A woman holding trekking poles in the forest

How To Choose the Best Trekking Poles

Get the right poles for you with this guide to materials and features.

Need a reason to get trekking poles? Here are four. 1) They reduce impact, minimizing aches and pains and cutting down on wear and tear on your joints. 2) They increase stability, especially when you’re hiking with a heavy pack or tackling loose scree, snow, or river crossings. 3) They can be used to pitch tarps and some ultralight shelters. 4) They can become improvised crutches or a splint in an emergency. Here’s how to choose the best trekking poles for you.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • The pros and cons of different shaft and grip materials
  • How to decide among fixed-length, adjustable, and folding poles
  • The pros and cons of different locking mechanisms
  • How to determine the features you need


The main parts of a trekking pole are the shaft (the “pole” part) and the grip (where you hold it). The materials used on each one have distinct performance and comfort characteristics.


There are two choices here.

Aluminum: This is the more affordable, durable option. It’s also heavier, though for most hikers the difference isn’t significant. 

Carbon fiber: Ounce-counters might prefer this material (or a carbon composite) for its low weight. But carbon isn’t as strong, so you risk breaking it, and it’s more expensive.


Pay attention  to this choice as the grip affects comfort over long days. 

Foam: This is a common grip material, as it’s cushy to hold, affordable, and lightweight. But this type soaks up moisture (like sweat). 

Cork: These grips are moisture resistant and dry quickly, so they won’t get sweated out—but they cost more. 

Rubber: This material is used on winter poles. Rubber is hard and doesn't absorb moisture, which can cause friction and blisters on bare hands, but this doesn’t matter if you’re wearing gloves.   

A woman holding a trekking pole with both hands


The next major question in your trekking pole shopping: Do I want to change the length of my poles? This ability comes in handy if you’ll be traveling on varied terrain: Shorten the poles when hiking uphill and lengthen them when going downhill for the most comfortable stride. You might also want to adjust the length if you’re switching between different activities (say, hiking and skiing) or users. Whichever style you choose, make sure it’s the right length for your height—on level ground, your elbow should be at a 90-degree angle to the ground when holding the grips. Here’s how to decide among the three main styles.

Fixed Length

What you see is what you get with these nonadjustable poles. That makes them very stable, and they’re lightweight and affordable, too. But you won’t be able to fine-tune the length for variable terrain, so be sure to get the proper size for your height. This style doesn’t collapse down like the others do.


These trekking poles can be shortened or lengthened as needed, and they collapse for travel or lashing to your pack. Adjustable poles are more expensive than fixed-length ones and also heavier, and more moving pieces means more potential failure points. They come in two-section and three-section designs. The fewer sections, the more stability; the more sections, the more compact they collapse.


Similar to a tent pole, folding trekking poles pack down the smallest of any other design, making them great for travel and packing. But they’re less stable and usually more expensive. Like fixed-length poles, be sure to get the right size. 

Locking Mechanisms

Adjustable and folding poles use several different kinds of devices to lock the sections in place.


These screw-style closures can be tricky to adjust, especially with cold or wet hands, but offer excellent stability.

External Lever/Flick

These mechanisms feature a locking clamp that’s easy to grab and secure. They need to have the right tension to stay put, so you’ll need to check periodically; some brands require a tool to adjust tension.

Push Button

Common on folding poles, this mechanism slides to unlock sections and can be done with one hand. 


Trekking poles may simply be high-tech walking sticks, but they offer some useful bells and whistles. Consider these options.

Shock Absorbers

Springs reduce force on your joints even more.

Camera Mount

This feature allows you to securely attach a camera, turning your pole into a monopod.

Wrist Straps

These help support your wrist when holding the poles. Adjustable ones can be fine-tuned for the most comfortable fit, and padded ones feel nice on your skin.


These discs fit at the bottom of the pole for better flotation in soft dirt or snow. Some poles let you swap in larger snow baskets for winter. 


Carbide tips are strong and provide the best traction, but they can leave marks on rocks and tear up dirt and plants. You can buy rubber tip protectors to mitigate this damage in sensitive environments (some poles come with removable rubber tips).

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.