(The Gear Loop) - Everything you put in your backpack adds weight to your adventure. That is, apart from your trekking poles. The fact that our ankles, knees and hips bear the brunt of our exertions on the trails is no secret, but the best trekking poles transfer much of this hardship to our upper body.
We were once of the opinion that trekking poles were a hassle that we could all could do without, taking up extra space and adding additional weight when we wanted to hit the trails. As an advocate of going fast, light and free on the hills, they seemed at odds with a hiker’s ethos.
This perception was kicked into touch one day when a Leki (one of the world’s leading pole manufacturers) employee gave us a pair and instructed us to stand on the scales. First, we held the poles off the ground and the reading below our feet was of no surprise. Then, we planted the poles down either side – lightly, we should add – and watched as the weight carried by the feet evaporated, as if by magic.
Alas, a problem shared is a problem halved. All of a sudden, by utilising poles, your legs no longer have to deal with the lion’s share. This makes you feel lighter, reduces fatigue and ultimately extends your shelf life as a hiker.
So, if you were a pole-sceptic before, hopefully your eyebrow is now raised. Tell me more, you say? Well, in this guide, we feature three of the best trekking poles for general use, as well as what we think is the best pole for running adventures.
We round things off with the best value pair and finish with a guide on what to look for when choosing poles.
The best trekking poles for general outdoor use
Leki Cross Trail Lite Carbon
- Packs down small
- Great for both hiking and running
- Mesh strap means you can free up your hands
- Speed locks add weight compared to collapsible models
- Carbon can be brittle if over-stressed
While other leading poles are constructed by brands that have fingers in many pies, Leki is an international manufacturer that focus on one thing and one thing only: quality poles. It hoovers up "best in test" awards with startling regularity, making the brand the benchmark for others to aspire to.
These telescopic offerings are designed for both fast hiking and trail running pursuits. As the name suggests, the main shaft material is a carbon fibre composite, which is what makes them so wonderfully lightweight. The fact they are telescopic means they have a couple of clamps to lock your desired length in place. This makes them slightly heavier than Leki’s similar collapsible models, though the difference is admittedly negligible.
The Cross Trails feature Leki’s Cross Shark grip, combining a handle with a breathable mesh strap. The handle is hewn from imitation cork foam, which is comfortable and adapts to the shape of your hand.
A nod towards running use, the glove-like mesh strap securely holds your hand in place. This all adds up to make a wonderfully comfortable and versatile pole for outdoor adventures.
Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock
- Durable and robust
- Shock absorption equals supreme comfort
- Mesh strap frees up your hands
- Heavier than some
- Fairly long when packed down
The excellent Trail Pro Shock poles will last you for many years. This is because they are sturdily built from durable aluminium and – as is the case with all Black Diamond products – to a very high standard. They also feature shock absorption in the grip region, which takes strain off your wrists during long days spent pounding the trail.
The downside to aluminium is that it is heavier than carbon fibre, which sees the Trail Pros weighing in at 590 grams per pair, more than the leading carbon options. This potentially makes them less attractive to trail runners, but hikers that value durability won’t mind too much.
The Trail Pros are telescopic and lock into place with FlickLock Pro clamps. When retracted, they’re relatively long at 65cm, but they’ll still pack away nicely outside or inside a daypack. Each handle features an EVA foam grip and they are suitably ergonomic, while there’s also a strap that lets you free up your hands, should you wish.
MSR DynaLock Ascent Carbon Backcountry Poles
- Industry-leading comfort
- More durable than other carbon-fibre poles
- Collapses into a compact package
- Too much for occasional hikers
Designed for serious mountaineering and snowshoeing adventurers, MSR’s DynaLock Ascent Carbon Backcountry Poles are series pieces of kit. Featuring a Kevlar-reinforced carbon fibre shafts that give them winning blend of durability and lightweight qualities, the Ascents are a shrewd investment.
They come into two sizes: 100 to 120cm and 120 to 140cm, so ensure you get the right length to suit your height. The larger size suits individuals taller than 5ft 8in.
These poles are collapsible rather than telescopic, which also saves a little weight, as there are no clamps to deal with. This gives them a folded-down length of between 36.2cm and 44.5cm depending on the size you opt for. Probably the most satisfying aspect is the way the sections click into place thanks to the proprietary DynaLock system.
The contoured EVA foam grip is supremely comfortable during even the most arduous days on the trail. You also get a winter and summer basket, which allows you to customise depending on the season.
The best trekking poles for running
Leki Micro Flash Carbon
- Ridiculously lightweight
- Very compact when folded down
- Breathable mesh strap holds hand securely
- Not as durable as heavier poles
- Trail running orientated
The preposterously lightweight Micro Flash Carbon from pole specialists Leki is designed with one type of adventurer in mind: trail runners. Weighing in at 384 grams per pair, they’re one of the lightest pole options out there.
To save yet more weight, the Micro Flashes are collapsible rather than telescopic, folding down quickly (a matter of seconds) to 37cm. This makes them a wonderfully compact option, while runners will appreciate the speed at which they can whip them out and stash them away again, depending on the terrain in front of them.
The mesh strap is highly breathable and holds your hands tightly and securely, essential for taking on missions at speed. A blend of plastic and cork makes for a handle that’s comfortable and repels water. Meanwhile, the tip is specifically designed for trail running.
Of course, the sacrifices that have been made to save weight mean that hikers looking for something more durable should look elsewhere. However, for trail runners serious about getting one up on the competition, look no further.
The best value trekking poles
Forclaz MT900 Ultra Compact Trekking Pole
- Very affordable
- Extremely compact when collapsed
- Fairly basic strap
- Grip not as comfortable as some
- Poles sold individually
What if you could obtain trekking poles that should last for many years while spending substantially less than rivals on this page? Thank the heavens for Decathlon and its Forclaz MT900 Ultra Compact Trekking Pole. This five-section folding pole collapses to 36cm, making it a compact, packable option too.
It’s durability and low price point is partly down to its aluminium shaft. Aluminium is cheaper than carbon-fibre but it’s also heavier, which is why the MT900 ends up weighing 550 grams per pair. It’s also got a fairly basic strap and the EVA foam handles are not as comfortable as more expensive models.
However, the MT900 performs exceptionally well considering it costs a fraction of some of the competition. It’s been officially put through its paces at the foot of Mont Blanc, in the High Atlas of Morocco and on Tenerife’s volcanic ground, as well as on a 550km mission test across the Pyrenees’ GR10 trail and the Canaries, so there’s no doubting its usability.
What to look for when buying trekking poles
Telescopic? Collapsible or rigid
For old school pole wielders doing their best Gandalf impression, a rigid pole is the classic, no nonsense design. Of course, the obvious downsides here are a lack of portability and the ability to change the length depending on whether you’re ascending or descending. It’s not easy to stash away or alter the height of what is, in effect, a staff.
Enter telescopic and collapsible poles, designed for height adjustment and easy transportation. Usually, telescopic and collapsible poles comprise at least three sections.
A telescopic pole’s sections slide up into each other and usually have a clamp-like locking system to hold them in place, often with labelled measurements that allow you to set your desired height. Remember, when setting the height of your pole, you’re looking for a 90-degree bend in your elbow when the poles’ tip hits the ground. When fully retracted, it should measure about a third of its full length, perfect for attaching to your backpack.
Collapsible poles are held together by a central wire, a bit like tent poles. They’re quick and easy to modify, which makes them popular with runners and fastpackers.
A pole’s handle is typically made from either cork or foam. When it comes to a downpour, cork is preferable for its waterproof qualities, plus it’s also very comfortable to hold. The downside is that it is not quite as durable as foam.
Wrist straps are very common, particularly for fast-paced adventures. One advantage of wrist straps is the ability to remove your hand from the handle without losing the pole to take a photo or check the map etc.
Carbon fibre and aluminium are your main options when it comes to pole shafts. Aluminium has the advantage of being cheaper and more durable, but it will also be much heavier than a carbon pole. On long backpacking missions, keeping the weight of your kit down is half the battle, so a carbon pole may be the better option. Likewise, carbon is the go-to for running poles.
However, placed under the wrong sort of stress, carbon-fibre can be brittle, and any breakage is usually terminal, which could be a serious issue on remote hiking missions. Whereas, aluminium can often be bent back into shape with a little persuasion.