The Best Trekking Pole Review For Hiking and Backpacking

Editor's Choice:
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is our favorite adjustable trekking pole because it was the most versatile. It is light, collapses very small, is durable, has great cork handles and an awesome locking mechanism. It's a pole that can do anything.

If you don't care about adjustability, the Black Diamond Ultra Distance is our favorite pole. It is much lighter than all the other top scoring poles and folds down to nothing.

Best Buy:
The Black Diamond Trail Compact is best value. It scored very high and is almost half the cost of the few poles that scored higher

Read the full review below >

Review by: Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab August 14, 2012

Top Ranked Trekking Poles Displaying 1 - 5 of 9 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #6 #1 #8 #4 #7
Product Name
Raidlight Foldable Trail Poles
Raidlight Foldable Trail Poles
Read the Review
Black Diamond Ultra Distance
Black Diamond Ultra Distance
Read the Review
Video video review
Black Diamond Distance FL
Black Diamond Distance FL
Read the Review
Leki Micro Stick
Leki Micro Stick
Read the Review
Black Diamond Contour Elliptic Shock
Black Diamond Contour Elliptic Shock
Read the Review
Editors' Awards    Top Pick Award       
Street Price $139
Compare at 1 sellers
Varies $105 - $160
Compare at 10 sellers
Varies $80 - $130
Compare at 9 sellers
Varies $107 - $160
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $105 - $150
Compare at 4 sellers
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100% recommend it (5/5)
Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Light, the lightest. Four-section fold makes for very low-volume storage. These poles are the smallest and shortest available when folded.Incredible weight-to-solidity ratio. Ergonomic strap, and for sure the best fold system that we tested. Overall durability is only slightly less than the Micro Stick, at nearly half the weight.Collapsable, super light.The most durable pole tested. Ergonomic grip, easily adjustable. Very efficient strap. Changeable baskets.Strong, excellent locking mechanism, great shock absorption.
Cons You need to take special care not to break them. Not cheap. Grips aren’t the most comfortable. They do not come with any baskets.Only one possible basket configuration (small). For heavy handed or clumsy hikers, carbon is more likely to break than aluminum if accidentally kicked or fallen on.No snow baskets availible, basic handles.Heaviest of the compact poles we tested and with the highest folded volume. Tips have been known to break or fall off.Expensive.
Best Uses Climbing, backpacking, hiking, BASE jumping.Climbing, backpacking, hiking, BASE jumping.Climbing, backpacking, hiking.Backpacking, trekking, hiking.Backpacking, trekking, hiking.
Date Reviewed Apr 09, 2012Apr 03, 2012Apr 30, 2011Mar 30, 2012May 07, 2011
Packed Size - 15%  
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Ease Of Use - 15%
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Durability - 15%
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Weight - 20%
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Product Specs Raidlight Foldable Trail Poles Black Diamond Ultra Distance Black Diamond Distance FL Leki Micro Stick Black Diamond Contour Elliptic Shock
Grip Material Foam Foam Foam Foam EVA foam
Shock Yes/No No No No No Yes
Weight 6.3 oz (110 cm) 9.5 oz (120cm) 1 lb 17.6 oz (120cm) 1 lb 6 oz
Min length 30 cm (folded) 39 cm 42 cm, 16.5 in 39 cm 62 cm, 24.5 in
Max Length 110 cm 140 cm, 55 in 125 cm, 49 in
shaft material Aluminum Carbon Aluminum Aluminum Aluminum

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Selecting the Right Product
What is the best trekking pole for hiking and backpacking? We took eight of the best poles and tested them head-to-head to find out. We took these poles walking up big approaches in the Cascades on both trail and snow. We also tested them on shorter hikes with both heavy loads and lighter loads. We evaluated the poles by the following criteria: packability, ease of use, durability, grip comfort, weight, and versatility.

If you are like a lot of people new to trekking poles, you may be wondering "why do you even need trekking poles for hiking?" Please check out our article 10 Reasons For Trekking Poles

And for tips on how to choose the pole that is right for your specific activity, see our Trekking Pole Buying Advice.

There are hundreds of trekking poles on the market today. After extensive research, we narrowed the field down to the eight best. Here is what we found.
Click to enlarge
Trekking poles helping Ian Nicholson manage a 75lbs load carry into the French Valley, Torres Del Paine, Patagonia
Credit: Graham Zimmerman

Criteria for Evaluation
Pole adjustment mechanism
After extensive testing, the the Black Diamond Poles where the easiest and the most durable with their FlickLock closure. The newer Leki poles with their SpeedLock closure were not far behind.

Weight
The lightest poles in our review were the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Corks and the Black Diamond Distance FL Z-series poles, both weighing 16 ounces. The Leki Aergon SpeedLock poles were only one ounce heavier.

Grips
All the Leki poles had fantastic ergonomics and cork grips that only improved with time. The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork didn't feel quite as good at first but broke in more than the Leki poles to make it just as comfortable.

Ease of Use
What is ease of use? It is basically how easy it is to adjust the length of your poles, how nice it is adjust the tension on the locking mechanism, change the baskets, etc. Nearly all the poles we looked at had multiple basket options and changing them only takes a minute or two. The biggest difference is how easily the poles adjusted in length. The Black Diamond Poles with their FlickLock design were the easiest to open and close and to adjust tension. Leki poles with their SpeedLock weren't very far behind. The REI Traverse had the best twist lock mechanism available. The BD Distance FL Z-series poles were the most difficult to put together and weren't very adjustable in length but were the most compact.

Packablity
The Black Diamond Distance FL Z series pole was by far the most packable. It was a full 9" shorter than any other model we tested. While it isn't as versatile, it is the most compact. The Black Diamond Trail Compact comes in at second place because it packs down to 23 inches.The BD Contour Elliptic Shock and BD Alpine Carbon Cork were next shortest at 24.5 and 25 inches, respectively.

Overall Durability
We tested both the durability of the shafts and the locking mechanism. The toughest pole in our review was the Black Diamond Coutour Elliptical Shock because of its large diameter tear drop shaped shaft and burly locking mechanisms.

Click to enlarge
Amos Galpin using poles on a typical Cascadian approach.
Credit: Ian Nicholson


Tangential Notes:
Check out our Dream Backpacking Gear List to see OGL's "dream" backpacking gear items and our Dream Hiking Gear List.

Ian Nicholson
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