This summer, I tested eight pairs of poles representing a range of prices, features, and designs. I had used some of these models in years past, but I gave them all a fresh look while guiding and hiking in California and Colorado. My first pair of trekking poles cost $100
Most hikers, though, will be unable to overlook a serious shortcoming: They’re not collapsible. That means they don’t travel well, they’re unwieldy when lashed to a backpack, they can’t be adjusted for different terrain or outdoor activities, and they’re fussy to use with many trekking pole–supported shelters. But if you
The shafts of premium poles are made from carbon fiber, which is stronger by weight than aluminum. However, aluminum is less expensive and better withstands abuse, especially dings and knocks. In cold temperatures, the conductivity of aluminum can be a liability.
Given current pole technology and availability, I would rule out any pole that weighs more than nine ounces each or 18 ounces for the pair. People with less arm strength (or scrawny runner arms like me) may want to set an even lower threshold. To keep weight to a minimum,
To properly size your poles, stand upright and hold your elbows at a 90-degree angle. You should be able to hold the primary grip with the tip touching the floor. For difficult terrain and off-trail hiking, I prefer my poles shorter by a few centimeters. For long downhills, some people
From a performance-only perspective, Ultimate Direction’s FK poles are the best I’ve ever used. Designed with a wide, single-piece shaft—20 millimeters thick, versus the standard 16- or 18-millimeter diameter—the FK poles are the stiffest and strongest I have ever used, and my measured weight of 3.8 ounces per pole (in
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
I have a stronger opinion about extension grips, which sit below the primary hand grip. For easy trails, they’re not critical. But when hiking on steep grades, trails filled with obstacles (rocks, roots, big stairs), and off-trail terrain, they offer instant height adjustment without touching the locks.
Consider models with foam, cork, or faux-cork grips. Choose rubber grips only if they will be used exclusively in winter. Always avoid plastic grips—they’re cheap but terrible.
My eight-year-old poles are still going strong, and I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from others who have purchased them. (I did have to rebuild the grips with Aquaseal, but that’s reasonable after nearly a decade of use.) At 8.5 ounces per pole, they’re slightly heavier than the Cascade Mountain
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