We have talked a lot about trekking poles lately but how do you find the best ones for your needs? Do you choose aluminium or carbon fibre? Adjustable or non-adjustable? Are there any differences between men’s poles and women’s poles? Trekking pole or hiking staff? What materials are best? The choices are overwhelming.
But, never fear, read on and soon enough you will be a trekking pole master and will have the perfect pair. High five!
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Types of Trekking Poles
Trekking Poles: Are often sold as a pair and used in tandem, trekking poles enhance your stability and can reduce the force on your knees while hiking and backpacking. Most trekking poles are adjustable in length and some include internal springs that absorb shock to further reduce impact.
Hiking Staff: These are sometimes called a walking staff or travel staff, this is a single pole that’s most effective when used on relatively flat terrain and with little or no load on your back. Hiking staffs are adjustable and some include a shock-absorbing feature.
Properly sized poles will put your elbows at a 90-degree bend when you hold the poles with tips on the ground near your feet. Many trekking poles come in adjustable lengths, which makes this easy to achieve. However, some are sold in fixed lengths or in ranges of sizes.
Adjustable Pole Length
Many trekking poles adjust in length to enhance stability on different terrain. They generally adjust from about 24 to 55 inches long. Typically you’ll want to shorten the poles when going uphill and lengthen them when going downhill. If you have trekking poles that adjust in length, it’s important to know what height to set them at. Improperly adjusted trekking poles can cause distress to your arms, shoulders, back and neck. You can read more about how to use your trekking poles properly here.
For adjustable-length trekking poles and hiking staffs:
- If you’re taller than about 6 feet, choose a hiking staff or trekking poles that have a maximum length of at least 51 inches.
- If you are shorter than 6 feet tall, you’ll be able to shorten most adjustable trekking poles and hiking staffs enough to make them work for you.
Some trekking poles don’t adjust in length. These fixed-length poles tend to be lighter weight than adjustable poles because they have fewer parts which make them popular among ultralight hikers. They are great for activities where you know you only need a certain length.
Foldable trekking poles kind of function like tent poles and fold onto themselves rather than into themselves like adjustable poles. These poles tend to be more packable and are often lightweight. Foldable trekking poles are popular amongst fast hikers and ultrarunners.
Shock-absorbing trekking poles offer internal springs that absorb the shock when you walk downhill. With most poles, this feature can be turned off when it’s not needed, like when you’re walking uphill. Shock absorption is recommended if you have unstable hips, knees or ankles or have had any previous injuries to those joints.
These do not have a shock-absorbing feature and are lighter and less expensive as a result. While they don’t absorb as much impact when going downhill, they do provide a similar level of balance and support as shock-absorbing poles.
Ultralight trekking poles are lighter than standard trekking poles, they are easier and quicker to move which has the added bonus of less fatigue over time. They are also easier to pack, a great feature if you have a heavy pack.
Some trekking poles and hiking staffs include a built-in camera mount on the handle, turning your trekking pole into a monopod. Now that’s multi-tasking at it’s finest. I must admit, I had a trekking pole with a camera mount on it but never used it. Unsure why…..
Trekking Pole Locking Mechanisms
All trekking poles will have locking mechanisms whether they are adjustable in length or not. This helps to keep the poles from suddenly shortening on you while you are using them (a very handy feature to have). Non-adjustable poles have a locking mechanism so you can extend them to full length for use and collapse them when stowed away. Adjustable poles are similar but the locking mechanism will also let you adjust the length of the pole in the interlocking sections.
Most poles use one of these four types of locking mechanisms:
External lever lock: An external lever lock is a clamplike mechanism that is quick and easy to adjust on the move and even wearing gloves.
Push-button lock: These snap into place and lock with a single pull, simply press the button to release the lock and collapse the poles. Adjustable and non-adjustable trekking poles can have these.
Twist lock: These poles use an expander and screw setup that is consistently strong and durable. Simply twist to open and adjust your pole to the desired length then twist the other way to lock. Easy peasy.
Combination lock: Some poles use a combination of the other locking mechanisms which gives them a balance of strength, light weight and ease of use. For example, a pole might use an external lever lock on the upper shaft and a twist lock on the lower shaft.
Trekking Pole Shaft Materials
The pole shaft’s makeup will help determine how lightweight (or not) your trekking poles are
Aluminium: The more durable and economical choice, aluminium poles usually weigh between 18 and 22 ounces per pair. The actual weight will vary a bit based on the gauge of the pole, which ranges from 12 to 16mm. Under high stress, aluminium can bend but is unlikely to break.
Composite: These poles feature shafts that are made either entirely or partially from carbon. These poles are a lighter and generally more expensive option and average between 12 and 18 ounces per pair. They are good at reducing vibration, but under high stress, carbon-fibre poles are more susceptible to breakage or splintering than aluminium poles.
Trekking Pole Grips
Trekking pole grips can vary, some have ergonomic grips that have a 15-degree corrective angle to keep your wrists in a neutral and comfortable position. Some hiking staffs have grips that look like the grip you’d find on a walking cane. This shape provides good support for casual walking and very light hiking but is not recommended for multi-day hikes or hikes with a heavy pack.
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 insulates hands from cold, shock and vibration, so it’s best for cold-weather activities. However, it’s more likely to chafe or blister sweaty hands.
Men’s, Women’s, Kids’ and Unisex Trekking Poles
Some trekking poles are marketed specifically for men, women and kids, but the majority are generally unisex. The primary things that differ among men’s, women’s and kids’ poles are the length, weight, grip size and colour. It is personal preference as to which you go for as long as it is the correct length for you.
There is a huge variety of trekking poles out there, it will depend on the type of hiking you generally do and personal preference for weight and materials as to which one you choose. Generally, you get what you pay for (as Ma found out, her $5 poles didn’t last the distance).
Which trekking poles do you use?
You may also like
- How to use your trekking poles properly
- The benefits of using trekking poles
- Kabuda trekking pole review
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