A few years back, a friend and I were assembling a gear list to send to a couple of gentlemen joining us for an ascent of Mt. Whitney. He and I had both been up many a mountain, but the other two were inexperienced climbers, so we were taking pains
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
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
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
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,
My pair of Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles are tough, stiff, and have endured years of hard use. Black Diamond included stainless-steel lever-style locks that are secure and easily adjustable, and the foam extension grips are comfortable and versatile. The cork in the hand grips is real. These poles,
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
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.
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
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
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