Hiking puts a strain on your legs and therefore hiking poles can be helpful when doing long trips or ascending steep slopes. Experts claim that hiking poles reduce the strain on legs with 25% in average. Furthermore, hiking poles increase traction (more points of contact with the surface result in better traction) and are also very useful for probing the terrain (you can for example check how deep snow is before stepping into it). For those who use tarps for spending the night outdoors, it might be interesting to note that hiking poles can also be used to suspend a tarp so that it forms a shelter in the traditional A-shape. Nevertheless, hiking poles also have drawbacks; they are somewhat bulky and they prevent you from using your hands freely for other things – like for example taking photos. However, modern hiking poles can be packed really small and therefore you can easily attach them to a backpack when you are not using them. Many quality backpacks have attachment points for hiking poles (such as Osprey’s Stow-On-The-Go attachment system). Alternatively, hiking poles can be attached to the backpack with its compression straps.
Here we selected and reviewed the best hiking poles in order to make your buying decision a little easier. We were especially looking for lightweight products that provide good durability and functionality.This selection was updated on the 16th of December 2016.
1. Buying Hiking Poles – What is important?
Lightweight equipment reduces the aerobic demand (as well as heart rate and calorie consumption) and thus allows you to hike faster and easier. It is especially important to have lightweight equipment on long hikes and hikes that include major ascents. In this review we only listed lightweight hiking poles – the heaviest product in this review weighs around 600 grams (a pair).
There are three different types of hiking poles; collapsible, foldable and foldable + collapsible.
Collapsible hiking poles are adjustable in length which comes in handy as you can lengthen them when going downhill and shorten them when going uphill. However, collapsible hiking poles are typically heavier than foldable hiking poles (although material plays a role as well) and can’t be packed as small as foldable poles.
Foldable hiking poles consist of several sections which are connected with a Kevlar cord (like tent poles). Such poles can be packed really small and are thus great for those who often do technically challenging ascents – they don’t get in the way when attached to a backpack. However, foldable hiking poles can’t be adjusted in length which is a big shortcoming.
Foldable + collapsible hiking poles combine the two mechanisms and consist of several sections that are connected with a Kevlar cord. However, here the section closest to the grip can be extended and thus you can adjust the length of the pole to some extent – typically around 20 centimeters which is much less than at a collapsible hiking pole.
The length of hiking poles is especially important if you are buying foldable hiking poles which are not adjustable in length. Your elbow should be in a 90-degree angle when holding a hiking pole at the grip. In order to figure out how long hiking poles do you need, measure the distance between your elbow and the floor.
The locking mechanism secures the hiking pole at the desired length. There are two different locking mechanisms; lever lock and twist lock. The lever lock mechanism is easier to adjust with gloves on. The twist lock mechanism uses a screw setup and requires more time.
Hiking pole shafts are typically made of aluminum or carbon fiber. Both materials have advantages and shortcomings. Carbon fiber shafts are usually lighter than aluminum shafts. However, carbon fiber hiking poles are also more expensive and less durable; when major force is applied to a carbon fiber shaft it breaks while an aluminum shaft will typically bend rather than break.
Grips are typically made of EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam in order to provide good comfort and a firm grip even when your hands are sweaty. Nevertheless, some hiking poles have grips made of cork which also provides good comfort.
Some hiking poles feature an internal spring to reduce the impact on hands and elbows. Hiking poles with a shock absorption system are usually slightly heavier and pricier than those without.
Hiking poles typically have carbide tips which provide good durability and traction on various types of terrain.
The round rings at the bottom of the hiking poles are called baskets and prevent the poles from getting stuck between rocks, roots etc. For hiking on snow-covered terrain wide baskets (usually sold separately) are recommended because they offer better flotation.
2. The Best Hiking Poles for 2016 Review
- Komperdell Carbon Expedition Vario 4
- Leki Micro Vario Carbon
- Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z Trekking
- Leki Thermolite XL
- Black Diamond Trail Back
|Feature/Product||Komperdell Carbon Expedition Vario 4||Leki Micro Vario Carbon||Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z Trekking||Leki Thermolite XL||Black Diamond Trail Back|
|Weight (Pair)||412 g||448 g||485 g (100 cm version)||470 g||608 g|
|Type||Foldable + collapsible||Foldable + collapsible||Foldable||Collapsible||Collapsible|
|Shaft Material||Carbon, Titanal||Carbon||Carbon||Aluminum||Aluminum|
|Packed Length||45 cm||38 cm||35 cm, 38 cm, 42 cm, 45 cm||55 cm||63.5 cm|
|Adjustable in Length||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Locking Mechanism||Lever lock||Lever lock||Lever lock||Lever lock||Lever lock|
|Length||120-145 cm||110-130 cm||100 cm, 110 cm, 120 cm, 130 cm||67 – 135 cm||63.5 – 140 cm|
1. Komperdell Carbon Expedition Vario 4
- Approaching climbing routes
The Komperdell Carbon Expedition Vario 4 hiking poles are very popular among hikers and mountaineers because they are very light (a pair weighs merely 412 grams) while providing great functionality. The hiking poles are foldable as well as collapsible – they consist of three sections and the section that is closest to the grip can be extended for 25 centimeters. This comes in handy because it allows you to lengthen the poles when going downhill and shorten them when going uphill. The Komperdell hiking poles use a lever lock mechanism to secure the poles at the desired length. They have carbon fiber shafts which are reinforced with Titanal (one of the strongest alloys in the world) in the lower section. The grip is made of foam while the straps are padded for good comfort. When the poles are collapsed they measure only 45 centimeters in length. The extended pole’s length is from 120 to 145 centimeters.
2. Leki Micro Vario Carbon
- Approach to climbing routes
The Leki Micro Vario Carbon hiking poles are slightly heavier (a pair weighs 448 grams) than the Komperdell hiking poles above, but on the other hand they are shorter when folded (38 centimeters). Like the Komperdell poles they consist of three sections (foldable construction) and the section closest to the grip can be adjusted in length for good fit (the length of the pole can be increased for up to 20 centimeters). The pole is secured at the desired length with a lever lock mechanism which is easy to use even with gloves on. The extended pole measures from 110 – 130 centimeters in length. Folding the poles is also very easy – they have a push-button beneath the grip which releases the mechanism. The poles feature shafts made of carbon fiber while the grips are made of comfortable foam. Leki offers many different baskets and tips for this model. With the poles you also get a nylon bag for storing baskets and tips for the poles.
3. Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z Trekking
- Approach to climbing routes
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z Trekking poles differ from the above listed Komperdell and Leki poles by not being adjustable in length. However, they do come in four different lengths (from 100 to 130 centimeters). The poles are foldable and made of carbon fiber. Therefore, they are very light and can be folded really small. The shortest pole (100 cm) weighs merely 485 grams and measures only 35 centimeters in length when folded. The poles are equipped with the Z-Pole Rapid Deployment System; the locking mechanism can be easily released by pressing a button. The Black Diamond poles also have comfortable grips and moisture-wicking straps. The poles can be used with either carbide or rubber tips.
4. Leki Thermolite XL
The Leki Thermolite XL hiking poles differ from the models listed above by having a collapsible construction and aluminum shafts. Nevertheless, they are very light for non-carbon fiber poles – a pair weighs merely 470 grams. The pole’s length can be adjusted from 67 to 135 centimeters which comes in handy if you want to borrow your poles to friends or family. For securing the pole at the desired length, a very simple lever lock mechanism is used. The lever lock mechanism can easily be used when wearing gloves. The poles use carbide tips and come with trekking baskets. However, Leki offers many different baskets and tips (sold separately) for this model. The main advantage of these poles is their superb durability (aluminum shafts).
5. Black Diamond Trail Back
The Black Diamond Trail Back poles are fairly inexpensive while providing good durability. Therefore, they are very popular among recreational hikers and trekkers. Like the Leki Thermolite XL poles, they feature a collapsible construction and aluminum shafts. However, they are significantly heavier than the Leki poles – a pair weighs 608 grams. The poles are very robust and offer good durability. The length can be adjusted with the lever lock mechanism which is easy to use even when wearing gloves. The Black Diamond Trail Back poles can be adjusted to measure from 63.5 to 140 centimeters in length. Additionally, the poles are equipped with comfortable grips (made of EVA foam), nylon straps, trekking baskets and carbide tips. The shortcomings are the weight and collapsed length – collapsed they are 63.5 centimeters long. However, they are also significantly cheaper than the other products in this review.
3. The most attractive product in the review