Best Trekking Poles of 2020 for Hiking & Backpacking

Find the best trekking poles. No BS. Tested for performance and value.

Trekking poles for backpacking

Not All Trekking Poles are Created Equal!

Most hikers & backpackers choose to take trekking poles on their outings for both hiking efficiency and safety. But not all poles are created equal and you want to make the right choice. That’s where we can help. While other sites and roundups throw a whole pile of various poles at you with little rhyme or reason — we’ve split our choices into categories based on the type of hiking you do. That is, you don’t want to take a pricier, heavier pole than you need, but you also don’t want to take too light of a pole and risk breakage. In this guide, we’ll let you know which trekking poles are the best fit for the terrain you’re hiking on and your walking style, and which poles should leave on the shelf.

Staff Picks for Trekking Poles

Best All-Purpose Poles: REI Co-op Flash Carbon affordable, light, strong, excellent adjusters

Best Value All-Purpose Poles: Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber under $50, rugged, and up to any type of terrain but still light. And we prefer these over name brand sub-$100 poles.

Best Off-trail Poles: Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork the gold standard for rugged terrain

Best UL Z Poles: Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ super compact, light, 20cm adjustment range

Best UL Trail Hiking Poles: Gossamer Gear LT5 10 oz, fully adjustable, 3-section pole

Best Value UL Poles: Massdrop X Fizan Compact Trekking Poles. At just $60, this aluminum set of poles costs half as much as others UL poles this list, and still weighs a scant 11.2 ounces for the pair.

Best One-Section Pole: Ultimate Direction FK Trekking Poles incredible strength, just 8oz for pair

Value Trekking Poles

We also have some incredible “budget” trekking poles that you won’t find in other guides. But budget in cost, not performance. At around $50 they will give poles that cost 3x to 4x as much a run for their money for both weight and performance. There’s even a $45 pair of carbon fiber trekking poles that are more than rugged enough for challenging off-trail travel!

Off-Trail Trekking Poles

We’ve also noted which poles are strong enough & durable enough for off-trail use. This includes terrain with high potential for hard falls, scree, talus, light mountaineering, bogs, etc. Anything that will put extreme stresses on the pole.

Fixed-Length Poles

Given the recent reduction in distance travel and focus on local trips, fixed-length poles are worth a serious look. We’ve been using them on most of our day hikes, and backpacking trips. They are much lighter vs. an adjustable pole of the same strength.

Why You Need Trekking Poles

Trekking poles reduce joint stress on the descent, take the sting out of steep climbs, and after extended use, you get so accustomed to hiking with poles that it can almost feel like you have a second set of limbs, acting as a balancing aid on tricky terrain. Poles can help you move faster and more smoothly on or off the trail, and as more and more hikers opt for a lighter base weight setup, trekking poles have taken the place of structural tent poles for a tarp-tent shelter setup, as opposed to the classic freestanding or semi-freestanding tent options. While most models of trekking poles accomplish the same thing, most hikers will opt for an adjustable, collapsible set of poles with a simple locking mechanism that you can adjust up or down depending on terrain (our All-Purpose Trekking Poles).

In this guide, we’ve broken down the top models of trekking poles into different categories 1) All-Purpose Trekking Poles, 2) Value Poles, and 3) Fixed-length Poles. And we’ve also noted which poles are up to the abuse and stress of off-trail travel. While overlap is entirely possible, some of these models will perform better than others depending on objectives. We’ve listed the materials, pros, cons, and where these poles best fit for your own backcountry objectives. From our thousands of miles on the trails, these are the poles that will get you from start to finish, without shying away from what we think should be improved. This is our honest assessment of the gear we think will serve you best on your next endeavor, along with tips for traveling with trekking poles, maintenance, and uphill vs downhill travel with trekking poles.

ALL-PURPOSE TREKKING POLES

Your regular, get-it-all-done trekking poles for day-to-day hiking and backpacking on good trails should be durable, versatile, and comfortable. You want these poles to fall into the middle ground of features and weight, and also be compatible with different budgets. Depending on your style of hiking, we’ve included both fully-length adjustable poles and a few limited-length adjustable poles. These poles should do you proud all the way from short day hikes to extended, multi-day backpacking adventures. And their adjustability will allow them to be used between many hikers, adapt to varied terrain, and work with trekking pole supported shelters, which usually require an adjustable pole.

Gossamer Gear LT5 trekking poles

Gossamer Gear LT5

MSRP: $195
Weight (pair): 10.6 ounces
Materials: carbon shaft; foam grip
3 sections | jointed, twist lock | 23-51″ adjustment range

PROS: Ultralight; padded wrist straps; high adjustment range, light swing for easy & precise pole plants
CONS: Twist-lock doesn’t adjust as quickly as flick-locks; without proper care (see our care tips) mechanisms can get jammed with debris; off-trail durability can be an issue
BEST FOR: Hikers counting ounces who won’t be pursuing extended off-trail travel. Adjustability works well with trekking pole supported tents/shelters.

Details: The Gossamer Gear LT5 is a feather-light set of poles best for fast and efficient hiking on good trails. These poles are comfortable and light in your hands, with a stiff plant and a solid feel for extended backpacking or hiking. And they are great choices for using with your trekking pole support tent or other shelter like the new REI Flash Air Tents. Ultrarunners and fast-packers will like the low weight which means a light swing effort and easy and precise pole plants. Some caveats — we don’t recommend taking these into extreme off-trail terrain like talus, and be aware of potential breakage points at both the jointed segments and on the shaft itself under extreme stress or impact when off trail. And old-style collet (twist) adjusters are a bit more fiddly and time consuming to use than flip locks.

Black Diamond Trekking Poles - Distance Carbon FLZ

Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking Poles

MSRP: $190
Weight (pair): 12.7 ounces
Materials: carbon shaft; foam grip
3 sections | flip-lock | fixed length

PROS: Quick collapsing; lightweight; easy to stash
CONS: Expensive, especially when compared to other BD options; very little adjustment options
BEST FOR: Long-distance hikers who don’t mind less length adjustment and don’t need

Details: The Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ is a “fixed-length” trekking pole with a minor 15-20cm adjustment on top shaft. It’s this adjustment that allows them to be in this category vs. the totally fixed-length Distance Carbon Z and original Distance Carbon which are in our Fixed Length Pole Category. And this adjustment range just might make them adaptable for use with some trekking pole supported tents/shelters. This model is available in three sizes, from 43.3” to 55.1” and collapsing down to 13.4” for the shortest size to 15.7” for the longest size. These poles also come with the grip extensions and upgraded carbon composite that allows for a stiffer shaft for added strength for tough terrain. Black Diamond uses its proprietary SlideLock technology that allows the poles to release by pushing a button and snap into place easily.

REI Trekking Poles |  Co-op Flash Carbon

REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles

MSRP: $139
Weight (pair): 14.8 ounces
Materials: carbon shaft; foam grip
3 sections | flip lock | 41-55″ adjustment range

PROS: Ultra-secure flip lock, less expensive than others on this list, suitable for off-trail use
CONS: 27” collapsed length is somewhat long, short grips with no below-grip extension
BEST FOR: Standard trail users, from day hikes to extended backpacking trips

These poles are strong enough & durable enough to also qualify for off-trail use

Details: The REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles have easy-to-adjust, secure flip-lock adjustments and an ergonomic foam handle. These REI trekking poles are also one of a few poles in this section that we feel are up to off-trail use. The foam extends farther over the top of the pole than in other models, which can make it prone to breakage after extended use and pressure from the top down. And there is no extended section below the main grip to quickly shorten up on the poles. This set collapses down to 27” and has a usable range from 35-47”, weighing in around 15 ounces for the pair which is a good weight for a pole this strong. And of course, they are backed by REI. Check out the women’s REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles.

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork

MSRP: $180
Weight (pair): 17 ounces
Materials: carbon shaft; cork grip
3 sections | flip lock | 25-51” adjustment range

PROS: Strongest/most time tested pole; absorbent cork grip; grip extensions; very secure, screw-in, replaceable carbon tips
CONS: One of the heaviest poles on this list; expensive
BEST FOR: Hikers traveling over scree, talus and technical terrain (including mountaineering) who need a burly and ultra-reliable pole

These poles are strong enough & durable enough for off-trail use

Details: For years, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles have been the gold standard for-off trail use and mountaineering. And they are the poles we use when guiding. As such, they are ideal for hikers taking their miles off the established trail, and for hikers who want the utmost reliability. Cork grips are non-slip and wick sweat, and the pole tips baskets are easily interchangeable for varied terrain. Black Diamond’s secure locking mechanism means they won’t collapse even with full weight and impact on rugged terrain, and all pieces are securely fastened for difficult placement and planting. In summary, a great designed has been slowly refined and improved by extensive field use in the toughest places on the planet. Oh, and we like the screw-in, replaceable carbon tips which avoids the more difficult replacement of the entire flex tip.

leki trekking poles - makalu cor-tec

Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec Trekking Poles

MSRP: $120
Weight (pair): 17.1 ounces
Materials: aluminum shaft; cork grip
3 sections | flip lock | 40-54” adjustment range

PROS: Super strong, easily adjustable, low cost
CONS: One of the heaviest poles on this list; but comparable to other off-trail worthy poles, no grip extension
BEST FOR: Hikers traveling over scree, talus and technical terrain (including mountaineering) who need a strong and ultra-reliable pole and low cost

These poles are strong enough & durable enough for off-trail use

Details:  This is our top choice for Leki trekking poles. The burly Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec Trekking Poles a great value for poles that are up to off-trail travel (Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Poles are the others in this guide). The Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tecs also get our nod over the “lauded” Leki Micro Vario Carbon Poles — being almost 1/2 the price, essentially the same weight and much stronger. Their time tested aluminum design is strong and reliable. They have lever quick-locks for fast adjustments. We find their cork grips plenty comfortable for many, many trail miles. The only downside is that they don’t compact nearly as much as some of the poles in this guide (only 27″) and they don’t have that “carbon cache” (if you must have it). In summary, this is a tried and true old-school design brought up to date with modern twists, and a hellofa great value in a strong pole up to off-trail travel.

Similar Poles: Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork. Very similar in cost, weight, and performance to the Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec Trekking Poles

Leki trekking pole - Micro Vario Carbon

Leki Micro Vario Carbon

MSRP: $200

WEIGHT (pair): 16.9 oz

MATERIALS: carbon shaft; foam grip

FEATURES: 3 sections | jointed, flip lock | 44”-54” adjust range

PROS: External lock for added stability, extended grip for versatility on steep terrain; folds down to 15″

CONS: Only 8 inches (20cm) adjustment range for on-trail usage, very expensive, heavy, not up to off-trail use.

BEST FOR: Hikers looking for a quick-stash model that breaks down fast and stores small and has all the buzzers and bells

Details: The Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles are lauded by many trekking pole guides for their grip comfort and if you have tender hands maybe that matters. But frankly, we aren’t seeing what makes them top-ranked in other guides. If you put the “comfort” of the Aergon Thermo foam grip aside, the poles are heavy, have limited adjustability and are not strong enough for off-trail travel. We strongly suggest you consider a less expensive and stronger pole (Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Poles or the Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec Trekking Poles or Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork) or a lighter pole (Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking Poles or Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking Poles). That being said they are not bad poles — they are compact, well made with premium material and components, have some nice refinements and do have some of the stronger folding shafts on the market. We leave it up to you to decide if they are worth the price and weight.

VALUE TREKKING POLES

These low cost trekking poles (around $50) still provide low weight and high performance while costing 3x to 4x less than premium branded poles. One of these poles is super rugged and up to off-trail use off-trail remote and rugged areas like Alaska or Patagonia or even moderate mountaineering. The other is as light as many ultralight carbon poles but still strong and durable.

Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber

Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber

 Value Rugged, Off-Trail Trekking Poles

MSRP: $45
Weight (pair): 15.6 ounces
Materials: carbon shaft; cork grip
3 sections | flip lock | 26-54” adjustment range

PROS: Inexpensive, super strong, highly adjustable, suitable of all terrain on-trail and off-trail
CONS: A few ounces more than a trail-only ultralight pole, wrist strap material can rub
BEST FOR: Hikers who want a strong carbon pole up to on trail or off-trail use, even moderate mountaineering for a fraction of the cost of bigger name brands.

These poles are strong enough & durable enough to also qualify for off-trail use

Note: we prefer these carbon poles over sub-$100 name brand poles. The are less expensive, lighter and at least as strong if not stronger. And we have logged thousands of miles with these poles, much of it technical and semi-technical off-trail terrain.

Details: We’ve used the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles for guiding, off-trail Patagonia and Alaska, and even used them on a technical traverse on the Southern Patagonia Ice shelf. As such, it’s hard to believe they are available for less than $50. The cork grip absorbs sweat and helps reduce instances of your hand slipping, and the poles also come with foam grip extensions for a variety of grips on steep terrain. These poles are highly adjustable and have flip locks for fast, minor adjustments for climbing and descending. The sewn edges of the wrist strap can rub, but the interior is soft and well lined for extended use. The added ounces in these poles come from solid construction and beefy carbon shafts which make them up to off-trail use in challenging terrain. A downside is their pole tips wear more quickly than high end poles — but the good news is that the tips can easily be replaced. Cascade Mountain Tech has an extensive set of replacement parts and a replacement end section with carbon tip is only $8! Oh, and the tension adjusters for the flip locks are a more basic than expensive models.

Massdrop X Fizan Compact Trekking Poles Value Ultralight Adjustable Poles

Massdrop X Fizan Compact Trekking Poles

Value Ultralight Adjustable Poles

MSRP: $60
Weight (pair): 11.2 ounces
Materials: aluminum shaft; foam grip
3 sections | twist-lock | 22.8–52” adjustment range

PROS: Lightweight; inexpensive; durable, light swing weight
CONS: Not as packable as some other models; grip material can feel sweaty, intermittent availability from Drop
BEST FOR: Hikers on a budget who want an ultralight but solid set of trekking poles at half the cost of a carbon set

Details: The Massdrop x Fizan Compact Trekking Poles are a win-win combination of lower-cost materials, durability, and still clocking in at just over 11 ounces — essentially the same weight as an ultralight carbon fiber pole like the Gossamer Gear LT5s. Fizan got these poles so lightweight by using 7001 aluminum, which is a super lightweight aluminum alloy and has the highest yield strength of the 7000 series alloys. The twist-lock mechanism for adjusting might not be as flashy as a flip-lock device, but these poles are durable, stable, and extremely reasonably priced. The foam material for the grips might make for sweaty hands, so be aware you might end up wiping your hands on your clothes more than with a more absorbent, wicking grip material like cork (wearing sungloves, which we do anyway, solves this issue). We like the comfortable cloth straps that are not overbuilt. Finally, these are intermittently available on Drop. If they are not in stock you can always put yourself on the list to be notified when they are in stock.

black diamond trekking pole distance z

Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles (aluminum)

Value Ultralight Z Poles

MSRP: $100
Weight (pair): 12.8 ounces
Materials: aluminum shaft, foam grip
3 sections | jointed | fixed length

PROS: Low cost; Ultralight; very packable; fast deployment from packed to extended
CONS: Fixed length, so not as versatile for steeper terrain and not compatible with many trekking pole supported tents/shelters
BEST FOR: Ultrarunners and fastpackers who need ultralight poles but want to be able to stow them and want low cost

Details: Go aluminum and save! The Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles the value Z-poles. Yes, they are more expensive than our other budget poles, but they cost $70 to $100 less than their carbon counterparts. They are still super packable and only slightly heavier (2.8 oz) vs. carbon Z poles. Otherwise, they are similar in features and performance. These z-fold poles are easily collapsible down to 33 to 43 cm (depending on size) and come in four sizes (100, 110, 120 and 130 cm). Be aware that these poles can be prone to breakage in rough environments (pole joints are not as strong as fully adjustable poles), and wear and tear on the internal cables can happen after extended use. Like other fixed-length models, these poles have extended grips for additional length adjustment for varied terrain. In summary, a great value in a super compact, folding pole at the cost of just a few oz vs. carbon versions!

FIXED-LENGTH POLES

Note: given the recent reduction in distant travel and focus on local trips, fixed length poles are worth a serious look. We’ve been using them on most of our day hikes, and backpacking trips.

Fixed length poles are often lighter weight, and they have fewer places prone to breakage. If you’re worried about height variation needs for your trekking pole shelter, check your specific setup. Oftentimes a trekking pole shelter only needs one adjustable pole to set up, or a fixed-length pole can be used at a slant or tied-off mid-pole.

Note on Pole Weights: unless specified otherwise, pole weights are for 120 cm length model

Black Diamond Distance Carbon trekking poles

Black Diamond Distance Carbon

MSRP: $150
Weight (pair): 6.7 ounces
Materials: carbon shaft; foam grip
1 section | fixed length

PROS: Ultralight, minimal mechanical places for things to go wrong, longer foam grip for more hand placement options
CONS: Less versatile; one-piece construction means they can’t be broken down, not well-suited for use with trekking pole supported tents/shelters
BEST FOR: Thru hikers, fast day hikers, fast packers, ultrarunners, trail runners

Details: The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Trekking Pole are the lightest on this list, weighing in at an astonishing sub-7-ounces for the pair. They’re about as simple as it gets with a lovely swing weight and precise pole placements. With this low weight comes the some risk of breakage, so we would not recommend keeping these poles if you spend a lot of time off-trail. Since these are just one section and fixed length, they aren’t ideal for extended trips where you’ll want to stow them or for use with trekking pole supported tents/shelters. They come in five different length options, from 110 to 130 centimeters. Be sure to check the size chart to choose the right option but a vast number of folks will be well served with the 120 cm version.

Ultimate Direction FK Trekking Poles

Ultimate Direction FK Trekking Poles

MSRP: $150
Weight (pair): 8 ounces
Materials: carbon shaft; foam grip
1 section | fixed length

PROS: Ultralight, exceptionally strong
CONS: Fixed length, don’t collapse, can be hard to travel with, pole tips wear quickly but can be replaced
BEST FOR: Trail runners, ultrarunners, extended hikes

Note: These poles are strong enough & durable enough to also qualify for off-trail use (assuming you don’t need adjustability)

Details: The lightweight Ultimate Direction FK Trekking Poles are rigid, durable, and have a tailored blend of flex for impact reduction but also great strength. They are up to just about any terrain and style of hiking you can throw at them, even extended off-trail travel  — amazing for 8 oz poles! The larger than normal diameter of the carbon shafts add strength and rigidity to the poles without increasing weight. The abrasion prone lower part of the tip section is always the weak (failure-prone) spot for any pole. And the FKTs have aramid fiber (“Kevlar”) wrap here for added strength and durability in this section. As with others on this list, the fixed length is a blessing and a curse… it depends what you want the poles for. A fixed-length means no joints, which decreases the potential for breakage at those weaker points. It also increases rigidity and helps save ounces, but you lose the flexibility for on steep terrain that comes with adjustable poles and they don’t work well with trekking pole supported tents/shelters (altho some shelters do allow a fixed-length pole to be used at a slant or tied off mid-shaft). The downside of these poles is that carbide tips wear quickly and you’ll eventually need to replace them. The good news is that the Black Diamond Flex Tech Tips you’ll replace them with last a very long time!

Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles

Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z

MSRP: $170
Weight (pair): 10 ounces
Materials: carbon shaft, foam grip
3 sections | jointed | fixed length

PROS: Ultralight; very packable; fast deployment from packed to extended
CONS: Fixed length, so not as versatile for steeper terrain
BEST FOR: Thru-hikers, fast-packers or ultra-runners who need ultralight poles but want to be able to quickly stow them

Details: The Black Diamond Carbon Z is the packable (and slightly heavier) answer to the Black Diamond Distance Carbon. These z-fold poles are easily collapsible down to 13-17 inches (depending on size) and come in four sizes (39-51 inches). Be aware that these poles can be prone to breakage in rough environments, and wear and tear on the internal cables can happen after extended use. Like other fixed-length models, these poles have extended grips for additional length adjustment for varied terrain.

Trekking Poles | What You Need to Know

How Should You Choose Trekking Poles?

Choosing your poles depends on what type of terrain you’ll be crossing through. Hiking on a buff, established trail calls for different poles than if you’re planning a journey through off-trail terrain like talus or other loose rock and debris. A carbon shaft is more expensive but lighter weight, and while they’re strong with a vertical load, carbon poles have a tendency to bend or break when shock-loaded from the side. While aluminum poles are heavier, they are less expensive and are often more durable. The lightest weight poles are ideal for past-packing on established trails, or for endurance runs where every gram matters, but won’t be ideal for more rugged off-trail travel. Your basket attachments on the end of your poles are also important, and can be switched out depending on tread. Wider baskets are ideal for staying more on top of snow, but will be frustrating on rocky or rooty ground.

Overview of Pole Types

  1. Three-Section Telescoping Poles (example REI Co-op Flash Carbon):
    These are the classic style of trekking poles, with three sections that telescope—or collapse—into themselves. These are secured with a flip-lock or twist-lock mechanism and are often highly adjustable.
    Pros: Very adjustable, collapses down to a fraction of their fully extended length. Can be more durable than the z-fold poles, which are the other collapsible versions.
    Cons: Can be heavier, and the added mechanisms mean the pole construction is more complicated and thus has more places for breakage or failure.
  2. One-Section, Fixed-Length Poles (example Black Diamond Distance Carbon):
    One-section, fixed-length poles are exactly what they sound like. This style of pole consists of just one piece, which makes it sturdier, lighter, and oftentimes less expensive. Fixed-length poles often come in several different sizes based on your height. Note that not all fixed-length poles are one section. Some are z-fold, breaking down into three pieces. The best of these poles can be both very strong and very light.
    Pros: Simple construction (one piece) means a more durable pole with fewer opportunities for parts failure. They are also ideal for times when you won’t be traveling with your poles—no need to worry about collapsible poles for airline travel. Fixed-length poles can be lighter and less expensive as well.
    Cons: You can’t adjust them for going up or down steep sections of trail, and sometimes the length options aren’t perfectly suited for the person. Fixed-length poles are also more difficult to travel with, as they don’t collapse. And fixed-length poles not well-suited for use with trekking pole supported tents/shelters, altho for some shelters, you can use them at an angle or possibly tie-off to them mid-shaft.
  3. Z-Fold Poles (example  Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ):
    Z-fold poles are often made up of three pole segments held together with a hidden inner cord. The segments pull apart (but are held together by the elasticized cord) to collapse for quick stowing or travel.
    Pros: These poles stash quickly for when you transition between pole usage and stashing them in your pack. They are also lighter since their locking mechanisms are either much smaller or nonexistent.
    Cons: This style of pole has a higher instance of breakage than one-section poles or telescoping poles. The cordage running through the poles can break mid-cord or at attachment points. Additionally, these poles are either fixed-length or with very minor adjustment capabilities. These are also not well-suited for use with trekking pole supported tents/shelters.

Aluminum Vs. Carbon Poles

Carbon poles have been a selling point (and reason for companies to brag about) over the past few years, and they have a lot of things going for them. When well made, they are lighter and stronger than the most aluminum poles. But when you look at the weight and durability (durability is different than strength) when compared to the price point, there’s much to be said about using good old-fashioned aluminum poles.

Carbon poles are made of some of the lightest material available for trekking poles, and the material can actually reduce vibration and jarring on the trail. And while strong, carbon is more fragile than aluminum if it gets a sharp load from the side like the edge of a rock. We’ve broken a number of UL carbon poles in talus. And oftentimes you’re only saving a few ounces vs. aluminum if you compare and shop carefully.

Aluminum poles are made with super tough materials, making them even more durable than carbon. They also weigh just a few ounces more than comparable carbon poles, and you can often find them for a fraction of the price.

Overall, carbon poles are great for saving weight, and they’re certainly trendy. But if you’re on a budget, a solid pair of aluminum poles will last you a long time and keep cash in your wallet for the tradeoff of a few ounces.

Flip Lock Vs. Twist Lock Length Adjusters

Yet again, there are pros and cons to both. A flip-lock can be easier to use, requires less maintenance, and feels more secure, but it is also more complicated mechanism, which means it has the potential for breakage and failure. We feel that on the whole, flick-locks are less prone to pole slippage and jamming. If they do go wonky, everything is accessible on the outside of the pole where you can see and manipulate it. One of the best things about flip locks is how fast they are to adjust on the go. Flip locks can also be more secure, as it’s one motion to lock the length down on the pole, which removes the guesswork of twisting.

A twist-lock can be lighter and more simple of a mechanism, but they require a bit more finesse to tighten correctly and without experience it’s hard to tell how tight to make them to prevent slipping, but not so tight that they are hard to loosen. And we also find that twist-locks are more prone to jamming. As such, you’ll also have to be sure to clean and maintain the twist locks, as dirt and debris that can clog them and prevent them from tightening securely. Finally if a twist-lock does jam all the parts are inside the pole so not accessible. This makes freeing up a jam harder vs. a flip-lock. All that being said, twist-locks have been around for decades and do work. You can get some great values in poles with twist-locks.

Pro Tips for Trekking Poles

Uphill vs Downhill With Poles

Trekking poles really shine on steep terrain, both uphill and downhill. Depending on the steepness of the trail, you’ll want to adjust your poles so your elbows sit at about 90 degrees when you grasp the grips and the pole tips are planted on the ground. I.e., longer poles for descents and shorter poles for ascents. It’s not necessary to adjust your poles for every incline and decline, but for extended ascents and descents, you’ll want to adjust them. Most poles have quick-adjust mechanisms you can lengthen or shorten on the go.

When heading uphill, it’s important to keep your upper body as parallel to the trail as possible and not hunch over or “dump” your upper body into the poles. You should never feel like your shoulders are collapsing into the pressure on the poles, or being compressed into your pack straps. On the downhill, lengthen your poles enough that you don’t have to lean forward into grips or straps. (Alternatively, you can palm the top of your pole grips to quickly increase pole length for going downhill.) Staying upright will help maintain balance and avoid the dreaded faceplant downhill.

Trekking Pole Maintenance

Often an ignored part of gear maintenance, it’s important to clean the pole segments between hikes. Wipe debris, sand, grit off the shafts, pole ferrules, and any adjustment hardware such as flip locks and twist lock mechanisms. If your poles get wet, dry them out as much as possible before using them to set up your tarp-tent, and certainly before long periods of storage. Additionally, loosening and tightening any pole-adjuster hardware on a semi-regular basis prevents them from seizing/locking in place. If your poles keep collapsing, don’t panic. Chances are you just need to tighten a screw on one of the locking mechanisms.

Tip Replacement

replacing trekking pole tips

Replacing the tips is an easy, inexpensive way to extend the life of your poles. Most trekking poles have metal or carbide tips, which provide good traction on looser trails and ice. Rubber caps for your pole tips can serve as both shock absorption and traction for more buff trails, but both will end up wearing down after prolonged use. The more technical and rugged the trail, the faster the metal and rubber around the carbide will wear down but expect to replace your tips after around 500-700 trail miles. Once you lose the “edge,” it becomes more difficult to plant your poles and maintain traction, especially on extended sections of rock. You can shop for trekking pole tips here

When Using Your Trekking Poles for Shelters

Adjustable poles with a high adjustment range are more desirable for shelters that use trekking poles for support. Additionally, the more stable the locking mechanism, the better. Look for the “flick lock” mechanism as opposed to “twist locks” Using your poles for shelter puts increased, extended pressure on the poles throughout the night or duration of shelter setup, and you want to be sure the mechanisms and structural integrity of your poles can withstand the dual-usage during on-trail movement and at night during static setup.

Tips for Traveling With Trekking Poles

Traveling to your hiking destination? You’ll need to pack your poles, which is somewhat easier said than done. In smaller luggage, you may need to take the poles apart to fit, and TSA does not technically allow trekking poles into carry-on luggage. While some hikers have had luck breaking down their poles and getting them through security with the individual sections broken down to fit into standard carry-on luggage, your safest bet is to check your bag with the poles.

Disclaimer

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18 replies
  1. Jerry
    Jerry says:

    For my purposes I prefer a hiking stick. I bought mine from the Brazos Walking Stick company in Texas. It is strong enough to bear all of my weight going up a steep bank or going down hill. I always place my walking stick on the other side of a rock or log in case of snakes. It may be handy for defense against dangerous animals or just act like it. I have stepped in rodent burrows and the walking stick prevented my from falling and possible injury. I am out in the desert or mountains at least one day per week. I am a wildlife photographer. I have some shots of a mountain lion, bears, coyotes, snakes, pigs. etc.

    Reply
  2. Timothy Coyle
    Timothy Coyle says:

    Hi Alan- if you had to choose a grip on the CMT would you go with cork or other? $44.99 with non-cork now through your link at Amazon. Not a big difference in cost to cork. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Timothy, Alison & I prefer the cork grips, slightly better feel and a little less damp feeling on warm days. But the lower cost, foam grips are fine. Your choice. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
      • Timothy Coyle
        Timothy Coyle says:

        Thanks Alan! If you were choosing btwn CMT and Massdrop X Fizan what would you go with. Again, thanks for the help!!!

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Tim, this has already been discussed here. Please let me know if you have further Qs after reading it. Best, -alan

  3. Ed C.
    Ed C. says:

    So, for the sub-100/value poles. Is the $10-$15 price difference between the Cascade Mtn, and MassDrop Fizan poles worth the 4 oz in weight savings?

    Is the durability of the Fizan’s higher since they are all aluminum.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Ed, the answer is it depends. I think the flip locks on the CMT poles are less likely to jam and need less maintenance. It’s probably a wash on which shafts are stronger — although the Al is likely to survive a side load from a sharp edge like the edge of a talus block than Carbon. Do a bit of reading at the end of this post about Al vs. Carbon and Flick Locks vs. Twist Locks. Best, -alan

      Reply
    • Aubrey
      Aubrey says:

      I have the Drop (formerly known as MassDrop) Fizan pole. I love them. Light weight and easy to adjust. I haven’t had one slip or jam. I’ve done several dozen hikes with them. Including 14ers and a week long Grand Canyon backpack on primitive trails. I think they’re a steal at $60. I have other heavier poles and can tell the difference when using them. These have a light swing weight (i.e., heavier at the top and lighter at the bottom)

      Reply
      • Aubrey
        Aubrey says:

        OH! The only issues are a sweaty grips that Alan mentioned. I got use to it. The straps would lose adjustment. I adjusted mine to where I liked them, the secured the bottom of the the strap to the pole with a zip tie. Easy Peasy! Once I figured it out. If I wanted to wear thick glove with them, I would have to remove the zip tie. But if it’s that cold, I’m cross country skiing or snowshoeing with different poles. The tops are small for palming on the downhill. I’ve been think about gluing a half racket ball or squash ball to the top for more surface area.

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Hi Aubrey, checkout the sun gloves in the guide. I think you’ll find they do wonders with trekking pole grips. I use them all the time. Best, -alan

  4. JP
    JP says:

    Thanks for a great round-up of poles! I particularly like your durability rating – great information to have.

    I use Pacer Poles most of the time – they have a unique grip and different balance. They are slightly heavier but many people swear by them.

    Another option for fixed poles (provided they are short enough) is to use a pole jack, which many tarp tent vendors sell.

    My experience with the FL-Z poles is they are great, but sometimes an end of the joint falls deep into the section and pliers are needed to fish it out. Also, the tips on my pair aren’t thin enough to use with most tarp tent grommets, although maybe I can swap those out.

    A hiking partner of mine had one of his carbon poles shear in half coming down Mt. Whitney – happily it was the last day of our hike, but I feel aluminum poles has less catastrophic failure modes. That said, Philip Werner shared that his poles break much less now that he’s using snow baskets all the time. I’ll have to try the Kevlar tape trick.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      JP the kevlar tape is a factory applied layer(s) on the tip of the pole. Not something a user could do unless you wanted to epoxy it on like a layer of fiberglass. -a

      Reply
  5. Matt
    Matt says:

    Alan. I really appreciate your research and product comparisons. While the various types of pole uses adds complexity. I think summarizing your results in table form is super helpful. As an aside. I purchased the Cascade poles and used them on an 80 mile hike on the Uinitas Highline Trail this June. They performed great. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Matt, Gald the CMT poles worked for you. And there actually is a data table for the guide. It’s just a few days behind this post in publishing. Best, -alan

      Reply

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