The Ultimate Guide to Trekking Poles

Trekking poles

Our mission is to get people outdoors, not sell gear. That's why our guide starts with the core function that needs to be addressed, then helps you evaluate your options holistically, since sometimes you may not need any gear & can use what you have at home. We want you to think critically about what you need, which is personal to you with no right answer (some people go venture outside naked without any gear, survive & have a great time).

Core function: Any kind of walking support is designed to give you more "touch points" with the ground, therefore improving balance & reducing stress on your body (i.e., your knees). Some people think they're too "fit" to need support, but remember that beyond just physical fitness, the terrain outdoors can be very different than in developed areas (e.g., more steep, uneven, or slippery with rain or snow), or you may need to do things you would never need to do otherwise, such as crossing a stream or river. Realistically, trekking poles are the only "valid" item for addressing this Core function. People may think they can just use a branch as a walking stick, but to be effective, branches have to be quite large, at least 1in (2.5cm) in diameter, and stripped fairly clean of twigs, bark, etc., to prevent splinters. These ideal branches are much more rare than you would think.

Is either the core function or the outdoor-specific gear made for it an essential?

No .

For rationale, read our 'what you really need' protip

What to use & how to choose

Key factors

Cool zippers, new waterproofing, etc... sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype (over-spending happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features.

Price

One of life's certainties is the trade-off between price & quality. This creates an inherently unfair situation. If you save money today by buying something lower end, you'll end up replacing it more frequently, spending money & time each instance so that at the end, you probably haven't actually saved anything. On the other hand, if you decide to invest in something higher end, you'll need a lot more upfront money, and you need to be able to use the item frequently enough to make it worthwhile.

We developed our rental program to address this unfairness. We don't sell lower end items. But for our higher end items, we offer them for rent at up to 90% off retail price, generally well below the cost of buying even the cheaper option. That's a win-win!

It may seem like the price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). Remember 2 things:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use, first use, or infrequent use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors!
  • The point of gear is to give you a good experience because you've already spent money to be on vacation from work! Don't let quality issues affect your relaxation

For gear specifically, the quality issues center around performance & durability.

Performance

  • The poles weren't very durable: Adjustable poles especially have a lot of mechanical pieces that may break or get stuck, leaving you unable to adjust the pole length. Lower end poles may also use thinner aluminum which can bend more easily

Durability

Maybe you are the average person that goes 1-2 times per year, you don't mind the hassle of replacing gear that doesn't last, and you also don't care about the performance differences. Then use our borrow program & get free gear where available! Or for a little more, use our rental program.

Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Weight & Size (Compactness) for Backpacking

If you're thru-hiking 20+ miles (32+km) per day, every advantage counts! In this case, size refers to compactness. You can carry more gear in the same size backpack if all of it is very compact, or for more weight savings, you can get a smaller size pack.

With poles there's an important material trade-off

  • Carbon fiber is used when weight is important. But it shatters upon severe impact, becoming completly unusable
  • Aluminum is used in most other cases. Upon severe impact, it may only bend, depending on the degree of the bend, it may still be usable

For many backpackers, the other major weight savings is that trekking poles can be used to set up an ultralight tarp tent. Another strategy to save weight (but also get less stability & balance benefits) is just to bring 1 pole! (This is often called a walking staff.) This basically is the same product: many trekking poles can be sold individually, at half the cost.

Trekking poles

Set of 2

Regular Ultralight
Weight

16-24oz

(454-680g)

7-16oz

(284-454g)

Effect on other factors Price $70-200 $100-250
Rationale Less technical material (aluminum) More technical material (carbon fiber)
Price difference not so extreme high end regular poles have more features for more technical environments (e.g., alpine uses)

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Standard for most outdoor uses

There may be issues with durability
Methodology notes

Minor features that may be important

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about minor features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget.

  • What is the grip material? (Cork is the most moisture wicking & ergonomic; Foam is the softest; Rubber is the most insulating & best for winter)
  • Do you want fixed length (doesn't collapse down) or adjustable length (does collapse down)?
  • If adjustable length, what kind of collapsing mechanism? (Most people don't prefer twist mechanisms, and want a flip lock of some kind)
  • Can you add powder baskets to convert these to snowshoe poles (or, in a tight pinch, skiing poles)?
  • Does it have shock absorption technology?

What we carry

General Notes

  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the How To Choose section
  • Buy prices are MSRP with tax, i.e., what you see is what you pay. Prices may differ in-store due to change in models or discounts, but this is rare. If we don't sell what we rent, we list MSRP value with tax
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!
Trekking poles
Model Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock trekking poles
Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock (aluminum)

Buy

MSRP with tax

$163
Rent $10+
Weight

1lb 5oz

590g

When you rent online, we will pick a model for you. You can change the model if you pick-up in-store, subject to availability. On the Options page of our online order process, you can also select options or write-in any preferences. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others. We will only pick something else if it doesn't conflict with your choices indicated on the Options page; moreover, if there's a major functional difference (e.g., capacity), we will attempt to contact you first

Usage tips

The best length is one where, when your hand is at the grip, your elbow is at a 90-degree angle.

There are different ways of using poles, depending on what's comfortable for you. Some people alternate poles & legs (kind of like how your arms naturally swing), some don't. As well, if you're on steep terrain, you may want to plant both poles & use them together to either pull yourself up or brace yourself down.

Maintenance tips

Repairing

Many modern trekking poles have individually replaceable components (e.g., parts of the shaft, the locking mechanisms, the tips, the baskets, etc.).

Storing

Be sure to store the trekking poles dry, this can mean taking it apart (if adjustable) to let the water run out of the insides.Otherwise the metal may corrode, leaving it less adjustable for your next trip.

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 . That said, there usually isn't dramatic change; we update & review the market roughly biennially.


Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!