Knowing how to choose trekking poles is not actually difficult. It is thankfully really straight forward. There are not necessarily right or wrong hiking poles. Just different ones. It completely depends on what you are looking for.
Here are a few good questions to think about before choosing your trekking poles:
1. How long do I plan to hike for?
2. Do I need/want one or two poles?
3. What terrain do I want to walk in?
4. What is my price range?
5. What makes a pole great?
How long do you plan to hike:
There are actually a lot of reasons to choose your poles based around the idea of a walking time frame. The current pair of poles that I have is almost exactly what I need for any walk under 5km. They are sturdy (Here is a link to the poles similar to what I have: 43-Inch Black Shock-Resistant Adjustable Trekking Pole), adjustable and do a good job. However, once a walk gets a bit intense I find myself hoping for a step up in quality.
Hand rests: Hand rests are a big deal. The pair I have right now leaves my wife’s soft little hands with a bit of a callus. We never noticed when walking for only an hour or so. But when one-two hours turns to 3+ hours her hands get cramped, sore and almost callused from holding onto the poles.
This is one reason why the length of the hike matters.
Homemade: We have also used sticks we found in the forest. Again, super cheap, convenient and they do a decent job. But not recommended for extended lengths of time. However, if you simply like walks in the forest or just randomly go out for a jaunt and don’t have any poles, yet want the support, these are great. On multiple instances I have grabbed something from the forest bed and it has helped a ton.
I even had one given to me by a friend – he took home a beautiful piece of drift wood and hand crafted it into one of the nicest poles I have seen. It works wonders for a hike. However, I choose my trekking poles above it for longer lengths of time.
Sturdy: It is important to have a pole that you can trust. A pole that can withstand the test of time when hiking long distances. If you get into serious hiking – or plan to, then a slightly more expensive pair is worth it.
One pole or two poles?
One Pole: Having one walking pole is sometimes a choice I make. Whether it is because I have a water bottle, or my dogs leash in one hand, or because I forgot my poles at home and end up finding something along the way: I still opt for a pole. One pole provides you with the freedom to carry something with your other hand and can also be nice if you have a specific injury on one side of your body.
I do not though recommend using one pole on a regular basis. I more or less just end up using one when I forgot my poles all together.
Two Poles: There is a reason I am seen with two poles over one. On any given day I just find that two is better. First of all you have both arms moving. I am less sore after a walk when both arms and sides of my body are working. I also prefer two poles as I find it more steady that way. When you slip you don’t usually know about it (obviously) and so having two poles gives your body much better reaction time. Two poles are a greater help in preventing injuries.
What terrain will you walk in?
The beautiful part about trekking poles, at least from my experience, is that they are designed to be good in most every terrain. A typical pair will get you through any terrain you choose! If you take a look at all the different trekking pole tips (See my article: Trekking Pole Replacement Tips) you can customize your poles to match what ever terrain you choose. I love this about poles. They are durable and have multipurpose based on what ever you want. I have used my poles in sunshine, rain, sleet, hail, ice, mud, sand, rock. The hole meal deal.
Another great thing about poles is that it is not difficult to find one that fits what you are looking for price wise. The pair that I have cost me $35 dollars. Now, if you just want to give them a shot and see if they are for you, you can start out as cheap as free. Woot!
Free: Finding a pole yourself is a completely cost friendly way to use a trekking pole. You can find one and use it or you can often find two different sticks and use them both to give you the effect of what walking with two poles is like. But there are some things to remember about doing it this way. Sticks from the bush are heavier, less comfortable and not adjustable. So keep this in mind if you are going to try out a DIY pole.
Under $40: This is where my budget usually lies. I am happy to pay over 20 bucks as I want something quality – but ask me to pay over $40 and it just feels too much. From the research I have done any pole between $20 and $40 will do you well. They last, are durable and keep you safer when walking.
Above $40: Now that I am sold on poles and love so much what they do I want to spend slightly more. Now don’t get me wrong. I am a deal watcher and have seen poles worth $60+ go on sale for around $40 (Yay for sales!) but typically the quality of pole I like for the amount of hiking we do is around a $50 pole. I am hoping to invest in a better quality pole. Something with lever locks, good hand rests, multiple tips, lightweight and very sturdy.
What makes a pole great:
1. Adjustable lever locks. Having an adjustable pole is an absolute must. Not only can you adjust it to your perfect height (you want your arms to be at approx 90 degrees when holding it) but you want to be able to adjust the height to the terrain. Shorter length for uphill and longer length for down hill. Lever locks are great for this as they are so reliable. Twist locks I have found to give out. Lever locks do a better job of holding the position in place even when force is applied.
2. Hand rests. These are a beauty as the wrong hand rest can cause your hand to cramp up of get calloused. Now you don’t need to stress or over think this one. Just go by the reviews on the pole. Or you can always post here – I would love to help you in any way!
3. Multiple tips. Such a beautiful accessory! Tips make hiking on al different terrains possibly. Have an ice tip opposed to a rubber tip on slippery surfaces can save your butt. And, snow baskets are a ginormous help when walking through deep snow. Do not over look the power of a trekking pole tip.
4. Lightweight. Having a light pole makes a big difference. One of the reasons poles are great is because they reduce fatigue. This can be defeated when the pole is too heavy for you. Finding a lightweight aluminum pole, for example, is much more simple than carrying around a more bulky metal.
5. Sturdy: Rocks, heavyweight, heading down hills, all good reasons to make sure your poles are sturdy. The poles take the brunt of our weight when we walk. They put up with a lot. It is important to have one that is guaranteed to be sturdy in all situations.
These are all the questions, and the thought processes that I go through when thinking of what I want to buy. It is actually so worth it to make sure you are investing in a pole that will perfectly suit your life style. If you want any advice or have any feedback please let me know!