A:Trekking poles fall into that category of gear that appears dorky and superfluous when you first see it, but becomes essential the first time you get it in your mitts. For quickly making your way across steep trails, over streams, and up rocky terrain, these increasingly technical aluminum or carbon fiber poles provide crucial stability and balance. They also displace some force onto your upper body for fewer injuries and better endurance over long treks. And with some recent tent models, they perform double duty as a tent pole. The more you hike, the more likely you are to use them, according to Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which estimates that over 95 percent of thru-hikers use them, compared to 15 percent of day hikers.
At the end of the day, trekking poles are still glorified walking sticks. I think that gets lost when you start reading about some of the cool German, Swiss, or Austrian innovations that go into them. Prices range from $50 to $225, with poles on the high end featuring designer carbon fiber shafts with sophisticated locking mechanisms. Most poles adjust to your height, and break down into a small package for stowing. Some have internal shock absorbers and some have quick ways to switch out the carbide tips and the baskets to protect the surface and vegetation on trails. There’s a movement to minimize the environmental harm from trekking poles on trails, and it’s clear that the manufacturers welcome this as another engineering challenge to meet head-on.
After the jump, we’ll look at a range of new trekking poles with the latest tech designed to keep your hikes smooth and safe.
Black Diamond Women’s FL
Leki Carbonlite Aergon XL
Exped Explorer 130
REI Carbon PowerLock