Buying Right

Power Sticks Go for a hike in the Alps and you'll notice a curious thing: Euros love their walking canes. Recent studies in Europe and the States show that today's ultralightweight poles reduce stress on your muscles and joints and can increase by miles the distance you cover in a day. Here are five flavors of stick to help you keep on truckin'.

A) Best Value

Think of REI's ULTRALITE ANTI-SHOCK poles as full suspension for your knees when bounding downhill. For the way up, a quick twist of the aluminum shafts makes them rock-solid. ($95; 10 oz/pole; 800-426-4840, www.rei.com)

B) Rescue Safety
With LIFE-LINK's VARIANT APPROACH, you get three poles in one aluminum-and-carbon-fiber shaft: a trekking pole, an adjustable backcountry ski pole, and (after you screw two poles together) a six-foot-three-inch emergency avalanche probe. ($114; 7 oz/pole; 800-443-8620, www.life-link.com)

C) Fast + Light
KOMPERDELL's COMPACT TITANALS use titanium-alloy tubes and tungsten-carbide tips to provide firm purchase. They are simply the strongest poles per ounce we tested. ($105; 8 oz/pole; 800-326-9241, www.komperdell.com)

D) Camera-ready
With LEKI's MAKALU ANTISHOCK Photo poles, unscrew a grip, replace it with your camera, and you've got a sturdy aluminum monopod to indulge every Galen Rowell-inspired whim. ($120; 11.5 oz/pole; 800-255-9982, www.leki.com)

E) Compact
Designed for river use, the TRACKS FISH STICK folds down to an eminently packable 13.5 inches and uses a rubber foot over its steel tip to grip slippery rock underwater. ($65/pole; 12 oz/pole; 800-531-9531, www.cascadedesigns.com)

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