How to Choose Trekking Poles
Hikers use trekking poles for balance. After all, a four-legged dog rarely falls down. Trekking poles also reduce the impact on your knees and hips as you hike. According to a study from Northumbria University, trekking poles actually help hikers maintain muscle function, while also reducing soreness in the days following the trip.
How Many Trekking Poles Do I Need?
Since you have two legs, it makes sense to take two trekking poles. Your knees will thank you for it. Also, two trekking poles will provide more traction than one when fording rivers or hiking over ice and snow. A single trekking pole is ideal for short excursions on easier terrain.
However, if you often use your hands going up an incline and think you’ll carry the poles by the wrist straps, it might be beneficial to take only one. But you should buy two, if only because you might change your mind and want the pair, and finding a match can be difficult.
Most trekking poles have an adjustable length. This allows you to collapse the poles so you can easily carry them in your car trunk or strapped to your backpack. When choosing trekking poles, take note of their maximum and minimum length.
Maximum Trekking Pole Length
Tall people (6 feet 3 inches or more) should select a pole with a maximum length of at least 53 inches. Those who are 6 feet 2 inches or shorter will find most trekking poles will adjust to the appropriate length. Keep in mind that you may change the length depending on the incline on which you’re hiking.
Minimum Trekking Pole Length
Most poles can be reduced in size for easier storage. If you sometimes carry them strapped to the outside of your backpack, make sure they shrink down to a very short size—ideally 30 inches or less.
There are two kinds of adjustable trekking poles: lever-lock action poles and twist-lock poles. Generally, we believe that the lever-lock action trekking poles are easier, but as long as you can open a stubborn jar of peanut butter, you’ll be able to manage with the twist lock. Either way, you should look for a pole that’s adjustable, as you may find yourself looking for a different length going down the trail than going up.
Anti-Shock Trekking Poles
If you have bad knees or wrists (or wish to avoid having them), consider investing in anti-shock trekking poles. The spring-loaded mechanism in each pole absorbs some of the pounding and jarring during steep descents. The disadvantage of anti-shock trekking poles is that they’re significantly heavier than otherwise, so choosing one over the other depends on your preferences. Make sure to try the poles out around the store before purchasing them, since some hikers swear by anti-shock poles, and some don’t think they make a difference.
Do you have overly sweaty palms? Buy trekking poles with cork handles—they’re less slippery than synthetic grips. Additionally, cork grips end up being lighter than synthetic grips, which you’ll be grateful for on an extended hiking trip. They also change to fit the shape of your hand the more you use them.
Rubber handles are durable and repel water, so they’re perfect for adverse conditions and mountaineering. However, some hikers don’t like the constant rubbing that a rubber handle causes, so consider the sensitivity of the skin on your hands.
Foam handles can get slick and slimy in wet conditions, but are very comfortable to use when dry.
Trekking Poles with Ergonomic Grips
You can tell an ergonomic grip by its forward lean and the way it’s shaped to precisely accommodate a palm. This feature is not a requirement for trekking poles, but it does make them easier to hold.
Trekking pole wrist straps let you relax your grip slightly and transfer some of the pressure to your arm. This can make a difference on a long trek. All wrist straps should be adjustable. For long-distance hiking, having some padding on the strap can be nice. Having the option of letting your trekking pole(s) hang from your wrists also allows you to go on all fours during a particularly steep scramble.
Trekking Pole Weight
When trekking long distances, the lighter the pole, the better. Ten ounces or less (for each pole) should do. Carbon trekking poles weigh less and are very strong, but are not very durable and dent easily. Aluminum is heavier, but not by much, and will likely last longer than carbon.
Trekking Pole Baskets
Trekking pole baskets are the round parts at the ends of the poles. Select trekking poles with large (at least 3-inch diameter) baskets if you’ll be hiking through snow. For non-winter treks, smaller baskets are less cumbersome. In some instances, you can get your poles fitted with new baskets, but you’ll need to take them into the shop to ensure that the pieces will work together.
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