Trekking poles are useful for walking, hiking, backpacking, thru-hiking, trail running and snowshoeing. Up scree slopes, through creek crossings, over mud and uneven terrain, they keep you upright as you maneuver difficult sections of the trail by providing support and stability, while also reducing impact on your knees and joints. They’re even handy for splitboarding […]
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Trekking poles are useful for walking, hiking, backpacking, thru-hiking, trail running and snowshoeing. Up scree slopes, through creek crossings, over mud and uneven terrain, they keep you upright as you maneuver difficult sections of the trail by providing support and stability, while also reducing impact on your knees and joints. They’re even handy for splitboarding and backcountry snowboarding and can double as tent poles when needed.
To develop our list of the best poles available at REI, we first combed through hundreds of online reviews to discover which trekking poles REI customers liked best. Then, we spoke with multiple experts to get an understanding of the features that a good pair of poles should have. We also gathered information about how to use and choose the right poles for different activities.
In the end, we chose 12 models of trekking poles and two hiking staffs to field test. We ordered both the unisex and women’s versions of each to fit one 5-foot-4-inch woman and one 6-foot man. Some of the models we tested were backed by dozens of five-star reviews; others were updated versions of poles that have long been known to perform well; the rest were new designs that appeared to offer something worth checking out.
While hiking, we paid attention to comfort, durability, weight, ease-of-use and packability. We tested each set of trekking poles while carrying a daypack weighing about 10 pounds and a child carrier weighing about 30 pounds. We hiked through a variety of conditions and terrain including mud, rock, water and some ice, with a range of uphill and downhill sections. After hours of testing, we picked the best trekking poles and hiking staff you can buy at REI for a variety of adventures.
The Best Trekking Poles for Backpacking
One REI reviewer called the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles a “sturdy and reliable companion for all conditions,” and we can see why. They’re the best option for backpacking because they’re comfortable enough that you can hike with them for hours, sturdy enough to handle extra weight and impact, easily adjustable to a wide range of heights, and they’re versatile enough to suit changing terrain and year-round climates.
The ergonomic design of the grips on the Black Diamond Ergo Cork poles is incredibly comfortable. They differ from other trekking poles in that they’re angled at a 15-degree slant to give you a more neutral stance when holding them. We could feel the difference as soon as we started to hike. They felt easier to swing and our pole plants seemed more efficient—a huge bonus on long hikes.
The main section of the grip features cork, which wicks away hand sweat, dampens vibrations and naturally molds to the shape of your hand over time. The grips also extend down the shaft with a foam section, which means that while navigating tricky terrain, you can “choke down” on the poles without having to stop and make adjustments to the length. We also liked that the straps are padded and sit very comfortably across the wrist (they’re also marked “L” and “R” for convenience). Easy to adjust—you pull to tighten or loosen—there’s no fussing around to get the straps the exact right size. We measured the grips on both the women’s and unisex versions, and the grips on the women’s version are slightly smaller.
The Black Diamond Ergos hover right around 1 pound per pair, which is relatively lightweight for aluminum poles. They’re not as light as most carbon or folding poles, but we think aluminum is important for backpacking because it’s strong and has some flex to it, unlike carbon, which can completely shatter when torqued. Given how easy they are to swing, we didn’t notice the weight at all. You adjust these three-section telescoping poles using two external lever-locks, which we found easy to use and reliable at keeping the poles extended. Once we flicked the locks shut, they didn’t budge for the duration of our hike.
You can use the Black Diamond Ergos in all four seasons; with the purchase of powder baskets, they convert to snowshoe-capable poles. In addition to carbide tips, they also work with interchangeable rubber tech tips that screw into the bottom of the poles. We preferred these over the type of rubber tip that slides over the end of the poles, as they allowed us to plant our poles more precisely. Designed for use on hard surfaces, the rubber tech tips are quieter than the carbide tips and grippier on slick rock; they also make less of an impact on the trail. If you don’t like the idea of changing your tips on the trail, they are compatible with larger, slide-on tip protectors for use on paved trails or rocky terrain.
The drawback to telescoping poles is that they aren’t as easy to pack as folding poles. At collapsed lengths of 25 and 27 inches (women’s and unisex), these poles won’t fit inside your backpack. They’ll need to be secured to the exterior of your pack when not in use. We think that’s worth the trade-off for how secure we felt. Another reviewer agreed, saying that the Black Diamond Ergos are “essential for mountain hiking,” and that “the steep and sometimes scary ridges that I hiked felt safer with these poles.”
The Best Collapsible Trekking Poles for Trail Runners and Fast Hikers
Trekking poles for trail-running? You bet. Many trail runners consider them an essential accessory worth adding the extra weight. For thru-hikers, lightweight poles are indispensable. When you’re moving quickly over changing terrain, you need a set of poles that can move with you while still providing stability and support. That’s why we chose the Black Diamond Distance FLZ Trekking Poles as the best lightweight poles—because you get the ease-of-use of fixed-length folding poles, with one major bonus: The top section allows you to adjust pole length on the go by up to eight inches. They’re streamlined, durable, easily packable, and above all, they allow you to move quickly.
Everything about these trekking poles is low-profile: The minimal foam grips are designed with ridges that allow for airflow, which keeps hands sweat free. The aluminum shaft manages to be both thin and durable—a great feature in a lightweight pole. Aluminum also offers a little added flexibility, which we like for trail-running poles, because it means they can better handle some of the twisting that comes with quick traversing than carbon poles can. And the small trekking baskets don’t get in the way when you’re moving fast.
The wrist strap on the Black Diamond Distance FLZ is our favorite of those we tested because its design is easy to slide in and out of. It felt secure across our hands; we liked that the mesh construction allowed our hands to breathe, and the hook-and-loop closures were easy to adjust. The straps are also marked “left” and “right.”
At a collapsible length of 15 inches, these poles easily stow away in a backpack or small luggage. Their packability doesn’t compromise their strength either; the Black Diamond FLZ trekking poles are very durable for folding poles. One reviewer said, “I was a little nervous that the collapsible feature might make them flimsy, but not so. They offer rock-solid stability, reduce stress on my knees, and help me hike longer with less fatigue.”
Another reviewer attested to their durability, calling them “well-built and strong,” saying, “I'm 6'2" and 250 pounds and these support my weight hiking.”
Once we extended our FLZ poles, they remained locked and sturdy throughout or adventure. Admittedly, it took us a few tries to master extending the poles, but once we did, deploying them took just a matter of seconds. Collapsing the poles is equally easy. The trick is in the sliding lock, and once you figure that out, it’s very easy to use. The added adjustability at the top of the pole allowed us to customize the length to suit our exact heights and made them more versatile for changes in terrain than other fixed-length folding poles. It also means these poles can be used as tent poles for setting up your backcountry shelter.
The Black Diamond Distance FLZ poles come with two sets of interchangeable tips: a carbide set and a rubber set. The rubber tips are a lot more technical than you’ll find on most trekking poles. They screw into the bottom of the pole rather than slide over the end, which means you can plant your poles more precisely. If either set of tips wear out, you can purchase replacement carbide tips and rubber tips to fit these trekking poles. They are snow-basket compatible, although as of March 2019, REI does not stock the baskets; they need to be purchased through Black Diamond Equipment directly. It should be noted that these baskets are designed to make the FLZ poles more adaptable for winter-season trail runs; they are not ideal for snowshoeing.
If weight is your ultimate consideration and you don’t care about adjustability, spare yourself packing the few extra ounces and go for the Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles (which come in four fixed-length sizes). They’re identical to the Distance FLZ every way except for one: They don’t adjust in length. They have the same grips, straps, shaft design, baskets and tips. The trade-off for non-adjustability is that they weigh a few ounces less (between 11.4 ounces and 13.4 ounces depending on the size). Eliminating the top adjustable section also means that they collapse down a couple of inches shorter, folding down to 13 inches.
The Best Travel-Friendly Trekking Poles For Light Packers
The travel-friendly REI Co-op Flash Folding Trekking Poles are light, stashable and incredibly easy to use. They felt dependable when we needed them for maneuvering through tricky areas, yet so featherweight we hardly even noticed we were carrying them. We missed the adjustability that you get with other poles, but we loved that they were trail-ready within seconds. And they’re among the most collapsible trekking poles available, so fitting them inside a backpack or small suitcase is no problem.
Trekking poles do not get easier to set up and take down than the REI Co-op Flash poles. As folding, fixed-length poles, they extend, lock and are ready in-hand in less than five seconds. Extending them requires that you hold the pole in one hand, and pull down on the top section of the shaft with your other hand; the internal cable pulls the sections together, and once full tension is reached, the pole locks in place with an audible “click.” Collapsing them is as easy as pushing a button. Literally. You press the button-lock to disengage the internal cable, push the top section back up into the shaft, and then fold.
There’s a hook-and-loop strap on the shaft of the pole that wraps around the collapsed sections, holding them in place for easy stowing. And since there aren’t any mechanisms on the outside of the poles, there’s nothing for the contents of your backpack to get caught up on. Even the trekking baskets are only about 1.5 inches in diameter, so they’re unlikely to snag. And the poles’ carbon-composite construction makes them very lightweight; even a pair of the heaviest REI Co-op Flash poles weighs less than 15 ounces.
We found the foam grips soft, breathable and nice to hold onto for both small and large hands. The grips also extend down the shaft about six inches, offering slight adjustability with hand positioning. The wide straps are sturdy and not too hot, but sizing them just right does take some fiddling with the little plastic wedge that locks the straps off. All in all, we loved the simplicity of these poles and think the balance of weight, comfort and durability make them a great go-to choice for almost any trekker looking for a fixed-length pole.
You can purchase rubber walking tips to fit these poles separately. The tip protectors they come with aren’t made for the trail—they’re for travel or packaging purposes only. Rubber walking tips are a good idea if you plan to hike in high-traffic, high-impact areas, or if you plan to hike on paved trails. They also double as tip protectors for travel. These trekking poles aren’t designed for snow use and there are no compatible powder baskets.
The Best Trekking Poles for $100 or Less
For right around $100, the Leki Legacy Lite Cor-Tec Trekking Poles manage to be both durable and light, without compromising comfort. What we liked most is that they’re easy to adjust and tightening the tension on the external locks is done by hand-turning a dial, so they don’t require any extra tools. And because of the three-section telescoping design, they can be adjusted to fit just about anybody.
The grips are a mixture of natural cork and rubber and feature ventilation to help cool your hands while hiking. The wrist straps are the least bulky of the bunch we tested and made of a thin moisture-wicking fabric that’s easy to adjust. To adjust, flick the top up on the pole handle, pull to loosen or tighten the strap, and then flick the top back down. Though we did find that we had to fine-tune the placement of the straps to ensure they laid flat around our hands. They’re also angled 8 degrees forward to allow for a more neutral resting position, which helped us gain forward momentum when pushing off into our next step.
Weighing about 1 pound, 1 ounce (per pair) for both the women’s and unisex versions, we found these trekking poles to be light for how durable they seemed. They felt supportive and the carbide tips planted solidly into the ground as we hiked. When extended, two external lever-locks hold the aluminum shafts in place, for the most part. One of our poles did begin to collapse on the trail, but the issue was easily remedied by turning the dial on the lock to tighten the tension. There’s no need to pack a separate tool to tighten the locks, which we found to be a major bonus.
The Leki Legacy Lite Cor-Tec Trekking Poles are suitable for year-round use. You can even make adjustments to the straps, locks and length with gloves on, so if you’re out in the cold, you don’t have to expose your hands. If you plan to snowshoe or splitboard, snow baskets are available for purchase separately. Rubber walking tips are also available, should you plan to use these poles on pavement or in heavy-traffic areas where you want to help protect the trail from wear and tear.
A Good Set of Trekking Poles for Around $50
The Kelty Discovery 2.0 Trekking Poles are not high-performance trekking poles like the others on this list, but they are a comfortable, get-the-job-done set that won’t break the bank. For someone just starting out, or a family looking for a relatively inexpensive set of poles they can all share, the Discovery 2.0 poles cost half as much as some of the other poles to make this list, and they do what they’re supposed to. They’re “an excellent value,” said one reviewer, further adding that they “make hiking safer [by providing] balance on rocky, steep and root-filled trails and also help absorb shock on downhill sections. As unisex poles, they’re suitable for most heights, and they also come with all the accessories you need for travel and four-season use.
The cork grips are fairly comfortable in hand; they’re just slightly larger in circumference and less ergonomic than the other grips we held. They also feature foam extensions on the grips, which is nice for when you need to adjust hand positioning on tricky sections of the trail. The wrist straps are padded and have a similar design to those found on some REI Co-op and Black Diamond trekking poles. They also have an internal anti-shock spring system that cannot be turned off and on these poles translates into very bouncy steps. For long days, though, the large grips and heavier weight can be a little wearisome.
The Discovery 2.0 poles have twist locks, which in general are a little less easy to use than external locks, a little harder to fix if something goes wrong, and can be more prone to slipping on the trail; but in the time we spent hiking with the Discovery 2.0, we found them to be sturdy, with the twist locks remaining firmly in place. And since they tighten by hand-twisting, you don’t need to carry an extra tool along. They weigh 1 pound, 6 ounces per pair, which is significantly heavier than the rest of our picks, and they’re less collapsible, less streamlined and a little more cumbersome to swing.
The Discovery 2.0 poles come with trekking baskets and rubber, trail-ready tip covers. So you don’t need to purchase any extra accessories to travel with them. All in all, they do their job well and are a good choice for casual use.
The Best Kids’ Trekking Poles for Little Hikers and Snowshoers
On top of having fun, you want your kids to feel confident while hiking or snowshoeing. That’s why little hikers can really benefit from a good pair of trekking poles, especially when they’re first starting out. For snowshoeing, they’re a huge bonus. The added stability and balance that comes with using trekking poles can give kids the confidence they need to enjoy and embrace outdoor activities.
The REI Co-op Kids’ trekking poles offer the same features and design elements as adult-size poles, just in a pint-size version. The plastic grips are designed for small hands, and their two-section aluminum shaft features an external lever lock that’s light and easy to use. The straps match the design of other REI Co-op trekking poles and are very supportive when used correctly. The stainless-steel tips will help kids gain a good foothold while navigating a tricky or challenging trail. The baskets are designed to be used with all sorts of terrain, so they’re snowshoe-ready—an added benefit. For those looking to help their little hikers be more stable while hiking or snowshoeing, we think the REI Co-op Kids’ trekking poles would be a suitable choice for most.
The Best Hiking Staff
A hiking staff—also called a walking stick, a walking staff or a travel staff— is best for those hiking on fairly easy terrain and carrying little to no weight. Our pick is the REI Co-op Hiker Power Lock Staff because it’s supportive, comfortable, easy to use and suitable for hikers of varying heights. It also includes a built-in camera mount, which means you can convert it from a hiking staff to a monopod—a nice feature to have if you’re traveling or taking in some epic views.
This REI hiking staff is both telescoping and aluminum, which makes it very solid. In the time we spent hiking with this staff, the two external lever locks held the pole securely extended. At 10.2 ounces, it’s easy to swing, and the extended foam grip allows you to make minor positioning adjustments on the fly. The cork knob is very comfortable should you need to palm the top of the staff for any reason. The thick padded strap is comfortable and offers good support; it’s a little tricky to adjust, but once you do it the first time there’ll be no messing around with it.
This staff extends from 27 inches to 55 inches, so it is suitable for people of almost any height. The locking mechanisms are made of a lighter plastic than most external lever locks we’ve seen, but in our experience with the REI Co-op staff, nothing suggested that the locks would snap off or break. The three-section pole collapses to 27 inches, making it small enough to strap to the outside of your pack. These sections can be pulled apart completely, which makes cleaning it easy. Should you need to pack it in a suitcase, you can get the REI Co-op staff down to 22.25 inches if you take it apart. It’s also compatible with the REI Trekking Pole Rubber Walking Tips, and since they come in pairs, you’ll have an extra.
The REI Co-op Hiker Power Lock Staff has proven reliable for more than a decade. For one reviewer, it’s “still going strong ... after close to seven years.” She says: “It’s a staple of my hikes, both day and extended; I enjoy having added stability while keeping one hand free. After a long, hard day's hike and my joints/hips begin to hurt, I lean on it a little more and trust my weight to it completely.”
How do you know if you need hiking poles?
All of the experts we spoke with said the same thing: Every person who hikes can benefit from a good set of trekking poles. You should buy trekking poles for two reasons: They provide stability, and they prevent injury on the trail.
Jennifer Inglin is a product manager for REI Co-op brands and works on the team responsible for some of REI’s own trekking poles. “When you’re going on hikes, and there’s different and challenging terrain that you might not have expected, trekking poles really help you push through that,” Inglin said. “That would be something that anybody would experience no matter their level, so I really think that everybody should have a pair of trekking poles.”
Lindsey McIntosh-Tolle, an REI Outdoor Programs and Outreach instructor for the Portland area, agreed. “They take such an enormous amount of strain off your knees and ankles when you’re going downhill, especially.” Even if you don’t use them all the time, just having trekking poles on hand is a good idea.
They also bring your upper body into play, so “it’s a way you can walk faster and get more momentum,” Inglin said. And even though you may be exerting more energy by using trekking poles, if you’re using them correctly, you’ll feel less fatigued at the end of your hike.
How do I choose the right trekking poles for me?
Choose trekking poles that combine the features best suited to your activities. For more in-depth expert advice, read REI’s How To Choose and Use Trekking Poles and Hiking Staffs. Here is an overview of the things you need to consider:
How long should my trekking poles be?
The general guideline for adjusting the length of your poles is to set them so that your arm makes a 90-degree bend at the elbow when holding your pole grips. It’s best to set the length while wearing the footwear you plan to hike or run in since that can add another inch to your height.
Jae Kim is a forecast analyst for REI and responsible for buying and assorting the trekking poles found in stores. He told me that one of the biggest user errors with trekking poles is overextending them past the maximum length marker. “This is how I see a lot of poles getting bent or snapping,” he said. Consult the size guide for each model of trekking poles to ensure you’re choosing the correct length. If you choose adjustable trekking poles, you’ll want to make sure that the size you pick has room for you to shorten them a few inches for trekking uphill, and lengthen them a few inches for downhill.
What is the difference between the unisex and women’s models of trekking poles?
There is nothing drastically different between women’s and unisex models of trekking poles. Generally, women-specific poles are a couple of inches shorter than unisex poles. Sometimes the grip on a women’s model will be slightly smaller in diameter than on the unisex model. There’s usually a color difference. We found the grip differences among the poles we tested to be almost negligible.
The real differentiator is the couple ounces of weight and inches of collapsed length you’ll lose with the women’s model. It depends on the brand’s sizing, but in general, people who are shorter than 5'8" may want to consider the women’s model and people with larger hands may want to opt for the slightly larger grips on the unisex model. When deciding which model to purchase, go with the option that seems like it would be most comfortable.
What trekking pole accessories do you need?
If you plan to do any snowshoeing, splitboarding or backcountry snowboarding, make sure the trekking poles you buy are compatible with powder baskets. These are larger baskets designed specifically for snow use. They usually have to be purchased separately, and most often they need to be the same brand as the poles to be compatible.
Rubber walking tips are useful for a number of trail conditions, helping you gain traction on smooth surfaces, wet rock and asphalt. They’re also great for traveling because they prevent the carbide tips from damaging your luggage. Another important benefit to walking tips is that they help to protect the trail from damage.
Can you carry hiking poles on a plane?
According to the TSA, hiking poles are prohibited from carry-on bags. However, they can be part of checked luggage. And even though some reviewers mention traveling with trekking poles in their carry-on bags, we can’t recommend trying it. In some cases, trekking poles and hiking staffs may be allowed on board if they are used as a mobility aid for a person with a medical condition or disability. The TSA website states, “The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.”
How do you attach trekking poles to the exterior of your pack?
There are many ways you can secure trekking poles to the exterior of your pack and it usually depends on the pack’s design. McIntosh-Tolle said a lot of packs are now made with loops designed to hold trekking pole tips. “If they don’t [have a trekking pole loop], but they do have an ice axe loop, you can twist that around a few times to make it small enough to fit the tips into. There’s usually a corresponding strap that you can use. If your pack doesn’t have either, I’ve hooked a lot of poles to my packs just using the compression straps on the outside.”
Another option is to use the mesh pocket on the side of the pack, usually designed to hold a water bottle. If you choose this method, make sure to flip your poles upside down so that the handles rest in the pockets rather than the sharp tips, and be sure to use a corresponding compression strap at the top. No matter how you end up securing your poles to your pack, McIntosh-Tolle said, “the main thing you want is just the confidence that when you move around, they aren’t going to wiggle their way out and go rolling down the ravine.”
How should you care for, clean and store your hiking poles?
“There’s not a ton of maintenance these things need,” McIntosh-Tolle said. “The biggest thing is that if they’re wet or muddy—especially if you’ve been using them along the coast where they’ve been exposed to a lot of salt in the water or air—is to make sure to rinse them off, open them up as far as you can, and let them dry before [compressing them] down.” If needed, you can also use a soft cloth or brush to remove mud and debris from your poles. Do not use lubricants to clean your poles. When you’re finished, store them with locks open. Every so often, check and adjust the tension on all the external lever locks.
The post The Best Trekking Poles and Hiking Staff for Every Type of Adventure appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.