How to Choose the Best Hiking Poles for You

Also often referred to as trekking poles, hiking poles are a pair of sticks used by hikers and backpackers on the trails. There are many types of hiking poles out there that can confuse any new hiker. They vary in style, length, and colour and come with different features. This article will answer your questions if you are still undecided about whether you want to use hiking poles or which are best for you.

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hiker holding hiking poles on a rocky mountain side
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Types of Hiking Poles

Fixed or Adjustable

There are two types of hiking poles when considering the size: fixed length or adjustable length.

Fixed poles are usually more affordable. They are also more durable as they have fewer parts that can break. The ones that come in one piece are stronger than their counterparts. Some will come in two or three pieces that fold up. They are often lighter than adjustable poles. It is imperative to buy suitable length poles for your height. See this section to determine how to measure the correct length for your poles.

Adjustable poles do have their advantages. They can be set at the desired length and adjusted when going uphill or downhill. However, they tend to be a bit more expensive than the fixed poles and will likely break more quickly as they have moving parts.

Telescopic or Foldable

Trekking poles will often come in two or three sections that either fold up z-style or collapse into one another, just like a telescope.

When adjusting the length of the telescopic poles, you control how much of each part comes out to make it shorter or longer and then lock it in place. The most popular locking mechanisms are clamp-like locks or twist locks. They are great adjustable poles, but over time, as the locking mechanism gets used, they will collapse into themselves as you put pressure on them when trekking. As a result, you might have to replace telescopic poles sooner than their counterparts.

The foldable poles can be fixed or adjustable. They fold up in three sections, z-style, and are easily and quickly assembled in one brisk movement snapping back in place as one stick. They tend to be lighter than telescopic ones.

On the other hand, both hiking poles can easily be stashed away in a pack while on a hike. I recommend trekking poles in three sections (folding or telescopic) to make them short enough to stow away while hiking. My first pair was telescopic poles with only two sections; even folded up, they were still too long to stash in my pack when not using them on a hike.

Carbon Fiber or Aluminum

Both types of hiking poles are suitable. While carbon poles will be lightweight, aluminum will be more affordable and durable. The choice here will depend on the hiker’s priority between durability, affordability and weight. 

Types of Grips

You will want to find a grip that feels comfortable for your hands. For example, some poles will have ergonomic grips that make them easier to hold for a prolonged period and avoid cramping or numbing in the hands. Although, some grips are angled to make it easier on the wrists. Poles with this option tend to be more expensive.

Grips come in different materials, each with its pros and cons. To better illustrate those, see the table below.

lightweightcomfortmoistureshock absorbingweatherdurability
RUBBERxxx causes chafing and blisters when wet✔yesgreat for cold weatherx loses its shape over time
FOAM✔ lightest✔comfortable material✔ wicking fast-drying✔yesgreat for warm weather✔retains its shape
CORK✔ light✔moulds to the hiker’s hand✔water resistant✔yesgreat for the warmest weather may chip over time
hiking pole with a eva foam grip
EVA foam grip with extension
hiking poles with cork grips
Cork grip
hand through the straps of the hiking pole holding the grip

Hiking poles will have straps that you put your hand through before grabbing the grip. The picture shows how the strap should fall over your hand while you hike.

Hiking Pole Tips 

Hiking poles have metal tips. They are great for digging into mud, loose dirt and snow, but they can be very annoying when hiking on rocky paths and boulders. The metal tip is also slippery on rocks. 

I recommend using rubber tips when hiking on rocks. The rubber tips will grip the stones and prevent slips. They also stop that annoying “tic tic” noise of the metal hitting the rocks with every step. (see the tips on Amazon)

angled rubber tips that can be added to the tips of hiking poles

The most common rubber tips are the rounded ones, but I especially like the angled ones. I find they grip the stones better. They are also more durable since the round tips get used up quickly as they rub the rocks with every step you take. 

Buy on Amazon

Hiking in the winter? Add those baskets at the end of your poles, just like ski poles; it will prevent them from digging deep in the snow and rendering the poles useless. 

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baskets for the snow

The different tips are easily added to any hiking pole. Some poles will come with all the options; if not, you can buy the separate tips at any outdoor store that sells hiking equipment or order them on Amazon.

How to Properly Use Hiking Poles

Walking with trekking poles will need some adjusting. The coordination required to step forward with the foot and the stick might feel uneasy, but you will soon find your rhythm. The better way to walk with poles would be to plant the opposite pole from the leg you bring forward, which would mimic the natural swing of the arms as you walk (opposing arm to opposing leg).

When walking on level ground, you will most likely place a pole every second stride instead of every step.

Going uphill on steep terrain, you will want to use the pole on the same side of the leg going forward to help you up. However, when it is very steep, I use both poles forward simultaneously with every step going up. This helps support the lower body and allows for more stability.

Going downhill will be a bit different. The poles keep you from slipping and offer greater stability with every step. You will want to place the stick forward first and once it is stable, then take the step. Walking on four legs makes it easier and safer 😉

How long should you set your hiking poles?

When standing upright, holding the handle, the pole tip on the ground, your arm should be bent at the elbow at a 90-degree angle, as shown by the blue line in the picture. That is the proper length for your height. 

Doing it in front of a mirror is handy to confirm that your arm is at the right angle. Sometimes it may feel bent at 90 degrees, even though it isn’t.

a hiker with his arm bent at 90 degree while holding his trekking poles

If you want to know the appropriate length of the poles you should buy before trying them, you can try this: standing straight, bend your arm at the elbow at a 90-degree angle with your palm facing down (same as in the picture but instead of holding the pole, your hand in open with the palm facing down). Then, you can measure the distance from the ground to your palm, which should be the same as the length of your hiking poles (ask a friend or family member to help).

Some hikers like to adjust their hiking poles when going downhill to make them a bit longer to match their longer stride. EVA foam grips often have an extension allowing the hiker to choke the pole going uphill (see the picture of foam grip with extension above). If not, you can also shorten the length of the sticks if yours are adjustable when going up a steep hill.

Why Use Hiking Poles

  • It makes climbing easier on your lower body as you can use your arms to help you up the slope.
  • Using hiking poles reduces the impact on the knees when walking downhill.
  • Hiking poles may help with stability, especially on rugged terrain, to prevent falls.
  • They will also help with balance when crossing creeks and rivers on logs or rocks. Four legs are always better than two!
  • You can also use them to scare animals away.

When not to Use Hiking Poles

  • Hiking poles may get in the way when the path is very narrow and deep.
  • They won’t be beneficial on rocks and boulders, especially if you stick with the metal tip; they will slip.
  • You must put the trekking poles away during a steep scramble when you need to use your hands and arms to pull yourself up.
  • Walking with the poles may feel annoying when the vegetation is thick on each side of the trail or invading the path.

How to Choose the Right Trekking Poles for you?

There are different options available depending on the hiker’s priorities. When choosing suitable trekking poles, you will consider what will be essential for you. Is it a lightweight pole you can carry and stash away in your pack while hiking or backpacking? If you are on a budget and want your poles to last for years, then durability and affordability will be your priority. If you have issues with your hands or wrists, comfort will play a huge part in choosing your hiking poles.  

For durability and affordability, choose fixed aluminum foam grip poles.

When weight is a priority, some backpackers and most trail runners go for carbon-fibre trekking poles.

If you prefer comfort, choose poles with ergonomic cork grips.

hiker using hiking poles on a rocky mountainside

My pick: aluminum adjustable foam grip poles They are a bit of everything, the foam grips are comfortable, the aluminum makes them sturdy (and more affordable than the carbon fibre ones), and I can easily fold and put them in my pack when I don’t need them. 

For more information on hiking or backpacking, check out the section on Gear and Tips on this website. In addition, you can easily keep up to date with the new content by completing the form below. Hope to see you again soon!

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