Last updated: August 10, 2021

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A targeted use of hiking poles transforms hikes into a joyful and pleasant experience for young and old. Due to the relieving or, if desired, challenging effect, young sportswomen as well as people with joint problems find numerous advantages in using trekking poles.

In order to achieve the desired goal, it is essential to find the right trekking poles and to adjust them optimally. To make your choice easier, we provide an overview of the different types of poles.

We highlight the advantages and disadvantages of foldable and telescopic hiking poles and show you which criteria you can use to compare trekking poles. In our hiking stick test 2021 we have tested various models and share our results and recommendations here in our guide.




Summary

  • The use of walking poles is suitable for young and old and, depending on their use, can have a relieving as well as an additional challenging effect. Despite the numerous advantages, walking poles should be used every now and then to train balance and leg stability for walks, short hikes or stretches.
  • A basic distinction is made between foldable hiking poles and telescopic hiking poles. Both product types are mostly height-adjustable and available in various models that differ in length, material, price and weight, among other things.
  • You can roughly calculate the optimum length of your hiking poles using the rule of thumb "body height x 0.68 = pole length" and fine-tune it according to the terrain using the 90 degree rule of thumb.

The Best Hiking Sticks in the United Kingdom: Our Choices

Buying and evaluation criteria for hiking sticks

In the next sections we will help you get an overview of the many selection criteria when buying trekking poles. With the following criteria, you can compare different hiking and trekking poles with each other:

Below we explain the individual buying criteria in detail.

Pole length and pack size

The length of the pole and the pack size are usually specified for hiking poles. The former defines the length of the poles when in use. The pack size describes the compressed size of foldable and collapsible trekking poles so that they can be stowed on or in a rucksack when not in use.

Rule of thumb for determining pole size: "Body size x 0.68 = pole length"

In order for your hiking poles to provide optimal support and power transmission, it is essential that the pole length is correctly matched to your body size.

When buying suitable trekking poles, the following rule of thumb will help you: "Body height x 0.68 = pole length". This will give you a rough estimate of the length. You can find out more about fine-tuning the pole length or height in a step-by-step guide below.

The packing length is helpful if you like to stow your trekking poles in your rucksack. The pack size depends on the construction of the trekking poles: foldable poles or telescopic poles.

You can read about the details of these two types of poles in the section above. With a packing size of less than 40cm, foldable poles can be compressed to a smaller size than telescopic poles and can easily be stowed in daypacks.

Material

Hiking poles are made of two different main materials: aluminium or carbon. A few models combine both materials. Below I explain the advantages and disadvantages of the two materials.

The big advantages of aluminium poles are their resistance and flexibility, which also contribute to increased durability.

When overloaded, the cane bends but breaks extremely rarely. Slight bends can be bent back. In addition, aluminium trekking poles are cheaper than carbon poles. One disadvantage of aluminium poles is the vibration that occurs on impact, which can put a lot of strain on the forearms.

To dampen this, more and more poles are equipped with a suspension system that reduces the vibrations. Hiking poles made of carbon (carbon fibres) are extremely light and low in vibration, but much more expensive. Carbon has the disadvantage that the poles break when overloaded.

However, the flexibility of carbon has already improved significantly in recent years. Which material is more suitable for you depends mainly on two factors. Hiking poles made of carbon are more expensive. Therefore, on the one hand, your budget is decisive. Secondly, it depends on whether you prefer trekking poles with a certain vibration or rather rigid poles.

Weight

The weight of trekking poles depends mainly on the materials used. Carbon poles are generally lighter than trekking poles made of aluminium, although there are now also very light aluminium poles. The lightest trekking poles weigh between 200 and 300g.

When hiking, lightweight poles are advantageous because they require less effort with each swing. Depending on the sport, the weight of the poles can make a big difference.

For example, lightweight poles are particularly suitable for trail running. The weight is also important if the poles are to be carried on or in a rucksack over longer distances.

Grip

A good grip is one of the key purchase criteria, as it contributes a lot to the comfort when using the hiking sticks. An optimal grip brings the following advantages:

  • offers a firm grip
  • absorbs sweat and moisture
  • prevents blisters
  • reduces slipping of the poles in the hands
  • allows a comfortable grip even for longer distances

The material is decisive for a good grip. Rubber, natural cork, foam or plastic are used, whereby foam and cork have proven themselves. Both absorb sweat and prevent the poles from slipping or rubbing in the hands.

Foam and cork allow for a firm grip and a comfortable holding feeling. Which of the two materials you choose depends on your own preferences.

Foam and cork have proven to be good grip materials.

I would advise you not to use plastic grips, as these often lead to blisters. Hiking poles with plastic grips are usually very inexpensive. However, when it comes to the handles, it is definitely worth going for the more expensive and higher quality products.

Some trekking poles also have a kind of extended handle, where the foam runs a little deeper over the tube. This extension is extremely practical to adjust the height of the pole over short passages only with a changed grip position.

Last but not least, in addition to the grip, the importance of the strap should not be underestimated. They serve as wrist supports or as carrying aids. Loops that are adjustable and breathable are advantageous.

Length adjustment system

Good trekking poles consist of several segments and clever adjustment systems and can often be continuously adjusted in height. This allows the length to be adjusted to suit different terrains and also areas of use.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of trekking poles on the market offer length adjustability. Only a few still have a fixed pole length. I recommend that you choose a height-adjustable model.

So that you can adjust your trekking poles to the terrain when you are out and about, they should be as easy to adjust as possible. But which adjustment systems are recommended? The central aspects of the adjustment system for trekking poles are stability and high-quality workmanship. Two height adjustment mechanisms have proven themselves:

  • Rotation system: With the rotation system, you can adjust the individual tube segments by turning them.
  • Pressure / clamp lock: This system offers a little more ease of use. The individual links can be easily moved by opening the clamp and then closing it again.

With high-quality workmanship, both systems have proven themselves in practice. However, low-cost models often have weak points. Therefore, it is worthwhile to go for the somewhat more expensive products.

Accessories / useful extras

When buying hiking poles, it is worth comparing which extras they have to offer and whether useful accessories are included. Below you will find an overview of some useful extras.

  • Damping / Antishock: As you can read in the upper part, aluminium poles often show vibrations. In order to reduce this and to protect shoulders, elbows and wrists, some trekking poles have a damping system. These are elastic inserts that provide a kind of shock absorption. Especially for longer hikes or hikes lasting several days, this suspension is a plus. For most hikes, however, poles without cushioning are sufficient.
  • Plates: If you want to use your trekking poles in summer as well as in winter and also sometimes walk in snow or mud, additional snow or mud plates are interesting for you. The choice of the appropriate plates has an influence on the grip. Basically, wider plates offer a better grip in snow-covered passages, but are more of a nuisance in stony terrain. However, the trekking pads are not interchangeable on all models.
  • Rubber buffers: To reduce wear on the tips, protective rubber caps can be put over them. These are particularly useful when travelling longer distances on asphalt.
  • Camera tripod: This feature is particularly interesting for the photographers among you. Thanks to individual manufacturers such as Leki, a walking stick can be converted into a camera tripod.

These four extras are not absolutely necessary, but depending on the use of your trekking poles, they can be an added bonus.

Decision: What types of trekking poles are there and which is the right one for me?

Trekking poles can be roughly divided into two types: foldable trekking poles and telescopic trekking poles. Before you start looking at other buying criteria, you should first decide on one of these two types of poles.

Type Advantages Disadvantages
Telescopic hiking poles Easy to use, cheaper, very stable Heavier, larger pack size, more prone to failure
Foldable hiking poles Lighter, minimal pack size Quite expensive, less stable

The advantages and disadvantages of the two types of product are explained in more detail in the following sections. The explanations should make it easier for you to decide which product to buy.

Telescopic hiking poles

The main difference between the two types of product lies in their construction. Both types consist of several segments. Telescopic trekking poles are usually 3-section, more rarely 4-section. These individual parts can be pushed together. There are two different locking mechanisms: the twist lock and the clamp lock.

You can find more detailed information on these locking systems in the buying criteria. Both systems are particularly practical to use, which is a clear advantage of telescopic poles.

The telescopic system makes it possible to reduce the size of the trekking poles to a pack size.

However, due to their construction, telescopic poles cannot be reduced as much as foldable poles and do not fit into a daypack. With a suitable holder, however, they can be easily attached to the back of the rucksack. The weight of telescopic hiking poles depends on the closure system. In contrast to the clamp closure, the swivel system is lighter.

Basically, telescopic poles usually weigh a lot more than foldable poles. In terms of height adjustability, there are no major differences between the two types of product. Like folding poles, telescopic poles can be flexibly adjusted in height. However, the former are often more prone to failure due to the clamps and twist locks.

Advantages
  • Infinitely height-adjustable
  • Practical and easy handling for height adjustment
  • Cost-effective
  • Very stable
Disadvantages
  • Heavier than foldable poles
  • More prone to failure due to clamps and screws
  • Larger pack size

If we take a look at the price differences, we notice that telescopic poles are relatively inexpensive. This makes them ideal for first experiences with hiking poles.

Foldable hiking poles

As the name suggests, foldable hiking poles, also called Z-Poles, can be folded. The individual pole segments are connected with a cable and can be flexibly pulled apart and folded.

Foldable hiking poles are lighter than telescopic poles and sometimes weigh less than 300g.

Unlike telescopic poles, folding poles are compressible to a size that fits in a daypack. This minimal pack size is a clear plus. Since the folding system means that no clamps or screws are needed, folding poles weigh significantly less than collapsible poles. In some cases, a pole weighs less than 300 grams.

If you prefer particularly light poles, it is best to choose a foldable model. Due to their lightness, these poles are also particularly popular with trail runners. If carbon is also used in the manufacture of folding poles, they are super light and particularly interesting for ultra-light hikers.

Advantages
  • Height adjustable
  • Minimal pack size, fits in daypack
  • Lighter than telescopic poles because no clamps and screws
Disadvantages
  • Quite expensive
  • Fixed-length models are not height-adjustable
  • Less stable

Among the lightest folding poles are the fixed-length models. However, one disadvantage with these is that, unlike other folding models, they are not height-adjustable.

The majority of folding trekking poles offer an adjustment range of about 20 centimetres. A price comparison shows that folding trekking poles are considerably more expensive than telescopic trekking poles.

Guide: Frequently asked questions about trekking poles answered in detail

You probably still have unanswered questions about buying new hiking poles. In our guide on trekking poles, we have selected the most important and most frequently asked questions from customers and answered them clearly. The explanations should help you clarify your questions and find the right trekking poles for you.

When does it make sense to use trekking poles?

Trekking poles are no longer only used as walking aids. Young people also use them in various sports to gain more stamina or to get the cardiovascular system going. In addition, the use of trekking poles also challenges the muscles of the upper body.

The use of trekking poles is particularly useful in more demanding terrain, for ascents and descents and for longer hikes or hikes lasting several days.

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Hiking poles support you on your hikes and make it easier for you to reach incredibly beautiful vantage points.
(Image source: Oziel Gómez / Unsplash)

So the question is, what is the goal of using hiking poles? Basically, there are two main purposes for which hiking poles are considered useful: for a relieving effect or for an additional physical challenge.

Hiking sticks for support and relief:

  • for old people
  • for people who are overweight
  • for people with joint problems
  • for heavy luggage
  • for longer hikes or hikes lasting several days
  • for demanding terrain

Hiking sticks for an additional physical challenge:

  • Exercise the muscles of the upper body
  • Get the cardiovascular system going
  • a faster pace

The overview shows that young and old alike benefit from the relieving or additionally challenging effect of hiking poles when used in a targeted way.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of hiking sticks?

The use of hiking poles has a number of advantages. However, there are also some disadvantages. The table below gives you an overview:

Advantages
  • Relieve strain on joints
  • Improve stability
  • Increase feeling of safety in dangerous passages
  • Support upright posture
  • Distribute backpack weight optimally
  • Also keep hands and arms active
Disadvantages
  • Increased use worsens sense of balance and leg stability
  • Stability of ligaments is weakened
  • Higher risk of injury in the event of a fall
  • Hands are no longer free, dangerous in tricky passages

In order to benefit fully from the advantages of hiking poles, correct use is of course crucial. It is important to repeatedly cover stretches or short hikes without poles so that your body does not become too accustomed to the support of the hiking poles.

Which walking poles are suitable for my height?

You can calculate the optimum pole length for your body size using the following rule of thumb: "Body size x 0.68 = pole length". In the following table you will find some rounded sizes:

Height in cm Pole length in cm
148 - 153 100
154 - 161 105
162 - 168 110
169 - 175 115
176 - 182 120
183 - 189 125
190 - 196 130
197 - 203 135
greater than 203 140

The height of most trekking poles can be adjusted flexibly. You can read more about how to adjust them below. In addition to your height, your body weight is also important for choosing the right trekking poles.

With a higher body weight, a trekking pole must be able to offer more stability. This depends on the material used and the type of construction. It is crucial that you compare the different models with the criteria listed in the upper part before buying.

Is there a difference between hiking poles and Nordic walking poles?

There are some differences between hiking poles and Nordic walking poles. The reasons for this are, on the one hand, the different areas of use and, on the other hand, the movement sequences that differ in both sports.

Type Area of use Properties of the poles
Hiking poles Steep, uneven terrain, on the mountain, often strong altitude differences Serve as support aid, anti-slip aid Simple hand strap: poles are not let go when hiking Tip: mostly round and flat Height adjustable multi-piece poles
Nordic walking poles Flat, hilly terrain, asphalt, gravel paths, forest paths, meadows Serve as push-off aid, upper body training hand straps with thumb loop: poles are always released briefly during walking. The thumb loop makes it possible to quickly grasp the poles again. Tip: Cane tip Fixed length poles to prevent vibrations

Conclusion: Poles for hikers and Nordic walkers differ in numerous ways and are only suitable for their respective areas of use or for their type of sport.

What do walking poles cost?

The price of hiking poles depends on their construction and the material used. Basically, folding poles are more expensive than telescopic poles and carbon poles are more expensive than those made of aluminium.

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A hiking group walks through stony terrain. Suitable hiking poles provide sufficient stability. (Image source: MChe Lee / Unsplash)

The price range is quite wide. You can buy the cheapest trekking poles for less than 20 euros in discount stores. Brand-name models are available at affordable prices up to products that cost several hundred euros or even over 1,000 euros. The table below gives you an overview of the price range.

Models Price range
Hiking poles from discounters: For example, Lidl 20 - 60 euros
Brand-name products in the medium price segment: For example, Black Diamond, Leki, Komperdell 30 - 180 euros
More expensive brand-name products: Ex. Yongmei, NSDFG 30 - more than 1000 euros

Not to be neglected are the additional attachments and other accessories that are included with some models. It is worth taking a closer look. You can compare the different models with the help of the buying criteria listed above.

What alternatives are there to hiking sticks?

As an alternative to folding and telescopic trekking poles, there are wooden trekking poles, also called pilgrim poles. Unlike trekking poles, a wooden walking stick is only used individually.

It consists of a single part and cannot be adjusted in height. As the name suggests, it is made of wood.

Wanderstöcke-3

The wooden walking stick is a possible alternative to the usual walking sticks.
(Image source: Steve Buissinne / Pixabay )

It is taken alternately from one hand to the other. This creates a healthy alternation of strain and relief. For wooden walking sticks, the following rule of thumb applies for the optimal length: body size x 0.8 = stick size.

How can I correctly adjust the height of hiking sticks?

The correct adjustment of the pole height is crucial for comfort when using trekking poles. Here you will find step-by-step instructions on how to optimally adjust your trekking poles.

  1. Rule of thumb: The length of your walking poles depends on your height. Use the following formula to calculate the approximate length of the poles: "Body height x 0.68 = pole length". Then adjust your trekking poles to the calculated pole length.
  2. Rule of thumb: Place your poles at right angles to the ground and enclose the handles. It is important that you stand on level ground. The pole length is optimal when your elbow joint forms a 90 degree angle. If this is not the case, you should adjust the length accordingly.
  3. Route profile: From the rule of thumb in point 2, it follows that you need to adjust the walking poles according to the conditions of the route. Uphill, the pole length is shortened by 5 - 10 cm depending on the gradient, and downhill it is lengthened accordingly.

Some trekking poles have an extended handle. These allow you to make fine adjustments just by changing the position of the handle.

Do walking sticks count as hand luggage when travelling by air?

Hiking poles are not considered hand luggage by most airlines. The reason given is that they can be used as a weapon. Therefore, you should always stow your poles in your checked baggage.

Image source: maridav/ 123rf.com

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