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How to choose and adjust your trekking poles?

The fast-growing market of trekking poles sees ever more models appearing. You'll find all sorts of walking poles at various prices. Your choice will depend on the number of sections, adjustment system, type of tips and grips, among other elements. Here is a comprehensive guide to help you make the right choice among the wide range of innovative models available.

choosing the right trekking poles

Why using trekking poles?

After being considered cumbersome and useless, they are now on the list of essential hiking equipment items for any hiker, on the same level with footwear, backpacks, and clothes. Better stability, less muscle fatigue, improved performance are the arguments in favour of this piece of equipment. From recreational hikers to athletes, everyone has switched to using them and no one is willing to go back.

The various types of walking poles

Fixed-length or non-adjustable poles

Very similar to standard alpine skiing poles, fixed-length poles provide performance and strength on your hikes. Simply make sure they are the right length to fully enjoy their benefits. However, it is impossible to carry them in your backpack, making them mostly suitable for recreational use. Most serious hikers will prefer adjustable or foldable poles like the ones we’ll cover now.

Adjustable poles

Nowadays, adjustable poles are very common in specialised stores. Their sections easily collapse into each other. They are easy to adjust and to attach to your backpack when you don’t need them. You can adapt the length of the pole according to the situation you’re in. Sturdy and practical, they’re the perfect hiking poles for intensive use. The only shortcoming is that if the locking mechanism relies on a screw, you need to carry a small screwdriver with you. Because of shocks and vibrations, it can loosen and the pole may collapse under your weight.

Foldable poles

Also popular on the market, they are often meant for trail runners, as well as experienced hikers, looking for an efficient and practical pole. Often made of 3 sections, connected by a wire inside the shaft, foldable poles have a small footprint in your backpack. Often made of carbon, they have the advantage of being ultra-light, stiff and absorbing vibrations on rugged terrain. A foldable walking staff is perfect for those who prioritises weight and performance.

trekking pole types

The criteria to choose a trekking pole

Number of sections

We just covered the pros and cons of various walking pole models. It is indeed the first thing to consider. To sum it up, while adjustable and foldable poles are practical, efficient and meant for advanced users, fixed-length poles are not as practical, heavier but robust and reliable on any terrain. It's up to you to define your priorities to make the right choice.

Walking pole locking mechanism

You’ll find various systems on the hiking poles available on the market:

Plastic lever locking mechanism: this system offers the best ratio of performance and practicality on the market. When loosed, the sections collapse into each other to reach the suitable length. Then, the levers secure the pole length. This system is quick to use, even when moving.

Twist lock: just as before, the sections collapse into each other, but in this case a simple twisting motion locks the pole. This very practical solution can be unreliable for intensive use as the sections may loosen due to repeated vibrations. The twist lock system is perfectly suited to easy hikes on hilly and fast rolling terrain.

Magnetic or metal push-button lock: this system is often used on foldable poles. Very useful to collapse the sections, this system may show its limits on winter hikes in cold and snowy conditions. Snow in contact with the pole can freeze and make folding difficult.

Trekking pole minimum and maximum length

If the question is irrelevant when it comes to non-adjustable poles, it is one you should consider when buying trekking poles that are adjustable. While this may seem secondary, make sure the minimum length fits in your hiking backpack and the maximum length isn’t too short for you. This point concerns mostly taller hikers, but it can’t hurt to check before buying!

Weight and materials

Carbon

Carbon trekking poles are generally high-end poles. Depending on the models, a pair can weigh between 350 g and 500 g. While this type of equipment is ultra-light and stiff, it can break and can’t be repaired when damaged. They are also more expensive compared to other models on the market. Finally, carbon poles are primarily selected by hikers looking for minimal weight and great walking comfort thanks to their absorbing capacity.

Aluminium

Aluminium poles are heavier than carbon poles. Weighing between 500 g and 650 g, they are however more durable. Difficult to bend, aluminium will better withstand the test of time and the stress of pole plants. However, they are more prone to vibrations than carbon models, making them less comfortable on long hikes. An aluminium pole is the perfect choice for hikers looking for a reliable model, ready for any situation.

walking pole features

Trekking pole grips

Plastic grips

They are generally featured on entry-level poles. Their comfort is decent, but they don’t provide much dampening from the vibrations caused by repeated impacts on the ground. However, they have the advantage of not absorbing moisture on rainy days.

Cork grips

Cork grips offer excellent hand feel to hikers. In addition, cork provides great insulation, avoiding the uncomfortable cold feeling on winter hikes when snowshoeing for example. Cork also dampens vibrations and evacuates the acidity of hand perspiration.

Foam grips

In the same way as cork grips, foam grips provide interesting insulation properties. In addition, they are very comfortable and offer efficient vibration dampening. However, on rainy days, they tend to retain water and stay wet longer. If you backpack in wet conditions, watch out for bad surprises the morning after rainy days!

Trekking pole baskets

Screw-on baskets

Threaded baskets are relatively easy to install. In addition, they are durable and generally never come loose. This efficient and reliable system is the most common on the market.

Clip-on baskets

For this basket type, a quarter turn is enough to install them. However, they can loosen regularly and may come off. This can prove annoying and even imper your ability to progress on mud or snow.

Snap fix baskets

At least, with this type of basket you’re certain they will remain in place. Installing them requires applying heavy pressure to snap them on the tip of the pole. Slightly more difficult to install, they constitute the most efficient and durable solution, offering piece of mind on the trails.

trekking pole guide

Choosing the right size for your trekking poles

The terrain profile will dictate the length of your trekking poles during your hikes. During the descents, if your poles are adjustable, increase their length, to make slowing down easier and support your weight. On the other hand, long poles are unpractical in the climbs. Reduce their length for easier and more efficient pushes. In a mountain environment, the length of your poles should be adjustable, not only to improve comfort and performance, but your safety as well.

In the case of fixed-length trekking poles, you’ll need to pay close attention and pick the right length. A simple trick is to multiply your size in centimetres by 0.68 to get the ideal length for your pair of poles. This type of pole is perfect for hikes on flat terrain, where you don’t need to adjust the length.