Best Trekking Poles of 2021
|Price||$189.95 at Backcountry|
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|$99.95 at Backcountry|
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|$169.95 at Backcountry|
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|$69.95 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Lightweight, packs small, adjustable||Lightweight, short collapsed length, surprisingly durable||Super lightweight, packable, and surprisingly durable||Very durable, great value, comfortable, easy to adjust||Feather-weight, small packed size for a telescoping pole|
|Cons||Not as strong, durable, or comfortable as other options||No length adjustability, average grip comfort||Not adjustable, not very versatile||Heavy, large packed size||Grips are flimsy, lever-lock adjustment is difficult, not durable|
|Bottom Line||This is an adjustable pole for the gram-counting ultralight crowd||This is the best value in a lightweight pole, though it lacks the ability to adjust the length||An incredibly lightweight and packable option that is surprisingly durable||Although these aluminum poles are heavy, they are a great value in addition to being highly durable, versatile, and comfortable||Impressively light, women's-specific carbon trekking poles|
|Rating Categories||Black Diamond Distance Carbo...||Black Diamond Distance Z||Distance Carbon Z||Black Diamond Trail Sport 3||Flash Carbon|
|Locking And Adjustability (15%)|
|Packed Size (15%)|
|Specs||Black Diamond...||Black Diamond...||Distance Carbon Z||Black Diamond...||Flash Carbon|
|Measured Weight Per Pair (Ounces)||13.4 oz||12.5 oz||10.4 oz||22.0 oz||13.5|
|Shaft Material||Carbon||Aluminum||Carbon Fiber||Aluminum||Carbon|
|Collapsed Length (inches)||13/15/17 in||13/14/16/17 in||13/14/16/17 in||25 in||23 in|
|Max Length (inches)||49.2 in||39/43/47/51 in||39/43/47/51 in||55 in||47 in|
|Grip Material||Foam||EVA foam||EVA foam||Rubber||Foam|
|Locking Mechanism||FlickLock||Speed Cone Deployment||Speed Cone Deployment||FlickLock||Powerlock 3.0|
|Baskets? Tip Attachments?||Yes, carbide tips, rubber tips, trail baskets and snow baskets (sold separately)||Yes, rubber and carbide tips||No||Yes, only baskets||Yes, tips and baskets|
|Size Tested||105-125 cm||110 cm||110 cm||One size||One size|
Best Overall Trekking Pole for Men
Leki Micro Vario Carbon
The Leki Micro Vario Carbon performs better than any other pair in this crowded field. Highlights include a very comfortable foam grip, small packed size, plenty of length adjustment, and secure locking mechanisms. Made of carbon, these poles absorb shock from firm surfaces while still remaining strong and durable. They do it all with ease, from easy walks on the local trails to long treks and through-hikes.
In addition to a high price tag, the only other downside is that these poles are slightly heavier than some other options on the market. Elite mountain runners and alpine climbers should look elsewhere to shave grams off their kit. But for the majority of users, this pole is fantastic.
Read review: Leki Micro Vario Carbon
Best Overall Trekking Pole for Women
Leki Women's Micro Vario Carbon
The women's Leki Micro Vario Carbon are the most comfortable poles for women we've found. They feature awesome grips, excellent locking mechanisms, and they're fairly lightweight to boot. On top of that, they are ultra-packable, collapsing down to only 15.5 inches in length, which is among the smallest in our review. Both the foam grips and wrist straps are some of the most comfortable to use barehanded.
Be fair-warned: these poles are costly, and they may be too heavy for gram-counting lightweight enthusiasts. That said, they are appropriate for nearly every use in the backcountry, from short day hikes to longer treks to alpine climbing approaches.
Read review: Leki Women's Micro Vario Carbon
Outstanding Value in a Lightweight Pole
Black Diamond Distance Z
The Black Diamond Distance Z is a simple, lightweight, and high-performance pole at a price much lower than its carbon fiber counterparts. This pole features the exact same design as the Distance Carbon Z, and the aluminum shaft construction adds only two ounces per pair compared to the carbon version. At the same time, it retains the same compact size and minimal yet comfortable grip design. We love both versions of this pole, and since the aluminum-shafted Distance Z costs so much less than the carbon version, it is a great option for those seeking lightweight performance at a reasonable price.
These poles don't offer any adjustability, so you'll need to be mindful when selecting your size. Other grips on the market are way more comfortable, and we certainly wouldn't recommend the thin wrist straps found on the Distance Z for hikers or trekkers carrying heavy packs. But for the average day hike, mountain run, or casual backpacking trip, these poles are durable, simple, and affordable.
Read review: Black Diamond Distance Z
Best Bang for the Buck
Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock
The Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock offers luxuries usually available only in much more expensive options. These carbon poles provide a pleasant swing-weight at just 16 ounces. The cork grips extend low enough so you can comfortably choke up on the shaft when climbing steep hills. If you want to adjust these poles on the fly, the quick-lock adjustment levers have a thumbscrew that allows you to tighten the lever without tools. These features, and a plethora of basket and tip options that are included, make the Cascade Mountain poles well-suited for a variety of activities.
The locking mechanisms aren't the best, and there are a few user reviews that hint at durability concerns. These poles also don't pack down very small. Still, the value of this pair can't be beaten. If you've wanted to try trekking poles but hesitated because of their hefty price tag, these are a set of lightweight carbon poles at a price that's hard to turn down.
Read review: Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock
Best Lightweight Women's Specific Pole
Black Diamond Distance FLZ - Women's
While not the lightest women's specific poles in our review, the Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women's strike an ideal balance between weight-savings and durability. This makes them a great value for a lightweight pair of trekking poles. They pack down incredibly small, adjust and break down easily, and weigh barely enough to notice. There's little wonder why these trekking poles became a go-to favorite for our reviewers for everything from day hikes and mountain climbing to backpacking and approaching alpine rock climbs.
The only real downside to these poles is that they offer slightly less comfort than other models with foam grips. That said, they are still an incredibly comfortable pole with an excellent swing-weight. They are also somewhat expensive. But considering their great features, light weight, and unbeatable packability, these poles are a great value for the price.
Read review: Black Diamond Distance FLZ - Women's
Best Lightweight Pole
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z is the lightest pole that we tested. This model shaves every last ounce, owing to the carbon fiber shaft, foam grips, and stripped-down features. Often, lighter poles can feel cheap or flimsy, but that's not the case here. Although we wouldn't suggest using these poles for heavy-duty trekking or backpacking, the Carbon Z is relatively versatile and excels in lightweight backpacking, hiking, trail running, or approaching technical climbs.
To cut weight, the Carbon Z isn't adjustable. Instead, it comes in four different lengths, so be sure to carefully identify your size before purchasing. Furthermore, the grips aren't the most comfortable, but they're not bad either. For weight-shaving enthusiasts, the sacrifices in comfort and adjustability won't be a big deal. These are the poles we found ourselves reaching for most days of the spring, fall, and summer.
Read review: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
Why You Should Trust Us
Our test team is comprised of thru-hikers, mountain runners, alpine climbers, and expedition trekkers. We put the trekking poles in this review through the wringer, getting them in the hands of both elite athletes and new hikers alike while collecting feedback from trail tests all over the country.
Our test team was led by mountain guide, climber, hiker, and skier Jeff Dobronyi and avid alpine climber, hiker, and backpacker Mary Witlacil. Jeff guides climbers, trekkers, and backcountry skiers all over the world, from his home in the Tetons, to the Wind River Range, Colorado's Front Range, Washington's Cascades, and beyond. He has also guided four expeditions on Denali. In the Rocky Mountains, where approaches and hikes are marked by climbing up and down thousands of feet over rocky terrain, trekking poles are a must. Jeff goes through multiple pairs a year and seems to have poles in his hands every day, whether he's out for an alpine climb, an overnight hike, or a training run.
Mary has logged thousands of miles carrying heavy loads all over the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, and the deserts of Utah, Arizona, and California. From multi-day expeditions in the Andes, the Wind Rivers, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra to humping heavy loads of climbing gear into the backcountry, this gal is a veritable pack-mule. While alpine climbing is her first love, Mary logs tons of miles with trekking poles while day-hiking, peak-bagging, backpacking, and romping around in the backcountry. For this round of testing, she spent the majority of her time testing poles in the sandy red rock deserts of the Colorado Plateau in Utah, alpine climbing day-trips and mountain climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and hiking climbing gear deep into the backcountry for multi-day trips in California's Eastern Sierra.
To test the poles in our review, we spent several months shouldering heavy loads over mountains and through deserts. We pounded out hundreds of miles to put these poles to the test, all the while keeping meticulous notes to bring you the most thorough review we could. We paid extra attention to how comfortable these poles were day-in-day-out, and whether they withstood the abuse of our rigorous testing. We used our poles extensively to amass all the information you need to ensure you get the ideal pair for your next adventure.
Related: How We Tested Trekking Poles
Analysis and Test Results
The poles in our review span a relatively wide range of prices, designs, and intended uses. We took them into the field, using them on backpacking missions, heavy-duty treks, day hikes, and overnight trips all over the world. We also used them to approach alpine climbing objectives and to support us on off-trail journeys. For side-by-side comparisons, we took multiple poles out at a time to assess the differences between models on the same terrain.
We weighed and measured each set of poles to compare them to their advertised specs. We jammed them into packs, strapped them to the outside of our bags, and carried them in-hand across all sorts of demanding terrain. We feel confident that our extensive testing will help you find the poles that best satisfy your needs.
After we completed our field tests, we rated each pole on a scale from 1-10 across a range of metrics, including comfort, weight, locking and adjustability, packed size, durability, and versatility. Keep in mind that all the poles selected for this review were already some of the best in the class, so even the poles that received lower scores are still quite good. Read on to learn the results of our tests and the performance breakdown in each metric.
Related: Buying Advice for Trekking Poles
When testing gear, we do our best to compare products in an unbiased fashion without considering the price. We do this for two main reasons. First, our readers have a range of budgets, and second, you can often find screaming deals on top-of-the-line products if you're willing to look around. Either way, price is obviously a very important factor in choosing what gear to buy, which is why we're always looking to highlight products that complement stellar performance with a great price. Sometimes you get a better product when you spend top dollar, but in no way is that always the case.
Poles range dramatically in price, and luckily, there are some great options that won't break the bank. The Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock poles provide many of the features of more expensive options at a fraction of the price. They are made from carbon fiber, so they are incredibly lightweight, and they come equipped with trail and powder baskets. Another great value is the Black Diamond Trail Sport 3 which, while heavier than other poles in our review, offer excellent durability, versatility, and comfort at a low cost. While these poles may not be ideal for ultralight enthusiasts or alpine climbers, they feel surprisingly light in the hands and would be a great option for anyone looking to get a durable pair of poles for hiking, backpacking, trekking, or even some winter backcountry activities. Another pole with great value is the Black Diamond Distance Z, which weighs just a tad more than folding carbon fiber poles but remains much more affordable.
Trekking poles transfer some of your body weight from your legs to your arms. However, after hours or days of walking, the hands and wrists can take a beating from supporting this additional weight, compared to walking without poles. To combat this fatigue, poles often incorporate comfortable grip and strap materials, as well as ergonomically shaped handles. In our experience, grip shape, or how well the handle is contoured to a real hand, makes the most impact on comfort. Another major factor here is grip material. In general, cork handles are preferable because they feel smooth on the skin and mold to the user's hand shape over time. Other features that can increase comfort are an extended grip for choking down on the pole in steep terrain, a thick wrist and non-abrasive strap, and carbon fiber shafts that absorb shock when the pole hits the ground.
We loved the feel of the grips on the Leki Micro Vario models. They use foam, which we feel is slightly less comfortable than cork for grip construction, but all of their poles feature excellent contouring that fits a wide range of hand shapes. Their silky straps are pleasant to use and didn't cause chafing or pressure points. We also like the cork handles of the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork and Alpine FLZ. The women's Distance FLZ poles feature moisture-wicking straps and vibration-dampening foam grips, which enhanced comfortable on long, arduous hikes.
Poles made from carbon can absorb more shock from impact with the ground than poles made from aluminum, and this distinction is noticeable when using trekking poles on firm bedrock surfaces like the sandstone slabs in the desert and high alpine granite basins. If you'll be using your poles primarily on dirt trails, then the shaft material won't matter much for comfort, but if you are in rocky environs, carbon poles with thick shafts are the most comfortable. The Alpine Carbon Cork and Micro Vario Carbon both had the best shock-absorbing performance in our testing but are relatively heavy due to the thickness of the carbon shafts. In this case, increasing comfort means increasing weight.
As mountain running and ultralight backpacking become more popular, weight is an increasingly important component of a trekking pole. Most of the time, lighter poles are less durable. But if you're only using them during runs, day hikes, or short overnight trips, durability isn't a major concern, and a lighter pole is noticeably more pleasant to use than a heavier one. If you need a pole to support heavy loads in remote areas, and one that absolutely must not break, then weight should be less critical to your choice.
At 10.4 ounces, the Distance Carbon Z was the lightest pole in our lineup. To achieve such a low weight, it has a streamlined foam grip, minimalist wrist strap, a tiny trail basket, and no adjustability to the length. The REI Flash Carbon is the lightest women's specific pole at 13.2 ounces, but the lightweight and fixed-length Black Diamond poles could also be ideal for women because these come in short sizes as well. At 12 ounces, the aluminum Distance Z is only slightly heavier than the lightest carbon option, but it costs much less.
Locking and Adjustability
All of the poles in our test break down to a smaller length for storage, travel, and stowage on a pack, then extend back to a usable length when needed. Most of the poles in our review also feature an adjustable length mechanism for minor adjustments during use. This metric rewards poles that have a large range of length adjustment and that securely lock into the chosen length. We also consider how easily adjustments can be made to wrist strap lengths and locking mechanism tightness.
Most poles feature a telescoping design where different sections of pole shafts slide inside each other to collapse or extend to the desired length. Some poles in our review extend to an incredible 55 inches in length. A small lever lock fastener clamps the outer shaft material down tight over the inner shaft, creating enough friction to secure everything in place. We are big fans of the metal lever locks on the Alpine Carbon Cork, finding them to be the best locks in our review. We also like the in-field tightness adjustability of both the men's and women's Micro Vario Carbon.
On the other hand, folding poles offer less (or zero) adjustability and feature a completely different locking mechanism. Each pole section fits together with the next, and an internal pull cord tightens the links together. When pulled tight enough, the cord engages a spring-loaded locking mechanism that prevents the sections from coming apart. Although this style of pole can fold down to a smaller packed size than telescoping models, they generally don't include as much length adjustment.
Poles like the Distance Z save weight by avoiding any adjustment mechanisms, but they are not ideal if you happen to be between sizes or want to lend your poles to a friend. If you want a very packable pole that you can also use at different lengths, consider a pole like the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ , Black Diamond Distance FLZ, Micro Vario Carbon, or Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ which all features a single lever lock in addition to the foldable, Z-style design. This allows modest length adjustments once the pole is unfolded.
If you plan on using your poles in your hands for your entire trip, then packed size might not matter. On the other hand, if you'll be using your poles to approach alpine climbs and then want to stash them in your backpack during technical sections, packed size is a big deal. Additionally, if you'll be traveling on planes, then more packable poles are much easier to fit inside your luggage.
The most packable poles on the market today are those featuring a foldable design, also known as Z-poles. In the past few years, these poles have exploded onto the market, and with good reason. This design packs down to almost half the length of standard telescoping poles. Black Diamond revolutionized and popularized the Z-pole, and now just a few years later, many brands have their own version of the design. The Leki Micro Vario Carbon, which is foldable, packs down to 15.5 inches (both the men's and women's) and depending on the size you choose, the Distance Z, Distance Carbon Z, and Distance Carbon FLZ (both men's and women's) can pack down to as low as 13 inches. The Alpine FLZ packs down to 14 inches, just an inch longer. These are the models we'd recommend if you require your poles to fold up and disappear inside your pack, which is ideal for technical climbs, mountaineering objectives, or routes with some scrambling.
Most telescoping poles only collapse down to a length of 24 inches, making them much harder to fit inside a backpack. With recent developments in the durability of lightweight folding poles, we recommend z-poles for technical missions or for users who want the option to store their poles on the outside or inside of a backpack. If you want the strength and durability of a three-section telescoping pole, the REI Flash Carbon packs the smallest of the telescoping poles.
Trekking poles are worthless if they break, leading to less efficient travel. If you are carrying a heavy load or rely on your poles for balance during stream crossings or traveling through rough terrain, a broken pole could also be a serious safety concern. Furthermore, if your shelter system incorporates your poles into the design, as some modern lightweight backpacking tents do, then a broken pole might be a major inconvenience. After our extensive testing period, we have a good idea of which poles are the most trustworthy.
Carbon fiber poles can break when bent or smacked against rocks but are very strong when loaded properly along the axis of the pole (from the top-down). Aluminum poles can bend when loaded heavily, even along the main axis of the pole, but aluminum usually bends much more than carbon before snapping. Chipped carbon is more prone to snapping, even when loaded along the major axis. We were most impressed by the durability of the Alpine Carbon Cork. This pole has thick carbon shafts that don't bend at all when weighted and are thick enough to absorb some chips without compromising the pole's integrity. They also feature burly metal lever locks that inspire confidence and perform well. The Trail Sport 3 poles also proved exceptionally durable, with their thick telescoping aluminum shafts, rubber grips, and burly lever-locks.
We also like the bomber construction of the Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec, which, along with the Alpine Carbon Cork, would be our top choice for heavy-duty trekking in remote locations or while carrying a heavy pack. In addition, we were impressed by the durability of the Distance Z, despite its ultralight design. It is made from aluminum and doesn't include many parts that can break. The women's Distance FLZ poles proved incredibly durable for the same reasons, with strong aluminum shafts and burly adjustment mechanisms — we were surprised with how durable these poles proved to be. If you are looking for a durable carbon-fiber option, the Micro Vario Carbon (both men's and women's) are another great option owing to their thick carbon shafts.
Poles don't typically take that much of a beating, and all of the poles in our review are relatively durable. In order to make distinctions between products, we often investigate the small details that might make a difference. It is important to state that during our testing, we didn't see a single pole fail catastrophically from normal use. While heavy-duty trekkers venturing to remote destinations want to make sure they get the most durable pole, all other users will probably be satisfied by the durability of any pole in our review.
Some products in our review are purpose-built for specific activities, while others may be used for most or all backcountry activities. Some poles include various baskets and tips to adapt to different trail or off-trail conditions. Most users don't need a pole that will perform on loose talus approaches or on long treks through developing nations. That said, some poles in our review can do all of it with ease.
For instance, the Leki Micro Vario Carbon is versatile enough to be used in any situation you might need a pole, from day hiking and long backpacking trips to technical climbs and backcountry ski tours. Most folding poles are weaker than their telescoping counterparts, and thus can't be recommended for rugged terrain while carrying a heavy backpack, but the Micro Vario somehow does it all. The Alpine FLZ is another highly versatile pole, only losing points for its heavier weight, which makes it less useful on alpine climbs.
The lightweight poles in our review are great for mountain running, ultralight backpacking, technical climbing, day hikes, and on-trail backpacking with heavier packs. This includes the Carbon Z, Carbon FLZ, and Distance Z. The only activities we wouldn't use them for are international trekking and off-trail travel with heavy loads. They also can be used with snow baskets for glacier travel or high alpine traverses in the early summer.
Other poles come with a ton of baskets and tip attachments to help them perform well across the board. We especially like the inclusion of non-marking rubber tips that can be attached to the Distance Z, Distance FLZ, Distance Carbon Z, Distance Carbon FLZ, and Alpine FLZ poles. If you spend time hiking on soft rock like the sandstone of the American Southwest, we recommend rubber tips because they won't scratch and permanently alter the appearance of the rock.
How to Fix a Broken Pole
A broken trekking pole can turn a long trek with a heavy pack into a nightmare. It's a good idea to know how to improvise repairs for all of your critical equipment. Here is a good technique for repairing a broken trekking pole in the field, using items you might have in your kit, like tent stakes and tape.
There are so many trekking poles on the market that it can be daunting to find the perfect pair. The good news is that for most day hikers, any trekking pole will get the job done. If you need poles for a more specialized use, you'll have to do a little more research, which is where this review comes in. We hope that our work will help you to find the best pole to suit your needs. See you on the trails!
— Jeff Dobronyi and Mary Witlacil