Which hiking pole is best?
Whether you hike to experience the beauty of nature or are focused on getting your daily 10,000 steps in, hiking poles are valuable pieces of gear. Not only does this simple tool improve balance and help you safely navigate loose rock and uneven footing, it also engages your arms and shoulders as you hike, giving you a full body workout.
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z Trekking Poles are easy to adjust, sturdy and work well over varied terrain. They’re a great choice for long hikes, too.
What to know before you buy hiking poles
When considering which hiking poles will work best for you, you’ll need to think about the materials of the poles’ shafts and grips.
Although you may be able to find old-fashioned hiking poles made of wood, modern shafts are more commonly made of two basic materials.
- Aluminum: These are more affordable poles, making them a great entry point. They’re durable but heavier than other materials.
- Composite: Composite hiking poles are the gold standard of this type of gear. Made of carbon fiber, they’re extremely lightweight, but they cost more than their aluminum counterparts. Additionally, composite poles can crack under stress.
The grip of the pole is important, too. The action of holding the pole can lead to fatigue and discomfort if the material isn’t a good fit.
- Cork: Cork conforms to your hand and is moisture-resistant. It’s the best choice for hiking in hot weather.
- Foam: Foam is softer, but it traps moisture and becomes soggy. It also wears quickly.
- Rubber: Rubber grips are the choice for cold-weather hiking. Hard ground can deliver a shock to the hands that rubber easily absorbs. However, rubber is sticky when warm and can lead to blisters in hot weather.
Adjustable vs. fixed
Adjustable poles are becoming more popular. They’re easy to customize to the hiker, and they fold well for storage and travel. Hikers can also adjust the height of each pole based on the terrain (i.e., shorter for uphill climbs and longer for downhill sections).
On the other hand, fixed hiking poles are more lightweight. These are best suited for flat, even terrain.
The height of the poles should be easily adjusted to be 20- 24 inches shorter than your height. This means a hiker who’s 6 feet tall needs a hiking pole that can be adjusted between 48 and 52 inches.
Make sure that the diameter of the grip is comfortable, too. Although there are unisex hiking poles, women with smaller hands and children might find that specialized grips for them are more comfortable.
What to look for in quality hiking poles
Look for hiking poles with a compass mounted on one grip. While you won’t be able to get a precise GPS location with it, this feature can be very useful if you find yourself lost without a cell signal.
Assorted tip protectors and baskets
The tips of your hiking poles — the part that touches the ground — should provide not only protection for the pole but also additional traction.
An assortment of different sized baskets — circular attachments just above the tip of the pole — allow you more stability across different terrain. For example, a wide, solid rubber basket helps you better navigate muddy or boggy areas of the trail.
You know the saying, if you don’t take a picture, it didn’t happen? If that sounds right to you, a camera mount on your hiking pole is the way to go.
Adjustable and collapsible hiking poles should feature sturdy locking mechanisms at each joint. This prevents the pole from collapsing at a crucial moment of your hike.
Shock absorbers help prevent injury to your hands, arms and shoulders. They also prolong the life of your hiking poles.
How much you can expect to spend on hiking poles
From the most basic hiking poles to ones with all the bells and whistles, expect to spend $30-$200.
Hiking poles FAQ
How do you choose a comfortable height?
A. Stand on level ground, keeping your dominant arm at your side. Bend your elbow and hold the grip in your hand with the tip touching the ground. Your forearm should be parallel to the ground.
What’s the best way to use hiking poles?
A. Consider the hiking pole as a normal extension of your swinging arm. The tip of the pole should hit the ground as the opposite foot does (i.e., the left pole and the right foot should contact the ground simultaneously).
How do you maintain hiking poles?
A. Taking good care of your hiking poles ensures their longevity. Wipe your poles down with a damp rag after each hike, and do a deep cleaning every two or three uses. This involves cleaning dust and moisture out of the joints by gently separating the pole at the joint and wiping with a wet cloth.
WD40 is a good addition to any areas of rust or where there’s a metal locking mechanism. Always check your manufacturer’s care instructions for additional maintenance recommendations.
What are the best hiking poles to buy?
Top hiking pole
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z Trekking Poles
What you need to know: These work well for a wide variety of terrain and adjust easily.
What you’ll love: These hiking poles have three segments that lock into place but can be adjusted quickly. The cork grips are comfortable for long hikes and stay dry when palms get sweaty. They collapse for travel.
What you should consider: There’s potential for loose joints.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods
Top hiking poles for the money
Cascade Mountain Tech Aluminum Quick Lock Trekking Poles
What you need to know: These are simple, affordable and capable of getting the job done.
What you’ll love: These trekking poles have snap locks for secure extension. They’re lightweight and comfortable to use, plus they’re easy to store when the hike is over.
What you should consider: Because of their lightweight aluminum design, they aren’t recommended for strenuous hikes.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods
Worth checking out
What you need to know: These are lightweight poles that are easy to use.
What you’ll love: These poles collapse and store easily in the included bag. The grips are comfortable cork. They’re aluminum but still durable. Various baskets are included for trekking in different conditions.
What you should consider: Some hikers thought the wrist straps were uncomfortable for long hikes.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Suzannah Kolbeck writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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