Trekking Poles 101: How to Choose

Trekking Poles: Female hiker using trekking poles on a scenic mountain trail

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Have you ever wondered how some hikers seem to effortlessly conquer steep mountain trails while you’re struggling to keep your balance? The secret might just be in their hands – trekking poles.

In this guide, we’ll break down the basics of trekking poles and, more importantly, help you choose the perfect pair to elevate your hiking experience.

Benefits of Trekking Poles

Trekking Poles: A close-up of a hiker walking on a field trail with trekking poles

Trekking poles may appear basic for hiking gear, but their extraordinary benefits and popularity among outdoor enthusiasts warrant a closer look.

  1. Improved Stability: One of the primary advantages of trekking poles is the stability they provide. They distribute your weight and offer added support, reducing the risk of slips and falls.
  2. Reduced Impact: Trekking poles help absorb shock and minimize the impact on your joints, especially during downhill sections. Studies have shown that using poles can reduce knee impact forces by up to 40%, which can be a game-changer on extended hikes.
  3. Energy Conservation: Trekking poles turn your regular hike into a full-body workout by engaging your upper body. By sharing the load with your arms, you save energy and ease the strain on your lower body, helping you cover more distance with less effort.
  4. Versatility: Trekking poles go beyond hiking and serve as valuable companions for trail runners, backpackers, trekkers, climbers, and even as supports for your shelter.

Trekking Pole Basics Explained

Trekking Pole Designs

Trekking poles come in various designs, and understanding their differences is crucial in finding the right pair. Here are the four main design configurations:

1. 3-Section Telescoping Poles:

How to Choose Trekking Poles:  LEKI
Cross Trail Lite Carbon Trekking Poles

These are the most common and robust poles available. They offer a wide range of length adjustment, typically between 12 to 16 inches. Plus, they’re usually more budget-friendly. The downside is that their minimum packed size is longer than any individual section of the pole.

2. Folding Poles:

How to Choose Trekking Poles:  LEKI
Black Series FX Carbon Trekking Poles

Folding poles are relatively new to the trekking pole market. They are the lightest and most compact option but might not be as durable as telescoping ones. Also, many folding poles lack the adjustability of telescoping poles, with only 6 to 8 inches of length adjustment.

3. Fixed-length Poles:

Some poles come in a single, fixed length, with no collapsibility or length adjustment. This design reduces weight and adds strength by eliminating adjustment components. Fixed-length poles are ideal for those focused on minimizing kit weight.

Shaft Material

The material of your trekking pole shafts plays a significant role in their performance and durability. Trekking poles are primarily constructed from two different materials: carbon fiber and aluminum:

  • Carbon Fiber: Carbon fiber poles are well-known for being extremely lightweight. They offer exceptional strength when loaded vertically. However, it’s worth noting that these poles can be relatively expensive, and they are more susceptible to chipping or cracking, especially when used in rough terrain.
  • Aluminum: Aluminum poles are heavier than carbon fiber, but they are exceptionally durable. They can endure bending without snapping, making them a reliable choice for long-distance trekking and rugged terrain. They are also often more budget-friendly than carbon fiber options.

Pole Adjustment Mechanism

Trekking poles offer adjustable features to suit hikers’ preferences and terrain. Knowing these mechanisms is vital when selecting the right poles. Key adjustment mechanisms include:

  • Lever Locks: Lever lock mechanisms have become the standard for adjustable trekking poles. Some poles use plastic lever locks to save weight, but they may be more susceptible to snapping or damage when mishandled. More robust options feature aluminum lever locks that provide added durability.
  • Twist Locks: While less common today, some older trekking poles still use twist-lock mechanisms. Twist locks can be reliable, but they may require more effort and time to adjust compared to modern lever locks.

Basket Size

The size of the basket on your trekking poles plays a vital role in your hiking experience, as it affects how well your poles perform in various terrains and weather conditions. Here’s what you need to know about basket sizes:

  • Small Baskets: Small baskets typically have a diameter ranging from 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6 cm). These baskets are best suited for dry terrain, such as dirt trails and rocky paths, where obstacles are minimal.
  • Large Baskets: Large baskets have a significantly wider diameter, usually between 4 and 6 inches (10 to 15.2 cm). These baskets excel in snowy, soft, or loose terrain, providing stability and preventing the poles from sinking deep into the snow.

Some trekking poles have interchangeable baskets that allow you to switch between small and large options, providing flexibility for various conditions.

Grip Ergonomics and Material

Trekking Poles placed crisscross on a field

The grip of your trekking poles is a critical factor that directly affects your comfort and control while hiking. Understanding grip ergonomics and materials is essential to make an informed choice.

Grip Shapes

  • Contoured Grips: Many trekking poles feature contoured grips designed to fit the natural shape of your hand. These grips are ergonomic and offer comfort during extended hikes. They help reduce hand fatigue and blisters.
  • Straight Grips: Some poles come with straight or cylindrical grips. While these are less ergonomic, they can still provide a secure hold for those who prefer a simpler design.

Grip Materials

  • Cork Grips: Cork grips are a favorite among hikers because they mold to the shape of your hands over time, providing a personalized fit. They are smooth against the skin and remain cool during warm hikes. However, cork grips do not absorb sweat well and may feel slippery during extended use.
  • Foam Grips: Foam grips are comfortable and lightweight. They excel at absorbing sweat, making them an excellent choice for warm-weather hiking. Foam grips are often found on poles designed for fast hiking and running.
  • Rubber Grips: Rubber grips do not absorb water and can chafe bare skin. However, they provide excellent insulation, which can be advantageous in colder conditions.

Hand Strap Design

Pay attention to the design and material of the hand straps. Look for padded and adjustable straps that distribute the pressure evenly across your hand and wrist. A comfortable hand strap can reduce strain during long hikes.

How to Choose Your Trekking Poles

Trekking Poles: Hikers using trekking poles to navigate a mountain hillside

Now that you’re well-versed in the essential aspects of trekking poles, it’s time to make an informed decision and choose the right pair for your outdoor adventures.

Follow these steps to ensure you select trekking poles that suit your needs:

  1. Consider Your Terrain: Think about the types of terrain you’ll encounter. Will you be hiking on well-established trails, navigating rugged off-trail routes, or venturing into snowy conditions?
  2. Assess Your Goals: What are your adventure goals? Are you planning short day hikes, extended backpacking trips, or ambitious thru-hikes? Your goals impact the weight, durability, and versatility requirements of your trekking poles.
  3. Determine Pole Length: Choose the appropriate pole length based on your height and intended use. Most poles offer adjustable lengths to accommodate different terrains and activities. Telescopic and combination designs allow for more flexibility in adjusting pole height. You can learn more here.
  4. Assess Grip Ergonomics: Select a grip material and shape that ensures comfort during extended use. Cork grips mold to your hands over time but may not absorb sweat well. Foam grips offer comfort and moisture absorption, while rubber grips excel in winter conditions.
  5. Consider Packability: Evaluate the packed size of your poles, especially if you’ll need to stow them during certain activities or while traveling. Foldable or compact designs are beneficial for climbers and ultralight backpackers with limited space.


In conclusion, trekking poles are invaluable companions for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a wide range of benefits, including improved stability, reduced impact on joints, energy conservation, enhanced balance, and versatility across various outdoor activities.

Understanding the different designs, shaft materials, pole adjustment mechanisms, basket sizes, grip ergonomics, and hand strap designs is crucial when selecting the perfect pair to elevate your hiking experience.

So, equip yourself with these unassuming companions and conquer the great outdoors with confidence.

Interested? You can also check out our TOP 5 Guide for the lightest trekking poles on the market.


What is considered lightweight for trekking pole?

A lightweight trekking pole typically weighs between 8 to 12 ounces (225 to 340 grams) per pole. Ultralight trekking poles like the Gossamer Gear LT5 carbon trekking poles can indeed start at just 4.9 ounces (139 grams).

Does trekking pole weight matter?

Certainly, the weight of trekking poles is a crucial factor to consider in your hiking gear. Lighter poles can reduce fatigue during long hikes, making your outdoor adventures more enjoyable. They are also easier to handle and pack, adding convenience to your journeys. However, it’s essential to strike a balance between weight and durability, ensuring your poles can withstand the terrain you’ll encounter.

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