Buying guide: trekking poles

Poles will power you through the hills, taking the strain off tired limbs and providing security on steep and uneven ground. Here’s how to find the perfect pair.

Man in hiking gear walking through grass with trekking poles

by Trail magazine |

If you've never been sure of the benefit of trekking poles, try this trick: stand on a set of bathroom scales and rest your arms on the sink - don't push, just rest. You'll see the needle swing round as your measured weight on the scales reduces.

By utilising a good pair of poles, some of your body weight and the weight of any gear you're carrying in your pack will be taken off your legs. And you don't have to be in possession of a dodgy pair of knees or fragile ankles to appreciate the extra comfort this brings.

If you'd like to experience the benefit of trekking poles but aren't quite sure what to look for, this guide will help show you the way.

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Why use poles?

Poles are useful when carrying loads or on steep slopes, reducing wear and fatigue on your knees and hips. Stand on some scales and watch the dial when you rest a pair either side, and you’ll see how drastic this effect can be over distance! They can also offer stability in bad weather, on unstable ground or in water.

Handle

The handle should fit snug in your hand and feel comfortable. On higher-priced poles these are well-padded and may have a forward angle for a more natural grip.

Wrist loop

When used properly, the wrist loop takes most of the load, so you don’t have to grip the handle as tightly. It’s also useful to ensure you don’t drop the pole down the mountainside. Higher-priced poles offer adjustable straps for a perfect fit.

Get the length right

Buying the correct pole length is vital, because it ensures you’re able to use the right technique, avoid falls, and provide optimal power transfer. Your elbow should be bent at 90°, with the forearm parallel to the ground. You may want to adjust the pole’s height slightly – making it shorter or longer – depending on the length of your stride.

Folded trekking poles lying on a rock
©Photo: Live For The Outdoors

Packability

When not in use, you will need to collapse your poles to strap them to your rucksack. If the packed size is too long it will project from your rucksack and can get caught on branches or rocks, or poke your mate in the eye!

Shafts

Walking poles are usually made from alloy tubing. To save weight, some tubing is thinner but this may make them bendier and less secure on uneven ground. Some poles are made with carbon or carbon composite to make them lighter. Care is needed with these though, as if over-stressed they can shatter rather than bend.

Tips and baskets

Poles have a metal tip to provide grip. If you need to use the poles on hard surfaces you can buy rubber tips to stop clicking noises, while a basket stops the tip sinking too deeply into soft terrain.

Locking system

Length is usually adjusted by an external lever that operates a clamping mechanism, or by a twist-lock system. The latter doesn’t catch on rocks or undergrowth. Both types of poles need drying after use to prevent corrosion caused by internal moisture build-up. The lever mechanism is popular, as it’s quick and easy to use, and appears not to succumb to operating problems easily, but it can snag on undergrowth.

Man with rucksack and trekking poles walking by lake in snow covered mountain landscape
©Photo: Live For The Outdoors

LFTO's top trekking poles:

Komperdell Carbon FXP.4 Approach Compact

Editoru2019s Choice
Komperdell Carbon FXP.4 Approach Compact

View offer

Verdict: u201cSuperbly engineered carbon fibre trekking poles, with a compact folded length, extended ergonomic grips, practical baskets and a brilliant self-deployment system.u201d

Trekology Trek-Z 2.0 Cork

Best Value
Trekology Trek-Z 2.0 Cork
Amazon

View offer

Verdict: u201cCompact, robust and functional, these are excellent trekking poles for the price. Their only real drawback is a little extra weight and complexity.u201d

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