After researching 60 models, we purchased 18 of the best trekking poles you can buy in 2019. Next came grueling side-by-side comparisons. From our local forest trails to the Joshua Tree desert and on up to the summit of Mt. Whitney, we examined each aspect of these poles to determine which contenders have what it takes to improve your experience on your next adventure. While once thought of as a luxury item in the outdoor world, trekking poles are now a staple. Whether you're looking into new poles for casual walks in the park or grueling thru-hikes, we're here to help you find exactly what you need.
The Best Trekking Poles of 2019
|Price||$169.96 at Amazon|
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|$119.99 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Lightweight, packs compactly, comfortable grip, easily disassembled||Comfortable, easy to adjust, small packed size, light, versatile||Very durable, versatile, comfortable, and lightweight||Tough, comfortable, FlickLock mechanism is stellar, and long lasting||Super lightweight, packable, and is surprisingly durable|
|Cons||Expensive, may be less durable than some aluminum models||Expensive||Not as small in packed size as the Leki Micro Vario||Not as light or packable as other poles||Only one basket and tip type, non-adjustable|
|Bottom Line||This pole made of lightweight carbon is our top-ranked trekking pole.||This pole is the shortest to pack, is lightweight, the most comfortable, and easy to adjust.||These poles are among the most durable tested. They are also comfortable, versatile, and easy to adjust.||This is one of the top ranked poles in our review thanks to strong, durable construction, and its comfortable cork grips.||The Distance Carbon Z is built for through hikers and trail runners who need a lightweight pole that they can pull out when needed.|
|Rating Categories||Leki Micro Vario Carbon||Women's Micro Vario Carbon||Alpine Carbon Cork||Alpine Carbon Cork||Distance Carbon Z|
|Locking And Adjustability (15%)|
|Packed Size (15%)|
|Specs||Leki Micro Vario...||Women's Micro...||Alpine Carbon Cork||Alpine Carbon Cork||Distance Carbon Z|
|Measured Weight Per Pair (Ounces)||16.4 oz||16.0 oz||17.0 oz||17.0 oz||10.4 oz|
|Shaft Material||Carbon||Carbon||Carbon||Carbon Fiber||Carbon Fiber|
|Min Length (inches)||15.5 in||15.5 in||25 in||24 in||13/14/16/17 in|
|Max Length (inches)||47 in||51 in||51 in||51 in||39/43/47/51 in|
|Grip Material||Foam||Foam||Cork||EVA foam||EVA foam|
|Locking Mechanism||SpeedLock 2||SpeedLock 2||External Lever Lock||Dual FlickLock Pro||Speed Cone deployment|
|Baskets? Tip Attachments?||Yes, tips and baskets||Yes, tips and baskets||Yes, rubber tips, trekking baskets, powder baskets||Yes, Only Baskets||No|
Best Overall Trekking Pole
Leki Women's Micro Vario Carbon
The Leki Micro Vario Carbon and the Women's Micro Vario Carbon are our choice for the most comfortable among the poles for men and women. They are relatively light and are only beaten in the weight department by the super lightweight unisex REI Co-op Flash Carbon. They also collapse down to the smallest size — a mere 15.5 inches long! To top that off, they have a super user-friendly grip. The grip itself is Aergon Thermo foam, but it's the sleek shape, with no hard edges, that make it the most straightforward pole to use on steep descents or when climbing on skis. Additionally, it's skin wrist strap is among the most comfortable straps to use barehanded in this review.
They are costly. However, the expense garners versatility. From short day hikes to longer treks, and especially on any objective that has a technical climb, these poles are one of our first choices.Read review: Leki Women's Micro Vario Carbon
Read review: Leki Micro Vario Carbon
Best Bang for the Buck
Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock
The Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock delivers features usually available only in much more expensive options. These carbon poles weigh only 16 ounces, providing a very pleasant swing-weight. The comfortable cork grips extend low enough to comfortably choke up on the pole shaft when climbing steep hills. And, if you do decide to adjust these poles on the fly, the quick lock adjustment levers have a thumbscrew that allows you to adjust the lever when you're out on a hike without tools. These features and a plethora of included baskets options make the Cascade Mountain poles one of the more versatile prospects in the test.
The locking mechanisms aren't the best, and there are a few online reviews that hint at durability concerns. Still, it's hard to beat this pole for value. If you've wanted to try trekking poles but hesitated because of their hefty price tag, here's a set of light-weight carbon poles at a price that's hard to turn down.
Read review: Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock
Best Value In A Lightweight Pole
Black Diamond Distance Z
The Black Diamond Distance Z offers a high-quality, lightweight, compact design at a very reasonable price. If you're willing to spend more for the top-of-the-line lightweight pole, you might want to check out the Distance Carbon Z. If saving cash matters more, then look no further. These poles weigh a mere 12 ounces. They fold down small enough to put in your pack easily, and the locking mechanism works flawlessly in cold weather.
If you're okay with a non-adjustable model, then these are an excellent option for an affordable, lightweight pole.
Read review: Black Diamond Distance Z
Best Lightweight Pole
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z is the lightest pole that we tested. Sporting a carbon fiber shaft, foam grips, and stripped down features, this model shaved every last ounce. Often, lighter poles may feel cheap or flimsy. That's not the case with the Carbon Z. Although we wouldn't suggest using it for heavy duty trekking and backpacking, the Carbon Z is relatively versatile and excels at lightweight backpacking, hiking and trail running.
To cut weight, the Carbon Z isn't adjustable. Instead, it comes in four different lengths, which could be an issue for those in between sizes. In an effort to address the durability issues associated with carbon poles, Black Diamond uses a robust locking mechanism and reinforced joints.
Read review:Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
Best Lightweight Women's Pole
REI Co-op Flash Carbon - Women's
Weighing in at only 13.2 ounces for the pair, the REI Co-op Flash Carbon Women's is the lightest women's specific model in our review. The grips are made of a breathable foam that's super lightweight, and the pole straps are easy to adjust, even when wearing thick gloves. These grips lack a lower extension that many hikers like to use when choking up on steep climbs. The three telescoping pieces are easily adjusted - even with gloves on - using the Powerlock 3.0 levers. The poles collapse to 23", which is quite compact for telescoping poles.
The one downside to very lightweight poles is they tend to be less durable. Additionally, the top of the foam grips lack structural support and may break if too much pressure is applied. The grips and straps are also not as comfortable as options like the Leki Women's Micro Vario. Still, if we're going on a multi-day trek or thru-hike where every ounce matters, the Flash Women's is our choice of poles to take.
Read review:REI Co-op Flash Carbon Women's
Analysis and Test Results
Trekking poles: you'll see them used by day hikers, backpackers, thru-hikers, mountaineers and even trail runners. Sunny Stroer used poles in her record-setting blitz up Aconcagua — South America's highest peak. Why? According to this study, trekking poles reduce muscle fatigue and injury. Those who have used poles know that they shift some of the load borne by the lower extremities to the upper body; thus reducing stress on the knees. Moreover, poles lend stability in rough terrain and even prevent mishaps by catching slips and trips before they become falls.
The poles we tested span a relatively wide range of prices and sport a variety of features from "anti-shock" technology to "tentpole" style folding mechanisms. To test these features and rank each pole based on its performance and price, we took 13 of the top models out into the field. These tests took place on local trails up to 10 miles, approaches to backcountry climbs, and mountaineering adventures. For side-by-side comparisons, we took multiple poles out at a time to assess the differences between each on the same terrain.
We evaluated the poles in our review on the following metrics: comfort, segment locking mechanism, adjustability, weight, packed size, durability, and versatility. To test the poles we went out with both a light-weight day pack and a groan-inducing backpacking pack to determine which pole was best suited to light loads and which to heavy. We weighed and measured each set of poles to compare them to their advertised weights and sizes. We jammed them into packs, strapped them to the outside of our bags and carried them in hand across all sorts of demanding terrain. We know that our extensive testing will help you select the pole that best satisfies your needs.
After we completed our field tests, we rated each pole on a scale from 1-10 (1 being the bottom of the barrel, 5 being average, and 10 representing the absolute best) and then looked at the combined metrics to determine which pole was better suited for a particular task. Keep in mind that these poles were the best in their class to begin with, so even the poorly rated poles are quite good. Below you'll find the results of our tests and a breakdown of each metric.
Related: Buying Advice for Trekking Poles
We analyzed our ratings against the price of every pair to help you find exactly what you're looking for at a glance. Our Best Buy award goes to the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock, which had the lowest price of any pair of poles. However, it scored relatively low in the pack. The highest scoring pole at the best price was the Black Diamond Distance Z.
Trekking poles are designed to help out when crossing streams and making steep descents all the while increasing balance and reducing the strain that physical activity of this type places on the body. However, we don't want to be constantly aware that we're carrying an extra piece of gear to achieve these ends. Accordingly, a major factor we look for when selecting a pole is comfort. To rank each pole by comfort, we examined the handle materials, ergonomics, shaft materials, and straps. Although all of these metrics are relative to the user, materials like cork handles are more comfortable than rubber or foam as they'll conform to the user's hand over time.
Without a doubt, the Leki Corklite DSS AntiShock was the most comfortable set poles in the review due to the excellent ergonomic cork grip design. Despite the ongoing debate about the utility of "anti-shock" technologies, this set of poles was the highest scoring in our review (Top Pick Award) and would likely maintain that position in the absence of the "anti-shock" mechanism.
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork — our Editors' Choice winner — is not quite as comfortable as the Corklite DSS Antishock but is also a strong contender in the comfort index due to its cork handles and carbon fiber construction.
Leki's Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec also scored high in our comfort metric thanks to the well-designed handle which it shares with the Corklite DSS Antishock. Interestingly, the Micro Vario was not as comfortable to hike with as the Corklite DDS, which may be evidence in favor of the anti-shock system considering that they share the same shaft material and grip.
Among the women's poles, the Leki Women's Micro Vario Carbon was the most comfortable pole. We were pleasantly surprised by the Aergon foam grip construction, which is super plush, and the "skin" strap feels quite good on the bare wrist.
In conclusion, it became increasingly clear throughout our analysis that reducing the jolt to the wrist and elbow produced when pole impacts the ground is critical to comfort. Carbon shafts and DSS Antishock tech worked best at mitigating this discomfort. (More on carbon's dampening qualities below).Ergonomics
Ergonomics considerations focus primarily on the shape of the trekking pole handle and how it fits in the hand. To a lesser degree shaft design plays a role as well. Much of the ergonomic design considerations were discussed above in the comfort section. The placement of that discussion is appropriate because ergonomics is critical in establishing and maintaining a set of poles' comfort.
It should be noted that different people desire different grip shapes and designs. However, in our tests, we found that all of the Leki poles were ergonomically sound and thus supremely comfortable. After all, Liki has been designing and constructing trekking and ski poles since 1948! Of the four unisex Leki poles that we tested, the Corklite DSS Antishock and the Micro Vario Ti were by far the most desirable, and for women's poles, the Leki Women's Micro Vario Carbon performed the best. The Alpine Carbon Cork and the Alpine FLZ from Black Diamond both racked up a high score thanks to their cork handles which molded to our hands over time.
While it should come as no surprise that aluminum is cheaper than carbon fiber, it may be less intuitive that they are more durable. Which choice you prefer may depend on how you intend to use the pole. If you're not concerned with a few extra ounces in hand, then aluminum poles might be the route to go. Their durability also makes them a good choice for long-distance trips where you need a pole that can take some abuse. Aluminum can be bent and still be usable or bent back into shape, versus a carbon fiber pole that will just snap under too much weight.Carbon Fiber
Advancements in carbon fiber technology have allowed pole manufacturers the ability to construct strong and light poles that are comparable to aluminum. However, we would still consider aluminum to be a beefier and stronger material. Carbon Fiber can also help with shock absorption, and thus increased comfort levels while on the trail. If you are hiking mostly on the trail or worried about weight, carbon fiber poles may be the choice for you. Although poles like the Alpine Carbon Cork can handle plenty of abuse, it is important to use just a bit more caution with them.Handle Material
Cork is the ideal material for comfort, as it is smooth, durable and will mold to your hand over time. Cork typically doesn't chafe and lasts for years. We would consider cork handles to be the most luxurious of trekking pole handles. Our best buy, the Cascade Mountain Tech feature cork handles, despite a low price tag, but they may be made of synthetic, not natural, cork.
Rubber is probably the most common and run-of-the-mill trekking pole handle material. It is relatively inexpensive and is great for cold weather sports like mountaineering and skiing. This is because it insulates better than cork or foam. However, rubber typically isn't as comfortable as cork or foam in hot weather. Our testers found that rubber handles got more slippery from sweat or moisture than their cork or foam counterparts. Rubber is also a material that could cause chafing on your hands.
Foam is the lightest of the three handle materials that we tested. It was featured on our lightest models, like the Distance Carbon Z and Distance Z. Foam handles also wick moisture better than either rubber or cork. They tend to be used as a cheaper alternative to cork. Our best buy, the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock, even despite its cork handles comes with a low price tag. Our primary concern with foam is durability, as it tends to get beat up more than other materials. Especially if you have your poles strapped to the outside of your pack, rocks can easily damage foam handles; so be careful!
The Black Diamond and Leki poles had the best quality of design and materials for handles. The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z, which featured a foam grip with ribbing on it, was one of the more comfortable foam grips that we tested. While the Black Diamond poles fared better in most metrics, the Alpine Carbon Cork and Leki poles were also exceptionally comfortable, thanks to their well-designed handles. We especially liked the Aergon Thermo foam grips on the Leki Women's Micro Vario, with its 'edgeless grip' that was most comfortable when weighting the grip with our hands on the top of the pole, as in steep descents or when climbing on skis.
Locking and Adjustability
Just like the poles themselves, each one comes with a different locking system for adjustability of the pole. All of the poles that we reviewed this year had some shape or form of the lever lock system.
Although each brand has its proprietary take on the lever locking system, the system is simple to use: just unlock the lever, extend the pole to the desired length, and then lock the lever down. Depending on the diameter of the pole and where you use it, for the duration of the shaft, sometimes you need to tighten down the lever mechanism. This can be done with a screwdriver to provide a secure lock, which we found was the case on the Black Diamond (FlickLock) and REI poles.
Leki has created an ingenious design (SpeedLock) with a small dial that can be adjusted while on trail to avoid the use of tools. The Foxelli, Hiker Hunger, and Montem poles all feature a design similar to the Leki poles, with a small dial and locking lever, but we found that they didn't stay as secure as the Leki design. This was partially because of the weaker materials, and also because when unlatched, the screw could loosen. Over time, these brands' mechanisms needed to be tightened more than the Leki Poles.
The other common type of pole locking and adjustability seen is the Z-Style or collapsible style pole. This means that the whole pole splits into three sections, which can be folded, similar to a collapsing tent pole. This means that rather than collapsing, the pole can fold down to about a third of the full length. Any of the Black Diamond Z-Series, such as the Distance Z or Alpine FLZ, fall into this category, as do several of the Leki poles, such as the Micro Vario Carbon.
The main downside of z-style poles is that they tend to be less adjustable. Poles like the Distance Z save weight by avoiding any adjustment mechanisms, but they are not ideal if you are between sizes or want to lend to a friend. If you want a very packable pole that you can also use at different lengths, try a pole like the Alpine FLZ , or the Leki Women's Micro Vario, which feature a single lever lock in addition to the z-style design. This allows adjustments to be made once the pole is unfolded.
In a world where thru-hiking and ultra-light backpacking are becoming more and more popular, weight is an ever increasing issue. Although most of the time decreasing weight decreases durability and versatility, if you're ultra-light backpacking on the trail, you probably don't need a super heavy-duty pole. The Distance Carbon Z is by-far the lightest pole in our lineup this year at 10 ounces. This comes at the price of adjustability (you can only buy them in one of four sizes), as they don't have have any lever locking system. The Co-op Flash Carbon (about 14 ounces), or the Co-op Flash Carbon Women's at 13.2 ounces, came in second as one of the lighter full featured poles thanks to carbon fiber shaft material and foam handles. The Hiker Hunger and Foxelli are also quite light, although not as durable as other options.
Generally speaking, the carbon fiber poles were the lightest of our lineup, with the Corklite DSS being the lightest of the aluminum pole designs at 17.8 ounces. The Alpine Carbon Cork was the heaviest of the Carbon Fiber poles, weighing in at 17.8 ounces, the same as the Corklite DSS Antishock. The weight is due to its thicker carbon fiber wrap, making it more burly and durable, albeit a bit heavier.
If you're on a tight budget, or just love to save money, consider ski poles. You can usually find a pair for next to nothing at a thrift store. You can use as is or, as we prefer, remove bulky handles and add tennis grip tape. This removes the wrist straps which might be a deal breaker for some. However, we love the lighter package and the freedom to grip anywhere and adapt the "effective pole length" instantly to the terrain. The pair below started at 19 oz. for a pair. But, after removing the grips, they were only 13 oz. for the pair, making them only a few ounces heavier than our Top Pick for Ultralight, the Distance Carbon Z and 4 ounces lighter than the Editors' Choice, the Alpine Carbon Cork.
If you plan on using trekking poles for backpacking trips where you'll have them in your hands the whole time, then the packed size might not matter. On the other hand, if you'll be doing more backcountry snowboarding or other activities where you'll only use your poles on the approach, then this factor might be more important. For example, if you use trekking poles on a mountaineering trip, then once it's time to pull out the ice axe, packable poles are especially useful. Additionally, if you'll be traveling on planes, then more packable poles are much easier to fit inside your backpack or duffel bag. However, for the general user, this isn't as important, and we've made sure to weight this accordingly.
The most packable poles on the market today are the Z-style poles, often referred to as "tent-pole" style or "break-apart" poles. In the past few years, these poles have exploded onto the market, and with good reason. As you can see in the picture below, this design packs down to almost half the length of standard telescoping poles. Black Diamond revolutionized and popularized the Z-pole, and now just a few years later many brands have their version of the design. The Micro Vario Carbon and the Women's Micro Vario Carbon pack down to the smallest of all of the poles in our lineup (at about 15 inches), with the Distance Carbon Z coming in close second (15.5 inches), and the Alpine FLZ in third (16 inches). Granted, these are only about a half inch apart, and the Distance Carbon Z is by far the lightest pole and thanks to its smaller diameter, actually takes up less space than the Micro Vario Carbon, despite being a half inch longer.
We've noticed that the lighter a pole gets, it tends to sacrifice durability, adjustability, and versatility. Some z-style poles are not adjustable at all, while others are designed to be so lightweight, that we were concerned about the durability. If packability is still important to you, but not as much as robust and durable design, Black Diamond's Alpine Carbon Cork and Trail Backis the shortest of the collapsible pole design. That's only by a half inch or so compared to the rest of the competition, but it is worth mentioning if you're trying to plan your luggage down to the T.
If you're miles into the backcountry, with rough terrain between you and the trailhead, you don't want a broken trekking pole. Durability is very important when looking for a pair of poles, especially if you know you're going to rely on them heavily. Over many years of being on the trail, we've seen more than our fair share of broken trekking poles. Although most newer models should last you some time, not all are created equal. One of the biggest differences that we look for is the shaft material. Carbon fiber technology has come a long way and is relatively strong, but aluminum is usually a stronger, though heavier, choice. Since poles are strongest when the weight is loaded vertically on the pole, breaks tend to happen when force is exerted horizontally. In this scenario, carbon fiber poles are more likely to snap, while aluminum tends to bend before it breaks. A bent pole can still be used in a pinch, and sometimes even repaired.
Heavier poles are generally stronger, like the BD Trail Back, which earned the top mark for durability. This was due to its sturdy aluminum construction and reliable locking mechanisms. On the other end of the weight spectrum, we were impressed by the durability of the Distance Carbon Z, despite its ultralight design.
With a great combination of weight and durability, the Alpine Carbon Cork and Corklite DSS Antishock were both impressively robust for a mid-weight pole. The Corklite DSS Antishock was of aluminum construction, which as we mentioned above, is less prone to snapping. While the Alpine Carbon Cork is made of carbon fiber, a weaker material, it has a much thicker carbon weave, making it one of the sturdiest carbon fiber poles we tested. The Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber and Foxelli HOG1 ranked lowest for durability, due to their thin carbon fiber weave and plastic locking mechanisms. While we didn't experience any issues, we were a bit worried about durability for long-term use or cross-loaded weight.
We defined versatility as extra additions that the pole may have come with, and what the pole could be used for.
For instance, the Distance Carbon Z is a lightweight pole that excels in the ultralight or trail runner usage, and although could be used for other sports, it doesn't come with any other baskets, and wouldn't hold up as well to heavy duty usage as some of the more massive poles. On the opposite end, we have poles like the REI Co-op Passage that are heavy duty aluminum and built for robust usage for long trekking and off-trail travel. However, some of the heavyweight offerings such as the Black Diamond Trail Back were fantastic choices for multiple sports. Although they came with simple trail baskets, larger powder baskets could be attached, and their durable construction makes them an excellent choice for just about any application, although we think there are better options for ultra-light backpacking.
We found that poles in the mid-weight range were the most versatile and often came with snow baskets. Light enough to be used on most trails, but heavy duty enough to be used for off-trail travel. The Alpine Carbon Cork, our Editors' Choice, excelled at just this and is an exceptional choice for backpacking, backcountry skiing, or mountaineering. The Alpine FLZ from Black Diamond was also another great contender in our versatility metric, thanks to its cork handles, detachable powder baskets, and folding Z-style design.
Other Pole Considerations
Most poles have carbide or steel tips to provide traction over multiple types of terrain. Carbide is the most commonly used in higher end poles, although both steel and carbide are great choices for traction.
Some poles come with multiple end coverings, rubber ends for asphalt or tip covers for stowing in a pack.
Most poles also come with a spare set of broad "powder" baskets for snow use. Primarily, the large basket doesn't allow the pole to punch through the snow as easily. This is great for backcountry snow travel, either snowshoeing or backcountry skiing or snowboarding.
The trekking baskets that are found on most poles are much smaller and will help with mud and branches, but do not provide adequate float for snow usage.
How to Fix a Broken Pole
Carbon poles can be flimsy. We found this out the hard way in Patagonia. Since we were many days out, we used the fix below to bandage our pole using only tape and tent stakes.
Shock Absorbing Systems
Although there is some debate on whether shock absorbing systems work, we found that our most comfortable pole, the DSS anti-shock, featured Leki's anti-shock system.
It provided a bit more comfort while on the trail. Leki's system is unique in that it is located at the bottom of the pole next to the tip. When pressure is applied to the pole, the anti-shock depresses, as can be seen in the photos below.
With as many poles as there are out on the market today, it can be a bit challenging to find the perfect pair. Our testers have been testing poles for years to find their perfect fit. Generally speaking, mid-weight poles with robust locking systems tend to excel in performance and durability. The Alpine Carbon Cork is a great example of this, although it is a little pricey, and some hikers may find more value in something less expensive, like the Cascade Mountain Tech or Black Diamond Trail Back. We hope that our in-depth reviews will help you to find the best pole to suit your needs.
— Graham Williams and Sibylle Hechtel