Trekking poles are extremely useful and must have equipment for any hiker, whether you’re a novice walker or trekking through the Himalayas. Unlike a walking stick, using a pair of trekking poles provides you much more stability and balance, and more importantly is a means of distributing the stress on your knees and ankles to your arms and back. If you’ve never used trekking poles, give it a try – your knees will be much happier the next time you hike.
Trekking Pole Shopping Tips:
There are several manufacturers of trekking poles, including Leki, Black Diamond, and REI Some companies make high end carbon fiber anti-shock trekking poles while others make simple, aluminum trekking poles. You’ll feel a benefit from any pair you buy, however, there are some features you should look out for:
- Weight. Are the poles made of aluminum? Carbon fiber? Carbon fiber poles are much lighter than aluminum ones, so if you don’t want your arms to be fatigued on a long day hike, opt for the lighter weight poles. Carbon fiber trekking poles are generally more expensive, but worth it. They are slightly more fragile than aluminum ones, but even in extremely rocky terrain I’ve never had a problem with mine.
- Grip. Walmart and Target sell aluminum trekking poles that have plastic grips. While this is ok for those of you on a budget, if you’re willing to spend a few extra dollars, get a pair at an outdoor retailer like REI or EMS that have either foam, rubber, or cork grips. Foam is a good choice because it will absorb sweat. Cork will also absorb sweat and over time conform to the shape of your hands. Rubber is good for cold weather use when you’re wearing gloves, but for most people I know rubber grips tend to irritate their skin after a couple of hours on the trail.
- Fit. Most trekking poles have shafts that telescope, and can therefore be adjusted for short or tall hikers. On flat terrain, your arm should be at a 90 degree angle when you’re holding the poles.
- Locking Mechanism. As just mentioned, the shafts of trekking poles have 2 to 3 sections. They are locked together by one of several mechanisms – popular ones that I see most often are a twisting lock, that applies pressure to secure the shaft, and a flip lock mechanism. The flip locks are great because it is easier to extend or collapse your trekking poles if you’re wearing gloves, but these are generally pricier. My pair has the pressure system, and they work fine for me.
- Women’s Specific? Manufacturers now have women’s specific trekking poles available. They are lighter weight, and slightly smaller than unisex poles. If you have small hands, I’d recommend women’s specific poles, otherwise a unisex pair should be fine.
- Anti-shock. Some trekking poles have built in anti-shock devices, so more pressure is absorbed, particularly on downhill hikes. My pair are not anti-shocks, but my 70-year old hiking friend Geoff, who has a knee replacement, swears by them. If you have especially sensitive knees or ankles, it will be worth the extra money, otherwise a standard pair will work fine for you.
Hiking Lady’s Favorite Women’s Trekking Poles
REI Peak Ultralight Women’s Trekking Poles: These trekking poles are the ones I use – they are constructed of carbon fiber, so are extremely lightweight, have small foam grips so are easy for me to hold onto (the unisex version have slightly larger grips). I use them for day hikes, backpacking trips, and snowshoeing. When I’m snowshoeing, I simply swap out the mud baskets for snow baskets. Note: the newer improved version has a better locking mechanism when they are expanded.
Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles: My friend Sally has this pair of Black Diamond trekking poles, and the feature I really like is the locking mechanism (it’s a little hard to see in the picture, but notice the bulkier joints compared to the poles above). They’re great if you do a lot of snowshoeing: when you’re wearing thick gloves and want the convenience of being able to adjust the pole length without having to take your gloves off, these are a good choice.
Black Diamond Carbon Fiber Z-Poles If price isn’t an object, these are the poles for you. The Black Diamond Carbon Fiber Z-Poles are extremely lightweight (9-10 ounces, depending on the length you get), because they are carbon fiber. Plus they are easy to stow, and very easy to lock into place. To top it all off, these poles come with accessories, including rubber tips (for walking on asphalt or hard surfaces). But at $159 retail price, they are some of the priciest poles I’ve seen. If you can afford it, they’re a very good investment!
Trekking Pole Accessories
Do you want to know about different attachments so you can get the most out of your trekking poles in varying terrain?
Check out what I wrote about trekking pole accessories.