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How To Choose Trekking Poles For Trail Running and Hiking

If you’re getting into trail running and hiking, you might have noticed that runners in a number of trail ultras and mountain races aren’t running with just their legs. They use trekking poles as well, both to help with traction and to aid in climbing. This might lead you to question whether you should get a pair for yourself. This article will tell you everything that you need to know about buying trekking poles.

We’ll cover differences in poles, what to look for, and important features. By the end, you’ll know what trekking poles will be best for you.

How To Choose Trekking Poles

What to Look For When Buying Trekking Poles

If you’re new to trail gear, here are a couple things to keep in mind before purchasing trekking poles. 

The most important thing is the sizing. You want to get the right length. This is true even for adjustable poles, since they also come in a few different sizes that can then be further adjusted. 

But you also want to consider how much the poles weigh, how they are made, and the type of poles. 

Length

The proper length of a trekking pole allows you to keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle. If you can’t do that, they are either too short or too tall.

If you’re planning to purchase fixed-length poles, this chart has height-to-length suggestions. For example, if you’re 6’0” like my brother-in-law, your suggested pole section length is 125 centimeters.

Weight of Poles

Especially if you’re planning to run with trekking poles, lighter is usually better. While they are more expensive, you will appreciate that they don’t weigh as much. Fixed-length poles tend to be lighter, but they are also less versatile than adjustable poles.

You should make sure that the weight is even across the pole so that you have a smooth swing when using them.

Strength/Stiffness

If you purchase stiffer poles, you’ll get more power and efficiency. However, stiffer poles are often made from composite materials, which are often more expensive.

Packability

While this isn’t true for every set of poles, most trekking poles collapse for storage when not in use, making it easier for you to put them in your pack when you’re on flat terrain.

Types of Trekking Poles

You have three options to choose from in terms of pole design, so depending on how adjustable and collapsible you want them to be, you can decide what’s best for you.

Trekking Poles

Telescoping

These are the most common trekking pole option. They are adjustable and nest inside each other like a telescope. When you extend them to their full length, there is a locking mechanism to make sure that they stay in place.

If you’re looking for something that can pack down small, then these are probably your best bet.

Fixed-Length

There are two types of fixed-length poles that are not adjustable to your height. Once you purchase them, they will only work for you.

Fixed

This is the least common type of trekking pole because they can’t adjust and they don’t collapse. This means that you can’t stow them away when you’re not using them, making them challenging to lug around. It’s simply one length of pole.

Folding (Z-type)

Known by a couple different names, folding poles are tent-pole style that break apart so that you can fold them to ⅓ of their full length. You can definitely pack them down small, but typically they are not adjustable.

Even so, they are lighter than telescoping poles, and some varieties have one telescoping section, meaning that you can adjust the length of the pole.

Locking Mechanisms

Trekking poles come with a variety of different locking mechanisms to get the poles fixed at a particular length. We’ll discuss each one, including pros and cons.

Lever Lock

This lock is used on telescoping poles, and it’s a clamp-like mechanism. You can adjust easily and quickly, even if you happen to be wearing gloves because it’s cold outside. It reminds me of the lever locks you use to lock an easel into place.

Push Button Lock

Used on collapsible fixed-length poles, push button locks are very simple. By pressing a button, the lock releases and the poles become collapsible. This is like a tent-pole. Their shape when collapsed (a Z) gives them their name of “Z-type.”

Twist Lock

Twist locks are used on telescoping poles and have an expander and screw setup. This is an internal locking system in comparison to the external locking system of the lever.

Some people argue that twist locks are more likely to malfunction (let alone that they are more complicated than a lever lock), so you might want to ensure that you particularly want this. Dust and debris can make the locking system harder to use.

Mix

And there are some poles that are a combination of all of the above. If you don’t particularly like any one option, you might like a mix.

Difficult hike with trekking pole

Trekking Pole Shaft

Trekking poles tend to be made of two types of material: aluminum or composite (carbon fiber).

Composite

Composite poles are often lighter and stronger, but they cost more and can break more easily if bent the wrong way.

Aluminum

Aluminum poles weigh more, but they are cheaper if you’re on a budget, and they are less likely to snap under pressure like composite poles.

Pole Grips

It’s important to make sure that you have good pole grips. If they are uncomfortable, you could get blisters and you just won’t like using them. Find poles with grips that fit your hand well and don’t feel weird to you.

Cork

Cork is one of the more comfortable materials and has great durability as well as comfort. This is the premium option, which means that it may cost more.

Foam

Foam will give you great comfort, but it tends to wear down quickly. If you’re planning to do a lot of hiking and/or running, this might not be the best grip for you.

Rubber

Rubber will give you lots of durability, but the grips tend to be less comfortable, can get slippery if it’s raining, and are heavier.

Baskets and Pole Tips

No, this isn’t a basket that you put on your bike. This is the circular section near the tips of the poles like on ski poles. Most trekking poles come with removable baskets of different sizes. Smaller baskets are more common, but larger baskets are useful for mud and snow.

Trekking poles also come with tips that help to increase your stability and give you better traction. Carbide tips are the most common whereas rubber can be used to extend the life of your trekking poles but don’t give you as much traction. You’ll likely want to replace the tips around every 1,500-2,000 miles.

Buyer’s Guide for Trail Running

If you’re planning to use trekking poles for trail running, you’ll want to look for lightweight poles that collapse down to store on a pack. The most popular style of trekking poles for trail runners are fixed-length that collapse like tent poles (Z type).

You’ll want poles that swing smoothly and are strong enough for steep uphills so that you can propel yourself forward without having to exert your legs as much.

We’ve found the best trail running poles available now in this article.

Buyer’s Guide for Hiking

If you’re planning to use trekking poles for hiking, it’s up to you if you prefer fixed length or telescoping poles. If you’re budget conscious, you can make compromises for a slightly heavier pole.

You’ll want to look for versatile poles that can be adjusted in length with baskets that you can swap out as needed to meet different needs.

In the end, it largely comes down to personal preference when choosing the best trekking poles for trail running and hiking. Think carefully about what you need and want, give a couple options a try, and happy trails!

The Wired Runner