How to Select and Use Hiking and Trekking Poles

Hiking poles, often referred to as trekking poles or hiking staffs, have become an indispensable tool for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels. While some may view them as optional, a well-chosen pair of hiking poles can significantly enhance your hiking experience.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the types of hiking poles available, the benefits they offer, and provide top picks to help you make an informed decision.

The Benefits of Hiking Poles: Your Trail Companion for a Better Hiking Experience

Hiking poles, often underestimated by beginners, can be a game-changer when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors. These simple yet versatile tools offer a plethora of benefits that can enhance your hiking experience in more ways than one.

Let’s explore the remarkable advantages of incorporating hiking poles into your trekking adventures.

  • Enhanced Stability and Balance

    One of the primary advantages of hiking poles is the stability they provide. Whether you’re navigating rocky terrain, crossing streams, or simply traversing uneven paths, hiking poles offer an additional point of contact with the ground. This added stability can significantly reduce the risk of slips, trips, and falls, especially on challenging trails.
  • Reduced Joint Strain and Fatigue

    The repetitive motion of hiking, especially during descents, can place a significant strain on your knees, hips, and ankles. Hiking poles act as shock absorbers, absorbing some of the impact each time you take a step. By distributing the load more evenly across your upper body, they can help reduce joint strain and minimize muscle fatigue. This can be especially beneficial during long hikes or when carrying a heavy backpack.
  • Improved Posture and Alignment

    Hiking poles encourage better posture and alignment. By engaging your upper body, they help you maintain an upright stance, preventing you from hunching over or slouching. This not only reduces the risk of back and neck pain but also allows for more efficient breathing, crucial for sustaining energy during strenuous hikes.
  • Enhanced Ascending and Descending

    When tackling steep inclines, hiking poles can be your best friends. On uphill climbs, they provide extra propulsion, helping you power through challenging sections. On the way down, they act as anchors, offering stability and control. This balanced assistance makes ascending and descending slopes more manageable and less strenuous.
  • Joint Preservation

    Long-term hiking enthusiasts often experience joint-related issues, particularly in the knees. Hiking poles can play a significant role in preserving your joint health over time. By reducing the impact on your lower body joints, they can potentially extend your hiking years and keep you on the trails for longer.
  • Weight Distribution

    Carrying a heavy backpack can throw off your balance and affect your gait. Hiking poles distribute some of the weight from your pack to your upper body, helping you maintain better equilibrium. This is particularly beneficial for backpackers who carry substantial loads during multi-day trips.
  • Stream Crossings and Balance Challenges

    When you encounter stream crossings or sections where balance is crucial, hiking poles become indispensable. They provide added stability, preventing you from slipping on wet rocks or wobbly surfaces. This added security allows you to tackle water crossings with confidence.
  • Uphill Endurance

    On long uphill stretches, hiking poles can boost your endurance by engaging your upper body muscles. They allow you to share the workload between your legs and arms, reducing leg fatigue and helping you maintain a consistent pace.
  • Setting a Rhythm

    Many hikers find that using hiking poles helps establish a rhythmic walking pattern. This rhythm can be meditative and help you focus on your surroundings and the joy of hiking. It can also improve your hiking efficiency and reduce mental fatigue.
  • Safety and Emergency Use

    In emergencies, hiking poles can serve multiple purposes, from providing support for an injured hiker to creating makeshift shelter structures. They can also be used to test the stability of terrain and detect hidden obstacles.
  • Environmental Considerations

    Hiking poles can help minimize your environmental impact by reducing soil erosion and trail degradation. They distribute your weight more evenly, lessening the impact on fragile ecosystems.
  • Versatility Beyond Hiking

    Hiking poles aren’t just for hiking. They can also be used for other outdoor activities like snowshoeing, backpacking, and even as tent poles in lightweight camping setups.

The Types of Hiking Poles

  • Single vs. Double Poles

    Hiking poles come in two primary configurations: single and double. Single poles are typically used for added stability on flat terrain, while double poles provide balance and support on uneven terrain, making them ideal for challenging hikes.
  • Foldable vs. Telescoping Poles

    Foldable hiking poles are compact and easy to carry, making them suitable for travel. Telescoping poles, on the other hand, offer adjustable lengths, allowing you to customize the height for different terrains.
  • Fixed vs. Adjustable Length

    Adjustable-length hiking poles are versatile and can be customized to suit your height and the terrain you’re hiking. Fixed-length poles are lighter but offer less flexibility.
  • Materials

    Hiking poles are typically made from aluminum or carbon fiber. Aluminum poles are durable and cost-effective, while carbon fiber poles are lighter but may come at a higher price.
  • Grip Type

    Grips can be made of foam, cork, or rubber. Foam grips are comfortable and absorb sweat, cork grips mold to your hand over time, and rubber grips provide durability.

Top Hiking Pole Picks
Cascade Mountain Tech – Lightweight Aluminum Trekking Poles
TrailBuddy Trekking Poles – Lightweight Collapsible Hiking Poles
KINGGEAR Adjustable Hiking Poles
TREKOLOGY Trekking Poles – Collapsible Nordic Hiking Pole
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Women’s Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles

Single vs. Double Poles: Choosing Your Hiking Companions

One of the fundamental decisions you’ll face when selecting hiking poles is whether to opt for single or double poles. This choice largely depends on the type of terrain you plan to tackle and your personal preferences.

Let’s delve deeper into the characteristics of single and double poles to help you make an informed decision.

Single Poles: Finding Stability on the Trail


  • Simplicity: Single hiking poles are easy to use and require minimal adjustment.
  • Weight: They are often lighter than their double counterparts, making them suitable for hikers who prioritize weight savings.
  • Flat Terrain: Single poles are well-suited for hiking on relatively flat or gently sloping terrain, where extra stability is needed but not a significant range of motion.

Best Use Cases:

  • Recreational Hiking: Single poles are ideal for recreational hikers and those who enjoy leisurely walks on well-maintained trails.
  • Balance and Support: They provide stability, reduce fatigue, and can help prevent accidents on even ground.
  • Budget-Friendly: Single poles are often more budget-friendly, making them an excellent choice for beginners.


  • Limited Support: On challenging terrain or steep ascents and descents, single poles may provide less support than double poles.
  • Uneven Terrain: For trails with varying terrain, single poles may not offer the same level of balance and assistance as double poles.

Double Poles: Versatility on Rugged Terrain


  • Balance: Double poles provide support for both arms, distributing your body weight more evenly and enhancing balance.
  • Terrain Versatility: They excel on rugged, uneven terrain, steep ascents, and descents where stability is crucial.
  • Reduced Strain: Double poles can reduce the impact on your knees and ankles during steep descents, preserving your joints.

Best Use Cases:

  • Backpacking: Double poles are favored by backpackers carrying heavy loads, as they offer better stability and weight distribution.
  • Hiking in Challenging Terrain: If you frequently tackle rocky, steep, or off-trail routes, double poles are a wise choice.
  • Joint Health: If you have joint issues or want to minimize the strain on your lower body, double poles are a valuable companion.


  • Weight: Double poles tend to be heavier and bulkier than single poles, which may be a drawback for those aiming to minimize pack weight.
  • Complexity: They require more adjustment and may take some time to get used to, especially for beginners.
  • Cost: Double poles can be pricier than single poles, so budget-conscious hikers should factor this into their decision.

In the end, the choice between single and double hiking poles boils down to your hiking goals and the types of trails you frequent. Single poles offer simplicity and are a great fit for recreational hikers on easy terrain, while double poles shine on challenging, rugged trails, providing enhanced stability and joint protection.

Ultimately, both types of poles can enhance your hiking experience; it’s just a matter of selecting the one that best aligns with your adventure style.

Foldable vs. Telescoping Poles: Finding the Perfect Hiking Companion

When it comes to hiking pole design, two popular options are folding and telescoping poles. Each has its own set of advantages and considerations, making the choice between them an important decision for any hiker.

Let’s explore the characteristics of both types to help you determine which best suits your hiking needs.

Foldable Poles: Compact and Convenient


  • Portability: Foldable hiking poles, also known as collapsible poles, are designed for ultimate portability. They fold down into a compact size, making them easy to stow away in your backpack when not in use.
  • Quick Deployment: These poles can be swiftly unfolded and locked into place when needed, which is particularly handy for hikers who want the flexibility to switch between using poles and hiking without them.
  • Durability: Many foldable poles are constructed from durable materials, ensuring they can withstand rugged terrain and extended use.

Best Use Cases:

  • Day Hiking: Foldable poles are excellent companions for day hikers who might encounter varying trail conditions.
  • Multi-Adventure Travel: If your outdoor adventures involve more than just hiking, such as backpacking and mountaineering, foldable poles are versatile enough to adapt to different activities.
  • Travel-Friendly: Hikers who frequently travel and need compact gear will appreciate the convenience of foldable poles.


  • Weight: Foldable poles might be slightly heavier than telescoping poles due to their construction, but the weight difference is often negligible.
  • Strength: While foldable poles are generally durable, they may not be as sturdy as telescoping poles in extreme conditions.

Telescoping Poles: Adjustable Precision


  • Adjustability: Telescoping hiking poles are prized for their adjustable length, allowing you to fine-tune them to your preferred height and terrain.
  • Stability: Once extended and locked into place, telescoping poles offer excellent stability and support, especially on challenging terrain.
  • Weight Distribution: The ability to precisely adjust the length of each pole enables more even weight distribution and balance, which can be particularly beneficial on steep ascents and descents.

Best Use Cases:

  • Backpacking: Telescoping poles are favored by backpackers who carry heavy loads, as they provide the necessary stability and weight distribution for extended trips.
  • Technical Terrain: For hikers who tackle technically challenging terrain, such as rocky scrambles or stream crossings, telescoping poles offer superior support.
  • Custom Fit: Hikers who prefer a customized fit and are particular about their hiking gear often opt for telescoping poles.


  • Deployment Time: Extending and locking telescoping poles takes slightly longer than unfolding foldable poles, so they may not be as convenient for quick transitions.
  • Bulkiness: When fully collapsed, telescoping poles can be bulkier than foldable poles, which might impact packability.
  • Price Range: Telescoping poles vary widely in price, so hikers should consider their budget when selecting a pair.

In conclusion, the choice between foldable and telescoping hiking poles hinges on your hiking style and priorities. Foldable poles are ideal for those who value portability and quick deployment, while telescoping poles shine when adjustability, stability, and precision are paramount. Both types of poles can significantly enhance your hiking experience, so select the one that aligns best with your adventure preferences and requirements.

Fixed vs. Adjustable Length Hiking Poles: Finding the Perfect Fit

When it comes to hiking poles, another important decision to make is whether to go for fixed-length or adjustable-length poles. Both options have their own set of advantages and considerations, so let’s delve into the characteristics of each to help you determine which type suits your hiking needs.

Fixed-Length Hiking Poles: Simplistic and Lightweight


  • Simplicity: Fixed-length hiking poles are straightforward to use. They come in a single length, which eliminates the need for adjustments and makes them easy to deploy.
  • Lightweight: Due to their minimalistic design with no extra moving parts, fixed-length poles tend to be lighter than their adjustable counterparts.
  • Durability: These poles are often known for their durability, as they have fewer components that can wear out over time.

Best Use Cases:

  • Uphill Hiking: Fixed-length poles are excellent for uphill hiking, as they provide consistent support without the need for constant adjustments.
  • Minimalist Hikers: Hikers who prefer a minimalist approach to their gear and want to keep things simple might find fixed-length poles appealing.
  • Ultralight Backpacking: If you’re an ultralight backpacker looking to shave off every ounce of weight from your gear, fixed-length poles can be a valuable addition.


  • Lack of Adjustability: The main drawback of fixed-length poles is their inability to adjust to varying terrain or your specific preferences. They’re not suitable for downhill sections or changing conditions.
  • Fit Requirements: Fixed-length poles require careful selection of the appropriate length based on your height and intended use.

Adjustable-Length Hiking Poles: Versatile and Customizable


  • Versatility: Adjustable-length hiking poles offer versatility, allowing you to customize their length to suit different terrains and situations.
  • Adaptability: These poles are great for downhill hiking, stream crossings, or situations where you need to change the pole length quickly.
  • Shared Use: If multiple people will be using the same pair of poles, adjustable-length poles can be adjusted to fit each user.

Best Use Cases:

  • Variable Terrain: Adjustable-length poles shine on trails with changing terrain, as they can be shortened for ascents and lengthened for descents.
  • Backpacking: Backpackers often prefer adjustable poles for their adaptability, especially when carrying heavy loads.
  • Shared Gear: If you plan to share your hiking gear with friends or family members, adjustable poles are a practical choice.


  • Complexity: Adjustable-length poles have more moving parts, which can potentially lead to maintenance issues or breakage over time.
  • Weight: Due to their added components, adjustable-length poles may be slightly heavier than fixed-length ones, but the weight difference is often minimal.
  • Cost: These poles tend to be more expensive than fixed-length ones, so budget-conscious hikers should keep this in mind.

In conclusion, the choice between fixed-length and adjustable-length hiking poles largely depends on your hiking style and preferences. Fixed-length poles are simple, lightweight, and durable, making them suitable for straightforward terrain and minimalist hikers. On the other hand, adjustable-length poles offer versatility and adaptability, making them a top choice for those tackling variable terrain or carrying heavy loads.

Consider your specific needs and terrain types to make an informed decision and enhance your hiking experience.

Hiking Pole Materials

When it comes to choosing the perfect hiking poles, the materials they are made from play a significant role in their performance, durability, and weight. Hiking poles are commonly crafted from a variety of materials, each with its own set of characteristics.

Let’s explore the different materials used in hiking poles to help you make an informed decision.

Aluminum Hiking Poles: Durability and Affordability


  • Durability: Aluminum hiking poles are renowned for their durability and resistance to impact. They can withstand rough handling and are less likely to bend or break.
  • Affordability: These poles are often more budget-friendly than their carbon fiber counterparts, making them an attractive option for cost-conscious hikers.
  • Versatility: Aluminum poles are suitable for a wide range of hiking activities, from day hikes to extended backpacking trips.

Best Use Cases:

  • Rugged Terrain: If you plan to hike on rugged, rocky terrain or engage in activities that may subject your poles to significant stress, aluminum is an excellent choice.
  • Budget Hikers: Hikers looking for an affordable yet reliable option will find aluminum hiking poles appealing.

Carbon Fiber Hiking Poles: Ultralight Performance


  • Lightweight: Carbon fiber hiking poles are exceptionally lightweight, making them ideal for those who prioritize weight savings in their gear.
  • Shock Absorption: Many carbon fiber poles come equipped with built-in shock absorption systems, reducing the impact on your wrists and arms during descents.
  • Stiffness: Carbon fiber is known for its stiffness, providing excellent stability and support on various terrains.

Best Use Cases:

  • Ultralight Backpacking: If you’re an ultralight backpacker aiming to minimize your pack weight, carbon fiber poles are an excellent choice.
  • Long-Distance Hiking: Hikers embarking on long-distance treks where every ounce matters will benefit from the weight savings offered by carbon fiber.
  • Downhill Hiking: The shock-absorbing properties of carbon fiber make it comfortable for downhill hiking or extended descents.

Composite Hiking Poles: Balance and Versatility


  • Balance: Composite poles strike a balance between the durability of aluminum and the lightweight characteristics of carbon fiber.
  • Versatility: They are versatile and can handle a wide range of terrain types, making them suitable for various hiking styles.
  • Price Range: Composite poles are available in different price ranges, catering to both budget-conscious and performance-oriented hikers.

Best Use Cases:

  • All-Purpose Hiking: Hikers seeking a versatile option that performs well in different conditions and terrain types will appreciate composite hiking poles.
  • Multi-Season Hiking: These poles are suitable for year-round hiking, whether you’re navigating snowy trails or tackling rugged terrain.
  • Intermediate Hikers: If you’re not yet committed to a specific hiking style or terrain type, composite poles provide a well-rounded solution.

Wooden Hiking Poles: Traditional and Aesthetic


  • Aesthetic Appeal: Wooden hiking poles have a classic, rustic appearance that appeals to traditionalists and those looking for a unique hiking accessory.
  • Sustainability: They are often crafted from renewable and eco-friendly materials, making them an environmentally conscious choice.

Best Use Cases:

  • Casual Hiking: Wooden poles are great for casual hiking or leisurely walks, especially when aesthetics and style are a priority.
  • Sustainability: Hikers with a focus on sustainability and natural materials may opt for wooden poles to minimize their environmental footprint.
  • Decorative Use: Some hikers use wooden poles as decorative or symbolic pieces rather than functional hiking gear.

In summary, the choice of hiking pole material largely depends on your hiking style, preferences, and priorities.

  • Aluminum poles offer durability and affordability, while carbon fiber poles excel in lightweight performance.
  • Composite poles strike a balance between the two, making them versatile for various terrains. 
  • Wooden poles, on the other hand, cater to those who value aesthetics and sustainability. 

Consider your hiking needs and the types of trails you frequent to select the ideal material that enhances your outdoor adventures.

Hiking Pole Grip Types

One often overlooked aspect of choosing the right hiking poles is the type of grip they feature. The grip of your hiking poles can significantly impact your comfort, control, and overall hiking experience.

Let’s delve into the various grip types available to help you make an informed choice.

Standard Grip: Tried and Trusted


  • Straight Design: Standard grips typically feature a straight design, resembling a simple, cylindrical handle.
  • Single Material: They are commonly made from rubber, foam, or a combination of both materials.


  • Versatility: Standard grips are versatile and work well for a wide range of hiking activities and conditions.
  • Durability: Depending on the materials used, they can offer durability and resistance to wear and tear.

Best Use Cases:

  • Beginner Hikers: Standard grips are beginner-friendly and suitable for those new to hiking.
  • General Hiking: If you engage in various types of hiking, from day hikes to backpacking trips, standard grips are a reliable choice.

Ergonomic Grip: Designed for Comfort


  • Contoured Shape: Ergonomic grips are ergonomically shaped to fit the natural curve of your hand, providing added comfort and support.
  • Padded: They often include padding or cushioning to reduce pressure points and minimize hand fatigue.


  • Comfort: Ergonomic grips offer enhanced comfort, particularly during long hikes or when navigating challenging terrain.
  • Reduced Fatigue: The padding and contouring help reduce hand and wrist fatigue, allowing you to hike longer with less discomfort.

Best Use Cases:

  • Long-Distance Hiking: If you plan on tackling lengthy trails or multi-day hikes, ergonomic grips can make your journey more comfortable.
  • Hikers with Hand Issues: Those with hand issues, such as arthritis or joint pain, may find ergonomic grips especially beneficial.

Cork Grip: Natural Feel and Moisture Control


  • Cork Construction: Cork grips are made from cork material, known for its natural feel and moisture-wicking properties.
  • Absorbent: They absorb sweat and moisture from your hands, keeping them dry and comfortable.


  • Natural Grip: Cork grips provide a natural feel that some hikers prefer over synthetic materials.
  • Moisture Control: The absorbent nature of cork helps maintain a secure grip even when your hands get sweaty.

Best Use Cases:

  • Warm Weather Hiking: Cork grips are excellent for hiking in warm conditions where sweat can be an issue.
  • Hikers Seeking Natural Materials: If you have a preference for eco-friendly and natural materials, cork grips are a great choice.

Extended Grip: Versatility and Adjustability


  • Adjustable Length: Extended grips come with an adjustable section below the primary grip, allowing you to change your hand position for varying terrain.
  • Variety of Materials: They can be found in various materials, including rubber, foam, and cork.


  • Versatility: Extended grips offer versatility by allowing you to adjust your hand placement based on the terrain and your comfort.
  • Uphill and Downhill Use: They are particularly useful for steep ascents and descents, where hand positioning matters.

Best Use Cases:

  • Variable Terrain: If you frequently encounter steep or uneven terrain, extended grips can enhance your control and stability.
  • Adaptive Hiking: Hikers who like to adapt their hand positions during a hike to reduce fatigue or accommodate changing conditions will appreciate extended grips.

When selecting the grip type for your hiking poles, consider your comfort preferences, the types of terrain you’ll be hiking on, and any specific hand issues or concerns you may have. The right grip can make a significant difference in your hiking comfort and performance, so choose wisely to maximize your outdoor adventures.

Top Picks: Hiking Poles to Consider

In conclusion, hiking poles are not just for seasoned mountaineers; they can greatly enhance the hiking experience for adventurers of all levels. When selecting the right hiking poles, consider the terrain you’ll encounter, your personal preferences, and your budget. With the right pair of poles in hand, you’ll be better equipped to tackle any trail that calls your name.