How to Buy a Hiking Pole

The right hiking pole provides an extra point of balance, reduces the load on your knees, and can also be used as a tool to probe the depth of mud and water, or push wet foliage out of the way. But the wrong hiking pole becomes nothing but an annoying stick you've got to carry around, so choose carefully before you buy.


  1. Image titled Buy a Hiking Pole Step 1
    Decide between buying 2 hiking poles or a single hiking staff.
    • A hiking staff is usually, but not always, longer than hiking poles. It provides only 1 point of balance, but, likewise, only 1 object to carry or strap to your backpack when not in use.
    • If you carry trekking poles, you have the option of loaning 1 to a friend.
  2. Image titled Buy a Hiking Pole Step 2
    Decide which of the following features are most important to you.
    • Shock absorbers: On most hiking poles and staffs, you can turn the shock absorber off by pressing down on the handle and twisting.
    • Adjustability: Collapsible or telescoping hiking poles and staffs pack down small enough not to stick out to the sides when you strap them to the outside of your backpack. You can also adjust the poles to fit hikers of different heights, or to help keep you steady when side hilling, or going uphill or downhill.
    • Hand strap or no hand strip? This is purely a matter of personal preference.
    • Material: Aluminum is strong and cheap, but heavy; carbon fiber is lighter but more expensive. Aluminum can bend under stress; carbon fiber is more likely to break.
    • Grip material and size: Foam, cork and rubber are your most common grip material choices. The grip may be just large enough to accommodate your hand, or extend further down the pole.
    • Baskets: on many trekking poles, these can be swapped out; use large baskets for hiking in mud or snow, and smaller baskets when hiking through brush or in everyday conditions.
  3. Image titled Buy a Hiking Pole Step 3
    Size your pole.
    • Your hand should rest comfortably on the grip with your arm at your side, elbow bent at 90 degrees.
    • If the poles are adjustable, lock the adjusting mechanism in place (this is usually done by rotating half of the pole) and lean on the poles; they shouldn't buckle or give beneath your weight.


  • Hiking poles are also useful for maintaining your stability when crossing running water or traversing an unstable scree slope.
  • Your hiking pole is also a part of your emergency gear. You can use it as the framework for an emergency shelter, or a makeshift splint. Some pyramid-style tents are designed to accept a trekking pole as the single center pole that supports the entire structure, and you can wrap cordage or duct tape around your pole's handle for an emergency supply that will always be literally to hand.

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Categories: Backpacking and Hiking