From weekend strolls in the woods to full-on thru-hikes, trekking poles are an essential tool for every hiker. Studies have shown that hiking poles significantly reduce the impact load on your knees—especially when going downhill. This prevents long-term damage. Additionally, hiking poles can help mitigate short-term injuries, like twists and sprains, by assisting with your balance and stability on uneven terrain.

Our top pick for 2021’s best trekking poles goes to Black Diamond’s Distance Carbon Flz Z-Poles, for a mix of weight, strength, and packability.

The Top Trekking Poles Reviewed

Best Overall Trekking Poles

Our pick for best overall trekking poles in 2021 are the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Flz Z-Poles. The carbon fiber frame is stiff and ultralight, the foam handles are soft and comfortable, and the folding mechanism makes them extremely packable. These versatile hiking sticks are suitable for every brand of outdoor adventure, from ultralight thru-hike to winter excursion.

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Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Strong
  • Stiff
  • Comfortable
  • Packable

Cons

  • Price
Product Type

Best Budget Trekking Poles

If you’re looking for an affordable and functional hiking pole, check out the GV Folded Trekking Poles. The aluminum frame certainly isn’t ultralight, but it is durable. The three collapsible joints make them easy to transport; the handle is soft and features wrist wraps.

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Pros

  • Price
  • Collapsible
  • Packable
  • Durable

Cons

  • Heavy
Product Type

Best Trekking Poles for Women

The best modern trekking poles are built from high-quality materials, weigh next to nothing, and stand up to repeated impact. For women, Leki’s MCT 12 Vario Carbon Pole offers all this and more. While the price is steep, the carbon frame makes them both lightweight and flexible. The length is highly adjustable and the cork handle won’t leave your hand covered in blisters. Combined, this set of poles weigh less than a pound.

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Pros

  • Ultralight
  • Adjustable
  • Materials
  • Durable

Cons

  • Price
Product Type

Best Ultralight Trekking Poles

If you’re a speed hiker or trail runner, the Leki Micro Trail Pro trekking poles are an excellent choice, made from 100% carbon fiber and featuring three collapsible joints for easy transport. The wrist wraps quite literally fit like a glove. That said, for winter hiking or the heavy-handed, these won’t offer the best durability.

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Pros

  • Ultralight
  • Adjustable
  • Comfortable
  • Collapsible

Cons

  • Less durable
Product Type

Best Premium Trekking Poles

The Black Diamond Distance Carbon AR Trekking Poles - Men's are premium hiking poles. No, this doesn’t make them the most expensive, but rather the most versatile. These poles feature all the usual coveted features we expect from BD (carbon fiber frame, excellent packability, comfortable wrist wraps), with some added benefits. For one, the Carbon AR were designed to be used as tent poles for the Distance AR Shelter. Second, these can be used in winter conditions, thanks to the ski-compatible ferrules.

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Pros

  • Durable
  • Multi-purpose
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable

Cons

  • Price
Product Type

Best Compact Trekking Poles

While many of our top picks are highly compact, we’ve got a soft spot for the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z-Poles. These well-regarded hiking poles are made entirely of carbon fiber and feature three collapsible joints for easy storage and optimal adjustability. The cork handles are lightweight, breathable, and soft.

Price: 0.00$

Pros

  • Compact
  • Adjustable
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable

Cons

  • Price
Product Type

Best Winter Trekking Poles

Winter hiking poles should be stronger and more stable than three-season poles. The Black Diamond Carbon Whippet Poles feature a ClickLock Dial that allows you to release the pick for extra traction on steep or slippery slopes. The lower shaft is carbon for flexibility, while the upper shaft is aluminum for stiffness. Features a removable steel ice-pick.

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Pros

  • Winter-ready
  • Steel pick
  • Strong
  • Adjustable
  • Durable

Cons

  • Heavy
Product Type

What to look for when buying trekking poles

Pole Material

The two most common hiking pole materials are aluminum and carbon fiber. The former is affordable and extremely durable, while the latter is ultralight and flexible. If you tend to lean heavily into your poles or frequently require them for balance, aluminum is a safe bet. If you like to move quickly, you’ll adore carbon fiber but this does come at a higher price.

Grip Material

Cork is best; it’s fast-drying, malleable, and smooth on your hands. In second place is any kind of foam, as it’s also soft and lightweight, though more likely to retain odours. The least desirable is firm plastic, which is both heavy and increases the likelihood of gnarly blisters. Though, incidentally, plastic is probably the most sanitary.

Wrist Wraps

A standard feature across most walking poles, wrist wraps let you keep a looser grip on your poles without fear of dropping them. A looser grip also allows for more pole flexibility on uneven surfaces and requires less energy from your arms.

Length

At a minimum, your poles should extend to the height of your hips. This is the ideal height for ungraded surfaces. You will, however, need to adjust the height when going up or downhill. If you plan on using your poles to pitch your tent, check the required specs. Nesting poles (whereby each inner tube is nested in its parent tube) offer the most versatility when it comes to length adjustment.

Weight

Poles can weigh anywhere from under a pound to several pounds. For ultralighters in three-season conditions, lightweight carbon fiber is the way to go. For winter hikers relying on their poles for balance and support, expect a heavier set.

Locking System

Locking systems keep your pole rigid at your desired height. There are three main locking systems, including twist locks, external lever locks, push-button locks, or a combination thereof. All systems are dependable and this mostly comes down to preference.

Packability

Many cheaper poles or obsessively ultralight poles aren’t collapsible, making them a terrible choice for packability. The most packable poles have between two and three joints, where they can be collapsed to a reasonable length that fits in your backpack’s external pocket or pole loops.

Strength & Durability

As previously mentioned, aluminum is stronger than carbon fiber. That said, carbon fiber is exceptionally strong for its density. Overall, an aluminum set will be more durable in the long-run. But don’t discount the strength of a carbon set.

Versatility

Beyond being a mere glorified walking stick, trekking poles are actually multi-purpose. For one, they can be used as a last-ditch attempt against a charging bear. But more importantly, they can be used in place of tent poles to pitch your tent. Many ultralight brands have ditched tent poles altogether, allowing you to shave ounces from your base weight.

FAQs for trekking poles

How tall should my trekking pole be?

The top of the handle should align with your hips. This is true whether hiking on flat or graded trails. To accomplish this when going downhill, extend the poles; when going uphill, shorten them. If your poles are much higher than your waist, your arms will tire. If lower, you’ll be putting undue strain on your wrists and not absorbing as much impact.

Are trekking poles worth it?

While trekking poles aren’t always necessary, they’re undeniably worth it. Trekking poles have been proven to reduce strain on your joints and, in particular, on your knees. You’ll especially notice this when going downhill. As we’ve seen, they can also double as tent poles for ultralight tents.

How do you pack trekking poles?

Most trekking poles are collapsible, either by way of folding or by nesting. If they’re not, it’s worth paying a little extra for some that are. When not in use, simply collapse your poles and attach them to your backpack. Many backpacks feature hiking pole loops. Alternatively, you can stuff ‘em in your pack’s large external pocket.

Conclusion

Hiking poles are immeasurably useful for serious hiking. For the highest quality and most versatile poles, we recommend the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Flz Z-Poles.