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 Flash Carbon 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 original version, called the Peak Ultra Light Women’s Trekking Poles had a twist locking system. They now have a much improved and more reliable locking mechanism to keep them in place 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.
Thank you for your insights SoCalHikerGirl! I love Black Diamond products too. They make such great quality equipment. When I experimented with rockclimbing, all of my equipment…harness, carabiners, etc. were all Black Diamond. Such great quality. American made and durable. 🙂
I started using poles after a tibia injury and my local hike leader suggested them. I swear by them now – they help drag me uphill when I am tired or on steeps, they have literally been used to brace or self-arrest on steep descents (did Big Iron a couple years ago; started sliding down one of the upper chutes and these poles did arrest me!). I used them picking down steep and loose desert trails on Villager/Rabbit/Rosa and Mile High both “on trail” (what little use trail there is) and cross country in the desert as well as all routes on all the big So Cal Mtns (Baldy, the “Sans” – Bernardino, Gorgonio, Jacinto, 10K ridge, etc.) plus Whitney/Langley, etc. Also used them in snow on Jacinto and Gorgonio to plant in soft and consolidated snow and to aid in spring stream crossings.
These ones I have put to the test after losing the bottom part of the “20th century” version of these in an El Nino-fueled stream crossing:
Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles
I like the locking mechanism – it is reliable and I have leaned hard on these poles doing steep descents (like down the Gorgonio bowl and some steep little runs in the desert). Carbon poles are ok but fragile – the slightest tweak will break the carbon fiber bond and they will shatter. The tension brackets ones can fail – my hike partner got some Lekis with these when he forgot his poles on a Sierra trip and he has had to replace the brackets a few times and once almost got badly injured when one gave out and his pole collapsed.
I have NEVER had mine collapse and I have REALLY relied on them esp as I am wiggy on slippery, steep downhills so use them to self-anchor. I’ve had mine for about 3 years and put many, many miles on them. The little colorful embellishments are long gone but the poles are solid and have kept me safe and protected my joints. A 15 out of 10 in my book and definitely road-tested!
Great question! Unfortunately Black Diamond nor Leki currently make cork handled trekking poles that are women’s specific. REI has their Traverse Power Lock trekking poles that are women’s specific with cork grips. Have you looked at those? They weigh 1 pound 1 ounce for a pair, versus 14.8 ounces for a pair of the REI Carbon Composite trekking poles. The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork also weighs 1 pound 1 ounce, but are almost double the price. So you will sacrifice a few ounces of weight, but be able to limit your hand exposure to synthetic materials. I’d be curious to hear about other gear you’re buying to limit your plastic and synthetics exposure! Another option would be to wear a lightweight glove so your hands don’t have exposure to synthetic materials on a non-cork grip. I often wear fingerless lightweight gloves to protect the backs of my hands from the sun, especially when hiking at high altitudes. These aren’t made of all natural materials, but I’m sure you could find a pair that are. Happy trails!
I’m looking for a light weight trekking poles designed for women with cork/natural grips. I called Black Diamond and they don’t make one. The alpine carbon cork weighs more than the women designed models, but the women poles don’t have a natural cork grip. Due to chronic illness issues, I’m trying to limit my exposure to plastic/synthetics. Any thoughts?
Hi Luisa, it seems like a great idea to me. You will definitely make your joints happier by using poles!
I need advice about hiking poles. I’m 69, overweight but in decent shape. I’d like poles for balance and to reduce stress on my joints. I don’t want to get ‘lady poles’ that I’d crush and I need poles that telescope for travel. I want to use them on cobblestones, hillsides, and sidewalks. What do you think of Balance Walking Poles for me? Thanks.
Thank you so much for your kind words. This comment made my day! I’m just thrilled that the Black Diamond poles are working out for you. I had a feeling you’d like them 🙂
Have a great time on your trip in August! Thank you for reading the Hiking Lady website and getting in touch with me.
I am so grateful for your recommendation of the Black Diamond trekking poles. They are
absolutely perfect for my needs.
They are incredibly light and easy to fold. and will be wonderful to use on my August trip.
What good luck I had finding you. I simply couldn’t have come to such a perfect solution
without your help.
Great question! Trekking poles are very important for stability, and you’ll find them invaluable on your upcoming trip.
Since price isn’t an issue, I’d get carbon fiber poles if I were you. They’ll be the lightest weight and easiest to pack, although they are expensive. This pair of Black Diamond poles in the 100cm or 110cm length would work well for your purposes.
These lock into place easily (no twisting or snapping parts like most other poles), and they weigh only 9 ounces. They come with interchangeable tips, so you can use the rubber ones when you’re walking at home on paved surfaces and the metal tips when you’re on your vacation.
Good luck and have a wonderful trip!
I am an 85 year old woman, 5′ 2 1/2 in. tall who needs trekking sticks for stability when walking in unfamiliar territory.
I’ll be visiting Glacier Bay, Tetons and Yellowstone this August on a tour for Seniors.
I’d like to continue using them after my trip as I walk around my retirement community.
On my wish list would be: ultralight, packable and easy to lock in place. Price is not a huge priority.
Thanks for any help and suggestions you can offer
Thanks for all the tips – I’m going to buy my hiking poles this afternoon! I’ve browsed your useful website – you’ve mentioned Joshua Tree once or twice, can you recommend some great treks in the area? We are flying from the UK for two weeks in JT (and Death Valley) for desert day and night time photography, and would love to hike while there. (I’ll be buying my trekking pole rubber caps as you suggest for that reason too!) Many thanks.
Great question, momsieruby! Generally, you’ll want to use trekking poles whenever you feel they’d be of help to you.
When you should use your trekking poles:
I am a newbie and I wanted to ask just when do you use trekking poles and when to tuck it?
Hi Leanne! I’d recommend getting the lightest weight poles that you can afford. The heavier the trekking poles, the more tired your arms will be after a long hike. Your arms will get quite the workout even with lightweight poles.
I’m thinking of getting some, but I have quite heavy, does that matter?
Have any of you had any experience with Nordic walking? Thanks for all the information Hiking Lady 🙂
This post could not have come at a better time. I just broke one of my hiking poles last week and I am sick about it. Now I need to go get a new pair and I was undecided about what kind to get.
I’ve never owned trekking poles which is like crazy! Now that you’ve explained all about them and that they have some specifically for smaller women I’ll go to REI and get some just like yours !! Thanks for the info. Hiking Lady. You always have cool ideas that are so helpful.
I’m not familiar with “Himalayan” walking poles. Perhaps another reader has some input for you! Good luck.
Dear Hiking Lady
where can I buy Himalayan walking poles from
Thanks for the input Pam. I’m a proponent of rubber tips too…check out this page on Trekking Pole Accessories. Happy trails!
Hi- after 3 cervical spine surgeries & 1 recent lumbar spine surgery a year ago, using a cane for balance & some weight bearing has made my right wrist very painful, as canes are curved and cause wrists to bend in on themselves. Trekking poles come with rubber tips or can easily be purchased and do zero damage to the earth so get over yourselves. I take off the tip on hard, dried out dirt aka drought conditions or rocky slopes. Any conscious person can care for the soil and would not be using a sharp unprotected tip to plunge both themselves and the poles into soft greenery or surface of the soil. Jeez.
Walking sticks are a great alternative to poles. There was some talk about hiking in sensitive areas. The wide diameter of a stick helps decrease the punctures that poles can create. We’re all attempting to create better balance with our hiking accessories, so if your worried about sensitive areas and better balance, try a walking stick.
Hi Agnes, yes, you can use junior trekking poles because you are petite. It is a good way to save money. However, the quality of junior trekking poles is usually a bit inferior to adult models. The price might be worth it for you though.
Great question, and happy trails!
I am 5′ 103 lbs. I was wondering if I could use junior trekking poles? Thanks!
I love hiking buy my knees and paralyzed leg make it impossible to hike without poles. (Sorry, even in the woods) But I would rather look weird with my knee braces and poles than not enjoy this beautiful land God has given us to explore. So, if I must look weird, I’d rather do it in pink. Do you know any companies that make affordable pink walking poles for women?
Another great trekking pole related question. This one is from Ida:
Q: i have trekking poles and i have walked thru the rubber caps doing my
therapy. i really would like to purchase a couple of rubber caps, but
i don’t know where to make this purchase. can you please help me…
please. every where i’ve been you can buy the pole but no accessories.
A: There are specific rubber caps for Black Diamond poles. There are replacement caps for REI’s trekking poles as well. For $6 you can get a replacement set at REI: https://hikinglady.com/the-gear/womens-trekking-poles/trekking-pole-accessories/
Great question from Hiking Lady reader Rose…
Q: Am looking for lightweight inexpensive poles preferably collapsible for an Amalfi trip this Fall. Any suggestions? I have small hands and petite so I may need ones geared for women?
A: I am petite (5’3″) and have small hands too. I like the REI women’s ultralight trekking poles.. they’re made of carbon fiber. They have stopped making them unfortunately. The new version is made of aluminum (so definitely more durable, but heavier), and the good news is that they have the same small handgrips that were on the old version.
Personally I like wood walking sticks. I know they won’t collapse on me in a tough situation and the feel is so much better than plastic or other man made substance. I use two called FitnessWalkers that fit well in my hands. And I get upper body exercise to boot.
You made a number of nice points there. I really like the idea that trekking poles can help lessen stress on my knees and joints.
Marie makes a good point. Hiking is a great way to lose weight without enduring the boredom of treadmill-style exercise. What poles do for hikers is it gives them more of a whole-body workout. Rather than your arms hanging uselessly by your sides, you’re able to use them to save your knees while getting an upper body workout.
Just don’t be pokin’ them poles where they don’t belong…deep into soft earth.
Hi Marie, the Camino de Santiago is one of my dream hikes! I would love to do that someday! I’m thrilled to hear you did it and had a good time. Glad to hear the trekking poles worked out well for you.
I use hiking poles all of the time because I have had 2 back surgeries and am nursing another herniated disc. I had a meniscus repair last April and because of my poles I was able to resume my hiking in 8 weeks. 4 months after my knee surgery I walked the 500 mile Camino de Santiago across Spain with no problems but I did lose 17 pounds and firmed up my arms beautifully!
Thanks for the comment. I completely agree that trekking poles should NOT be used in sensitive areas. On rugged dirt trails and rocky surfaces they’re fantastic.
I know that the Sierra Club has also provided some warning about the potential environmental damage from trekking poles. Hikers should be aware of where they’re using their poles and use good judgment if there is risk of causing damage.
Trekking poles, common to mountaineers of the higher altitudes, are now gaining popularity in the sensitive forests of lower elevations, where the base of travel–the footway–is not ice, rock, or snow for most of the year (or all of it), but soft peat, muck, duff, and sensitive soils. Trekking poles wreak havoc on such surfaces, accelerating erosion and providing nice little holes for standing water to begin erosive action.
However, among the proponents of trekking poles, you will never hear anything about protecting the environment.
Use your poles on hard, erosion-resistant surfaces only, and pack them on soft, level terrain.
1,600 miles on foot last season. No poles.