Find your perfect pair of walking or hiking poles with our in-depth group test and buyer’s guide
Trekking poles are a common sight in the hands of elite walkers, hikers, backpackers and ultra-runners and there are good reasons for this. There are recognised physical benefits to using poles. In fact, poles can take up to 40% of strain off your knees. They also help you to generate rhythm and momentum so you can move more quickly.
Poles can save your hips, ankles and feet by helping to absorb impacts; and they also aid balance on slippery and rocky terrain.
In addition, they can be used as a probe in thick undergrowth or when crossing rivers; they help to stabilise the weight of a heavy trekking backpack; and they can even be used instead of tent poles for solo backpacking tents.
It’s important to use trekking poles correctly, however. Conventional wisdom is that your elbow should form a right angle when you’re holding the poles. With your arm held in this position, measure the distance from your elbow to the floor so you know what length you need – though most poles are adjustable. This is important, as you may want to change their length. For example, many people shorten them on long uphill pulls and lengthen them for descents. You’ll soon get used to adjusting them like this, but look for a mechanism that you can operate easily. Poles with clear marks along the shaft will also help you set them to the desired position.
The Best Trekking Poles Reviewed
With dozens of poles out there, what should you look for? This group test includes our picks of the best trekking poles around, comparing features and performance. We’ve picked out an overall best buy and highlighted best value poles for those on a budget.
Note: Prices and weights are given per pair.
Best Overall Trekking Pole: Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles
Best Value Trekking Pole: Vango Camino Trekking Poles
Best Ultralight Trekking Pole: Leki MCT 12 Vario Carbon Trekking Poles
Best Durable Trekking Pole for Four-Season Use: Black Diamond Alpine FLZ Trekking Poles
Best Shock-Absorbing Trekking Pole: Leki Micro Vario Carbon Antishock Trekking Poles
Designed for optimum performance and convenience on the trail, Leki’s Micro Vario Carbon poles combine ultralight carbon fibre construction with a unique external locking system that’s built to endure. In fact, we like Leki’s specialist trekking range so much that they’ve now featured three times in our Outdoor 100 selection.
This particular iteration of the Micro Varios is suitable for demanding trekking tours, as well intensive trail running trips and the like. They’re made from PRC 1000 (performance racing carbon) carbon fibre, making them extremely light yet with a high strength-to-weight ratio and excellent corrosion resistance. They are ‘Z-style’ folding poles comprised of 3 sections, with a central shock-cord system. This gives them an extremely short length of just 37cm when folded – which means they are compact enough to fit inside most daypacks.
These poles also feature extended grips, with a lower secondary foam rubber section that makes it easy to choke down on a sharp ascent, without having to change the pole length. The rounded Aergon handle has been ergonomically engineered to nestle nicely in the palm. The straps are simple fabric strips, which adjust easily.
Price: £164.95 Weight: 504g Best for: Hiking, trekking, Nordic walking Key attributes: Lightweight, comfortable, great shock absorption
Leki make some of the best trekking poles in the business. They’ve been leaders in the market since 1970 and now make dedicated poles for all manner of outdoor sports, from skiing and trekking to trail running and Nordic walking.
The Micro Vario Carbon Antishock poles are laden with features. They fold in three sections, packing down to 40cm. The carbon upper and aluminium lower shafts easily snap into place, and then collapse down again with an easy click external locking device. The ‘Speed Lock 2’ height adjustment system is a simple but secure lever mechanism.
One unique feature is the ‘dynamic suspension system’. This is a rubberised ring near the tip of the pole that, according to Leki, absorbs up to 40% of impacts. And it does make a significant difference on hard rock.
The handle is hard foam with an extension further down the pole for quick hand adjustment. Together with the lightweight and breathable strap, it’s one of the most comfortable systems we’ve come across. It’s also one of the key differences between the men’s and women’s versions. The ‘Lady’ has a grip designed specifically for women and a shorter length difference of 100-120cm. It all adds up to make them the best trekking poles in our test.
Price: £19 Weight: 560g Best for: Day hikes and hillwalking Key attributes: Good value, built-in shock absorption
These Vango poles are the cheapest on the test and offer excellent value. The pole sections are made from a sturdy aluminium alloy. Other components, such as the clamps, are plastic. While these may not be as durable as more expensive metal parts, they felt robust enough. They are straightforward to adjust and the locking torsion can be changed without a tool. We did find that, if pulled too hard, the poles do come apart, as there’s only a plastic ring holding them together. This could be a potential weak point, although over a couple of months testing it was fine.
The pole is telescopic and packs down to 67cm, which is not very compact. This does give them a large adjustment range though – from 105 to 135cm. One feature unique to these poles is a built-in anti-shock system. The spring-loaded handles have a considerable bounce – push down, and they drop around 25cm. For low-level walking this may be very useful, though for trail running or mountaineering you’ll definitely need something more rigid for stability.
The poles have tungsten carbide steel tips with a set of rubber caps, plus a space for the trekking basket. The handle is comfortable, and the strap has a delicate micro-fleece lining. Overall, for the price, these are an excellent option for walkers on a budget looking for the best trekking poles under £35.
Price: £185 Weight: 400g Best for: Fastpacking, trail running, mountain races Key attributes: Fast deployment, detachable gloves
The Leki MCT 12 Vario Carbon are z-style folding trekking poles that are incredibly easy to deploy. All you need to do is pull down on the shaft below the handle and everything just clicks together. Using their Speed Lock 2 lever you can also slide them from 110cm up to 130cm. This feature will be handy for anyone who needs poles with height adjustment to prop up their tarp or tent.
They break down to just 42cm in length, so stash fit easily onto most backpacks. But the most unusual design feature are the straps. Rather than simple webbing straps, these employ detachable mesh gloves. They can be attached to the top of each pole handle with a simple click and removed with the press of a button. This helps to encourage effective power transfer and allows the poles to move more closely and effortlessly with the swing of your arms and wrists.
The handle itself has a slight grip extension for on-the-fly adjustment and, as you’d expect, it’s ergonomically shaped for comfort. The shafts are made from light but strong carbon fibre and the tip/spike is tungsten carbide. The handle is actually made from a faux cork that does a remarkable impression of the real thing, both in look and feel.
I used these on a three-week fastpacking trip across Wales and they were excellent. I’d go so far as saying I wouldn’t have completed the journey without them.
Price: £140 Weight: 511g Best for: Hiking, hillwalking and mountain trekking Key attributes: Comfortable, compact, durable
These poles are made from a super tough 7075 aluminium alloy and come in three different lengths: 95-110 cm (511g), 105-125 cm (552g) and 120-140 cm (587g). Each pole is split up into four sections; two that collapse into each other and two bottom sections that are loose but linked by a tough wire. This gives them an extremely compact packed size.
Aside from the sturdy build quality, the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ Z-Poles also boast a few handy features. First up is the 100% cork handles which, combined with the EVA foam extensions, provide comfortable grip across the top section of the pole. The long coverage of foam and cork allows you to adjust your grip as the terrain dictates. Thanks to the insulating properties of cork, the top handle is pretty well insulated in cold weather too.
They utilise Black Diamond’s tried and tested FlickLock Pro system for fast and secure adjustment on the go. The poles come fitted with standard trekking baskets, with the option to change them to a pair of powder baskets for winter use. They also feature interchangeable tips, with both carbide and rubber tips included. Finally, a wide and well cushioned wrist strap sits at the top of the pole, providing a comfortable, and secure means of support.
Price: £100 Weight: 530g Best for: Hiking and trekking Key attributes: Robust, durable
These well-engineered poles from Black Diamond are made from lightweight and durable aluminium. They’re not as light as the carbon fibre poles on test here (though a lighter and more expensive carbon version is available). The two pole sections lock together with a ‘Double FlickLock Pro’ mechanism, which is easy to use, secure and reliable. A supplied Allen key is used to adjust the torsion of the FlickLock clamps. Similar locks on other poles can be tightened or loosed by hand, without the need for a tool – though once adjusted, the Black Diamond poles shouldn’t need changing very frequently.
To extend the poles, you pull the SmashLock until it clicks, then extend the top part and clamp it shut. To collapse them, you simply undo the FlickLock and push it all down in one go. Pretty satisfying, though you need to do it in the right order to prevent the two parts from coming apart.
The foam grip is comfortable all day long, with a strap that is padded on both sides. The carbide tip is hard-wearing, but there is no shock absorption (though again, a more expensive shock-absorption version is available). The tips can be swapped out for a soft rubber option, but you’ll need to buy those separately. The same applies if you want snow baskets, as the poles are supplied with only a single set of narrow trekking baskets.
Thanks to the two-section design, the poles have an impressive adjustment range of 35cm, though this means the collapsed length is a fairly unwieldy 65cm.
MSR poles just keep getting better and better. These Ascent poles are designed for ‘snowshoers, mountaineers and splitboarders’ as well as trekkers, and are impressively light. They are made from carbon fibre, but with Kevlar reinforcements for added durability. They’re available in two sizes – the small can be adjusted between 100-120cm and the large from 120-140cm. Both sizes pack down very small (44.5cm Large; 36.2cm Small), with a hook-and-loop band that keeps all the sections together.
The three pole sections extend easily and can then be adjusted and locked in place. The tension of the lock can be adjusted by hand and is effortless to use. The long grip is made of hard foam that is comfortable and ergonomically shaped. The tips are solid carbide steel, though there is no shock absorption.
The poles come with two sizes of baskets, one for snow and a smaller one for regular hiking. They’re easy to screw on and off. This is an excellent pair of carbon poles that should be durable and long lasting. In fact, they’re one of the best trekking poles out there and proved a close contender for best buy – though they’re not the cheapest option.
Price: £80 Weight: 586g Best for: Hiking, trekking and backpacking Key attributes: Durable and easily adjustable
Tough, fairly lightweight and with no fiddly bits, these durable aluminium poles from Austrian manufacturer Komperdell do exactly what you would expect from a walking pole.
The poles themselves extend between 105 and 140cm and they’re very easily adjustable using the lever locks. They break down simply into three sections to stow easily on the outside (or inside) of your pack.
There’s a comfortable hold as well thanks to the anatomically shaped grip which has a good bit of softness to it. All-in-all, we’d say the Hikemaster is the ideal combination of size and weight for long treks into the mountains.
Price: £95.99 Weight: 230g Best for: Nordic walking, backpacking and trekking Key attributes: Lightweight, strong, compact, easily adjustable
Although these poles work well for Nordic walking, we found they really proved their worth on long-distance, multi-day treks with a heavy pack. The compact folded length makes them easy to stow and they are also supplied with both trekking and snow baskets. This gives them the versatility for year-round, all-weather use.
The CimAlp Distance Carbon trekking poles are made from 100% carbon fibre, making them extremely light, but they also have an excellent strength-to-weight ratio and good corrosion resistance. They are ‘Z-style’ folding poles comprised of 3 sections, with a central shock-cord system. This gives them an extremely short length of less than 40cm when folded. The top grip can also be removed if necessary, which enables you to further collapse them to 36cm – and this means they are compact enough to fit inside most daypacks.
They have a good range of adjustment from 110cm to 130cm, and are very easy to assemble and fold away. They also feature extended grips, which makes it easy to choke down on a sharp ascent without having to change the pole length. The rounded top handle also nestles nicely into the palm if using the poles for braking and balance on steep downhill trails.
The straps are simple fabric strips, which adjust easily. They are very comfortable despite lacking the additional padding of some other models on the market.
Heavy poles can cause fatigue, whether carried in your hands or stashed on your back. Fortunately, modern poles are getting lighter all the time thanks to the use of aluminium and even carbon fibre. A decent, lightweight pair of poles will weigh somewhere between 450 and 550 grams. Carbon fibre poles tend to be lighter and stiffer, but they can crack. They’re also more expensive. Aluminium poles are usually slightly heavier, but also cheaper and more durable.
You won’t always be using your poles, so consider their packability. How do they fold down, and what is their packed length? Can you carry them easily on or in your hiking backpack? Manufacturers have developed various different systems for shortening poles. Some are telescopic, others fold into sections. These usually break down into two or three pieces, linked by an internal shock cord.
Look for a reliable and easy to use locking mechanism that is easy to adjust if needed. Some poles use a twist lock system, while others use a clamp or lever lock. The latter is the most common as it is generally easiest to use, more straightforward and longer lasting.
Other important design features to consider are the hand grips. Most are made from foam, cork or rubber. Look for ergonomic grips that feel comfortable in the hand, with a good strap or sling.
The round discs at the bottom of the pole are called baskets. They stop the pole from plugging in the ground, and are especially useful in snow. Almost all poles have interchangeable baskets, but often the larger snow baskets have to be bought separately.
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