Why Use Trekking Poles?
Anyone who has tried using a pair of trekking poles during a hike knows that they make travelling over rough or variable terrain easier and more efficient. Trekking poles provide additional stability, which relieves some of the force and strain on the ankles and knees. On wet, icy or muddy ground, trekking poles provide a sense of security that allows you to travel faster and more efficiently. On the descent, usually the portion of a hike with the most substantial impact on the knees and ankles, trekking poles provide relief while preventing soreness and fatigue.
Trekking poles are a relatively simple piece of gear, but there are variations in construction, sizing and features that impact weight, comfort and packability. The following guide will help you understand the characteristics of and differences between various styles of trekking poles so that you can find the right pair for your needs and start hiking better!
Most trekking poles feature some form of length adjustment, which allows you to shorten the pole while travelling uphill and lengthen the pole while descending. The more points adjustment a pole has, the easier it is to compress it completely for lashing to the outside of a pack. Additionally, adjustable trekking poles feature multiple shaft segments that can be replaced independently if the pole is bent, cracked or broken.
Single adjustment poles
Single adjustment poles have one, simple point of adjustment. This style of trekking pole is easy to shorten or lengthen on varied terrain, yet doesn’t compress well since it only has two parts. This style of pole is perfect for shorter day hikes or backyard snowshoe trips
Double adjustment poles
Trekking poles with dual adjustment points are the most versatile style available. the two adjustment points allow you to choose the proper length for the terrain, while the three separate shaft sections collapse into themselves for easy storage. This is a great style of trekking pole for rugged terrain on overnights, backcountry skiing, or extended trekking.
One of the lightest weight options is a folding pole. Folding poles feature multiple sections that come apart and fold together into a very compact, packable form. The most minimalist folding poles are a fixed length for simplicity and weight reduction. However, many folding poles feature one point of adjustment near the grip to provide a range of adjustment for travelling on an incline. Folding poles are great for ultralight hikers, trail runners or minimalist ski touring.
The most basic locking mechanism for trekking poles is a twist lock. As the name suggests, a twist lock system tightens when the two sections the shaft are twisted in opposite directions, thereby locking the trekking pole in place. The pole can be loosened by twisting the sections in the opposite direction. Twist lock systems are rudimentary and therefore cheaper, yet they are also prone to sliding or freezing up in cold weather.
The most secure and adjustable locking mechanism us a clasp lock. A clasp lock features a plastic or metal jacket at the junction between two sections of a trekking pole, which features a clasp to tighten and lock the system in place. Clasp locks are secure and tight, while remaining easy to operate in any weather.
The most comfortable grip style features cork construction. Cork molds to your hands over time and naturally dampens vibration while hiking. Cork will give you a better grip when your hands sweat and is the lightest option available. Cork is also an eco-friendly choice, since cork is harvested responsibly and is a sustainable material. The downside to cork is a comparative lack of durability, yet with proper care a cork grip is the best option for performance.
Rubber is inferior to cork in most way except cold weather hiking, mountaineering or backcountry skiing. Rubber is insulating and has vibration dampening properties. In cold weather, rubber can’t be beat, but it can cause chafing and can become slippery during warmer weather activities.
Want a good warm-weather grip, but don’t want to spend the money on a trekking pole with a cork grip? Opt for a foam grip. Foam absorbs sweat and is soft and comfortable on long trips. However, on the hottest days, foam’s sweat absorbing qualities can make your grips slippery.
Shock absorbing poles:
On long hikes on variable terrain, trekking pole featuring shock absorbing construction further reduces the impact of hiking on your joints. A spring loaded shock absorber in the shaft of some trekking poles provides excellent dampening properties during a hike, while rebounding smoothly for a comfortable ride. If you have particularly troublesome issues with your joints, knees and ankles, shock absorbing poles will have a significant effect on your comfort when hiking.
Unlike ski poles which have a fixed length and must be selected based on your height, modern adjustable trekking poles will fit nearly anyone.
Folding trekking poles, like Black Diamond’s Z-pole series, still require proper sizing to achieve a proper fit. Ideally, your arm will make a 90 degree bend when you hold your trekking pole. If you are between sizes, size up for general use such as hiking, trekking, backpacking and walking, or size down for high speed ascents and trail running. The attached chart shows Black Diamond’s recommended pole lengths based on your height:
Carbon trekking poles are the most expensive, highest performance and lightest option available. Carbon fiber shaft construction dampens vibration and reduces the weight of your trekking poles so that you will barely notice you are carrying them. While carbon fiber trekking poles perform well, they can splinter and crack in extreme conditions. Carbon trekking poles are necessary for ultralight hikers and backpackers, or anyone who wants the lightest gear possible.
Aluminum trekking poles feature maximum durability, while remaining fairly light weight. Aluminum does not dampen vibration as well as carbon and is heavier, but the price and durability of aluminum poles is superior. Aluminum poles will bend when put under stress, but do not break as easily and can potentially be carefully bent back into place on the trail. If you beat on your gear or want to save money, trekking poles with aluminum shafts are a great option.