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Published Sep 13, 2022 1:00 PM

Many dedicated backpackers consider a quality pair of trekking poles essential gear for hiking. They help you hike and keep your balance over steep hills, rocky paths, and slippery snow-covered trails. Like their predecessor, the humble walking stick, a quality pair of hiking poles are sturdy enough to put your entire weight on them, yet light enough that they do not feel like a burden after a long day on the trail. They ease the strain on your knees and back, especially if you’re carrying a heavy pack. There are a dizzying number of poles to choose from. They’re made from different materials, feature different designs, and, of course, some are more expensive than others. We’ve tried a whole bunch of popular options, taking them on runs, hikes, climbs, and scrambles to find the best trekking poles for all your outdoor adventures.

How we picked the best trekking poles 

I’ve been writing about outdoor gear and my often dubious adventure travel for decades at publications like Hearst, HuffPost, BBC Travel, Fodor’s, Adventure Cycling, Input, and many others. My criteria for experiencing new places usually include how many people visit (the fewer the better), and if it has a reputation as a “challenging” journey. Over the years, I’ve traveled across all kinds of terrain and environments, many of which required a good set of trekking poles to navigate.

I’ve spent a good deal of time testing trekking poles—walking, running, climbing, scrambling, and sometimes falling—all over the world. Over the years, I’ve found a few favorites. I’ve also compared notes and talked for hours with trekkers, hikers, and adventurers about gear around countless campfires and well-worn tables in questionable bars.

What to consider when buying trekking poles

Finding the perfect trekking pole can be a daunting task. As with all outdoor gear, there are a variety of options to consider. More often than not, finding the “best” choice requires you to balance different strengths and weaknesses based on your personal needs and taste. The lightest trekking poles will rarely be the absolute sturdiest. The strongest poles will likely not be the most packable. To help you figure out what you need, let’s talk about the most important elements of any trekking pole set.

Sizing up your poles

Trekking poles come in different lengths so that any person can find a pair that feels right. At standing position, the grip of the pole should line up with your elbow or, more precisely, with your hands when your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle. If you’re shopping at home, look for poles that are adjustable to within 20-24 inches shorter than you. For example, I’m 5 feet 6 inches, or 66 inches, so I want poles that you can set to a height between 42-46 inches.

Most modern trekking poles are adjustable to some degree, so there’s a lot of wiggle room if you aren’t sure about what will feel right. Some companies also make fixed-height poles, as they are technically stronger. All of our recommendations are adjustable, though, as we find them to be much more versatile than fixed-length poles. In general, I usually shorten my poles when ascending a steep incline and lengthen them when descending. Collapsible and foldable trekking poles allow the user to change the overall length of the pole as the terrain and situation merit.

Collapsible poles feature a telescoping design, where increasingly narrow sections slide and fit inside each other. Foldable poles have a reinforced cord running through them that holds the sections together when pulled apart while allowing them to fold—like the pole technology used in most lightweight tents. 

Telescoping poles will be stronger than their foldable counterparts because, in most cases, the pole overlaps and slides into itself at a greater distance than foldable ones. A fixed-length pole will be the most durable option, though, as there are no weak points or breaks in the shaft. Many poles now feature one telescoping section coupled with two folding sections to offer more precise adjustment options.

Pole material

Most trekking poles are made from either high-grade aluminum or carbon fiber. Carbon fiber produces a lighter pole, while sacrificing a bit of durability. Under intense stress, a carbon fiber pole will likely snap. Aluminum poles, by contrast, will usually bend before they break, giving you a bit of a warning that you should navigate out of that particular situation right away if at all possible. 

If you’re looking for speed and/or the ability to go long distances, a carbon pole is probably your best choice. If you’re okay with a slightly heavier pole (and we’re usually talking ounces here, not pounds), an aluminum pole may be a better fit for difficult terrain and will last a bit longer.

Check the grip

You’re going to spend a long time holding your trekking poles’ grips, so you want to make sure that they’re comfortable. You should take a look at the grip and, ideally, give it a squeeze to see how it feels in your hand.

Most pole grips are made from cork, foam, or rubber. I prefer cork because the material molds to the shape of your hand over time. Grips made with EVA foam are also often quite comfortable and weigh a bit less than cork. Rubber grips absorb shock exceptionally well, but can get sticky and cause blisters when it’s hot and humid out.

Tips

Trekking poles come with different kinds of tips on the end, which can help you move across different kinds of terrain. Many poles, including our recommendations, either come with multiple sets of pole tips or give you the opportunity to buy alternate tips or replacements when you need them. (You should replace your tips every 1,500-2,000 miles.) Most pole tips have a screw-on mechanism, so it’s easy to change them on the fly, so it’s nice to have multiple options on your trip. Here are some of the most common choices:

Rubber tips provide extra grip on wet surfaces, as well as shock absorption on paved surfaces. Since they’re softer and less pointy, rubber tips don’t tear up trails as much as carbide tips, but also don’t provide as much traction.

Carbide tips are extremely durable. They don’t wear down as quickly as rubber versions. With a sharper point, they grip well on rock, dirt, and ice, allowing you to really dig into surfaces. They’ll also rip up soft dirt, so they may damage hiking trails.

Rubber feet have a shape that resembles a small foot. With a wider footprint, they allow you to move faster without losing your balance.

Mud baskets attach a few inches above the tip of your poles and prevent your poles from sinking down too far into soft, muddy earth. They can also prevent some of the mud from splattering onto your calves. Like carbide tips, though, they can damage plant life on trails, so you should reserve them for appropriate terrain.

Snow baskets are a wider version of mud baskets made for snow. They function like snowshoes, keeping your poles near the surface of deep snow.

Locking mechanism

If you follow my lead and go with adjustable poles, you should take a closer look at how it opens and closes. Most adjustable trekking poles feature a locking mechanism with a lever that opens or closes to slide the pole length up or down, coupled with a push button lock or spring-loaded twist lock. Many also include an inner dial in the lever to increase or decrease tension. When considering a pole, check to make sure it’s easy to adjust the poles and operate the lock with or without gloves. If you buy poles that require special tools to change spring tension, make sure those are included. You want a pole that you can easily adjust when out on the trail but also locks securely.

The best trekking poles: Reviews & Recommendations

Like most outdoor gear, trekking pole preference can vary from person to person. Given that, our recommendations span a variety of options made from different materials and covering a wide range of prices. All of them, however, have a clear edge over similar poles in important qualities like durability and weight.

Best overall: Black Diamond Alpine FLZ

Black Diamond

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Black Diamond Alpine FLZ is a highly versatile pole that packs down small, making it a prime choice for all kinds of activities.

Specs

  • Weight: 18 ounces
  • Maximum length: 43, 49, or 55 inches
  • Collapsed length: 14, 15, or 16 inches
  • Shaft material: Aluminum
  • Grip material: Cork
  • Pole design: Foldable
  • Tips: Carbide tips, trail baskets, snow baskets, rubber tips (sold separately)

Pros

  • Versatile
  • Comfortable handles
  • Packable

Cons

  • Heavy

The Black Diamond Alpine FLZ is an incredibly versatile trekking pole. The small packable size and durable aluminum construction make it an optimal pole for most everything including rugged trekking, multi-day backpacking, steep hiking, and even backcountry skiing. The cork handles become increasingly more comfortable over time as well as a secondary foam grip.

While a telescoping pole is inherently stronger than a foldable one, I’ve found the Alpine FLZ holds up extremely well in a variety of precarious situations including nefarious water crossings and muddy sheer drop-offs. They feature Black Diamond’s patented Flicklock pro locking mechanism, which uses a lever to secure the pole length with an inner adjustable tension dial that requires a small Allen key to adjust.

The Black Diamond Alpine FLZ is far from the fanciest pair of trekking poles out there but has proven that it can get the job done in difficult situations, and feels comfortable on easy trail hikes.

Best carbon fiber: MSR Dynalock Ascent Carbon

Why it made the cut: The MSR Dynalock Ascent Carbon is a versatile, sturdy, and comfortable pair of poles that work for a wide variety of adventures.

Specs

  • Weight: 17 ounces
  • Maximum length: 47 inches or 55 inches
  • Collapsed length: 14.25 inches or 17.5 inches
  • Shaft material: Carbon fiber
  • Grip material: EVA foam
  • Pole design: Collapsible
  • Tips: Winter and summer baskets

Pros

  • Comfortable grip
  • Versatile
  • Small pack size

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavy for a carbon pole

My friend Ben has been almost everywhere on the globe and he always travels with his MSR Dynalock Ascent carbon poles, which he considers an extension of himself and one of the best gear spurges he’s ever made (it may also be the only one).

The Dynalock Ascent poles have comfortable, contoured foam grip handles and padded straps. Each one folds down to a very packable 14.25-17 inches, depending on which size you get. Unlike most other poles where most of the tips are sold separately, these come with both winter and summer basket tips. 

They also feature MSR’s signature Dynalock mechanism, which consists of a thick aluminum lever and an inner metal dial that allows you to tighten or loosen with ease as well as providing exceptional sturdiness. It also locks each section into place with metal buttons on the sides. As someone who often has “Final Destination”-type scenarios running through my brain, I appreciate both of these components. 

Best aluminum: Leki Makalu Lite

Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Leki Makalu Lite is one of the most durable poles I’ve tried.

Specs

  • Weight: 17.3 ounces
  • Maximum length: 54 inches
  • Collapsed length: 26 inches
  • Shaft material: Aluminum
  • Grip material: Cork
  • Pole design: Collapsible
  • Tips: Carbide tips, summer basket

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Extremely durable
  • Moderate price

Cons

  • Large packed size

If you’re planning to use your trekking poles on a weeks-long adventure, Leki’s Makalu Lite poles are among the most durable we’ve found. Despite the name, they’re slightly thicker than most other poles, making them tremendously strong, as well as fairly heavy.

The Makalu Lite features Leki’s very comfortable “Aergon Air” grip—a cork design with a hollow core and wide support at a lightly tilted ergonomic angle. Like all Leki poles, these use the company’s durable “Speed Lock” system, which combines a lever lock with a small dial to tighten spring tension by hand.

A pair of Makalu Lites is overkill for your average day hike, but their durability is worth the extra weight on a long trip where you’ll traverse mountains or glacial ice for weeks or months.

Best for hiking: Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork

Black Diamond

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is an incredibly sturdy carbon pole with a very comfortable grip.

Specs

  • Weight: 17 ounces
  • Maximum length: 51 inches
  • Collapsed length: 24 inches
  • Shaft material: Carbon fiber
  • Grip material: Cork
  • Pole design: Collapsible
  • Tips: Carbide tips and trail baskets included; snow baskets sold separately

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Excellent locking mechanism
  • Durable

Cons

  • Not as packable as other options
  • Expensive

I prefer cork handles over rubber and foam because they mold to your hands over time so, eventually, feel like a seamless extension of your body. The cork handles on Black Diamond’s Alpine carbon poles are quite comfortable right out of the box and improve exponentially over time. Like most trekking poles, they have a secondary foam grip beneath the handles, which gives you a comfortable place to grab when you need to lower your grip, as well as wide wrist straps.

They are amazingly durable and sturdy for a carbon pole, thanks to their thicker shafts and Black Diamond’s patented “Flicklock” mechanism, which flips into place with a robust snap. The “Flicklock” system has its disadvantages: The locking mechanism requires a tiny Allen key to adjust, which isn’t ideal since it’s easily misplaced. Not being the most graceful person, (especially when hiking) I routinely get my poles stuck between boulders requiring intense back-and-forth movement to dislodge. Despite this, I have yet to break them.

The collapsed length of these poles means they’re not well-suited to be stowed in a backpack during a technical climb but for most activities, including trekking over rock and snow in remote regions of the world, these poles are a solid choice that will last for years.

Best for backpacking: Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork

Black Diamond

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork is a solid, affordable option that’s durable enough to handle most backpacking trips.

Specs

  • Weight: 18 ounces
  • Maximum length: 55 inches
  • Collapsed length: 27 inches
  • Shaft material: Aluminum
  • Grip material: Cork
  • Pole design: Collapsible
  • Tips: Carbide tips, trekking baskets, and snow baskets

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Versatile
  • Reasonable mid-range price

Cons

  • Doesn’t pack down as small as other options

Black Diamond’s Trail Ergo Cork trekking poles are a great pick for new hikers. They’re sturdy, comfortable, and reliable—a great fit for most backpacking and thru-hiking. Plus, at less than $150, they don’t cost a fortune.

 The cork handles are tilted forward slightly for a more natural, ergonomic wrist alignment. They also have padded straps and a foam secondary grip, making them easy to hold. Like the other Black Diamond hiking poles on our list, these feature the company’s patented “Flicklock” system, ensuring they don’t come loose while you’re walking.

Collapsing to a fairly large 27 inches, they are longer than the majority of other poles when packed away. Unless you’re taking them on a plane, though, that probably shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Best ultralight: Gossamer Gear LT5 Three Piece Carbon

gossamer gear

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Why it made the cut: The Gossamer Gear LT5 is one of the lightest trekking poles available.

Specs

  • Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Maximum length: 51 inches
  • Collapsed length: 23.5 inches
  • Shaft material: Carbon fiber
  • Grip material: EVA foam
  • Pole design: Collapsible
  • Tips: Carbide tips

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Ultralight
  • Extremely durable for their weight

Cons

  • Expensive

For situations where every ounce (or even gram) counts, the ultralight Gossamer Gear LT5 carbon trekking poles streamline your experience better than any other poles. Despite weighing less than 11 ounces, they’re incredibly durable. I used them on a multi-week thru-hike over mixed terrain through a good portion of northern Spain one summer where I was intent on carrying as little weight as possible, both emotionally and physically, and they didn’t let me down.

The twist-lock mechanism is easy to set; you simply rotate the sections for a secure lock. The wrist straps sport comfortable padding and the EVA foam handles have proven to be comfortable enough (though I am partial to cork handles).

The LT5s also serve as great support for ultralight tents that use trekking poles as part of the structure, thus providing a super lightweight sleep system.

Best budget: Trekology Trek-Z

TREKOLOGY

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Trekology Trek-Z is an incredibly inexpensive pole that doesn’t sacrifice comfort or durability.

Specs

  • Weight: 26 ounces
  • Maximum length: 51 inches
  • Collapsed length: 15 inches
  • Shaft material: Aluminum
  • Grip material: Cork
  • Pole design: Foldable
  • Tips: Carbide, rubber, snow baskets, mud stops, rubber feet

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Durable
  • Folds down small

Cons

  • Heavy

Made from aerospace-grade 7075 aluminum alloy, the Trekology Trek-Z is an inexpensive pair of poles that come complete with carbide tips, rubber tips, snow baskets, mud stops, and rubber feet, making them highly adaptable and a huge bargain. They feature a metal flip-lock mechanism that’s easy to operate, though you may not use it often since they offer a very limited 7-inch range. They do collapse into a very compact 15-inch package, though.

For less than $50, the Trek-Z is one of the most affordable poles we’ve seen. Unsurprisingly, they’re also among the heaviest. We wouldn’t recommend them for alpine climbing, mountain running, or speed hiking, where you want to be quick and nimble. For those sticking to the trail and not too concerned about their performance, they’re an excellent option for not a lot of money.

One thing to keep in mind: Trekology makes a new “Trek-Z 2.0” with EVA foam grips instead of cork. In general, I prefer cork grips because of the material’s moldable properties, so we’re sticking with the original. Just keep in mind that it may become harder to find in the coming months.

FAQs

Q: How much do trekking poles cost?

Most trekking poles cost $50-$250, depending on what they’re made from, versatility, comfort, durability, and weight. Generally speaking, the lighter the pole, the higher the price tag. When choosing hiking poles, remember that they need to be light enough to lift and carry all day without tiring you out on a hike, but strong enough to support your body weight.

Q: Where do I recycle my trekking poles?

If they are in good working condition without structural damage, you can often recycle a pair of trekking poles through a gear trade-in program like the one offered by REI. If they aren’t reusable, you can put aluminum poles out with your household metal recycling.

Carbon fiber trekking poles aren’t recyclable. There are companies who are developing ways to recycle it, but it’s not a process that is easy or currently available to the general public.

Q: Are trekking poles bad for trails?

Trekking poles can be bad for trails as they have the potential to tear up soft soil and damage plants growing along the trailside. Pay close attention to where you place your poles, and stick to hiking best practices, including the following:

Don’t use your poles when you don’t need them. Use rubber tips as much as possible. In an area with tense vegetation, avoid using baskets that will rip up plant life.

Q: Do carbon fiber trekking poles break?

Carbon trekking poles can break, though it’s usually a result of extreme pressure. It doesn’t happen often enough for them to be considered unsafe. 

Originally developed for the aerospace industry, carbon fiber is lightweight, strong, and stiff made from woven fibers held together with resin. It is stronger than even steel of the same thickness while also being much lighter which is why it’s used to make things like trekking poles and bicycles.

Final thoughts on the best trekking poles

Outdoor gear companies are always finding ways to build sturdier, lighter trekking poles, but I find that you don’t need to get too worried about the particulars. As long as you get a pair that’s sturdy, comfortable to hold, and light enough to use all day, you shouldn’t worry too much about optimizing for the “best” experience. More than anything, you want something reliable. All of the poles included here are durable and comfortable with the potential to be that favorite piece of gear you don’t leave for an adventure without.