Whether you’re planning a weekend backpacking trip or a big thru-hike, you’ll be carrying a load on your back and travelling over uneven terrain. Trekking poles help you stay stable and reduce the impacts to your ankles, hips and knees, so you can arrive at your destination less fatigued and sore. You can also use trekking poles to pitch a shelter, in a pinch.
There are a lot of trekking poles out there – how do you decide which ones to buy? Learn about trekking pole sizes and what to look for, depending on your hiking goals.<ul> <li>Find the right size: Most are adjustable, but you still need the correct length for you.</li> <li>Folding vs. telescoping: Find out how poles compact down, and the pros and cons.</li> <li>Different materials: Carbon or aluminum, plus options for the grips you hold.</li> <li>Additional features: Other handy things to consider.</li> </ul>
Finding the right size trekking poles Most trekking poles come in adjustable lengths with a locking mechanism to secure the pole at different heights. A trekking pole that’s the right length should create a 90-degree angle in your elbow when you hold it by the grip with the tip on the floor. To calculate the size you need, stand up and make a 90-degree bend with your elbow. Measure the distance between your wrist and the floor – that’s your ideal length of trekking poles, give or take a few centimetres.
On steep uphill hikes, you may want to shorten the poles 5–10cm to help propel you forward. On steep descents, lengthening the poles helps with stability and comfort by keeping your body more upright. If you’re traversing a hillside, you may want the downslope pole to be longer than the upslope one.
Telescoping vs. folding Many trekking poles are collapsible to easily attach them to your backpack. If you have a specific plan in mind, like winter hiking or fast summits, it’s good to know the pros and cons of how poles compact down.
Telescoping poles: Made of two or three pole sections that fit inside each other, and then extend to lock at the desired length. They’re easy to adjust and are tougher than folding poles. Two section poles are usually for winter use as they’re more durable, but they don’t pack down as short as three-section poles.
Folding poles: Similar to tent poles, they have a cord in the shaft and fold up. They’re usually more packable and weigh less than telescoping poles, but often have less adjustability. They’re best if you’re need poles for fast and light missions, like thru-hiking and trail running.
Collapsible poles also have different locking mechanisms when the pole is fully extended:<ul> <li>**FlickLock lever systems** clamp down on the shaft. They’re easy to adjust, even with gloves, which is great for cold weather or when you’ll be changing the lengths often.</li> <li>**Twist locking systems** have a piece that expands within the shaft to lock it in place. This system has easier on-trail maintenance, as you just twist it tighter when necessary.</li> </ul>