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How We Tested Trekking Poles

Monday May 4, 2020

We tested all our trekking poles in a variety of uses, from light-duty trail runs to steep approaches to alpine climbs, and from short day-hikes 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.

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.

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.

Foam grips and soft adjustable wrist-straps are essential for on-trail comfort.
Foam grips and soft adjustable wrist-straps are essential for on-trail comfort.

Weight


On the trails, we noted how the weight of each pole felt while hiking. Lifting poles with each step is generally more efficient than hiking without poles, due to the load taken off the legs, but heavy poles can make the benefits less obvious. We noted how cumbersome each pole was to hike with. Then, we weighed each pair (with its smallest baskets) to the tenth of an ounce.

In addition to assessing swing weight on the trail  we measured the weight of each pair with a scale.
In addition to assessing swing weight on the trail, we measured the weight of each pair with a scale.

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.

Locking mechanisms have to be bomber and trustworthy to prevent failure during high-consequence creek crossings.
Locking mechanisms have to be bomber and trustworthy to prevent failure during high-consequence creek crossings.

Packed Size


In addition to using the poles 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.

The Distance Carbon Z in collapsed form.
The Distance Carbon Z in collapsed form.

Durability


After extended use on the trails, climbs, and slopes of the Sierra, Rockies, 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.

When miles deep into the backcountry  durability is critical with trekking poles.
When miles deep into the backcountry, durability is critical with trekking poles.

Versatility


Over the course of our testing, 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.

Trekking poles help distribute heavy loads  so you can conserve energy on long or steep hikes  we put our test suite to the absolute limit  to help you find the right poles for your next adventure..
Trekking poles help distribute heavy loads, so you can conserve energy on long or steep hikes, we put our test suite to the absolute limit, to help you find the right poles for your next adventure..