Best Trekking Poles – What’s the Difference?

Why would you want to purchase the best trekking poles? Well, hiking poles have many desirable features that can assist the hiker.

They can give you extra balance and take some of the stress off of your knees and hips. If two heads are better than one, does that make four “legs” better than two? Well, yes! The trekking poles can help give you more stability on the trail. They can also better distribute the load from legs to arms. A set of good poles can help you on longer journeys especially by helping absorb some of the shock when going downhill.

Hold it Right There

But, before you even start looking at the best trekking poles, you must ask yourself a few basic questions:

  1. How often do you hike? Are you A person that only hikes once or twice a year or do you hike every weekend?
  2. What type of surfaces do you mostly hike on? Flat, steep, soft soil or sand or rocky terrain?
  3. Do you have physical limitations such as, bad knees or joints?
  4. How much are you willing to spend on a pair of hiking poles? (The lighter the poles, the more money they cost)

Let’s look at the features and types of trekking poles:

(I want to be clear here that we are not talking about fitness walking poles. These are not designed for hiking)

The Grip: There are many different materials that grips are made of Cork, foam and synthetic blends . The cheapest being the foam. These offer standard cushioning. The synthetics normally have dual densities. There are areas that are softer and offer more cushioning, while the more dense areas offer more support where needed. The natural product, cork, has some moisture absorbing abilities and will retain it’s grip-ability even after getting wet. This can be very advantageous to those who sweat a lot. Grips come in many different styles and many have extended lengths so that you can grip the pole lower or higher based upon the steepness of the terrain. Some grips are angled. This type of grip is supposed to help alleviate some of the strain on the wrist by keeping it in a natural unbending position while hiking.

The Strap: Just like there are many different grips, best trekking poles have different styles of straps. Basically you are looking for a strap that you can easily adjust, even with gloves on. And also, one that will come loose during an emergency.

The Pole: The pole has a few different features:

  • The Material: There are three main materials that best trekking poles are made of; Aluminum, Carbon Fiber and Titanium Alloy. The aluminum are going to be the cheapest and also the least sturdy. These also tend to transfer more of the vibration to the wrists when striking the ground. Titanium alloy poles are stronger than the aluminum. They will hold up better under more stressful situations. The strongest and lightest of the materials is the carbon fiber. These also are the most expensive. Even though they are very strong, the strength can be compromised if the surface is nicked or broken. Some poles have an elliptical shaft which can add to their strength.
  • Adjustable/Non-Adjustable Height – I do not recommend non-adjustable poles for hiking or backpacking. The place that I would recommend them is if all your hikes are flat and you will never need to store your trekking poles while on the trail. Adjustable poles are necessary on any hike with steep inclines. You will need to make them longer for downhill hiking and shorter for uphill hiking. There are two and three section adjustable poles and many different locking mechanisms. Select the best trekking poles that feel comfortable with and meets your needs. If you want one that can easily be stored or that will fit into your suitcase or backpack, then a three section may be the best. Check the mechanisms on the poles, make sure that you can open and lock them with gloves on. Take the poles apart. You might even want to get an extra locking device for the trail.
  • Shocking isn’t it? One great feature of some hiking poles is an added anti-shock system. These can help absorb some of the shock when the poles hit the ground and will benefit those with weak knees. This can be a benefit, but remember that the system will add weight to the poles. Also, make sure that the “system” can be turned off if you need greater stability.

Baskets: There are three basic sizes of baskets: large, for deep or powder snow, medium, for packed snow and small, for loose soil, dirt and rocks. One thing you want to make sure is that the baskets can be changed out. This is especially true if you are going to use your poles all year round.

The Tips: Most poles come with carbide tips. Some have rubber caps that can be used when walking on a paved trail. Like the basket, make sure that the carbide tip can be replaced when they get worn down or break.

Other Advice:

If you are considering buying the best trekking poles for you, see if you can rent a set that are similar or the same type that you are looking at purchasing. If you can’t rent a pair, then walk around the store with a set that fit your needs. Most stores will allow you to do this.

Hiking poles can be useful in other situations as well. They can be used as a tent pole or to stake tarps.

Probably the most important thing to remember about the best trekking poles is that they are not a crutch. They are to help with your stability on rough terrain or water situations not be your stability. Make sure to read all of the accompanying documentation and learn the proper technique to walk with your hiking poles. Also, care and cleaning are important, so be sure to read the instructions for your poles.

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