Give Yourself a Hand: How to Choose (and Use) the Best Trekking Poles

best trekking poles
A few years back a friend and I were planning an alpine expedition on which we’d be accompanied by two first-time mountaineers. While emailing back and forth to assemble a comprehensive gear list, at one point I realized my buddy had not included trekking poles (aka hiking poles) in his notes. When I asked if he thought we should recommend them to the newcomers, his answer was unequivocal: “Yeah,” he wrote, “hiking without poles is like hiking without whiskey.”

You don’t hike without whiskey, FYI. And if you’re headed for any sort of serious trek, you shouldn’t hike without poles, either.

The best trekking poles provide several major benefits to the hiker. First, they give you two more points of contact with the ground, making you significantly more stable and sure-footed even over rough, uneven, or loose terrain. In other words, they reduce your chances of  falling over. Which is nice.

Second, hiking poles allow your arms to do some of the work of moving your body along the path and/or up that mountain. If you don’t think they can give you a meaningful boost, just get back to me after you’ve done the 99 switchbacks on Mount Whitney without them. (I’ve been up Whitney four times, so you can trust me on this one — it’s better with poles.) The general expectation is that poles takes about 10 or 15 pounds off your legs with each and every step. Over the course of a long hike, that adds up.

Third, trekking poles greatly reduce the force of impact on your joints, helping prevent both acute and chronic injuries to the ankles, knees, hips, and various other body parts.

Fourth, the poles can be used to push thorny brambles aside, to test the depths of puddles or snow drifts, or to move unsavory whatnot out of the walking path — all things you’d probably rather not do with your hands or feet, no?

And, finally, the poles come in handy in myriad ways even when they’re not in your hands. They can serve as a place to dry out sodden clothes or boots. They’re necessary for the proper pitching of some tents and for many tent vestibules. They make a handy tool for beating back ravenous marmots. (Don’t actually beat marmots, please. They’re feisty, but innocent.)

As for choosing the best trekking poles, that is largely a matter of personal preference and budget, but I’ll go ahead and make a couple of recommendations. Before I do that, though, here’s a quick insider tip: Frankly, I think the best trekking poles are actually ski poles. And whenever I’m headed for an excursion that doesn’t require air travel, I still use my old ski poles. Why? There’s no risk of a pole’s joint failing when no joints exist. But after multiple headaches caused by checking ski poles through as luggage (I don’t know why it’s always such an issue, but it is), I’m happy to grab a pair of collapsible poles whenever I’ll be flying before I’ll be hiking.

My go-to trekking poles are …

Kelty Range 2.0 Trekking Poles, $60

They’re remarkably easy to collapse or adjust, they’re lightweight but sturdy thanks to their tubular anodized aluminum construction, and I love how the cork and foam handles feel — and how they look. There’s a retro charm to a wooden handle that works perfectly with the otherwise advanced design of these poles. While I’ve seen many a hiker cursing his way down the mountain with a bent or snapped pole hanging off the back of his pack, I’ve never felt so much as a wobble out of these babies. The bottoms of the poles have a nonslip carbide tip that digs into rocks, roots, and more, and you can slip on a thick rubber cap for use on easier terrain or for storage or travel.

If you’re going to take it from Amazon’s algorithm for “Best Choice” instead of from little old me, then go ahead and consider the …

Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles, $70

Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles

As you probably expect from a product made out of carbon fiber, these poles are very lightweight and quite sturdy and durable. They’re also more expensive than the Keltys, though not by much. They use a quick flip lock that allows for single-handed length adjustment or collapsing. While I’ve never used these poles, and while most people who have praise them effusively, I do have to mention that this is much like the type of joint I’ve seen fail from time to time. Just a caveat emptor warning for you. They come with several different tip attachments and baskets that make them suitable for use on snow or ice.

If you’re watching your budget or you just don’t think you’ll use your hiking poles often enough to justify a sizable investment, then take a look at the …

BAFX Products Walking Poles, $20

BAFX Products Walking Poles

These trekking poles cost just twenty bucks, so don’t be surprised if they collapse on you some day, but do be surprised by the fact that thousands of satisfied customers have reported using them for hundreds of miles with no problems. The grips aren’t as fancy as the core and foam handles of the options above, and they’re heavier than both of the other brands, … but man, twenty dollars. That’s ten dollars per pole. And they even have carbide tips and anti-shock springs. So are they worth the money? Yes, yes they are.

Outdoors

If Iron Man Designed a Ski Boot, It Would Be the Dahu Écorce

A hinge system and inner boot allow the wearer to step out of the plastic shell and walk around.
Living

The Best Presidents’ Day Sales on Sheets and Bedding

Presidents' Day is the best times to treat yourself to luxury bedding deals.
Auto

KTM Releases Your New Favorite Motorcycle, the 790 Adventure and Adventure R

This is a motorcycle that’s been designed to go anywhere you’d like and get you back home without a problem.
Auto

Ford Revives the Harley-Davidson F-150 for 2019

Though the release was without the typical fanfare as per Ford’s known for, the 2019 Harley-Davidson F-150 will be an absolute boon to Ford’s already stellar F-150 track record.
Outdoors

Dispersed Camping Is Your Way to Camp for Free All Over the U.S.

Over a quarter of the United States is federally owned land and it’s free to camp on most of it.
Living

The Best Firewood-Cutting Tools and Accessories

It takes a lot of work to keep a fire ablaze. However, if you equip yourself with the right tools, your job will get a little easier.
Outdoors

Check Out This Guide to 71 Natural Hot Springs Across the U.S.

America is home to 1,161 known hot springs, and thanks to a new guide from CarRentals, you can now easily find your way to 71 of those.
Fashion & Style

Save Up to 30 Percent Off Winter Ski Apparel from the Stio End-of-Season Sale

The Wyoming-based brand offers a variety of winter gear to keep you storm-ready and right now.
Outdoors

How to Survive a Bear Attack: Brown Bears, Black Bears, Polar Bears, Oh My

The chances of encountering a bear in the wild are slim, but you should always be prepared for the worst.
Outdoors

Tips for Camping in the Rain You Should Read Before You Get Soaked

There are several pieces of gear, a few techniques, and some clever hacks that will make your sodden outdoor experience a pleasure despite the drizzle or downpour.
Travel

The Best Travel and Adventure Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

If you're reading this, you're staring at a screen. Wouldn't you rather be exploring a different part of the world than the Internet?
Outdoors

4 of the Most Dangerous Hikes in the World

You'll need a healthy dose of fear and a desire to push your self to the edge — just not over it.
Outdoors

Outdoor Retailer Snow Show 2019: First Look at the Coolest Upcoming Gear

Here are the coolest gear pieces and insane technologies that we saw at Outdoor Retailer. These products are a sneak peek at what will be available to the public in the next few years.
Outdoors

6 Most Scenic Day Hikes in U.S. National Parks

It’s no wonder that some of the best views in the country are located within national parks.