Choosing Good Hiking Poles, Trekking Poles

by kajohu

Using good hiking poles, or trekking poles makes a big difference in stability and ease while out hiking and backpacking.

I've only recently started using trekking poles while out hiking, and they've been a tremendous help for keeping my knees happy while hiking downhill, and for giving me extra stability and better balance over rough terrain.

Here are a few of the benefits of using trekking poles, certain features to consider for choosing your own pair, and suggestions for where to buy trekking / hiking poles.

Happy hiking!

A Good Pair of Hiking Poles Makes Walking, Hiking, and Backpacking Easier

I've been hiking and backpacking since I was in my teens, but I only recently started using hiking poles, or trekking poles as they're also called. 

My husband, who had been using trekking poles for a few years, ever since he hiked the Appalachian Trail (yep, the whole thing!), had to coax me into trying them. 

Hiking with Leki Ultralight Soft Antishock Trekking Poles
Hiking in Glacier National Park
Hiking in Glacier National Park
My own photo

I balked, thinking it would be "cheating" to use trekking poles for the relatively short distances we were hiking.  I also didn't see many other people in our area using them, except for older people with knee problems.   I thought I'd be embarrassed to be seen using them.

Well, I'm a few years older now too (mid-50's) with some knee problems, but I also see many more people of all ages using trekking poles.   Since I began using them, I've felt more stable while out hiking, I can walk more quickly, and my knees and hips feel much better during and after the outings. 

I wish I would've started using trekking poles years ago!   My knees would've been much happier!

Benefits of Using Trekking, Hiking, Walking Poles

How are hiking poles helpful?

Some of the benefits of using trekking poles are:

  • Stability and balance over rough terrain
  • Safer crossings over streams and snowfields
  • Reduces stress and strain on knees, ankles, and hips while hiking downhill
  • Transfers some of our weight from legs to arms and backs while hiking uphill
  • Helps us keep a healthier, more upright posture
  • Improves endurance, reduces overall fatigue while hiking
  • Overall weight-bearing exercise for the whole body


Hiking on Snowfield
Hiking on Snowfield
My own photo

What to Look for in a Trekking Pole

Depending on your needs, you may prefer simple hiking poles, or you may prefer poles with more features.   Extra features will add to the cost, and sometimes to the weight of the poles, but this may be well worth it to you.

Four features to consider when choosing trekking poles:

  • Adjustable or one-length
  • Anti-shock or standard poles
  • Shaft material
  • Grip material

Let's look at each feature a little more closely

Adjustable poles or one length poles

Trekking poles that are adjustable in length give you more flexibility when you're on different kinds of terrain.  While going up hill, you'll do better with shorter poles, and while hiking downhill, longer poles give you better support.   If you're on sideways-slanted terrain, the pole to the upper side should be shorter.   These adjustments will make it easier for you to hike with less effort. 

One piece trekking poles may be lighter and less expensive, and still offer good stability and support.

Anti-shock or standard poles

Anti-shock trekking poles have internal springs that absorb shock while hiking downhill.  This feature is especially useful for those of us who have problem with our knees, ankles, or hips.  This is what I chose since I've had severe knee problems while backpacking downhill (Grand Canyon!).

Standard poles without the anti-shock feature are lighter and cheaper, and give the same kind of stability and balance.  

Shaft material

While you can still probably find bamboo or wood hiking poles, most of today's hiking poles are made of aluminum or carbon fiber.

High grade aluminum poles are stronger and less expensive than carbon fiber trekking poles.  If you're looking for super-light-weight poles, the carbon fiber poles are great.  They're reasonably strong, although they may break under high stress.

Grip material

Good quality hiking pole grips (handles) are usually made from cork, foam, or rubber.  Cork may degrade more quickly, but is often most comfortable for the hands.  Foam feels good, and absorbs sweat.  Rubber protects hands more from cold and vibrations, but may chafe hands during hot weather. 

May You Have Happy Trekking With Pain-Free Knees!

Hiking poles in Glacier National Park
Hiking poles in Glacier National Park
My own photo
More Good Trekking Pole / Hiking Pole Information and Reviews
Updated: 01/20/2015, kajohu
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Have you used hiking poles / trekking poles?

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kajohu on 06/08/2014

Thanks, bizilady, for your comment. The trekking poles have made a huge difference in my ease in hiking over rough terrain.

Guest on 06/08/2014

This is a good article for me since I frequently hike in rough terrain on weekends using a carved wooden walking stick.
The two adjustable trekking sticks make more sense since stability is essential while climbing over rocks and down step hills.Thumbs up!

kajohu on 01/06/2013

Thanks again, Mira! Hiking poles saved my knees on a big hiking trip -- instead of being miserable with aching knees, I was able to enjoy the scenery instead :-)

Mira on 01/06/2013

This is very useful info. I hope this year I'll get to hike more!

kajohu on 04/14/2012

I've used a make-shift pole (long stick!) if my knees start to hurt when I've forgotten my pair of hiking poles. It seems to work fine :-)
Thanks whitemoss and katiem2 for your comments!

whitemoss on 04/14/2012

I just use one pole as I like to keep one arm free, but I never go hiking without it. Great for the knees going downhill.

katiem2 on 04/06/2012

I love hiking and climbing, repelling from the top of an accomplished climb is an amazing thrill. Thanks for the time saving product review for good hiking poles, much appreciated.

kajohu on 04/02/2012

I think you'll enjoy them, Dustytoes. I forgot mine for my first 5 mile hike of the spring (last week), and my knees started complaining after the first couple miles. Oh well, they're okay now. But next time, I'll remember my poles!

dustytoes on 04/02/2012

I have been considering buying hiking poles. Once I have time to hike more, I think I will break down and buy some. I always see hikers of all ages using them. Thanks for the buying advice.

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