July 5, 2016

When I first started backpacking, my young knees gobbled up boulder-strewn descents with ease. I remember snidely thinking to myself that trekking poles were only for the elderly, backcountry canes for hikers incapable of walking without the assistance of poles. Oh how mistaken I was. It wasn’t until my first winter camping trip with snowshoes that I realized how valuable these walking aids actually were. My newfound realization quickly transformed me from a “reluctant trekking pole user” to an “enthusiastic trekking pole prophet,” spreading the word to anyone that would listen. Fast forward a bunch of years and I now find myself completely addicted, never venturing more than a couple miles away from the car without bringing along my trusty walking sticks.

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For the uninitiated, trekking pole technology can be dauntingly complex. Words like carbon, aluminum, adjustable, bamboo, ergonomic, antishock, interchangeable baskets and collapsible functionality litter manufacturer’s blurbs, vying for your attention and dollars. Here is a quick and easy guide designed to clear up the confusion and help you find the right set of trekking poles.

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Comfort

If you’re looking for a cadillac smooth trail experience there are a couple of features you’ll want to look for. Antishock systems prevent metal tipped poles from skating across rocks and reduce the impact of pole plants felt by your elbows while traveling downhill while grip and strap technologies ensure nice handling. The Komperdell Highlander Cork Antishock is an economic offering that ranks high on comfort, featuring a cork grip and vibration dampening technology at a price that won’t break the bank. For general purpose walking, the Leki Traveller provides durable, antishock support in combination with their patented Trigger Shark technology, letting you unclick the straps from the poles instantly. At the high end of the comfort spectrum are products such as the Leki Carbonlite XL, featuring a wide array innovations including a camera mount, allowing these carbon constructed beasts to function as a monopod for your epic sunset shot in addition to helping you roam the hills luxuriously.

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Lightweight

Not all trekking poles are created equal, and the longer your backcountry sojourns the more likely you are to want an ultralight setup. Camp Xenon poles are an excellent lightweight option under $100 thanks to the climbing-inspired usage of dyneema. These featherweight sticks are barely 12 ounces and fold up astonishingly small to just one foot, making them incredibly easy to stow away when not in use. If you’re looking for adjustability without sacrificing weight savings, check out the Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles or the Komperdell Carbon Vario 4. Both of these options weigh less than a pound while allowing for variable pole lengths, helpful for steep uphills when you might want to shorten your trekkers.

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Durable Functionality

At the end of the day, the trekking poles you choose should be extremely durable. Remember, you’re going to put these things through the wringer and you want them to last mile after mile. If you don’t need fancy bells and whistles, you can’t go wrong with the Leki Sierra Speed Lock, featuring a bombproof locking mechanism that is easy to adjust on the fly and won’t break down mid-trip. The Komperdell Highlander Cork is another economic option high on durability and performance that won’t make you dig too deeply into your paycheck. The cork grip keeps your sweaty palms from slipping off if the trail becomes treacherous while the three piece design let’s you dial in length for changing hiking angles.

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Ultimately, your hiking style and backcountry objectives will dictate the best setup for you. However your prioritize value, features such as comfort, weight, compactness, and durability form the basic considerations for a solid set of trekking poles. Whichever option suits you best, just remember that when the going gets tough you can whip out your walking sticks, engage your own four wheel drive and tackle trails with newfound ease; your knees will thank you later.