I bought a pair of Swiss Gear poles from Wal-Mart for $17.00 just to see if I liked using them and have been very satisfied. I learned I do like using the poles and I’ve seen much more expensive ones in my local outdoor shop. What’s the difference? Should I step up and buy the pricier ones?
Since you’ve already made the investment and the poles are working for you, why bother? Drive your Wal-Mart specials into the ground, then re-invest when they konk out. The price difference comes down to two things: materials and features. Chances are, your poles have plastic grips, which get sweaty and are less comfortable to grasp than the rubber or cork handles on pricier models.
Also, I’d bet that your poles don’t collapse. I always pack poles on my trips, but since I sometimes like to have my hands free, I always use poles that shrink down to a couple feet or so. This allows me to strap them onto the side of my pack or stuff them in a duffel for airport travel. Shock absorbers are another feature that bump up the price. Some people like the feel of walking with spring-loaded poles, but I don’t really feel the difference. My perfect pole: lightweight collapsible aluminum ones with cushy, contoured rubber grips and adjustable wrist straps.