When asked if trekking poles were necessary for a moderate hike in Franconia Notch, NH our Director of Schools Peter Casson had a simple response: "a four-legged dog rarely falls down." In addition to enhanced stability on any hike, trekking poles are particularly helpful on downhill stretches where they absorb some of the shock and pressure that would otherwise go to your knees. The bottom line is, trekking poles are great tools for any hiker. Today's aluminum and carbon fiber trekking (or hiking) poles adjust in length to accommodate different users, are durable yet surprisingly light, and often include built-in shock absorbers that help reduce the pressure on your knees and wrists. Here are a few pointers to help you find the right trekking poles for you.
One trekking pole or two?
Since you have two legs, it makes sense to bring 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
Trekking poles with cork handles
Have overly sweaty palms? Buy trekking poles with cork handles - they are less slippery than synthetic grips.
Trekking pole wrist straps lets you relax your grip slightly and transfers 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.
Trekking poles with ergonomic grips
You can tell an ergonomic grip by its forward lean and the way it is shaped to precisely accommodate a palm. This feature is not a requirement for trekking poles, but it does make them easier to hold.
Antishock trekking poles
If you have bad knees or wrists (or wish to avoid having them), invest in antishock trekking poles. The spring-loaded mechanism in each pole absorbs some of the pounding and jarring during steep descents.
Maximum trekking pole length
Tall people (6'3" or more) should select a pole with a maximum length of at least 53 inches. Those who are 6'2" or shorter will find most trekking poles will adjust to the appropriate length.
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.
Trekking pole weight
When trekking long distances, the lighter the pole the better. 10 ounces or less (for each pole) should do.
Trekking pole baskets
Select trekking poles with large (at least 3 inch diameter) baskets if you will be hiking through snow. For non-winter treks, smaller baskets are less cumbersome.