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March 2001

Buying Better Poles

Follow these 10 essentials to pick the right trekking poles.

  1. Go easy. Some twist-locking poles require considerable strength to tighten. Before buying, adjust the poles and press down with all your weight to make sure they don’t collapse. If you can’t untighten them without straining, move on to another pair.

  2. Consider comfort. Cinch the wrist strap on in a snug hiking position; swing the poles back and forth. If the strap chafes your wrist, keep shopping.

  3. Get a good grip. If you have sweaty palms, avoid plastic grips; they’ll slip in your hands like wet fish. Cork or foam will give you the best gripping power.

  4. Weigh new options. If you’re a fastpacker, check the newer lightweight models with carbon-fiber or titanium shafts.

  5. Stand strong. Lean hard on poles in the store to make sure they don’t bend to the point of feeling unstable.

  6. Get the right tip. If you do a lot of hiking on rock and/or ice, pick poles with serrated carbide tips for the most sticking power. Most tips can be replaced when they wear out.

  7. Pick for packing. If you travel by plane to your hiking destinations, choose an easy-packing three-section pole that collapses to 30 inches or less.

  8. Consider feel. Foam grips feel warmer than cork, plastic, wood, or rubber in cold weather.

  9. Accessorize. For winter use, make sure the poles accept “snow baskets” 3 to 4 inches in diameter. For non-snow use, switch to or cover with rubber tips to prevent metal tips from scarring rocks and digging holes in trails, as part of Leave No Trace (LNT) principles for low-impact backpacking. Rubber tips are available at most outdoor specialty stores.

  10. Keep ‘em clean. Make sure the shafts come apart for cleaning and drying.

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