Which Trekking Pole? Recommended Trekking Poles
If you read our recent report on the Why and the How of trekking poles and decided it’s time to start using walking poles on your adventures, then it’s time to get outfitted. Undoubtedly what you want to know now is this: Which poles have received the highly coveted WenatcheeOutdoors seal approval?
Super Cheap Options
Becoming a pole pusher need not involve much coin. If you’ve got an old pair of ski poles, they’ll do. Some users prefer shorter poles (around groin height) and using the poles like a walking cane with their hand on top of the pole handle. If you’re such a user, an old pair of kid’s poles may be perfect. You can also adapt a longer pair of old poles to the desired height by removing the handles, using a hack saw to cut down the shaft length the desired amount, and sliding the handles back on. If you’re not a skier and don’t have a beater pair of poles around, ask a friend who skis for a dusty, unloved pair of old poles. Or, check out the Goodwill or the autumn ski swaps where it will cost you all of $5 to $10 get outfitted.
Dedicated Trekking Poles
Given the cheap option above, why bother with a dedicated pair of trekking poles? In a word: adjustability. Adjustability lets you use the poles in different ways and at different heights as described in our technique article. Adjustability lets different people in the family use the same set of poles. Adjustability lets you collapse the poles for air travel, car travel, or for strapping the poles to pack (not unusual). And because there’s no reason not to purchase trekking poles that can also be used for skiing (if you’re a skier, of course) adjustability lets you use the same pole at different heights for different endeavors.
Photo: Old ski poles (top) can double as trekking poles. We're not big fans of most poles with twist locks for adjustment (middle pole), but the Exped Alpine (bottom) was an exception to the rule.
Many adjustable poles, especially those sold for skiing, are two-segmented poles. We recommend, however, getting three-segmented poles because they collapse to a far more convenient size when you want to strap them to a pack or slip them inside travel luggage.
Most adjustable poles use one of two locking mechanisms: 1) the twist mechanism which uses an internal camming device that expands or loosens depending on which way the pole is twisted 2) the flip lock lever that tightens or loosens the overlap where pole segments intersect. Except for the Exped pole which we review below, we recommend against the twist locks – over time the camming devices of these poles become finicky, don’t tighten or loosen as reliably, have more maintenance issues, and simply don’t clamp down the pole segments as securely as the different flip lock systems.
Our Top Picks
We have not endeavored to conduct a comprehensive review of all the different poles on the market. Instead we have tested many poles over the years whose design features struck us as good value for the money spent. Because value has been a top criterion for us, we haven’t reviewed carbon poles, which are wonderfully light but unpleasantly expensive. From eight different sets of poles we have used hard on land and snow, here are our three all-stars (not listed below in any particular order).
Photo: Three poles we like from Leki (left), Black Diamond (center), and Exped (right).
Leki Corklite Aergon with SpeedLock (17 oz per pair, $120)
Leki makes many manners of twist-lock adjustable poles that we didn’t prefer and a few adjustable aluminum poles using their SpeedLock (a flip-level system) that are terrific. We have tested the Corklite Aergon pole for several years and it is light, has a nice range of adjustability (26 to 53 inches), adjusts easily but securely with flipping levers, and has a great feel (balance) to the swing weight of the pole. The handle of the pole has very nice ergonomics whether you’re gripping it like a ski pole or are using its rounded top like a cane. The pole derives its name from the handle which is a composite of cork and plastic (Aergon). We loved the cork for hiking (it’s grippy and absorbs sweat) but cork also requires a bit more care than an all- plastic handles. Some of us who ski, for example, bang our boots free of snow with the handles of our ski poles before stepping into bindings and the SpeedLock pole with an all-Aergon that Leki makes, which is slightly heavier (19.5 oz) and slightly cheaper ($100), might be preferred by those who foresee using their handle as a club. A final plus, these poles have a lifetime guarantee – there are qualifiers, of course, but Leki is known to stand behind their products. Locally you can find this product at Der Sportsman in Leavenworth.
Black Diamond Trail Back (20 oz per pair, $80) and Trail Back Compact (17 oz, $90)
Black Diamond invented the FlickLock adjusting mechanism and while other manufacturers like Leki and K2 claim to have refined the system, we’ve used different Black Diamond poles using FlickLocks for nearly 15 years and have found little that’s wanting. The locks take a little adjusting to find that sweet spot where they open easily yet clamp securely. Once you’ve dialed in that spot, the locks are quick to adjust, easy to clamp down, and completely secure. The locks are also durable enough that the aluminum segments of the pole are likely to get bent by abuse long before the locking mechanism fails. Among the many aluminum poles that Black Diamond makes with a FlickLock, the three-segmented Trail Back and the three-segmented Trail Back Compact are both excellent choices offering great value. Of the two we prefer the pricier Trail Back Compact because it’s a few ounces lighter, collapses a few inches shorter for packing (23 inches when collapsed versus 27 inches), and has EVA foam extending part way down the upper shaft of the pole. The foam gives you great grip when you quickly choke-up on the pole to take a high step or to traverse across a steep sidehill. Both the Trail Back and Trail Back Compact can take different baskets for walking and skiing, and both have durable synthetic (rubbery plastic) handles whose half life is as long as your whole life. Locally you can get these poles at Arlberg Sports in Wenatchee.
Exped Alpine 125 (13 oz per pair, $110)
While we haven’t preferred poles using twist locks, this Swiss-made, superlight, 3-segmented pole is the exception. Two of the sections making up this pole actually lock in place with a push- button snap (the same snaps used for the adjustable handles of avalanche shovels). Meanwhile the twisting segment of the Exped pole that allows quick height adjustment has grooves/welts inside the pole that snag the internal camming device. Without the use of much strength to tighten the poles, the segments lock securely in place and, even when they are heavily loaded with weight, won’t collapse. These poles are newer to the American market and we’ve only put a year of use on them. In that year, however, we’ve used them extensively on and off-piste during ski season, and on and off-trail during hiking season. For some of us testing different poles, these have become our go-to favorite. We like their weight (nearly a half pound lighter than some poles tested), we like their sleek profile (the twist lock has thinner knuckles than flip-lock poles) we like the different baskets that come with the purchase of the pole (one for hiking, another for skiing), we like the EVA foam wrapped around the upper shaft of the pole that provides good grip when you choke- up on the pole. What we don’t like is the lack of a local store selling the pole. They are available on-line but if you order them you need to take our word that you’ll like them. That’s a sketchy supposition.
K2 LockJaw 3-Piece Pole. (20.5 oz per pair, $110)
Finally we’ll mention a pole we have not tested but that has received good reports from other sources we trust. This 3-piece aluminum pole with a flip-lock adjustment system that K2 calls the LockJaw, has most of the same advantages as the other poles in this review – quick adjustability, secure performance once locked, excellent range of adjustability (up to 54 inches long), comfortable and durable handles. A feature setting the pole apart that skiers, snowboarders, and mountaineers will appreciate is the bubble inclinometer built into one of the poles. The inclinometer allows you to easily determine slope steepness. Avalanche hazard is intimately connected to pitch and slopes between 30 and 45 degrees in steepness see the large majority of slides. This pole takes the guesswork out of how steep the slope before you actually is. Locally you can find these poles at Arlberg Sports.