The best trekking polesSeptember 22, 2020
- A quality set of trekking poles improves everything from day hikes and backpacking trips to short walks through a local forest or park.
- Not only do they provide stability on uneven or difficult terrain but trekking poles also level out whatever load you're carrying and help reduce back strain.
- Our top pick, the MSR Dynalock Explore, is a great all-around trekking pole that's strong, durable, and easy to quickly adjust, even while on the trail.
Wherever you walk, hike, or trek, a sturdy pole or set of poles makes you more stable and more efficient, particularly in uneven or challenging terrain. When you hike with poles, you have three to four points of contact with the ground instead of just one or two.
Trekking poles help spread the load, whether that's your bodyweight or the weight of a backpack. They significantly reduce back strain while hiking with a pack, be it a day hike or week-long backpacking trip, and help tone your arms along the way.
Watch any four-legged animal scramble through steep or technical terrain where your own footing is unsure, and you'll easily see even more of its advantages. While we can't promise that a pair of trekking poles would turn you into a mountain goat, they do reduce your chance of slipping, twisting an ankle, or taking a tumble.
How to shop for trekking poles
The poles we reviewed here are made from either aluminum or carbon. If you're someone who's hard on gear, aluminum is more dent-, ding-, and abuse-resistant. If you're gentler on gear or want lighter-weight equipment, carbon fiber is strong and light but more brittle. Keep in mind, aluminum bends. When carbon fails, it breaks.
The best trekking poles are adjustable, too. With a twist of the pole sections or a flick of a clip, sections fold or retract making them easier to stash in a backpack or carry in a suitcase. For walking, poles quickly telescope to length.
Buy trekking poles that are easy to collapse and deploy so that when you don't need them you can easily stash them. Then, when you do need them, you're able to easily pull them out of your pack again. If you plan to travel with your hiking poles packed in a suitcase, choose a pair or a pole that collapses small enough to fit in your bag.
How weather and hiking surfaces affect your poles
The specific weather and terrain you think you'll encounter dictates the kind of baskets you'll need. If you plan to use poles in snow, deep mud, or sand, you'll want a pair that has or is compatible with saucer-sized winter baskets. Snow baskets like these also prevent your pole from plunging into sand or deep mud. Most poles come standard with quarter-sized trekking baskets, though some do allow multiple baskets to choose from.
You'll also typically find poles with carbon-metal (carbide) tips that bite into rock and dirt for grip. If you're on pavement, concrete, or cobblestone, or if you'll be using your poles indoors, slip rubber tips over the carbide spikes to avoid causing damage.
Keep in mind that with hard use, carbide tips wear out. Some trekking poles do allow them to be replaced but don't be surprised if you notice wear and tear.
Don't forget shock absorbers and wrist straps
If you have joint issues, or if your back, neck, or arms are sore at the end of a day hiking with poles, choose poles with a built-in shock-absorber. Shock poles diffuse the vibration of your poles tapping the ground. A pole strike seems insignificant until you multiply it by the thousands of steps a hiker takes on any given outing.
Don't underrate the value of a good wrist strap, either. The best wrist straps support your weight when you lean on them to give your hands a rest. A soft and supportive wrist strap takes the weight without chafing your skin, too.
With so many options on the market, it's not always easy to know which are cut out for your type of outdoor adventures. To help, we field-tested some of the top models from brands like MSR, Black Diamond, and Gossamer Gear to round up our favorites — and check the end of the guide for information about the methodology of our testing and why we chose each specific trekking pole.
So, no matter if you're on a budget, want a shock-absorbing pole, or are intent on buying the absolute best, we have you covered.
Here are the best trekking poles:
- Best overall: MSR Dynalock Explore
- Best on a budget: Cascade Mountain Tech 3k Carbon Fiber
- Best for thru-hikers: Gossamer Gear LT5
- Best shock absorbing trekking pole: Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock
- Best for casual walks: Leki High Fives Wanderfreund Pole
Updated on 9/22/2020 by Rick Stella: Updated the section on how to shop for trekking poles and what to keep in mind, added a slide on how we tested each product, checked the availability of each recommended set of poles, and updated the prices and links where necessary.
Best trekking pole overall
MSR's aluminum Dynalock Explore is a do-everything, all-season trekking pole with superb comfort, excellent strength and durability, and easy-to-use clip locks.
It was before I even hit the trail that I noticed these three-section trekking poles have the most hassle-free locking levers I've used. The anodized aluminum levers click open and shut effortlessly, and each clip has a thumb-operated tension adjuster that tightens and loosens the poles' clamping mechanism. The levers were easy to operate both with and without gloves, too.
With each lever open, I rotated a small, ridged, metal rolling wheel with my thumb to add tension to the lock so my poles wouldn't compress when I leaned on them. Both this movement and the poles felt natural in my hand.
The firm foam grip was textured but not sticky and as the trail climbed and my hands got sweaty, the grip surprisingly felt more secure. I choked up and gripped the extended foam below the poles' ergonomic handholds while side-hilling and had the same solid grip.
Made from high-strength 7075 aluminum, these poles were heavy enough to be confidence-inspiring in their durability but not so heavy they felt like a burden. The extra durability was particularly suited to mountaineering, a week backpacking in New York's Adirondacks, snowshoeing, and day hikes.
They come with both trekking and powder baskets and adjust to fit most adults. And when I collapsed these poles for storage, they were compact enough to fit inside both an overnight backpack and my checked luggage.
Weight: 9.5 oz
Size collapsed: 24.5"
Maximum Length: 55"
Pros: Exceptional features for the price, small when collapsed, strong and durable
Cons: Heavier than some poles, rubber tips not included
Best trekking pole on a budget
These carbon fiber poles from Cascade Mountain Tech are sturdy, durable, and won't be the most expensive part of your hiking kit.
Usually, carbon fiber poles cost more than aluminum and they're noticeably more fragile. Even though these weigh roughly a pound per pair, they're sturdy, affordable, and come with more accessories than any other poles we tested.
Cascade Mountain Tech's three-section poles adjust to 54 inches with plastic quick lock clips. Plastic micro-adjust wheels fine-tune the quick-lock lever tension tool-free, too. While the parts aren't as high-quality as what you'd find in other poles, I had no durability issues over a month of testing. If something does break, Cascade Mountain Tech sells replacement pole sections and parts, so there's no need to buy an entire new pair.
Its sweat diffusing cork grips were one of my favorite features of these poles. I like the way cork feels in my hand much more than foam (a personal preference), and I found that on muggy days, my grip never slipped. Whether it was on the cork or the high-density foam below the grip.
I used the foam part of the grip frequently while hiking and would slide my hand down the pole and use it to boost myself over rocks or washed out roots instead of unclipping and shortening the pole. Ridges and a hand stop in the shaped foam gave a good grip surface while clambering up steep slopes. I appreciated the poles' reflective logo and highlights on the poles' upper sections for visibility in low light, too.
The Mountain Tech 3K Carbon Poles' webbing wrist straps are simple and easy to adjust. A soft piece of fabric is sewn to the inside of the webbing to reduce wrist chafing. The sewn-in fabric will likely be the first thing on these poles to wear out and after half a dozen hikes, it was curling slightly on the edges while the stitching holding the fabric to the webbing looked fragile.
The poles come with two sets of rubber tips for urban and indoor use that slide over the permanently installed carbide tips. Both small trekking baskets and larger snow baskets are also included. The extra tips and baskets store in a shoulder sling carry bag, which also holds the poles when they're not in use.
Weight: 8 oz
Size Collapsed: 26"
Maximum Length: 54"
Pros: Included storage bag holds poles and extra accessories, great price, all parts and pole sections are individually replaceable
Cons: Not as sleek as other options, plastic clips and wrist straps aren't as high quality as other poles
Best trekking pole for thru-hikers
Gossamer Gear's LT5s are lightweight, sleek, and an excellent choice for anyone looking to shave weight either in their pack or hiking kit.
Possibly the lightest three-segment poles made, Gossamer Gear's LT5s don't use clips to lock to length like other poles. Instead, they twist to lock, engaging an internal expander that keeps the pole extended.
With no external locking hardware, the LT5s are the cleanest looking poles I've tested — and they never got hung up while sliding them into my pack, either. Their weight and smooth profile made them best suited for ounce-shaving thru-hikers and fast and light day hikers.
Gossamer's EVA grips are colored to look like cork but they're foam, soft, and textured on the back for a quality hold. Gossamer also doesn't extend the foam down the pole shaft to save weight, making it so the only part to properly hold the pole is via the grips.
The LT5's minimalist wrist straps are fleece-lined fabric tacked to adjustable webbing. Where other poles adjust from the pole head, these adjust from the back of the wrist. It's a quick and simple system that lets me get these poles on and off with ease. It also makes it easy to tighten down and release.
The LT5s are incredibly lightweight and minimalist. The swing weight is so negligible, more than once I forgot I had them in my hands. They're not as burly as some poles and therefore best for experienced hikers or walkers and trekkers who are gentle on their gear
In a month of regular hiking and walking, they held up perfectly to normal wear and tear but I was careful to store them out of harm's way when not in use. There's no question they're strong enough to support your body and to hold up a trekking pole-supported shelter. But don't go whacking these on rocks or levering them under a rock or root.
The LT5s come with trekking baskets and textured rubber tips, but no winter basket.
Weight: 5.3 oz
Size Compressed: 23.5"
Maximum length: 51"
Pros: Super light and streamlined, featherweight swing
Cons: More fragile than other poles, no winter basket
Best shock absorbing trekking pole
A shock-absorbing pole lets you hike longer and avoid being incredibly fatigued, and there's none better than Black Diamond's Trail Pro Shock.
If you're trekking on roads, rocks, or other hard surfaces, your poles' carbide tips transmit tiny shock waves through your hands, arms, shoulders, and back on every step. This is especially true if the pole you use is metal and not carbon. If you're on the trail long enough, continuous hours of imperceptible shock waves eventually feel fatiguing.
As a hiker who often ends the trekking day with a sore neck or sore upper back, I was pleasantly surprised after a day with these poles to feel less beaten up. The poles' two-piece foam grips give four-stage shock absorption with smooth rebound control, according to Black Diamond. After a month of excursions, I can confirm that regardless of terrain, I was less sore than when I hiked the same routes with other metal poles
The two-piece grips are ergonomic at the top with a smooth foam extension on the shaft for grip on steep inclines. The softshell wrist straps were my favorite wrist straps of any pole on this guide. They were inspired by Black Diamond's climbing harnesses and didn't chafe my wrists, no matter the hike.
Adjusting the Trail Pro Shock poles is easy, too. A single flick lock frees the lower section of each pole and after adjusting them to length, the flick locks shut with a positive click so you know you're ready to hit the trail. If the clips loosen, however, you need an Allen key to tighten them.
I tested the women's poles which are shorter than the men's — 49 inches versus 55 inches, respectively. They have a shorter collapsed length — 25 inches to 26 inches for men's — and the women's poles are just over an ounce lighter per pair than the men's.
Weight: 10.4 oz.
Size collapsed: 25"
Maximum length: 49"
Pros: Shock absorber reduces fatigue, interchangeable tips
Cons: Doesn't compress as small as some other poles, winter baskets not included
The best trekking poles for casual walks
Leki's three-section, collapsible Wanderfreund is a sophisticated and distinguished modern take on a solid traditional walking staff.
The aluminum pole is topped by a beautifully shaped ergonomic cork handle with a hole in the center of the grip that provides a multitude of options for grip. I most frequently wrapped my pointer finger through the handle's central opening but at times, also hiked just holding the horn. The L-shaped facilitates changing your grip during an outing.
The pole adjusts from 25 inches to 47 inches and clips solidly in place at your preferred length with a high-quality plastic toggle that sits flush when closed. The pole's tip is as aggressive as those found on all-terrain hiking or mountaineering poles, with plenty of grab for exploring bike paths and walking trails.
While on walks in the woods, I used the permanent metal tip but on paved or hardpacked paths, I preferred the included rubber tip. It slides over the tip of the pole and gave me a pseudo-hiking shoe grip. The pole is snow basket compatible, too, but there were no baskets included.
If you're worried 47 inches might be too short for you compared to other poles, remember that you hold this staff differently than a standard hiking pole. You'll instead press down on the grip from the top instead of grasping the pole from the side. So, you may not need as much height as you do with a standard set of poles.
Weight: 9.8 ounces
Size Collapsed: 25"
Max Length: 47"
Pros: Elegant one-handed solution for mellow terrain, cork handle, collapsible
Cons: Won't help climbing steep hills
How we test
Each set of trekking poles featured in this guide went through a series of on-trail tests to determine how well it compared based on these four categories: Durability, ease of use, versatility, and value. Specifically, here's how each category factored into which trekking poles ultimately made this guide:
- Durability: A quality trekking pole should hold up to the harshness of whatever a hike or backpacking trip throws at it. As mentioned above, aluminum poles are far more durable than carbon fiber (though carbon fiber does still have its benefits). If it's durability you seek, opt for an aluminum pole — or be ready to replace or repair your carbon fibers every few trips.
- Ease of use: Using trekking poles is a fairly straightforward task, though most do offer at least some amount of customization in terms of their length, basket compatibility, and type of tip offered. The best poles should be easy to adjust (even while in the middle of a hike) and have simple mechanics for installing or uninstalling baskets and tips.
- Versatility: Chances are quite high you're not in the market for two sets of trekking poles, so the set you buy should be able to manage a wide variety of terrain and use. Whether that means it comes with the accessories needed to handle snow, sand, and mud as well as it can handle dry terrain, or does it all out of the box, this is an important feature for any quality trekking pole.
- Value: Judging a trekking pole's value isn't just about how much it costs but rather the combination of the previous three categories (as well as how they stack up concerning its sticker price). It's better to spend a little more on a quality pole designed to last than to spend less money more often for something that's shoddy and won't last more than a hike or two.
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Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected]
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