How do you know which trekking poles are right for you? In this article, we’ll look at several models and help you to find the best trekking poles for you.
The biggest benefit with trekking poles is reduced impact on your knees, especially on long uphill and downhill sections of trail. They also provide stability on difficult terrain or while fording rivers, and some even use trekking poles to pitch ultralight tents.
Best Trekking Poles 2019 - Comparison Table
|Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork||$170||Telescoping||17 oz.||Carbon||Cork||25 in.|
|Leki Corklite||$140||Telescoping||18 oz.||Aluminum||Cork||26.4 in|
|Montem Ultra Strong||$50||Telescoping||19.2 oz.||Aluminum||Foam||24 in.|
|REI Co-op Flash Carbon||$139||Telescoping||14.8 oz.||Carbon||Foam||27 in.|
|Black Diamond Trail Back||$80||Telescoping||21 oz.||Aluminum||Rubber||25 in.|
|Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec||$140||Folding||19 oz.||Aluminum||Cork||15.5 in.|
|Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z||$170||Folding||10 oz.||Carbon||Foam||16 in.|
|Leki Micro Vario Carbon||$220||Folding||17 oz.||Carbon||Foam||15.5 in.|
The Alpine Carbon Cork poles are relatively lightweight, strong, and durable. Due to their thicker than average carbon fiber construction, they’re much lighter than an aluminum pole, and although not as strong, definitely comparable.
The cork grips are comfortable and allow your hands to fall naturally into place. The metal FlickLock Pro is supremely secure and confidence inspiring. And foam choke-up extensions and replaceable trekking and snow baskets round out the true 4-season build
Versatility is where the Alpine Carbon Cork truly shines, as it is an incredibly versatile pole. From short day hikes, 100-mile treks, steep and rocky alpine approaches, to pitching your tarp tent in the evening, the Alpine Carbon Cork can do it all. It manages all this in a relatively lightweight and extremely comfortable package. Although certainly not a full-service ski pole, they could be used for backcountry skiing in a pinch, and used for a splitboarder’s ascent, thanks to the wide powder baskets.
Leki Corklite DSS Antishock
The Corklite DSS Antishock is a great all-around pole that has loads of great usable features like it’s awesome cork handles, low profile antishock system, and durable aluminum construction. Although the cork handle is is not as good as the Black Diamond handles, it definitely had the edge, especially with no break-in period
Leki’s Corklite DSS Antishock poles are a no-compromise option for the ultralight crowd. Weighing just over 1 pound for the pair, they manage to squeeze a full set of features into their compact and foldable design. Most impressive is the low profile shock absorption, referred to as the Dynamic Suspension System (DSS). Leki’s technology is a little different than most. The antishock system is located in the lower portion of the pole, just above the tip. A small grey rubber washer covers the shock absorber, and when pressure is put on the pole, the anti-shock system depresses.
Locking mechanism is similar to the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork lever lock system, but instead of needing a coin or specialized tool to tighten or loosen the mechanism, it featured a simple dial. This made it easy to adjust while on the trail without needing to pack extra tools
Montem Ultra Strong
Montem is a relatively young outdoor gear company based in New York City, but is rapidly making waves in the trekking pole market due to the surprisingly low prices. The Ultra Strong, which is their leading model has an aluminum build, lever locks, and comfortable foam grips. At 19.2 ounces, the poles are a little heavier than the premium options above, but should be plenty light for most day hikers and backpackers. More, the poles have a short 24-inch minimum length, which is great for travel.
These poles sport a standard three section telescoping design. This is nice for hikers who prefer to adjust their poles to different lengths depending on the terrain. The poles can range from 24 to 53 inches, or 61 to 135 cm.
Montem Ultra Strong come with mud baskets and are compatible with Montem snow baskets as well (sold separately). They come with a pair of basic rubber tips, and Montem sells several different styles if you want more. The adjustability and secondary foam grip make them excellent for climbing on steep terrain.
To sum up, these poles don’t offer anything fancy, but they are very practical for beginners or budget-buyers.
REI Co-op Flash Carbon
For backpackers looking to keep weight to a minimum, the REI Co-op Flash Carbon poles are a great option, undercutting other high-end competition by $20 or more. At under a pound and with a carbon composite build, the poles are light in the hands and feature soft foam grips.
The weight is where the Co-op Flash Carbon excels, weighing in at 14.6 ounces, this is one of the lighter poles in our review, only rivaled by the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z, one of the lightest poles on the market. The addition of foam handles helped in the weight section; however, although the thinner carbon fiber construction helped to create a lightweight pole, it wasn’t as strong or as durable as something like the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork (17 ounces).
The Co-Op Flash Carbon is a traditional telescoping design, and packs down to 27.5 inches, which is in the upper ranges of our telescoping poles this year. It’s not as packable as a break apart style pole like the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ which breaks down to 15 inches.
The Co-op Flash Carbon is relatively versatile for on-trail use, cross-country, lightweight backpacking, and day hiking. However, it would not be as great of a pick for something like alpine rock climbing
Black Diamond Trail Back
This pair of trekking poles weighs in at about 21.4 ounces, which a little heavier than average overall among aluminum telescoping poles on the market. Our other top pick for comfort, the Leki Corklite DSS Anti-shock (18 ounces) weighs about 3 ounces less, but costs considerably more.
The Trail Back packs down to 25 inches which seems to be a standard.
The Trail Back features Black Diamond’s standard plastic FlickLock technology. The plastic is thick and heavy-duty, offering no doubt that it might break under all but the harshest of conditions.
Durability is where the Trail Back excelled. As an aluminum shafted, rubber handled pole, it’s unlikely you’ll be snapping it or taking chunks out of the handle anytime soon.
Aluminum constructed poles are tougher than their carbon fiber counterparts, except for the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork which uses a much thicker carbon weave, though the Trail Back is still more durable. The Trail Back is more robust than other aluminum poles in our review, like the Leki Corklite DSS Antishock which featured plenty of tech
Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec
Leki is well-known and ergonomic cork grips, and a competitive price of $140, the Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec is one of favorite poles in this category. This aluminum model folds down to a mere 15.5 inches, which is among the smallest on list.
Leki has a great locking system – SpeedLock 2- it can be tightened with a small dial, no extra tools needed. Unlike the Black Diamond FlickLock system, which requires a coin or screwdriver to adjust. The ability to easily keep the locks tight just adds to the already durable nature of these poles.
At 20 ounces, these poles are definitely one of the heaviest model on the list. This makes sense due to the cork handles and aluminum construction, and although it does add weight, it certainly adds comfort. If you’re looking for something a little more lightweight in a folding pole design, the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z.
The Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec is a tent-style pole, meaning it breaks apart into three sections. This allows it to pack into a tiny package of about 15.5 inches. This is considerably smaller than any of the traditional telescoping design poles like the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork, or Leki Corklite DSS Anti Shock which all came down to around 25 inches for the packed length.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z features siped foam handles. Although they aren’t cork handles like the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork they are slightly more comfortable than the traditional foam grips found on many trekking poles.
Black Diamond offers four sizes (100 cm, 110 cm, 120 cm, and 130 cm) to fit a variety of hikers. So long as you measure correctly you shouldn’t experience any issues with adjustability.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z weights 10 ounces which makes it the lightest poles on list. It beat out every other lightweight and packable carbon pole by at least 4-5 ounces, like the Leki Micro Vario Carbon or the Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec.
The Distance Carbon Z is not a very versatile pole. Although it does not mean that it fills a niche, it is geared more towards the ultralight and long distance hiker. Its small size and light weight make it great for those looking for a pole to pull out on occasion for special uses or those looking to shave weight in their backpacking kit. The lack of powder baskets further adds to the lack of versatility, limiting this pole to three season usage.
Leki Micro Vario Carbon
Leki Micro Vario Carbon has full carbon construction, throughout the entire pole, foam grips, and break apart design. This leads it to be one of the lighter, more durable poles. The foam grip to be one of the more comfortable designs as well. Although it is not cheap ($200) if you have the money, it’s an exceptional pole for a variety of uses.
Although Leki Micro Varion Carbon does not has a cork handless which seems to be the most comfortable material on poles like the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork or the Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec, we found the foam grips on the Micro Vario Carbon to be one of the more comfortable on the list.
As in the case of Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec and the Leki Corklite DSS Antishock it uses Leki’s SpeedLock 2 external lever locking mechanism. t’s super easy to use and doesn’t require any spare tools or coins to tighten or loosen the tension, which makes on-trail adjustments easy.
Weighing in at 15.8 ounces, the Micro Vario Carbon is lighter than the average trekking pole. Although not as light as a pole like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z (10 ounces), it offers much more adjustability, which the latter does not. It is lighter than the Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec though, thanks to its carbon design.
Micro Vario Carbon packs down to 38 centimeters, which is a far cry from the traditional telescoping design, like the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork at 61 centimeters or the Leki Corklite DSS Antishock at 67 centimeters. Overall, the packability of this pole puts it in the upper range of this metric.
See also an comprehensive review of Leki Micro Vario Carbon:
Leki Micro Vario Carbon Review
How to Choose the Best Trekking Poles
Few years ago hardly anyone used trekking poles. These days you’ll find trekking poles used by many people. Why have they become so popular? There are two main reasons of that.
Walking with poles offers a permanent handrail providing extra support and balance particularly on uneven ground, steep ground or for those who need extra confidence.
Using trekking poles helps reduce effort to keep you going longer. What is more trekking poles help save your joints, aid with balance, and save energy on steep climbs. Scientific evidence indicates that trekking poles can reduce impact force by up to 40% on your knees, especially on long downhills.
Here are the most important things that should be taken into account when considering how to choose the best trekking poles.
Types of trekking poles
There are three main types of trekking poles: Telescoping, Folding, and Fixed.
Telescoping trekking poles are made of two or three sections. Due to their durability and ease of use, they are the most common type on the market. The different pole sections expand from each joint by a locking system that can be opened for adjustment and secured while on the trail. These points of connection sometimes can be their greatest weaknesses, so a quality locking mechanism is highly recommended.
Folding trekking poles are similar to the poles that come with a tent, you can separate the pieces and pack them down into a compact size (oftentimes 7-9 inches shorter than a comparable telescoping pole).
Most folding poles have very thin shafts, can bear less weight than their telescoping counterparts, and are either not adjustable or limited in their adjustments lengthwise.
Folding trekking poles aren’t as durable as most two or three section telescoping poles. However, they are durable enough for most climbers and hikers for backpacking trips on trails and medium duty cross country travel.
A third category of trekking pole is the straight-shaft, fixed-length design. These are relatively uncommon because it can be difficult to store or transport such a long item and they can’t be adjusted for up and downhill travel.
Aluminum and carbon fiber are the two most common materials used in trekking pole shafts. Sometimes you can find a combination of the two (a three-section pole may have two carbon upper pieces and an aluminum lower). Carbon is lighter and stiffer, but if they take an impact and get a dent or a crack, they are going to snap. Comparatively, aluminum is slightly heavier but can take a dig or two and keep on trekking and are easily repairable in the field. Aluminum poles also tend to be cheaper than carbon fiber.
Most poles use a twist-and-lock system in which you find the desired length and then twist the pole hard to the right to hold. Some popular varieties:
- DuoLock: This trademarked feature on several poles applies a wide area of pressure against the pole walls to achieve secure length settings.
- FlickLock: This Black Diamond brand system is also strong. It’s a lever-based, clamp-like feature that is quick and easy to adjust, even when wearing gloves.
- Super Lock System: Leki’s system uses an expander and screw setup that is consistently strong and dependable.
- Stop Lock: This Komperdell system does not adjust pole length, but rather prevents pole sections from completely disengaging.
The shape and feel of a pole’s grip varies from brand to brand, so it’s preferable to try several models. Some grips are angled or positioned into the upper pole section so that they are ergonomically at a neutral angle. This can improve comfort and pole compactibility. Others feature grips that extend down the shaft, allowing you to grasp the poles more easily on short uphill sections. Keep in mind that many brands designate left- and right-hand poles on either the grip or the strap. Several materials (or a blending of materials) are used:
- Cork: This resists moisture from sweaty hands, decreases vibration and best conforms to the shape of your hands.
- Foam: This absorbs moisture from sweaty hands and is the softest to the touch.
- Rubber: This material insulates hands from cold, shock and vibration. Additionally rubber grips don’t absorb any water, so it’s recommended or people who want to use their poles mountaineering, snowshoeing, skiing or other winter sports. The downside is that it’s more likely to chafe or blister sweaty hands, so it’s less suitable for warm-weather hiking
Obviously lighter is better than heavier. For moving light and fast, the lighter the better, with a caveat that durability diminishes once you get into the ultralight category (we see it happen right around 1 pound). On the extreme end are poles like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z (9.3 to 10.4 ounces, depending on length). These are great for ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers, but the shaft materials are too delicate for bushwhacking or 4-season use.
Depending of your activity packability will be less or more important feature. Climbers, mountaineers and some backpackers need the ability to carry their poles on, or even sometimes inside their pack and generally the shorter, the better. An advantage to having shorter poles is that they are easier to travel with, packing more easily into a suitcase. However, if you don’t plan on traveling or packing your poles much then compactness is much less of a factor.
Pole basket size depends on what activity you plan to do. Larger baskets are better for snow but get hung up on roots and bushes if you’re hiking through the woods. Some trekking poles come with fixed baskets, while others have the option to use interchangeable baskets.
When buying new baskets for your poles, bring them to the store to make sure they fit or potentially find a different brand that fits your poles. Most pole manufacturers have different diameter holes on their baskets, and thus it’s difficult to use different brands.
Trekking poles with shock absorbers have the built-in give that takes additional stress off of knees as well as your wrists on a long descent. However, it is not very common feature. What is the reason of that. The most important is the additional weight. On longer treks, those additional ounces really count.
Shock absorbers do more good on the way down than the way up, where your body is taking the most impact. Many shock absorbing poles offer a feature where the user can turn off the shock feature. This is nice because you will get more “power” from your poles on the way up a hill.