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Trekking is a great way to stay adventurous and explore the great outdoors. But without the right equipment, it can be incredibly difficult.
A good set of trekking poles will provide you with greater stability when moving over rugged or uneven terrain. Many people describe them as an extra set of limbs, but they’re also ideal for taking the strain off your knees, which is essential, especially on longer treks.
But in order to find the most reliable set of trekking poles, you must make sure to closely inspect their features. In this guide, we’ll be providing you with some invaluable information on what to look for.
One of the first things you should think about when choosing your trekking poles is what they are made from. Generally speaking, you’re going to have two choices; aluminum and carbon fiber. There are, much like anything else, pros and cons to both materials, so it’s a good idea to weigh these up against your needs.
For example, carbon fiber trekking poles are much more lightweight. If you don’t like the idea of lugging around cumbersome equipment, they’re certainly worth considering. That said, they’re not quite as durable and may break easily as well as being slightly more expensive.
On the other hand, aluminum trekking poles are far superior in terms of how robust they are. If you’re going to very remote, rugged, or challenging locations, they’ll withstand so much more. Something that sells these affordable poles to many outdoors people is that, in the event that they break, they’re unlikely to snap. Aluminum poles will more likely bend so they’ll still be somewhat useable, at least until the end of the trek.
However, it’s important to consider that they’re somewhat heavier than their carbon fiber counterparts. By no means overly heavy, but they may weigh you down more than you’d like on a very long trek.
It’s incredibly important to make sure that your hands are comfortable when using your trekking poles. If not, you may be prone to rubbing, blisters, and general discomfort. It’s good, then, that trekking pole handles come with a choice of grips to suit different needs.
You’ll want to try out a selection of different grips to work out what feels most comfortable for you. Usually, you’ll have a choice of rubber, foam, or cork.
Rubber grips are the least common out of all the handle materials but are very good for cold weather trekking. They won’t absorb sweat and act as an insulator, so they’ll keep the hands warm. What’s more, rubber is brilliantly durable, so if you’re looking for something that will stand the test of time, this is it. However, if you were to use them in warm weather, the build-up of moisture would likely lead to chafing.
If you do prefer to go exploring in the summer months then cork grips are an excellent choice. They’re incredibly breathable, so your hands won’t sweat, slip, or chafe. What’s more, this material molds to the hands, and while this takes a few uses, it’ll mean that your poles fit you perfectly in the long run. The benefit of this is that you won’t feel as much strain on your hand as the material contours to it.
The final option is foam and this is great if you’re looking for something lightweight and comfortable. While the material does feel soft on the hands, it will spring back to its original shape as soon as you let go so you don’t get the benefit of a contoured fit. That said, foam is excellent at wicking away sweat so it’s a worthy contender for a summer trekking pole. Do keep in mind, however, that foam is not extremely durable so this type of grip won’t have as long a service life.
Most trekking poles are fitted with a wrist strap, and this has a lot of benefits. For example, these straps will allow you to keep your poles on you but leave your hands free. When you want to take a drink, snap an Instagram moment, or simply take a break, it means you won’t need to down poles to do so.
But the key is to look for wrist straps that are going to offer you the most comfort and convenience. Almost always, these straps are made from nylon, so they’re very durable, and you won’t need to worry about them snapping or weakening.
However, there are some that are more comfortable than others. Padded wrist straps are great for this reason but it’s also worth checking out whether they are made from moisture-wicking material. If not, there is a chance of the straps rubbing on the skin and causing sore spots or blisters.
Finally, when looking at wrist straps, we would advise opting for those that have a quick-release feature. This is pretty much always the case and will allow you to free yourself from the poles in the event of an emergency or if you get stuck.
Adjustable or Fixed Height
Another key factor in choosing the right trekking poles is deciding between adjustable or fixed height poles. Much like other aspects, there are pros and cons to each type so take some time to think about what will suit you best.
One of the main advantages of an adjustable trekking pole is that you have much greater control over the pole height. It’s important to ensure that your poles are set to the right height so that your posture is not affected and you get the right support from your equipment. Adjustable poles allow you to be very precise in this area.
Moreover, an adjustable pole folds into either two or three parts, so it is much more compact and ideal for stashing in your pack when not in use.
On the other hand, a fixed height pole comes in increments of 10 cm, which means that you don’t have the benefit of being able to get an accurate height. However, they are typically a little lighter than adjustable poles, so they’re great for people who are off on a longer adventure.
The locking mechanism on your trekking poles prevents the poles from slipping and altering height while in use. It goes without saying that this is an important feature but since there are two types of locking mechanisms, it pays to know a little more about your options.
There are twist-lock mechanisms which are an internal component and operate using a screw and expander. These are durable however, over time, they can become loose which can result in the pole slipping down. What’s more, using a twist-lock is a little trickier and many new hikers find that they need to spend time getting to grips with it.
You also have the option of a lever-style lock and the main advantage of this is that there is hardly any chance of the lock loosening over time. Therefore, if you are looking for a stronger option, this is the obvious choice. They work using a small lever that flips into place, keeping the two parts of the pole in place. They’re also incredibly easy to use and not at all fiddly, which is essential when you’re on the go.
Inside some trekking poles, there is a small spring which acts as a shock absorber by recoiling every time the pole hits the ground. In some models, you can activate or deactivate this feature depending on the type of terrain you are trekking across. For example, when the ground underfoot is particularly hard.
You’ll find shock-absorbing trekking poles incredibly useful if you have any problems with your joints. That said, owing to the addition of the spring, you’ll notice that these poles are slightly heavier. If you want something lightweight, then a rigid pole might be the better choice.
You should, however, weigh things up as while an anti-shock pole is slightly heavier, the shock absorption will lessen fatigue by as much as 40%!
When using trekking poles, you will need to swing them with each step. Not surprisingly, a heavier pole is going to require more exertion to do this. While there are some people that would argue the weight of a pole doesn’t matter too much, others place significant importance on this. It’s all about how you feel you will cope with a heavy vs lightweight trekking pole.
Much of the weight is to do with the material from which the pole is made. As we mentioned earlier, aluminum poles are generally heavier, so they can feel a little more cumbersome when swinging. You could opt for a lighter or even ultralight carbon pole, but this comes with the issue of durability.
For most people, choosing a mid-weight pole between 13 and 17 ounces will be just right. That said, if you are heading off to do a seriously challenging trek, then spending a little more to get a lightweight pole might be worth it to save your energy as you go the distance.
With every impact that your hiking pole makes with the ground, the tip will wear down. Of course, a good set of hiking poles will have tips that are made from robust materials that will stand up to the challenges of rough outdoor use.
Generally speaking, there are two different metals used for trekking pole tips; tungsten and carbide. These are excellent when hiking over dirt and will provide very good traction on this type of surface. It’s also a very durable material, however, on harder surfaces, you will find that they slip.
In this case, you would want to opt for rubber tips that provide a far greater grip on things like granite. Do keep in mind that most trekking poles come with interchangeable tips as manufacturers are aware that trekkers won’t stick to one type of terrain. Also, remember that your tips will wear out over time, so will need to be replaced. On some models, the tips will automatically break off when they become damaged to prevent damage to the pole itself.
Baskets & Accessories
The final thing to consider when buying trekking poles is the types of accessories that are included. Baskets are usually interchangeable, and your poles will likely come with different types allowing you to tackle various types of terrain.
The baskets are normally made from plastic and fit just above the tip of the pole. They are designed to stop the poles from sinking when walking across softer ground, such as snow, sand, or mud. However, there are also some designed for more solid ground where there may be cracks that the poles would otherwise slip down.
It’s vital to choose the right type of basket for the environment you are trekking in. For example, a snow basket is much wider than other types. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that you’ll normally need to buy baskets that are compatible with your poles. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to use an old set of baskets on your new poles, although there may be a few universal ones.
It’s also worth checking out whether your baskets come with some sort of storage case or box. If you know that you’ll be trekking over varied terrain, you’ll want to take more than one set with you, so having somewhere safe to store them is a must.