Gear

Walk Tall: The Best Trekking Poles and Hiking Staffs

by Arthur McMahon

best trekking poles
Photo: Ted Bryan Yu

If you could have four legs when you’re on the trail, wouldn’t you? That’s why trekking poles are essential tools for hikers and backpackers.

I’m no spring chicken, but even in my early twenties I understood the benefits of hiking with a trekking pole or two in my hands. It comes naturally with the setting. Even as a kid I remember searching for a small branch that I could use to walk with and poke at the weird things I’d find in the forest.

Now, high-tech trekking poles have replaced my janky tree branches. Trekking poles help me step over uneven terrain, navigate treacherous creek crossings, and push poison oak off the trail. They’re vital tools in outdoor exploration for everything from simple day hikes to extreme mountaineering.

If you haven’t tried hiking with a good pair of trekking poles, you should give it a shot. Give your arms some exercise and take a portion of the impact away from your joints, and your body will appreciate it!

The Best Trekking Poles

Best Overall: Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles
Scoring top marks for comfort, durability, and versatility, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles are our top overall pick.

The alpine cork soft touch grips appear to be your run-of-the-mill cork toppers upon first glance, but walk with them firmly grasped in your hands for a few miles and you’ll notice how these seemingly straightforward grips mold to your hand like putty. The feeling of pure comfort works its way into your fingers and palms to the point where you completely forget you’re lugging around a pair of trekking poles.

That comfort and forgetfulness are aided by the lightweight carbon composition of these trekking poles. Though they’re not the lightest poles on our list, the Alpines weigh a mere 17 ounces combined. The pole shafts are created using a thicker carbon fiber than average, which adds a couple of ounces while drastically increasing durability.

Equipped with Black Diamond’s time-tested FlickLock locking mechanisms, there is little worry of shaft slips. Some tightening is required on occasion, but the same can be said of any telescoping locks. These are the most reliable locks around and stand as the bar that others try to match.

All of these factors combine to create a pair of trekking poles that are extremely versatile and reliable. Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles will serve well for light hiking, tough mountaineering, and everything in between.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 17 ounces
  • Max length: 51 inches
  • Min length: 24 inches

Runner Up: LEKI Corklite DSS Antishock

LEKI Corklite DSS Trekking Pole
Coming in at a close second place, the LEKI Corklite DSS Antishock trekking poles are where the crossroads of comfort and functionality meet.

The alien-looking ergonomic Corklite cork grips feel supremely comfortable from mile one to mile done, and molds to your hand similarly to the Black Diamond Alpine Cork grips, but their unique design doesn’t require a break-in period to feel like butter in your hands.

Surprisingly, the LEKI Corklite poles weigh only an ounce more than the Alpines despite being constructed of aluminum. This sturdier frame will hold up better against drops onto hard rocks. These are slim poles, but they’re stronger than they look, and they’re lighter than nearly every other aluminum pole.

LEKI’s SpeekLock 2 system holds tight and is just about as durable as Black Diamond’s locking system. For that slight sacrifice in durability, LEKI instead offers an easy-to-use rotating dial for lock tightening as opposed to the more common systems which require coins or tools to adjust. This nifty feature would be highly appreciated on trail when your pole slips and you need to adjust your locks on the fly.

The proprietary DSS Antishock system on these walking sticks is different than most other shock systems. It’s a subtle squish consisting of a rubber washer on top of a shock absorber just above the pole’s tip which results in a small amount of compression. This setup works well because the shock absorption is more densely concentrated so that you can feel it without being thrown off balance by a sudden lack of support in times of need.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 18 ounces
  • Max length: 53 inches
  • Min length: 26 inches

Budget Pick: REI Co-op Passage Trekking Poles

REI Co-op Passage Trekking Poles - Pair
Heading out into the wild doesn’t have to correlate with spending big bucks. The REI Co-op Passage Trekking Poles trekking poles are made of sturdy, lightweight aluminum and have the trail cred to get you deep into the wilderness for under $100.

REI Co-op products may rarely be top-tier in their respective categories, but they’re still quality products made by people who know and love the outdoors. REI’s Passage Trekking Poles are well-engineered and come close to our top picks for less than half the price.

REI’s Powerlock system is a tried-and-true lever lock system found on all of their telescoping trekking poles. More expensive versions are set with aluminum locks, but the Passage poles are equipped with plastic versions of these locks. They’re just as strong, but not as durable. Be sure to take care not to hit the locks on hard objects and clear them of trail dirt at every opportunity to keep them in tip-top shape.

The aluminum staffs are coupled with rubber grips that maintain a comfortable handling point, though the rubber can become slippery when wet from rain or sweat. Overall, hikers and backpackers will find these poles to be comfortable and reliable pieces of gear in their outdoor arsenal.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 19.4 ounces
  • Max length: 54.7 inches
  • Min length: 27 inches

Ultralight Pick: Gossamer Gear LT5

LT5 Three Piece Carbon Trekking Poles
“Take Less. Do more.” The company’s mantra rings true in the Gossamer Gear LT5 trekking poles which are featherlight and highly regarded in the ultralight backpacking community.

The simple carbon fiber and cork construction has a slender profile that meets the basic needs of a hiker, accomplishes what it was made to do, and stays clear of any unnecessary additions or frivolities.

Gossamer Gear does make a lighter set of poles in the LT4, but the LT5 trekking poles weigh barely a breath more and pack down to the most compact version of the Lightrek poles yet.

These poles come with Gossamer Gear’s latest twist locking mechanics. Twist locks have a history of underperforming compared to latch locks, but the LT5 locks have been praised for their slipless design and reliability.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 10.6 ounces (9.2 ounces without strap and basket)
  • Max Length: 51 inches
  • Min Length: 23.5 inches

Hiking Staff Pick: REI Co-op Hiker Power Lock

REI Co-op Hiker Power Lock Staff - Single
Free up one of your hands and gain a camera mount with the REI Co-op Hiker Power Lock hiking staff.

I have to admit I’m a little biased when it comes to this hiking staff, but it’s only because I’ve walked thousands of miles with it and couldn’t be happier with how it has performed. The REI Co-op Hiker Power Lock staff was my third leg throughout my entire thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and it continued to journey with me for years after as I explored the Pacific Northwest.

Personal affections aside, this is a lightweight telescoping staff made of durable aluminum that’ll hold up for many, many miles. The serrated foam grips are nice to grab, and the cork topper provides an excellent resting hold for when you just need something to lean on after a hard climb.

As with many hiking staffs, you can unscrew the cork topper to reveal a threaded bolt that works as a camera mount. I used this feature to screw on my GoPro camera during my PCT hike for quick-access to take in-the-moment photos and video.

The Power Lock locking mechanisms are like that in the Co-op Passage poles and need to be maintained, but they’re easy to use and can be adjusted in seconds.

Though it’s not the lightest construction, this singular hiking staff weighs about the same as both of the ultralight Gossamer Gear LT5 poles. Perhaps the best way to go ultralight is by taking one less walking stick.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 10.2 ounces
  • Max Length: 55 inches
  • Min Length: 27 inches

Backpacking and Day Hiking Trekking Poles

There is some serious competition out there for the best hiking and backpacking trekking poles. Though we’ve already listed our top picks, we think these deserve your attention as well. Whether it be price, practicality, or style, each of these trekking poles stands out above the crowd. If our favorite top picks aren’t for you, give these a look.

Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock

Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles
A responsive shock system, thinner than average grip handles, and top-notch FlickLock latches raise the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock trekking poles above just about every other shock-absorbing poles on the market. Hikers with small hands will find that the grips fit better to their size than most.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 21 ounces
  • Max Length: 55 inches
  • Min Length: 27 inches

Equipeak Trekking Sticks

Equipeak Collapsible Folding Hiking & Trekking Sticks
With a startlingly wide range of deployment and an equally impressive low price, the Equipeak Trekking Sticks are an ideal pair of beginner poles for anyone. These folding trekking sticks collapse to less than 15 inches in length. They pack away small enough that you can store them in a day pack.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 19 ounces
  • Max Length: 53 inches
  • Min Length: 14.5 inches

Foxelli Trekking Poles

Foxelli Trekking Poles
The lightweight Foxelli Trekking Poles are constructed of a carbon shaft and cork grips. Loaded with materials typically seen on high-end equipment and bonus goodies like snow baskets and rubber tips, it’s amazing that these poles are priced at a fraction of the cost of their competitors.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 14 ounces
  • Max Length: 55 inches
  • Min Length: 24 inches

LEKI Micro Vario Ti COR-TEC

LEKI Micro Vario TI Cor-Tec Trekking Poles
Much like out runner up LEKI Corklite pick, the LEKI Micro Vario Ti COR-TEC trekking poles are constructed of durable aluminum paired with ergonomic “Aergon” grips that are as comfortable as pole grips come. An internal tension cord reinforces the durability of these poles and allows them to fold down to a small packing size.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 18.3 ounces
  • Max Length: 51 inches
  • Min Length: 15 inches

Montem Ultra Strong

Montem Ultra Strong Hiking Walking Trekking Poles
Rivaling the design of Black Diamond flick locks but undercutting their price, the Montem Ultra Strong trekking poles are supremely durable aluminum poles with easy-to-use locks and a cork grip (see our Ultra Strong review for more details).

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 19.2 ounces
  • Max Length: 53 inches
  • Min Length: 24 inches

REI Co-op Traverse Power Lock

REI Co-op Traverse Power Lock Cork Trekking Poles
An upgrade from our budget pick, the REI Co-op Traverse Power Lock trekking poles match the well-engineered design of the Passage poles with more comfortable cork grips and stronger aluminum locking mechanisms.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 19.1 ounces
  • Max Length: 55 inches
  • Min Length: 27.5 inches

TOLKA Trekking Poles

TOLKA Trekking Poles Collapsible Hiking Poles Lightweight, Walking Running Sticks with Natural Cork Grips, Quick Locks for Outdoor Walking Trekking Climbing
These shock absorbing TOLKA Trekking Poles have a substantial spring in their step. If you’re looking for an inexpensive set of poles that will lessen the impact on your joints, these are the sticks for you.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 14.5 ounces
  • Max Length: 54.5 inches
  • Min Length: 26 inches

Trailbuddy Trekking Poles

TrailBuddy Trekking Poles - 2-pc Pack Adjustable Hiking or Walking Sticks
Lightweight aluminum poles with moisture-wicking cork handles make the Trailbuddy Trekking Poles a premium set of walking sticks at an affordable price. They also come in a wide variety of colors. Choose your favorite!

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 20 ounces
  • Max Length: 54 inches
  • Min Length: 24.5 inches

Ultralight Trekking Poles

The slimmest of the slim, these ultralight poles will have you flying down the trail. Minor differences separate these from our top pick and each is just as awesome as the last.

Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z

Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z trekking poles are ultralight poles designed with speed at the forefront. The lighter you are, the faster you can hike, and these carbon poles have the strength to push you forward. The Z-pole Rapid Deployment System is a one-push collapse and one-pull deployment that gets your poles ready in a flash. Time to speed hike!

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 9-10 ounces
  • Max Length: 39-51 inches
  • Min Length: 13-17 inches

Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber

Hiker Hunger 100% Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
Ergonomic form-fitting cork grips rest atop a molded foam to give the Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber trekking poles one of the lengthiest padded grips on the market. These lightweight poles look bulky but still weigh less than a pound, and they come with a one year warranty to boot!

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Max Length: 54 inches
  • Min Length: 24 inches

LEKI Micro Vario Carbon

LEKI Micro Vario Carbon ANTISHOCK Foldable Trekking Pole
The slim cousin of the LEKI Ti COR-TEC, the LEKI Micro Vario Carbon sheds a few ounces in the cushy handle to get its summer-ready weight in line for hiking season.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 16.2 ounces
  • Max Length: 51.2 inches
  • Min Length: 15 inches

REI Co-op Flash Carbon

REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles
The super light REI Co-op Flash Carbon trekking poles are composed of, you guessed it, carbon. A low-profile set of Powerlock latch locks secure the telescoping pole components in place and simple foam handles keep the weight to a minimum.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 14.8 ounces
  • Max Length: 55 inches
  • Min Length: 27 inches

Hiking Staffs

The best hiking staffs retain the greatest attributes of premium trekking poles and add a little something extra that makes them unique. These hiking staffs deliver that extra component at half the carry weight of traditional trekking poles.

Kelty Snapshot

Kelty Snapshot Hiking Staff
Simple twist and lock mechanisms lock the Kelty Snapshot to the height you desire, and a padded top can be removed to unveil a camera-ready mount. The inexpensive price and light weight of this staff make it an attractive option for every sort of hiker.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 10 ounces
  • Max Length: 54 inches
  • Min Length: 35 inches

Kelty Strider

Kelty Strider Hiking Staff
The super tall Kelty Strider staff has a long EVA compression foam grip that provides plenty of coverage for two-handed use. The aluminum body folds down to one-third of its assembled size for easy storing or carrying.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 9.5 ounces
  • Max Length: 60 inches
  • Min Length: 20 inches

Komperdell Camera Staff

Komperdell CAMERA STAFF
The Komperdell Camera Staff is a telescoping carbon fiber pole with a molded foam grip, latch locking mechanisms, and a cork topper that can be unscrewed and replaced by a mounted camera.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 11 ounces
  • Max Length: 59 inches
  • Min Length: 30 inches

LEKI Wanderfreund Black Carbon

LEKI Wanderfreund Black Carbon Trekking Staff
A sophisticated, ergonomic no-edge handle rests atop the LEKI Wanderfreund Black Carbon hiking staff. This refined staff is the lightest you’ll find, quite strong, and has reliable Speedlock 2 adjustments.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 8.7 ounces
  • Max Length: 47.25 inches
  • Min Length: 22.6 inches

Mountainsmith FXpedition Heritage

Mountainsmith FXpedition Heritage Monopod
A low-cost monopod, the Mountainsmith FXpedition folds down to a small carry size that can be easily packed away alongside your favorite camera.

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Tech Specs:

  • Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Max Length: 54 inches
  • Min Length: 17 inches

Buyer’s Guide

The best trekking poles are designed with weight, versatility, and durability in mind. Here we’ve laid out a few key elements to consider when searching for your next set of trekking poles.

Pole Designs

Trekking poles come in three distinct designs: telescoping, folding, and solid construction. Though each of these overall styles serves its own purpose, every pair of poles within those categories is customized in various ways to optimize attributes such as weight, strength, and hand comfort.

Nearly all trekking pole shafts are comprised of either aluminum or carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is lighter and more rigid, though once carbon poles reach their breaking point they can snap like a Kit Kat bar. Aluminum is a less expensive material that is heavier than carbon fiber, though it’ll dent rather than snap when you get hiker hangry and swing it like a baseball bat at an undeserving tree.

Grips come in all shapes and forms and are often made of cork or athletic foam. Ergonomic design plays a key role in long-term comfort and is best tested hands-on as each person’s grip is different. If you’re new to trekking poles I’d recommend testing a variety of trekking pole grips at your local brick-and-mortar outdoor store before buying online.

Wrist straps are often, but not always, attached to the grips. Some are padded, and some can be adjusted. They’re a love ’em or hate ’em feature that some poles forgo or allow you to remove completely.

Shock absorbers are another consideration, and their usefulness is a hot topic for debate. On steep downhills is where most people find shocks help with joint impact, but at other times, like sketchy creek crossings, the loss of stability caused by shock absorption can result in an unfortunate tumble into the stream. If the poles you’re looking at have shock absorption, check to see if there is a way to switch off the shocks when necessary.

Telescoping vs Folding vs Solid

You won’t find many solid poles these days, and, in fact, there are none on our list of favorites. The exceptional durability of solid hiking sticks seems to have been outweighed by their downsides, which are lack of height adjustment and packability.

Telescoping trekking poles are the most common type out on the trail today. Coming in two- and three-stage telescoping forms, this type of pole can be compacted to a small size which can be easily secured to a backpack’s exterior straps. Telescoping poles extend to your desired length and are locked into place via a twist lock or latch lock.

Folding trekking poles are the new kids on the block and are making major headway in the market. Folding poles don’t require locking mechanisms, so they tend to be lighter than telescoping poles, and they can pack down even smaller than their brethren. By design, folding poles are generally weaker than telescoping poles, though they’re still tough enough to withstand most abuse any avid backpacker will put them through.

Hiking Staff vs Trekking Poles

The oft-forgotten ugly step-child of the trekking pole market, single hiking staffs are useful tools and do have a place out on the trail next to their more popular trekking pole siblings.

Trekking poles can benefit a hiker in many ways. They offer stability over uneven terrain, can push away annoying trailside thorns or spiderwebs, and reduce the compressive force on the knees by 25% according to the Journal of Sport Sciences.

Hiking staffs can accomplish the very same for half the carry weight as you only cart around a single pole. A single hiking staff leaves one of your hands completely free to grab your water bottle or snap a quick Instagram picture. Many hiking staffs come with a removable knob at the top that reveals a threaded bolt where a camera can mount, resulting in an on-the-go monopod.

Gearing up for a backcountry adventure?

If you’re outfitting for your next backpacking adventure, we’ve got some other gear recommendations you should consider. Check out our related articles on the Best 4-Person Backpacking Tents, the Best Ultralight Sleeping Pads, and the Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Stoves.

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