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
For many users—especially those on tight budgets—the Carbon Fiber Quick Lock poles offer enough functionality with a few justified trade-offs. I think most people will be happy with these poles and an extra $120 in their wallets.
These Leki Micro Vario Black Carbon poles (8.5 oz) rival the performance of the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Corks, with strong shafts, seamless hand-extension grips, long-lasting carbide tips, and reliable locking and adjustment systems. In one respect, they’re even better: They collapse to just 15.5 inches, 40 percent shorter than
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
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
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.
The Quick Locks include extension grips—sections of foam below the main grip that extend your range of carry options—and are available with either cork or foam grips. Both options will work fine, though the faux cork and two-piece construction isn’t as slick as Leki’s seamless grips. Cascade Mountain Tech includes
Trekking poles come with wrist straps, which when used properly can reduce pressure on the hand and wrist. Personally, I cut mine off for reasons I delve into. Most trekking poles will come with trekking or mud baskets, which are about two inches in diameter. I always remove them. They
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.
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