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Choosing the Best Lightweight Trekking Poles
For this article, we looked at a wide range of ergonomic and lightweight trekking pole models on the market, dug through reviews and testimonials, and listened in on online trekking and hiking forums to get a pulse on what newbie and seasoned trekkers want before narrowing down our list to the top 6.
We then proceeded to put these poles to the test. We utilized multiple testers, hiked with the poles side-by-side, and examined each aspect of these poles to determine which ones are truly worth their salt.
Usability was our biggest consideration in this review. We know this concept can be quite vague, so for clarity purposes, we’d like to define usability as “the degree of ease with which products can be used efficiently and effectively, and in a manner that satisfies the user”.
It’s important to understand, though, that usability isn’t a single attribute of a product, but rather a combination of factors. Thus, in evaluating the best lightweight trekking poles for hiking and backpacking, we looked at a number of factors to decide overall usability. These include the following:
The weight of the trekking poles makes a huge difference in how usable they are, especially that thru-hiking and ultralight backpacking is becoming more common these days. With lightweight trekking poles, you can move much quicker and easier, which offers great benefits on long treks. Heavy poles, on the other hand, require more effort to move in and can tire your arms quickly.
While we believe that weight matters, one caveat buyers should be aware of is that decreasing the pole weight may also diminish the pole’s durability and versatility. It’s for this reason that in this review, we picked lightweight poles that not only pack on good weight but also offers immense durability. In this review, the lightest trekking poles we have came at 14.8 oz per pair, while the heaviest and burliest weighed 24 oz per pair.
Since you’ll likely be holding your trekking poles for hours (and even days) on end, you’ll want to choose one that offers a comfortable grip. The most common materials used in grips are cork, foam, and rubber.
Cork ranks high in comfort and durability because it’s moisture-resistant and molds to your hand over time. The catch? Cork is heavier than foam, and it’s most often used in top-of-the-line trekking pole models (translation: they don’t come cheap).
Foam grips, meanwhile, are the softest and also the lightest among the three. They also do a decent job at wicking moisture. The kicker is that foam usually breaks down quicker than cork or rubber!
Finally, rubber grips. They are often found on budget trekking poles. Although they’re not as comfortable as cork or foam, rubber grips are relatively inexpensive, durable, and perform well in cold weather activities. In hot weather, though, rubber grips can be a bane because they can get slippery with sweat and can also cause chafing after a while.
Aside from the grip material, some poles also come with extended foam grips below the main one. These extended grips come in handy for maintaining balance while climbing steep hills. Another piece that may add extra comfort to the grip is the material used in the wrist straps. Wrist straps come in an array of designs, from mere nylon to heavily padded straps.
Trekking poles are commonly made from aluminum, carbon fiber, or a combination of both.
Aluminum trekking poles are generally cheaper than those made from carbon fiber. They are heavier but are also more durable as they are more likely to bend than break.
Carbon fiber, meanwhile, is often used in high-end trekking poles. They are much lighter and are known to dampen vibration; thus, helping to increase your comfort levels while on the trail. While carbon fiber poles perform well, they also have the tendency to snap when too much weight or force is applied. Ultralight hikers and backpackers or anyone who prefers the lightest gear possible often go for carbon trekking poles.
For this lineup, we picked a mix of aluminum and carbon fiber trekking poles to review.
Trekking poles come in three common build varieties: telescoping, folding, and fixed.
Telescoping trekking poles usually have two or three sections that expand and collapse from each joint, allowing trekkers to adjust the poles to suit their height as well as adapt to different terrains.
Two-section trekking poles have the strongest and most solid design, making them highly suitable for skiing and snowshoeing. But they are rarely lighter and aren’t as packable as three-section trekking poles. As such, no two-section trekking poles made our list; instead, we chose to test out three-section trekking poles since they are more compact but are still strong enough for most uses.
Folding trekking poles, also known as “Z-type” poles, are relatively new on the market. Pioneered and popularized by Black Diamond in their Z pole line, folding trekking poles are significantly lighter and more compact than other pole designs as they can fold to roughly 1/3 of their full length. The poles are composed of three sections, attached together by an internal shock cord. Although folding poles usually have thin shafts and aren’t nearly as solid and length adjustable compared to two- or three-section telescoping poles, they are favored by most hikers, climbers, and even trail runners because they cause the least amount of arm fatigue.
Fixed-length poles, meanwhile, are exactly what its name says--they cannot be adjusted. These type of poles typically weigh less than other pole designs because they operate with fewer parts. But they can also be difficult to store or transport, which is why fixed-length pole models didn’t make it to this list. Instead, you’ll find two Z-type poles and four telescoping poles in this review.
Packability is a key consideration in our review since we’re looking for the best lightweight trekking poles for hikers and backpackers. Folding or Z-sQtyle poles generally win in this category because they are easier to travel with and can be quickly squeezed into a duffel or even a day pack.
Up next is the locking mechanism. All trekking poles have locking systems to keep the poles in place once length has been adjusted. The two most common locking mechanisms are:
- Twist lock – As the name suggests, twist locks hold and secure the pole segments in place by simply twisting each section. This type of locking mechanism, however, has gone out of vogue since it tends to be less secure and is prone to malfunctioning.
- Lever lock – Also known as clamp lock, the lever lock style mechanism is far more durable, easier to use, and quicker to adjust compared to twist locks. Some trekking pole models, such as Z-pole types, also use a push-button locking mechanism in addition to the clamp lock to increase strength, ease of use, and durability.
The locking mechanism is important for us in this review because it also determines the adjustability of the pole--whether it’s easy to adjust on the fly, or if users can quickly fold it in their packs.
Almost all of the poles we reviewed in this article employed a lever lock system; only one pair of poles used the classic twist lock mechanism.
As with any piece of outdoor gear, durability is essential when looking for a pair of poles. Whether you’re simply going on a quick day hike or a thru-hike of the PCT, you’ll want a good pair that will not let you down throughout your outdoor adventure.
For trekking poles, the shaft material makes a difference in durability. Aluminum is usually the stronger and more reliable choice, but as we mentioned, it is also the heavier option; carbon fiber, on the other hand, has come a long way thanks to various advances in the technology. The good thing, though, is that some manufacturers are giving hikers the best of both worlds by offering a hybrid carbon and aluminum pole.
Finally, the price. This isn’t exactly a make-or-break factor for us, but we understand that it can be a consideration for some buyers. Hence, we include a variety of trekking poles in this list--from cheap pole sets to quality budget buys, and high-end products--and discuss the pros and cons of each.
Based on our review and testing and after considering the above factors, here are the best lightweight trekking poles in the market today: