Day hikers and backpackers understand the vast difference between hiking with, and without, trekking poles. So, why use hiking poles? Poles assist with balance, decrease stress on joints, increase stability on slippery surfaces, and transfer weight to the upper body on uphill climbs. In order to know what hiking pole is best for you, hikers need to know the anatomy of the pole to discover what features and options work best for your pursuits.
Types of Poles
Anti-Shock Poles: These poles feature an internal spring, which absorbs shock when walking downhill. These poles are a bit more pricey, but perfect for the serious, or knee-pained, hiker.
Standard Poles: These poles are lighter and less expensive since they do not contain the anti-shock technology. They provide balance, stability and assistance with tough terrain.
Women’s Poles: Women’s, or compact, poles are smaller in design to better assist with the grip. These poles are lighter and also perfect for adolescents.
Typically, the lighter the material, the more expensive the pole.
High Grade Aluminum: These poles weigh between 18-22 ounces per pair. They are durable and unlikely to break, even though the pole “gives” with the application of weight.
Carbon Fiber: These poles range between 13-18 ounces in weight per pair. Due to its light nature, these poles are more expensive, yet may break during high-stress moments.
Various grip options are offered for a combination of personal preferences and hand anatomy features. Some poles offer an extended grip, which is ideal for those trekking up scramble-like terrain.
Cork: Cork best conforms to one’s natural grip and absorbs moisture from sweaty palms. Cork not only absorbs moisture but vibration from the ground reaction forces. However, there seems to be two groups of people: those who love gripping cork, and those who abhor it.
Foam: This material is the softest to the touch and similar to cork, absorbs moisture.
Rubber: This is the most ideal choice for hiking in cooler climates since rubber insulates warmth, shock, and vibration. Some hikers experience chaffing in warmer climates due to the friction and rubbing.
The two most common tips are carbide and steel, which grips into the earth or icy substances. Rubber tips should be removed prior to hiking as these are used purely as a protective cover when the poles are not in use. Baskets are also commonly used above the tip, but are not necessary. Snow baskets are ideal for winter snow shoeing so poles do not sink deep into the snow.