Reviews You Can Rely On

The 6 Best Trekking Poles of 2022

We ran, hiked, and scrambled all over with trekking poles from Black Diamond, MSR, Leki, and more to help you find your perfect pair
Best Trekking Poles of 2022
We purchase each trekking pole selected for our review, and test them head-to-head on real hikes, treks, and climbs.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi
Tuesday November 1, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Looking for the best trekking poles available today? We can help! Over the last 10 years, we've tested 52 unique pairs, with the top 17 featured in our current review. We scoured the market for the best options and then purchased them for rigorous side-by-side testing. We scored each model in six different metrics, hiking, running, trekking, and climbing from the hottest deserts to the tallest peaks with lots of trails in between, all to determine which trekking poles are the best option for your next hiking adventure.

Whether you're setting out on your next backpacking trip or looking for the best hiking boots to hit the trails for the afternoon, we've tested all varieties of hiking gear, from all the top brands, to help you have a great time. From top daypacks for your short and sweet trips to the best women's hiking shoes for long hikes, we know how to have a great time in the outdoors and help you do the same.

Editor's Note: We updated this review on November 1, 2022, to add several new products and remove a few discontinued ones.

Top 17 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 17
< Previous | Compare | Next >
 
Awards Editors' Choice Award    Editors' Choice Award 
Price $170 List$170 List
$169.95 at REI
$142.46 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$260 List
Check Price at REI
$150 List
$149.95 at REI
Overall Score Sort Icon
82
75
75
72
71
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Comfortable grip, locks securely, packs small, highly versatileGreat cork handles, packable design, durable locking mechanism, relatively versatileTough, comfortable, great locking mechanism, compatible with different tips and basketsVersatile, comfortable, packs small, adjustableComfortable grips, versatile, packable, relatively affordable
Cons Carbon is less durable than aluminum, on the expensive sideHeavier than averageNot as light or packable as other poles, priceyHeavy, expensiveDifficult locking mechanism, heavier than comparable poles
Bottom Line A simple, elegant, and well-built trekking pole with versatility for all usesThis is a strong, versatile pole that features a few nice extras like cork handlesThis pole features durable construction, a comfortable cork grip, and plenty of length adjustabilityA versatile and comfortable pole for all-around use, but the price is hard to justifyBurly folding trekking poles with comfortable grips that are great for everything from hiking and backpacking to climbing and mountaineering
Rating Categories MSR DynaLock Ascent... Black Diamond Alpin... Black Diamond Alpin... Leki Black Series F... Leki Jannu FX TA
Comfort (20%)
10.0
8.0
10.0
8.0
9.0
Weight (20%)
5.0
4.0
5.0
5.0
4.0
Versatility (20%)
9.0
10.0
7.0
9.0
8.0
Locking and Adjustability (15%)
9.0
7.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Packed Size (15%)
9.0
9.0
5.0
7.0
7.0
Construction Quality (10%)
7.0
7.0
10.0
7.0
8.0
Specs MSR DynaLock Ascent... Black Diamond Alpin... Black Diamond Alpin... Leki Black Series F... Leki Jannu FX TA
Measured Weight (per pair) 17 oz 18 oz 17 oz 16.5 oz 19 oz
Shaft Material Carbon fiber Aluminum Carbon Carbon Aluminum
Collapsed Length 14.25 in 14/15/16 in 24 in 15.5 in 15 in
Max Length 47 in 43/49/55 in 51 in 51 in 47 in
Pole Design Collapsible Foldable Collapsible Foldable Foldable
Grip Material Rubber, plastic, foam Cork Cork Cork Aergon Cor-Tec
Locking Mechanism DynaLock FlickLock Pro FlickLock Pro External Lever Lock Speed Lock plus
Baskets/Tip Attachments? Yes, winter and summer baskets Yes, only baskets Yes, carbide tips, trail baskets and snow baskets (sold separately) Yes, Trekking Yes, trekking 2.0 basket
Size Tested 100-120 cm 105-125 cm One size One size One size


Best Overall Trekking Pole for Men


MSR DynaLock Ascent Carbon


82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 10.0
  • Weight 5.0
  • Versatility 9.0
  • Locking and Adjustability 9.0
  • Packed Size 9.0
  • Construction Quality 7.0
Weight: 17 ounces | Minimum Length: 14 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable grip
Extremely versatile
Small packed size
Great swing weight
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Heavier than other options

The MSR Dynalock Ascent Carbon poles are comfortable, versatile, compact, and ergonomic. They excel in almost every application. The grip is simple yet elegant, and the length adjustment mechanism is strong and reliable. They have a remarkably light swing weight, feeling ounces lighter than their weight on the scale, and are ideal for backpacking and long-distance thru-hiking. They pack down small and have a light feel that our testers appreciated after hours on the trail.

There are lighter options on the market for the weight-obsessed, and there are more durable options for trekkers to remote corners of the globe. But for 95 percent of users, and for those who want one pole to do it all, no matter the season, we recommend these poles.

Read more: MSR Dynalock Ascent Carbon review

trekking poles - best overall trekking pole for men
The DynaLock Ascent Carbon is at home on all kinds of trails, rugged and benign.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Best Overall Trekking Pole for Women


Leki Jannu FX TA


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Weight 4.0
  • Versatility 8.0
  • Locking and Adjustability 7.0
  • Packed Size 7.0
  • Construction Quality 8.0
Weight: 19 ounces | Minimum Length: 15.5 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable cork grips designed for small hands
Durable and versatile
Relatively affordable
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavier than comparable poles
Difficult locking mechanism

The Leki Jannu FX TA is the most comfortable and durable pole for women and people with small hands. The cork grips have an ergonomic notch to accommodate your index finger, and the straps are among the most comfortable to use barehanded. Over time, the cork molds to the shape of your hands and resists moisture from sweat. These poles pack down to a length of 15.5 inches, which stows away nicely in most packs, and they come with a stuff sack for easy storage.

The Jannu are heavier than comparable poles in our review, but they are more durable as a result. The locking mechanism is also not intuitive and requires some muscle to lock the poles into trekking position. Minimal drawbacks aside, these poles are appropriate for nearly every use in the backcountry, from short day hikes to longer treks.

Read more: Leki Jannu FX TA review

Why do trekking poles need to be gendered in the first place? Real talk, they don't. Women's specific trekking poles are designed to work for people who are shorter and have smaller hands. Men's poles are designed for taller people who have bigger hands. You may have larger hands and want the features of a "men's" trekking pole. If that's you, then don't feel like you have to buy the trekking poles that are designed for your gender. Vice-versa, if you are less than 6' tall, have small hands, but aren't a woman, don't sweat the pink accents, "women's" poles might be a better fit for you.

trekking poles - best overall trekking pole for women
The Leki Jannu FX TA is a durable, versatile, and comfortable pair of poles for women and people with small hands.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

Outstanding Value in a Lightweight Pole


Black Diamond Distance Z


68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 6.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Versatility 6.0
  • Locking and Adjustability 3.0
  • Packed Size 10.0
  • Construction Quality 8.0
Weight: 12 ounces | Minimum Length: 14 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Light, compact, and durable
Great price
Simple locking mechanism
REASONS TO AVOID
No adjustability
Average grip comfort

The Black Diamond Distance Z are simple, lightweight, and high-performance poles at a lower price than their carbon fiber counterparts. They feature the same design as the Distance Carbon Z, and the aluminum shaft construction adds only two ounces per pair compared to the carbon version. At the same time, they retain the same compact size and minimal yet comfortable grip design as the carbon version. We love both versions of this pole, and since the aluminum-shafted Distance Z costs so much less than the carbon version, they are a great option for those seeking lightweight performance at a reasonable price.

These poles don't offer any adjustability, so you need to be mindful when selecting your size. Other grips on the market are more comfortable. We dislike the thin wrist straps on the Distance Z for hikers or trekkers carrying heavy packs. But for the average day hike, mountain run, or casual backpacking trip, these poles are durable, simple, and affordable.

Read more: Black Diamond Distance Z review

trekking poles - outstanding value in a lightweight pole
Using the Black Diamond Distance Z while approaching some light alpine scrambling.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Best Bang for Your Buck


Trekology Trek-Z 2.0


62
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8.0
  • Weight 1.0
  • Versatility 6.0
  • Locking and Adjustability 7.0
  • Packed Size 8.0
  • Construction Quality 9.0
Weight: 26 ounces | Minimum Length: 15 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Great value
Highly durable
Comfortable to hold
Packs small
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy
Not suitable for niche activities

The Trekology Trek-Z 2.0 are foldable three-section poles with some length adjustment for a price that can't be beaten. In the past, users paid a premium if they wanted compact, high-performance poles. Now, this modern technology is affordable. The grips are comfortable, the basket attachments add versatility, and the poles are durable.

The major downside to these budget poles is their weight. At 26 ounces, they are by far the heaviest pair in our review. They perform poorly in activities like long-distance hiking, where every ounce counts. We also measured only 7 inches of length adjustability, which is less than most other poles on the market. These things aside, the Trek-Z are great if you're getting into hiking and want high-performance, foldable poles at a great price.

Read more: Trekology Trek-Z 2.0 review

trekking poles - best bang for your buck
The Trekology Trek-Z 2.0 offers the best performance in an inexpensive pole.
Credit: Sam Willits

Best Lightweight Pole


Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z


68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 6.0
  • Weight 9.0
  • Versatility 6.0
  • Locking and Adjustability 3.0
  • Packed Size 10.0
  • Construction Quality 6.0
Weight: 10 ounces | Minimum Length: 14 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Lightweight
Super compact when broken down
REASONS TO AVOID
Not adjustable
No extra features

The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z offers great performance at a low weight. This model shaves ounces by incorporating carbon fiber shafts, foam grips, and stripped-down features. Often, lighter poles can feel cheap or flimsy, but that's not the case here. Although we don't use these poles for heavy-duty trekking or backpacking, the Carbon Z is relatively versatile and excels in lightweight backpacking, hiking, trail running, or approaching technical climbs.

The Carbon Z isn't adjustable. Instead, it comes in four different lengths, so carefully identify your size before purchasing. Furthermore, the grips aren't the most comfortable, but they're not bad either. The sacrifices in comfort and adjustability won't be a big deal for weight-shaving enthusiasts. These are the poles we found ourselves reaching for most spring, fall, and summer days.

Read more: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z review

trekking poles - best lightweight pole
The Distance Carbon Z in collapsed form.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Best for Heavy Duty Use and Remote Trekking


Leki Makalu Lite


63
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 7.0
  • Weight 5.0
  • Versatility 5.0
  • Locking and Adjustability 10.0
  • Packed Size 3.0
  • Construction Quality 9.0
Weight: 16.5 ounces | Minimum Length: 26 inches
REASONS TO BUY
Plenty of length extension
Great locking function
Durable
REASONS TO AVOID
Doesn't pack small
Heavy
Not versatile

The Leki Makalu Lite is a durable and adjustable pole suitable for use on the most rugged and remote treks. Each pole features two lever locks that securely lock the shaft sections into place, and these locks can be adjusted by hand in the field. The poles feature 14 inches (35 centimeters) of length adjustment, comfortable grips, and large flat handle tops that are easy to push down upon. They even have secondary grips for choking up while side-hilling. Furthermore, these poles are built to last with burly aluminum shaft sections that don't bend. When the terrain is rough, and you need a pole that won't break, these are the best choice.

One major downside is that the Makalu Lite poles don't pack down small. Compressing to only 26 inches (65cm), they stick out of the top of a pack if you try to stow them away. They are also somewhat heavy, making them less versatile for a variety of uses. Bottom line: they are best used on rugged hikes and treks and should be avoided while on mountain runs and alpine climbs.

Read more: Leki Makalu Lite review

trekking poles - the leki makalu lite in action on a fall hike in colorado.
The Leki Makalu Lite in action on a fall hike in Colorado.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
82
MSR DynaLock Ascent Carbon
msr dynalock ascent carbon trekking poles review
$170
Editors' Choice Award
75
Black Diamond Alpine FLZ
black diamond alpine flz trekking poles review
$170
75
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork
black diamond alpine carbon cork trekking poles review
$200
72
Leki Black Series FX Carbon
leki black series fx carbon trekking poles review
$260
71
Leki Jannu FX TA
leki jannu fx ta trekking poles review
$150
Editors' Choice Award
71
Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ
black diamond distance carbon flz trekking poles review
$210
68
Leki Cressida Cor-Tec - Women's
leki cressida cor-tec for women trekking poles review
$120
68
Black Diamond Distance Z
black diamond distance z trekking poles review
$140
Best Buy Award
68
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
black diamond distance carbon z trekking poles review
$180
Top Pick Award
63
Leki Makalu Lite
leki makalu lite trekking poles review
$140
Top Pick Award
62
Trekology Trek-Z 2.0
trekology trek-z 2.0 trekking poles review
$43
Best Buy Award
62
Black Diamond Trail Sport 3
black diamond trail sport 3 trekking poles review
$70
61
Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock
cascade mountain tech carbon fiber quick lock trekking poles review
$65
56
REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles
rei co-op traverse trekking poles
$110
54
Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec
leki makalu lite cor-tec trekking poles review
$120
53
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork
black diamond trail ergo cork trekking poles review
$140
44
Kelty Upslope 2.0
kelty upslope 2.0 trekking poles review
$45

trekking poles - we use trekking poles almost everyday, finding that they make life a...
We use trekking poles almost everyday, finding that they make life a lot easier. Here, we used them on a rainy fall hike to cross a swollen creek.
Credit: Jackie Kearney

Why You Should Trust Us


Since 2012, we have purchased and tested 52 pairs of trekking poles for our objective, side-by-side testing protocol. We start by scouring the market for the top options, seeking out the best new offerings, and listening to our peers and other outdoor enthusiasts for clues about the best products. Then, we select and purchase the best of the best for hands-on testing, where we hike, run, climb, and trek with each pole until we thoroughly understand each. We measure objective metrics like weight, minimum extended length, and adjustability range whenever possible. For subjective metrics like comfort, we get plenty of opinions from our diverse test team and ask friends and peers of all shapes and sizes to weigh in.

We divide our testing and scoring of trekking poles into six performance metrics:
  • Comfort (20% of overall score weighting)
  • Weight (20% weighting)
  • Versatility (20% weighting)
  • Locking and Adjustability (15% weighting)
  • Packed Size (15% weighting)
  • Construction Quality (10% weighting)

Our test team is led by mountain guide, climber, hiker, and skier Jeff Dobronyi and avid alpine climber, hiker, and backpacker Mary Witlacil. Jeff is an internationally-certified Mountain Guide and leads climbers, trekkers, and backcountry skiers all over the world, from his home in Colorado to the Tetons, Wind River Range, Washington's Cascades, and beyond. He has also guided four expeditions on Denali. In the Rocky Mountains, where approaches and hikes are marked by climbing up and down thousands of feet over rocky terrain, trekking poles are a must. Jeff goes through multiple pairs each year and seems to have poles in his hands every day, whether he's out for an alpine climb, an overnight hike, or a training run.

trekking poles - using the msr dynalock on a slippery descent in hawaii.
Using the MSR Dynalock on a slippery descent in Hawaii.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Mary has logged thousands of miles carrying heavy loads all over the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, and the deserts of Utah, Arizona, and California. From multi-day expeditions in the Andes, the Wind Rivers, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra to humping heavy loads of climbing gear into the backcountry, this gal is a veritable pack mule. While alpine climbing is her first love, Mary logs tons of miles with trekking poles while day-hiking, peak-bagging, backpacking, and romping around in the backcountry. For this round of testing, she spent the majority of her time testing poles in the sandy red rock deserts of the Colorado Plateau in Utah, alpine climbing day-trips, and hiking in the mountains and foothills in Colorado.

The Trail Sport 3, a burly pair of poles with a great swing-weight...
The Trail Sport 3, a burly pair of poles with a great swing-weight, are equally at home on single-track and granite slabs.
Trekking poles take a little weight off your knees with each step...
Trekking poles take a little weight off your knees with each step. Over a 40 mile trip, the weight really adds up.
The Distance FLZ trekking poles became Mary&#039;s go-to trekking poles...
The Distance FLZ trekking poles became Mary's go-to trekking poles for over-night alpine climbing missions.

Analysis and Test Results


We break down the performance of each trekking pole into specific performance categories to help you find a pair that meets your needs. You'll find detailed descriptions of each metric and the top scorers in each of them.


Value


Trekking poles are offered for a wide range of prices, but the basic performance and design needs are the same. The least expensive products on the market will get the job done as well as the most expensive ones for simple uses like hiking, walking, and basic trekking. Users who have niche activities in mind, like alpine climbing, mountain running, or long-distance hiking, will find that certain poles have specific features that make them more useful for these activities, and these specialized poles often cost a lot more.

Poles range dramatically in price, and luckily, there are some great options that won't break the bank. The Trekology Trek-Z 2.0 provides many of the features of more expensive poles at a fraction of the price. These features include comfortable foam grips, a foldable design that allows the pole to pack small, a durable aluminum construction, and plenty of tip and basket attachments. The Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock are also a great deal. They are made from carbon fiber, so they are incredibly lightweight, and they come equipped with plenty of attachments in a telescoping design. The REI Co-op Traverse features exceptional durability at an affordable price. In the lightweight category, the Black Diamond Distance Z weighs a tad more than folding carbon fiber poles and is much more affordable, allowing users on a budget to access the ultra-lightweight trekking pole market. Finally, if you are looking for a women's specific model that won't break the bank, the Leki Jannu FX TA strikes a great balance between affordability, durability, comfort, and versatility.

trekking poles - the trekology trek-z 2.0 is a great choice for everyday hiking and...
The Trekology Trek-Z 2.0 is a great choice for everyday hiking and walking at an affordable price.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Comfort


Trekking poles transfer some of your body weight from your legs to your arms. However, after hours or days of walking, the hands and wrists can take a beating from supporting this additional weight. To combat this fatigue, poles often incorporate comfortable grip and strap materials, as well as ergonomically shaped handles. In our experience, grip shape, or how well the handle is contoured to a real hand, makes the most impact on comfort. Other features that can increase comfort are an extended "secondary" grip for choking down on the pole in steep terrain, a thick and soft wrist strap, and carbon fiber shafts that absorb shock when the pole hits the ground.


The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is our favorite grip because it is perfectly contoured to fit our hands, and the cork also molds over time. We also are big fans of the understated contouring on the MSR Dynalock, which fit our testers' hands well. The Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork features a forward-tilted grip for more ergonomic use, as well as a cork handle. Among the lightweight designs, the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z and Distance Z have a simple foam grip that is comfortable enough for long distances. For women and folks with smaller hands, the Leki Jannu FX TA has an ergonomic cork grip and among the most comfortable but minimal straps of those in our review.

trekking poles - the msr dynalock&#039;s grip features subtle contours that are very...
The MSR Dynalock's grip features subtle contours that are very comfortable for every hand size.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Poles made from carbon can absorb more shock from impact with the ground than poles made from aluminum, and this distinction is noticeable when using trekking poles on firm bedrock surfaces like the sandstone slabs in the desert and high alpine granite basins. If you'll be using your poles primarily on dirt trails, then the shaft material won't matter much for comfort, but if you are in rocky environs, carbon poles with thick shafts are the most comfortable. The Alpine Carbon Cork and Leki Black Series FX Carbon had the best shock-absorbing performance in our testing but are relatively heavy due to the thickness of the carbon shafts. In this case, increasing comfort means increasing weight.

trekking poles - the bd alpine carbon cork grips are excellent and contour to the...
The BD Alpine Carbon Cork grips are excellent and contour to the user's hand over time.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Weight


As mountain running and ultralight backpacking become more popular, weight is an increasingly important component of a trekking pole. Most of the time, lighter poles are less durable. But if you're only using them during runs, day hikes, or short overnight trips, durability isn't a major concern, and a lighter pole is noticeably more pleasant to use than a heavier one. If you need a pole to support heavy loads in remote areas and one that absolutely must not break, then weight is less critical.


At 10.4 ounces per pair, the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z are the lightest in our lineup. To achieve such a low weight, these poles have a streamlined foam grip, minimalist wrist strap, and, most notably, ZERO length adjustment. Fixed-length poles save tons of weight by eliminating lever locks and overlapping shaft sections. No need to fear, though: this pole still has the ability to collapse into sections for stowing in a small backpack. At 12 ounces, the aluminum Distance Z is only slightly heavier than the lightest carbon option, but it costs much less. Both of these poles are available in many length options, making them suitable for both men and women.

trekking poles - for mountain running and other high-performance activities where...
For mountain running and other high-performance activities where weight makes all the difference, the BD Distance Carbon Z is excellent.
Credit: sam willits

Versatility


Some products in our review are purpose-built for specific activities, while others may be used for most or all backcountry activities. Some poles include various baskets and tips to adapt to different trail or off-trail conditions. Most users don't need a pole that perform on loose talus approaches or on long treks through developing nations. That said, some poles in our review can do all of it with ease.


For instance, the MSR Dynalock is versatile enough to be used in any situation you might need a pole, from day hiking and long backpacking trips to technical climbs and backcountry ski tours. Most folding poles are weaker than their telescoping counterparts, and thus can't be recommended for rugged terrain while carrying a heavy backpack, but the Dynalock somehow does it all. Both the Alpine FLZ and Jannu FX TA are highly versatile poles that only lose points for their heavier weight, which makes them less useful for activities like alpine climbing. The Leki Black Series FX Carbon also earns high marks in the versatility category for its small collapsed length, relatively light weight, and comfortable grip for long treks.

trekking poles - the distance carbon z trekking poles are excellent in regards to...
The Distance Carbon Z trekking poles are excellent in regards to packability and weight-savings.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

The lightweight poles in our review are great for mountain running, ultralight backpacking, technical climbing, day hikes, and on-trail backpacking with heavier packs. This includes the Carbon Z, Carbon FLZ, and Distance Z. The only activities we wouldn't use them for are international trekking and off-trail travel with heavy loads. They also accept snow baskets for glacier travel or high alpine traverses in the early summer.

trekking poles - slightly wider baskets are useful for traveling across snow because...
Slightly wider baskets are useful for traveling across snow because they prevent your pole from plunging too deeply. Some pole come with snow baskets, some are sold separately, and others are not compatible at all.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Other poles come with a ton of baskets and tip attachments to help them perform well across the board. We especially like the non-marking rubber tips that attach to the Distance Z, Distance FLZ, Distance Carbon Z, Distance Carbon FLZ, Alpine FLZ, and Kelty Upslope 2.0 poles. If you spend time hiking on soft rock like the sandstone of the American Southwest, we recommend rubber tips because they won't scratch and permanently alter the appearance of the rock.

trekking poles - an assortment of baskets, from super lightweight and small on the...
An assortment of baskets, from super lightweight and small on the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z (left), to the super wide powder baskets on the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork (right).
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Locking and Adjustability


Most of the poles in our test break down to a smaller length for storage, travel, and stowage on a pack, then extend back to a usable length when needed. Most of the poles in our review also feature an adjustable length mechanism for minor adjustments during use. This metric rewards poles that have a large range of length adjustment and that securely lock into the chosen length. We also consider how easily adjustments can be made to wrist strap lengths and locking mechanism tightness.


Trekking poles with length adjustment feature a telescoping design where different sections of pole shafts slide inside each other to collapse or extend to the desired length. A small lever lock fastener clamps the outer shaft material down tight over the inner shaft, creating enough friction to secure everything in place. We are big fans of the metal lever locks on the Alpine Carbon Cork, finding them to be the best locks in our review. The lever locks and adjustability on the women's Leki Cressida Cor-Tec are user-friendly and easy to adjust. We also like the in-field tightening adjustability of the Leki Makalu Light, in addition to this pole's 14 inches of length adjustment. The durable aluminum lever locks on the REI Traverse can take a beating while still doing their job, and they are easy to tighten in the field without a tool.

The lever lock, on the left, is metal and strong. The locking...
The lever lock, on the left, is metal and strong. The locking mechanism, on the right, is secure and easy to operate.
The durable aluminum lever locks on the REI Traverse.
The durable aluminum lever locks on the REI Traverse.

On the other hand, folding poles offer less (or zero) adjustability and feature a completely different locking mechanism. Each pole section fits together with the next, and an internal pull cord tightens the links together. When pulled tight enough, the cord engages a spring-loaded locking mechanism that prevents the sections from coming apart. Although this style of pole can fold down to a smaller packed size than telescoping models, they generally don't include as much length adjustment.

Poles like the Distance Z save weight by avoiding any adjustment mechanisms, but they are not ideal if you happen to be between sizes or want to lend your poles to a friend. If you want a packable pole that offers different lengths, consider a pole like the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ , Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ or Leki Black Series FX Carbon, all of which feature a single lever lock in addition to the foldable, Z-style design. This allows modest length adjustments once the pole is unfolded.

trekking poles - the locking mechanism and length-adjusting lever on the msr dynalock...
The locking mechanism and length-adjusting lever on the MSR Dynalock are both sleek and effective.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Packed Size


If you plan on using your poles in your hands for your entire trip, then packed size might not matter. On the other hand, if you'll be using your poles on scrambles, you'll have to stash them in your backpack during technical sections. Additionally, if you'll be traveling and need poles that can fit into your luggage, packed size is an important consideration.


The most packable poles on the market today are those featuring a foldable design, also known as Z-poles. In the past few years, these poles have exploded onto the market, and with good reason. This design packs down to almost half the length of standard telescoping poles. Black Diamond revolutionized and popularized the Z-pole, and now many brands have their own version of the design. The Black Diamond Distance Z, Distance Carbon Z, and Distance Carbon FLZ all pack down to as little as 13 inches, depending on the size purchased. The Alpine FLZ packs down to 14 inches, just an inch longer. Both the top-ranked MSR Dynalock Ascent Carbon and the budget-friendly Trekology Trek-Z 2.0 also feature a foldable design. The Leki Black Series FX Carbon and the Jannu FX TA are both foldable options that pack down to 15.5 inches. Choose these if you need your poles to fold up and disappear inside your pack.

trekking poles - foldable poles, like the black diamond distance z, pack much smaller...
Foldable poles, like the Black Diamond Distance Z, pack much smaller than three-section telescoping poles.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Most telescoping poles only collapse down to 24 inches, making them much harder to fit inside a backpack. With recent developments in the durability of lightweight folding poles, we recommend z-poles for technical missions or for users who want the option to store their poles on the outside or inside of a backpack.

trekking poles - the dynalock packs down smaller than other foldable poles on the...
The Dynalock packs down smaller than other foldable poles on the market, making it a useful tool for pack size-conscious missions.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Construction Quality


Trekking poles are worthless if they break, leading to less efficient travel. If you are carrying a heavy load across streams or through rough terrain, a broken pole could also be a serious safety concern. Furthermore, if your shelter system incorporates your poles into the design, as some modern lightweight backpacking tents do, then a broken pole might be a major inconvenience. After our extensive testing period, we have a good idea of which poles are the most trustworthy.


Carbon fiber poles can break when bent or smacked against rocks but are strong when loaded properly along the axis of the pole (from the top-down). Aluminum poles can bend when loaded heavily, even along the main axis of the pole, but aluminum usually bends much more than carbon before snapping. Chipped carbon is more prone to snapping, even when loaded along the major axis. We were most impressed by the durability of the Alpine Carbon Cork. This pole has thick carbon shafts that don't bend at all when weighted and are thick enough to absorb some chips without compromising the pole's integrity. They also feature burly metal lever locks that inspire confidence and perform well. The Black Diamond Trail Sport 3 poles also proved exceptionally durable, with their thick telescoping aluminum shafts, rubber grips, and burly lever locks.

trekking poles - the impressively durable alpine carbon cork.
The impressively durable Alpine Carbon Cork.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

We like the bomber construction of the Leki Makalu Lite and the women's Leki Cressida Cor-Tec poles, which are our top choice for heavy-duty trekking in remote locations or while carrying a heavy pack. The durability of the Black Diamond Distance Z impressed us, despite its ultralight design. It is made from aluminum and doesn't include many parts that can break. If you are looking for a pair of well-built carbon-fiber poles, the Alpine Carbon Cork is a good option owing to their thick carbon shafts.

trekking poles - the leki makalu lite is built with sturdy aluminum shafts that can...
The Leki Makalu Lite is built with sturdy aluminum shafts that can take a beating while trekking to remote regions. We wish the lever locks were metal too.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Poles don't typically withstand that much of a beating, and all of the poles in our review are relatively well made. To make distinctions between products, we often investigate the small details that might make a difference. It is important to state that during our testing, not a single pole failed catastrophically from normal use, and only a few failed during heavy-duty use. While heavy-duty trekkers venturing to remote destinations want to make sure they get the most durable pole, the rest of the poles in our review have adequate construction quality for most users.

trekking poles - aluminum joint reinforcements, aluminum shaft ends, and a vinyl...
Aluminum joint reinforcements, aluminum shaft ends, and a vinyl sheath for the tension cord make the Trek-Z a very durable pole.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

How to Fix a Broken Pole


A broken trekking pole turns a long trek with a heavy pack into a nightmare. It's a good idea to know how to improvise repairs for all of your critical equipment. Here is a good technique for repairing a broken trekking pole in the field, using items you might have in your kit, like tent stakes and tape.


Conclusion


There are so many trekking poles on the market that it's daunting to find the perfect pair. The good news is that for most day hikers, any trekking pole will get the job done. If you need poles for a more specialized use, you'll have to do a little more research, which is where this review comes in. We hope that our work helps you to find the best pole to suit your needs. See you on the trails!

trekking poles - mary pausing to check out the ship&#039;s prow in rocky mountain national...
Mary pausing to check out the Ship's Prow in Rocky Mountain National Park. Trekking poles are a great trail companion when carrying heavy climbing gear into the high country.
Credit: Fernando Urias-Cordero

Jeff Dobronyi and Mary Witlacil


You Might Also Like

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More