All single-piece poles are fixed length and usually available in five- or ten-centimeter increments. Most (but not all) multipiece poles are adjustable. Adjustable-length poles will be heavier and more expensive than fixed-length models, collapsible or not. For example, the adjustable-length Black Diamond Distance FLZ and Distance Carbon FLZ are $20
Check out any hiking or outdoor store and you’ll see a dizzying selection of often brightly coloured, high-tech poles. Some, like my Black Diamond Distance FLZ trekking poles, fold up into a small package that’s great for travelling.
Folding poles pack down really small—to 15 inches, say, versus about 25 inches for telescoping poles—making them ideal for air travel, mixed hikes and scrambles, and trail runs. But they come with trade-offs: The joints always wobble, and the design is usually heavier, resulting in a sacrifice to either weight
Multipiece shafts are much more popular, however, and I generally recommend this style. Because they collapse down, they travel better (and don’t incur baggage fees on flights) and can be more easily lashed to a backpack when not in use, like while crossing extensive talus. Multipiece shafts are typically adjustable
The deal breaker is the price. Ultimately, I don’t feel that these poles are $70 nicer than the Alpine Carbon Corks, and in general I can’t recommend spending more than $200 on trekking poles when a very decent option is available for less than $45.
And remember that lighter is not always better. For example, I’ve found that the ultralight (and ultra-thin) shafts of the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles are too fragile for backpacking. The RaidLight Vertical Carbon 3 poles lack versatile extension grips.
Still, these poles are inexpensive for a few reasons: The shafts vibrate, the grips are a bit rough, and the carbide tips don’t last as long as those from Black Diamond or Leki. The locks don’t slip or break and are easy to adjust, but they’re not as nice as
As for carbide pole tips, all are not created equal. I have worn down some tips to rounded nubs within a few hundred miles, whereas others have lasted thousands. Leki and Black Diamond tips are both notably reliable. Once poo-pooed by “real walkers,” hiking or walking poles are now gaining
I’ve been hiking and trekking with poles for 16 years. That includes trips on the Sea-to-Sea Route (7,775 miles, 11 months), the Great Western Loop (6,875 miles, seven months), the Alaska-Yukon Expedition (4,700 miles, six months), and a half-dozen high routes in the Mountain West. Fortunately, in those years, I’ve
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