Trekking poles, also known as hiking poles or walking sticks, are a must-have piece of gear for hikers, backpackers, and Nordic walkers in 2023. A good pair of trekking poles can vastly improve your stability, reduce strain on your knees and ankles, and help propel you up the trail. But with so many options on the market, how do you know which poles are the best? This definitive guide covers everything you need to know about choosing the best trekking poles for your needs. Read on to learn about pole materials, features to look for, and our picks for the top trekking poles of 2023.
The Takeaway: Start Trekking with Poles
A good pair of trekking poles engages your upper body, improves stability, reduces joint strain, and can dramatically improve your stamina and efficiency on the trail. Look for adjustable lightweight poles with comfortable grips and durable tips within your budget. For 2023, we recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork, Leki Micro Vario Carbon, Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock, and Montem Ultra Strong as top trekking pole options to take your hikes to the next level. Happy trekking!
Summary of Key Points
- Trekking poles improve stability, reduce strain, increase traction, and aid balance on diverse terrain
- Look for adjustable poles from around 26” – 51” range
- Carbon fiber poles are lightweight; aluminum is affordable and durable
- Prioritize padded, ergonomic grips and secure wrist straps for comfort
- Replaceable tips prolong pole life as carbide wears down with use
- Practice proper arm swing and pole planting technique to hike efficiently
- Recommended poles include Black Diamond, Leki, Cascade Mountain Tech, and Montem designs
What are Trekking Poles and Why Use Them?
Trekking poles are essentially ski poles for use on the trail. They help distribute the workload across your upper and lower body when hiking, reducing strain on your knees, ankles, and back. Trekking poles also improve your balance, stability, and traction on all kinds of terrain from tricky rock scrambles to stream crossings. Many hikers and backpackers choose trekking poles to help take pressure off aging joints or nagging injuries. Trekking poles range from simple wooden staffs to ultra-high-tech adjustable carbon fiber poles packed with features. Nordic walkers utilize poles to engage the upper body and core during cardio exercise. Trekking poles are available in adjustable and fixed lengths, weigh anywhere from 9 ounces up to 19 ounces, and come in materials like aluminum, carbon fiber, or cork.
What to Look for in Trekking Poles
Adjustable trekking poles allow you to change the pole length as terrain and conditions change. Look for poles with a wide range of adjustability, around 10 to 15 inches. This ensures the poles can be sized correctly for your height and comfortable for both hiking uphill and downhill. Adjustable poles are ideal for sharing between users of different heights or using year-round as your needs change.
Weight matters if you’ll be carrying poles on your back for long distances or up steep terrain. Carbon fiber poles are the lightest but also the most expensive. Lightweight aluminum models are only slightly heavier. Heavier poles around 19 ounces can cause fatigue over a long day of use. Look for adjustable poles in the 13-16 ounce range for the best balance of weight and durability.
Your hands take a beating when trekking with poles, so grip comfort is key. Look for poles with extended foam, cork, or rubber grips that cushion your hands. Contoured, ergonomic grips feel great during all-day use. Avoid poles with very thin grips as these cause hotspots and fatigue quickly. Wrist straps are also nice for keeping your hands in place on steep climbs.
Durability depends on activity and pole material. Adjustable aluminum poles are very durable for hiking and backpacking. Carbon fiber has high strength-to-weight ratios but is less impervious to scrapes or being torqued. Look for robust lower shaft and tips that can withstand being jammed into dirt and rocks all day. Also consider detachable tips you can replace once worn down.
The Best Trekking Poles of 2023
After extensive research and hands-on testing, here are our picks for the best trekking poles of 2023:
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
The Trail Ergo Cork trekking poles top our list for offering trail-toughness at a reasonable weight. Weighing 15.2 ounces per pair, these lightweight aluminum poles easily adjust from 26” to 51” to suit any terrain or hiker height. Extended cork grips provide all-day comfort, even in hot or sweaty conditions. The nylon wrist straps are comfortable and secure. Durable carbide flex tips provide traction even on slick terrain. The Trail Ergos are rugged yet nimble poles ready for serious trail use.
Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles
The Leki Micro Vario poles are a high-performance, ultra-lightweight option for demanding hikers and backpackers. Weighing just 15.6 ounces per pair, these 100% carbon fiber poles are the ultimate in lightweight durability. The Speedlock 2 system enables easy length changes from 24” to 56”. Aergon Thermo grip and strap provide excellent comfort even during prolonged use. The compact Powerlock locking mechanism is sturdy and secure. Leki’s compact flex tips grab terrain with precision. With bombproof build quality, the Micro Vario poles are built for adventure.
Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Trekking Poles
For trekkers seeking value, the Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock poles deliver impressive quality at a very reasonable price. Made of durable 7075 aluminum, these poles weigh 18 ounces per pair. The lever-lock system enables quick and easy height adjustments from 26” to 54”. The extended EVA foam grips and wrist straps are comfortable even during all-day hikes. Interchangeable carbide tips screw into place for easy replacement when worn down. Thoughtfully designed and affordably priced, the Cascade poles are our budget pick.
Montem Ultra Strong Trekking Poles
Montem’s adjustable aluminum trekking poles are a sturdy budget-friendly option. Weighing just 15.4 ounces per pair, these lightweight yet strong poles are suitable for casual hikers or hardcore peak baggers alike. The easy flip-lock system allows fast length changes from 24” to 55”. Extended EVA foam grips keep hands comfy all day. The durable tungsten/carbide tips readily tackle tough trails and provide stability in mud and snow. At their very reasonable price point, the Ultra Strong poles far exceed expectations.
How to Use Trekking Poles Effectively
While trekking poles improve hiking efficiency and reduce strain once you get the hang of them, they can be awkward at first. Here are some tips for mastering trekking pole use:
- Adjust pole length so grips land right below your armpits with arms hanging relaxed at your sides
- Plant poles opposite arm and leg for natural rhythm: right arm forward with left leg and vice versa
- Let arms swing naturally and bend at the elbows; avoid hunching shoulders up
- Flick poles back rather than swinging forward; plant with gentle downward pressure
- For uphills, plant poles ahead to push yourself up; on downhills, plant behind for bracing
- On steep or rough terrain, brace both poles for maximum stability and traction
Start with proper pole length and relax your arms into the natural swinging motion rather than muscling the poles. With practice, you’ll soon be hiking efficiently and reducing joint strain with every step.
Q: What are the benefits of using walking sticks?
A: Walking sticks provide stability and support, reduce the impact on joints, improve posture, and help in maintaining balance while hiking or walking on uneven terrain.
Q: How to choose the right walking stick?
A: Consider factors such as the material of the stick (e.g., carbon fiber or aluminum), adjustable height, grip comfort, and the type of terrain you will be using it on before choosing a walking stick.
Q: What are the differences between hiking poles and walking poles?
A: Hiking poles are typically designed for rugged terrain and provide stability, while walking poles are suitable for regular walking and offer more ergonomic grips for comfort.
Q: How can I maintain my trekking poles?
A: Regularly clean the poles, inspect for any damage, and make sure to store them properly in a dry place to maintain their longevity.
Q: Can walking sticks be used for nordic walking?
A: Yes, there are specifically designed nordic walking poles that can be used for this purpose, providing the necessary support and balance for nordic walking activities.
Q: What should I look for in collapsible trekking poles?
A: Look for lightweight and durable collapsible trekking poles with adjustable height, comfortable grips, and reliable locking mechanisms for convenient and efficient use.
Q: Are rubber tips necessary for walking sticks?
A: Rubber tips help to provide better traction and stability on different surfaces, making them beneficial for walking sticks, especially on slippery or uneven terrain.
Q: Can trekking poles be used for backpacking trips?
A: Yes, trekking poles are often used for backpacking trips to provide stability, reduce strain on the body, and improve endurance while carrying a heavy load.
Q: What are the advantages of using carbon fiber trekking poles?
A: Carbon fiber trekking poles are lightweight, durable, and offer excellent vibration dampening, making them ideal for long hikes, providing minimal strain on arms and shoulders.
Q: How do I determine the proper height for my walking stick?
A: To determine the proper height for your walking stick, stand upright with your arms at your sides, then bend your elbow at a 90-degree angle and adjust the stick to reach the top of your fist while the tip is on the ground.