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How We Tested Trekking Poles

Friday January 3, 2020
A decent pair of trekking poles can seriously take the load off  so you can hike farther and more comfortably.
A decent pair of trekking poles can seriously take the load off, so you can hike farther and more comfortably.

We tested these poles in a variety of uses, from light-duty trail runs to long-distance hiking on the 210-mile John Muir Trail. In each situation, we noted how the poles performed in a variety of metrics.

Comfort


To assess comfort, we gave these poles out to a variety of testers of all heights and weights, and with hands of all sizes. They used them in a variety of trail conditions, from soft dirt to firm snow to awkward talus. We noted the comfort of the grip shape and materials over time, as well as how the material absorbed shock from the earth. We even hiked with them side-by-side, using different poles in each hand to determine which were more comfortable.

Locking and Adjustability


Each pair of poles underwent a rigorous test to make sure the locking mechanisms were solid and that the adjustment length never slipped. We also noted how easy the different locking mechanisms were to operate and secure in the field, without any additional tools. We leaned on them during sketchy stream crossings where stability was mandatory and a collapsed pole would mean an icy bath, or worse.

Weight


In addition to weighing each pair, we assessed the swing weight feel of each pole after long hikes to make sure that they didn't require much effort to raise every time we took a step.

Packed Size


In addition to use in our hands on the trail, we also used these poles to approach climbs and on technical sections of backpacking routes. We assessed how each pole folded or collapsed into a smaller size to disappear cleanly onto the outside of a pack or into a suitcase. We then measured each pair's shortest packed length.

Durability


After extended use on the trails, climbs, and slopes of the Sierra and the Tetons, we checked each pole for signs of cracking, chipping, bending, and grip wear. In some cases, we broke poles trying to find their limits.

Versatility


Over the course of the test, we made note of the activities at which each pole excelled. Often using poles outside of their intended environment, we came away with a good idea of the limits of each pair of poles.