If you’re just getting started hiking, trekking poles (or hiking poles) may not be high on your gear list. Despite the fact that hiking poles have been proven to reduce stress on legs and knees by up to 25%. Some hikers carry trekking poles because the data supports it.
Some carry hiking poles because they aid with balance, or climbing steep hills. Even others will carry hiking poles for all the above reasons and because they can be used to pitch a tarp or tent. There are many reasons to carry and use hiking poles, and some will find them annoying or unhelpful thus refusing to carry them altogether.
I advocate hiking poles for aiding in balance, propulsion, and as an aid for climbing steep or precarious hills. I also find them extremely useful for setting up my tarps without having to carry an extra pole for shelter setup.
At first I began using a pair of adjustable Leki Makalu (gift) adjustable aluminum poles – they were insanely heavy!
My next upgrade was a pair of Black Diamond Z Poles which are a 3-piece fixed length ultralight aluminum pole (now available in carbon fiber), they’re amazing.
Quick Answer: The 7 Best Trekking Poles For 2017
- Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
- Foxelli Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
- Black Diamond Distance FLZ Z-Poles
- Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles
- Black Diamond Distance Z Z-Poles
- Leki Micro Vario Ti Cortec Trekking Poles
- Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles
Now I’m going to help you decide on a new hiking pole and recommend a few top performers. Here is a feature overview of my top 3 picks for hiking poles with full reviews and our buying guide below.
Best Trekking Poles
Hiking Pole Reviews
With a very appropriate name, the Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles are among the lightest collapsible trekking poles available, at under one pound for both!
They achieve this lightweight because they are 100% carbon fiber and not a combination of aluminum and some carbon fiber.
I really like the fact that these are collapsible and not folding. Even though they are a bit heavier than one piece or folding trekking poles, you can adjust them to the precise length you need with a flip of the quick lock. Fully collapsed, they measure 24 inches and will fit in just about any pack.
In my opinion the slight extra cost of 100% carbon fiber is well worth it. Carbon fiber tends to flex more and provide extra shock absorption that you do not get with aluminum shafts.
The natural cork grip handle is one of the most comfortable I have used and provides natural wicking abilities because of its porous nature.
Cork will over time will conform to the shape of your hand and Hiker Hunger also thoughtfully put EVA foam grips under the handles so you can choke up on them with the going gets steep.
The incredibly tough and durable tungsten carbide tips with rubber tips will last a longtime and are interchangeable depending on the type of hiking you’re doing.
You will get year-round use from the Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles. They include a variety of baskets that are appropriate for hiking, snowshoeing and mountaineering.
If you’re looking for the best collapsible trekking pole, the Hiker Hunger poles are worth your consideration.
Very similar to the Hiker Hunger Trekking Poles the Foxelli’s are also 100% carbon fiber. The carbon fiber shafts do a much better job of absorbing shocks and vibration than aluminum. This makes it easier on your joints and the Foxellis’s are probably the best walking poles for seniors.
The Foxelli Trekking Poles are a collapsible design that extend up to 55 inches and collapse down to 24 inches. Fully collapsed they will fit in just about and hiking or day pack and with such a wide range can be used by adults and kids.
Also like the Hiker Hunger they have a natural cork grip handle that will after a short time, conform to your hand to “fit like a glove”.
The natural cork is durable and also will keep your hands cool and dry when the weather heats up.
The poles have a soft EVA foam handle under the grips for choking up for steep terrain and switchbacks.
The wrist straps are padded and adjustable for all day on the trail. Foxelli’s had all year use in mind with these trekking poles.
They include carbide tips with rubber covers that attach firmly so they don’t come off it gets stuck between rocks or in the mud. Also included are two pairs of baskets so you can use them for snowshoeing, hiking and mountaineering.
Foxelli also included a carry case when you’re not using them. I give the Foxelli Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles high marks all around and are highly recommended.
At 7.5 oz each, these poles beat out the Leki Micro Vario and function almost identical. They’re cheaper than the Leki poles by enough to make a considerable difference.
They’re also lighter, but not by much weighing in just 8oz lighter per pair – though that will add up if you’re an ultralight hiker or a weight conscious hiker.
The final nail in the coffin for Leki? I prefer Black Diamond as a brand. Black Diamond executes products almost flawlessly and I’ve used them for years for everything from hiking poles to trad climbing gear and skiing gloves.
This brand knows how to execute a great product and I’m glad to be able to see them coming in and owning another market with a superior product at a great price.
Leki has a great name and, in the skiing world, they make one of the absolute best poles on the market. In the hiking world, however, I view their poles as heavy and clunky.
That being said, Leki has been working toward lightening up their poles and offering more sensible hiking poles for those of us who value function and lightweight form.
These poles are 7.9 oz each – quite a bit heavier than the Z-Poles, but they have a few cool features. They’re adjustable length poles hybrid with fixed length system for a balance of adjustment and weight savings.
The bottom half of the pole is fixed length (though it breaks apart like the Z-Pole) and only the handle segment adjusts. The Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles are a good compromise for those looking to get a lightweight, reliable pole that can be used for multiple sports, these poles are for you.
With a relatively light weight (4.5 oz each) and the ability to break into three small segments, this pole is truly an amazing piece. I hiked with the aluminum version for years and absolutely loved them! With a price tag well below $100, they’re hard to ignore.
If you’re traveling or flying, break the poles down into a three-piece segment and stuff them into your bag. They practically disappear.
This is a major advantage over a fixed length pole. The foam grips are ergonomic and comfortable in the hand and the wrist straps are lined with great micro-fiber that never chafes.
Now that they’re being made in a lightweight carbon fiber, their pros are really beginning to get me attracted to this pole again. It’s arguably the absolute best choice all around for the perfect balance of weight, cost, packability, and function.
The Black Diamond Z Poles are your the best trekking poles under $100.
Leiki, based in Kirchheim Germany was founded in 1948 and became famous for their ski poles. Hiking or trekking poles were a natural extension of ski poles and the Vario Ti Cortec continue their tradition of quality. There is a lot to like about this pair of trekking poles.
The folding design of these poles collapse into 3 piece that measure only 15 inches! That’s pretty compact and about a foot shorter than most telescoping poles allowing you to carry them in any backpack.
Of course there is a downside and that is you have less adjustability, they can only adjust 20cm or about 8 inches. They can range in length from 110 – 130 cm or (43- 51 inches). These are a hybrid of folding design with a “Speedlock” lever on the upper section of the pole for the 20 cm of adjustment.
The Leki Speedlock is simple and reliable. One of the big advantages of a folding design is that you don’t have to adjust the pole every time like you do with telescoping poles. You just snap the sections into place and you are ready to go, no adjustments needed.
One of my favorite features of these hiking poles is the handle. It ergonomically designed to very comfortable. The top of the pole handle is wide, and oval shaped a bit like a cane handle.
The cork handle molds to your hand and provides wicking so that if your hands sweats it will absorb it and allow you to keep a solid grip on the pole.
So you can also grip the pole from the top or the side. And if you put your weight on top of the pole it’s comfortable unlike most other trekking poles. You will definitely notice it right away.
It has a lower foam grip right below the cork handle so when you have to “choke down” on the pole you can still maintain a good grip.
The tensioning rope that keep the pole sections together is made from a “Filgrane” that is reinforced to last a lifetime. It has a spring in the lower portion of the shaft to provide tension to keep the poles sections locked together.
The pole is made from a heat treated 7075 aluminum and weigh 9.5 ounces per pole. While being slight heavier than carbon fiber, it is stronger and stiffer but you lose some of the shock absorption that carbon poles are known for.
The tips are made from steel Carbide that gives a secure grip over just about any terrain and the baskets can be changed out depending on the conditions.
Compared to some other poles, I wouldn’t consider the Leki Micro Ti Vario cheap, it’s not unreasonable at all for what you get.
Mountainsmith has an excellent reputation for making durable outdoor gear. The company was founded by Patrick Smith in 1979 in the rugged mountains of Colorado. Originally started with ski gear has expanded to a variety of outdoor equipment. I review their Morrison 2 Tent here.
The Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles are a hybrid being made from a 7057 aluminum shaft with a carbon fiber coating. This offers a number of advantages of each material.
The poles have the strength of aluminum but the carbon fiber gives them more flexibility and shock absorption than an aluminum only pole.
Plus they don’t have the “clanging” noise that aluminum poles have when hitting rocks. Normally not a big deal but if you are trying not to scare off the wildlife, it comes in handy.
The Carbonlite poles are telescoping so they have the advantage of a wide range of adjustability. They range from 26 inches fully compacted to 54 inches at their longest.
However, one of the disadvantages of a telescoping pole vs a folding pole is the fact they don’t compact down as small.
The Leki Micro’s compact down to a tiny 15 inches. That’s almost a foot, that’s a pretty big difference in trying to fit in your pack.
The combination of the carbon and aluminum keeps the weight down a very reasonable 20 ounces.
They feature an anti-shock system in the bottom section of the poles that can be locked and turned off if you don’t want it.
Even at a very reasonable price they feature cork grips for comfort and wicking properties. The Carbonlite Pro’s have a twist out cam locking mechanism vs a lever lock. Personally, I prefer the lever lock but there is nothing wrong with the twist lock.
They come with neoprene wrist straps that are adjustable and comfortable. The carbide tips give you an excellent grip and come with removable rubber boot tips. The baskets can also be changed out, they come with an all-terrain basket but Mountainsmith makes other baskets as well.
Overall the Carbonlite Pros are an excellent choice for a hybrid trekking pole at a bargain price.
How to Choose a Hiking Pole
- Fixed Length or Adjustable
- Shock Absorbing
- Locking Mechanism
- Trekking Poles Shaft Construction
- Trekking Pole Grips
- Misc Considerations
Fixed Length or Adjustable
The biggest hurdle to choosing a fixed length hiking pole is thinking “how do I know what length I need?” It’s really quite simple to measure yourself for a fixed length hiking pole and, once you get the measurement, you won’t need to adjust it.
Put on your hiking shoes, or boots, and stand straight with your arms bent 90 degrees, parallel to the ground. Measure from the top of your fist to the ground – this is the length you’ll want for a fixed length pole.
Most fixed length poles have handles which feature two separate positions – one at full length, and one a little shorter. This gives two “lengths” that can be used, one for walking on flats and descending hills, another for climbing.
As long as you get your initial measurement correct, a fixed length pole won’t need to be adjusted and they’re always lighter than the equivalent adjustable pole because they are simples and feature less components.
The biggest consideration for weight is what type of pole you’re using. Of the three types (fixed length, 3-piece, or adjustable) the adjustable poles are, by far, the heaviest. Let’s take a look at a couple examples:
- Fixed: Gossamer Gear LT3C: 6oz (77g) each
- 3-Piece: Black Diamond Z-Poles Carbon Fiber: 5oz (127g) each
- Adjustable: Leki Makalu: 10oz (283g) each
This might be one of the silliest and most useless selling points ever invented for hiking gear. I have used the Leki Makalu shock absorbing poles on several trips, though I ditched them quickly due to excessive weight, and never once found them to absorb any shock.
Having spent many seasons on the trail, I’ve hiked with, near, around, and past tons of people using adjustable shock absorbing poles and all I can think is “Gosh, those look heavy and miserable!”.
Hiking poles themselves help the legs and body absorb shock by using the arms and upper body to take on some of the burden of hiking. Many times a day, when using poles, I think “Man, I’m glad I had the pole to help me down that!”
But never once have I said, “Man, I’m glad that pole has its own suspension system inside so my hand doesn’t jiggle!” I avoid these types of poles because they’re almost always too heavy, clunky, and poorly designed.
Many hiking poles come with interchangeable baskets – a narrow basket for hiking and a wider basket for snow. If you’re seriously planning to use only one pole for both hiking and snowshoeing, then you might consider a pole with interchange baskets.
For those of us using the hiking poles for 3-season hiking and backpacking, interchangeable baskets are just a distracting sales gimmick. As an avid backpacker, alpine ski instructor, cross country skier, and occasional snowshoe participant I can tell you that I still prefer to have a dedicated set of poles for each activity.
There are several different locking methods for poles these days and, if you’re going to purchase an adjustable hiking pole, you’ll be better off understanding them. There are three types: twist lock, flick lock, and pull lock.
Twist lock poles are the most common and operate by twisting two sections of the pole against each other to lock them into place. They are notorious for coming loose while hiking and needing frequent adjustment.
Flick lock poles are a bit newer and operate with friction by an adjustable lever mechanism. Each section of the pole is locked by its own small, ergonomic, lever which pinches down against the shaft of the pole and locks the whole thing into place.
I’m honestly not sure if there’s even a name for this type of pole, but the Black Diamond Z Poles operate on this system. The idea is that the whole pole is held together by sliding the handle up along the shaft of the pole until it locks into place.
Trekking Poles Shaft Construction
The material the poles are made from is the most important factor in their weight.
Carbon Fiber: Poles made from this material are usually lighter and more expensive. They normally weigh between 6 and 9 ounces per pole. One of their other major advantages is they help reduce vibration and provide some shock absorption compared to aluminum. They are not as strong however and under a lot stress they will splinter and break.
Aluminum: Poles made from aluminum (usually 7075 aluminum) are usually very durable and are usually cheaper. You pay for it in extra weight. They normally weigh between 9 and 12 ounces per pole. Aluminum is stronger and can take a beating and they may bend they are unlikely to break under a heavy stress or shock.
Trekking Pole Grips
Rubber: Best for cold weather because they don’t get as cold and as a result neither do your hands. You are more likely to have sweaty hands since they offer little in the way of wicking properties. You may also suffer from blisters since they tend chafe your hands.
Cork: The best material in my opinion. They absorb and wick away sweat give you good grip. They also conform to your hands after a period of time and also offer some vibration reduction as compared to rubber.
Misc Considerations For Hiking Poles
Baskets: Since trekking poles can be used year round a variety of baskets are available. Small ones for rocky, hard terrain and larger for snow and mud.
Tips: Carbide being the most common, they offer superior traction on hard surfaces like rock or ice. Using a rubber tip can offer better traction depending on the terrain and also protect your backpack and gear.
Straps: All poles come with a wrist strap and are usually adjustable. The strap can offer extra support so you don’t have to grip the poles as hard and made the poles harder to drop. Not all hikers like them because they feel they are confining. The straps are usually made from neoprene or nylon with padding to reduce chafing.
Probably the overall best choice might just be the Black Diamond Z Pole Carbon for its light weight, great execution, awesome price tag, and a rock-solid reputation. If I had to recommend a single pole to every hiker it would be, without a doubt, the Black Diamond Z Pole Carbon.