a tough twist-lock mechanism complete with idiot-proof arrows indicating the correct direction of turn for tightening or loosening. The comfy handgrips are encased in EVA foam, which has good thermal values and reduces jarring by swallowing impact. The foam extends into the wrist straps, which are easily adjustable (even while wearing gloves). The tip is protected by tough tungsten, and the poles come with a trekking basket and rubber feet. While the pack size is relatively long, it’s possible to take the sections apart altogether, which reduces the poles to 51cm in length. Available in pairs or singularly.
Komperdell Hikemaster Compact Powerlock
A century of alpine experience and knowledge goes into these excellent Austria-designed and made poles
RRP: £80 (UK) | Shaft: Aluminium | Weight per pair: 516g/1lb 2oz | Pack size: 58cm/23in | Operational length: 90-120cm/35-47in | Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running
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.
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
RRP: $140 (US)/£110 (UK) | Shaft: Aluminium | Weight per pair: 590g/1lb 5oz | Pack size: 68cm/27in | Operational length: 105-140cm/41-55in | Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running
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.
MSR Carbon Ascent
A trail-tackling toughnut of a pole, built to last with kevlar-reinforced carbon
RRP: $150 (US)/£130 (UK) | Shaft: Kevlar-reinforced carbon | Weight per pair: 470g/1lb (small), 500g/1lb1oz (large) | Pack size: 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
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.
Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon
A very competitively priced carbon pole offering impressive and premium level of functionality
RRP: $50 (US)/£45 (UK) | Shaft: Carbon | Weight per pair: 425g/15oz | Pack size: 66cm/26in | Operational length: 66-137cm/26-54in | Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running
Another budget option that punches above its price tag, these poles from Cascade Mountain Tech are light, thanks to the complete carbon construction of the shaft, and boast almost as much functionality as more technically blinged-up models that cost twice the price. With a three-piece telescopic pole design, they are fully adjustable with a quick-lock mechanism that involves turning a thumb screw. You can select a cork-covered grip or an EVA foam model, and there is a lower EVA-foam coated grip that comes in useful for side-hilling and ascending steep slopes when you don’t want to adjust the pole height. They have adjustable wrist straps, tough tungsten carbide tips, and come with a 5-piece accessory kit ensemble that includes a mud and a snow basket, rubber tips, pole clip and carry case.
A robust and highly adjustable pole with a super-comfortable grip designed specifically for women
RRP: $120 (US)/£105 (UK) | Shaft: Aluminium | Weight per pair: 440g/15.5oz | Pack size: 64cm/25in | Operational length: 90-125cm/35-49in | Compatibility: Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running
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.
Choosing the best trekking poles for you
Once 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:
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 the best hiking poles away for a while, and the ability to stash them easily in a pack is important.
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 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 the best hiking poles in all seasons, ensure the loop is big enough to get your gloved hand through it, and make sure it’s easily adjustable with a glove on.
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).
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.
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. 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.
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