Trekking poles (AKA: hiking sticks) are an odd thing for backpackers. Some of our fellow backpackers refuse to use them but others refuse to go without them. We personally love them. They are a must-have when backpacking through creeks on slippery rocks as they help maintain balance and give more points of contact in uncertain terrain. During steep descents, they really help ease the pressure on the knees especially while carrying heavy backpacks. They are less essential when venturing across flat desert landscapes. We don’t always carry trekking poles when backpacking or hiking but we typically regret having left them behind. The best hiking poles for backpacking are collapsable and are constructed with sturdy, lightweight materials.
Classification and Rating
We classify the best hiking poles in this article as optional backpacking gear but also give them a rating. Our A-F rating is to help newcomers to backpacking know where to best spend their budget. A quality set of trekking poles can last for many years and there are typically usability, quality, comfort, and weight tradeoffs with cheaper trekking poles. Check out our best backpacking gear post to see how we rank and rate all backpacking gear in one place.
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The Best Hiking Poles for Backpacking
- Classification: Optional Gear
- C-Rating: Spend some money on a quality product if you can but if not you can save money now and plan on upgrading later.
Trekking poles come in three basic styles; staff, foldable, and collapsable. Staffs are solid construction poles and don’t make for great backpacking because they are nearly impossible to store in your backpack. Foldable poles usually separate into three pieces with some kind of internal wire rope holding the pieces together. They typically lock into place with a variation of a push-button or snap-lock. The final version, and my choice as the best hiking pole for backpacking, is the collapsable pole. Collapsable poles usually have three sections that slide one within the other making them compact and easy to carry in a backpack. There are two predominant styles of locking mechanisms; the twist lock and the flip-lock. I prefer the flip-lock as it is faster but the twist lock is more streamlined.
Hiking Pole Materials
Hiking Poles come in a variety of materials. The two most popular are aluminum and carbon fiber as both materials have excellent durability to weight ratios. Honestly, I wouldn’t look at any trekking pole for backpacking that wasn’t constructed in one of these two materials. It is hard to find a fault in carbon fiber beyond the cost. Aluminum’s only issue is that it tends to show scratches and it can be dented which could cause a collapsable hiking pole to no longer slide within itself.
Hiking Pole Accessories & Features
Modern trekking poles have come a long way from the days of using sticks as a staff. Hiking poles come with ergonomically designed grips made with a variety of cushioning materials. The best hiking poles for backpacking also have shock absorbers built into them so your wrists are cushioned with each movement. There are even a multitude of tip accessories available, that in many cases come with the trekking poles. These range from various rubber tips designed to protect the metal point when asphalt hiking to snow baskets designed to be used during snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Our Trekking Poles
We bought our first trekking poles from Cosco in 2012. We really liked them for the price. The cork handle and shock absorbers worked really well. They were collapsable with twist locks mechanisms which we didn’t love. By 2016 they were starting to fall apart from use and by 2018 we only had one of the original four that hadn’t completely fallen apart. I actually only hike with one pole to keep a hand free for my camera.
Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock (Backcountry)
I upgraded Jennifer to a set of aluminum Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles. They have a flip-lock mechanism to easily and quickly lock each extension in place. Each adjustable section has measurements clearly marked on the shaft providing exacting customization. They have a built-in shock absorber just below the handle. These hiking poles are made well and have held up for several of our most intense years of backpacking. The only thing I don’t like is that the aluminum scratches easily so they show their age quickly. They have a few years to go to compete with the Costco poles before we can officially crown them as the best hiking poles for backpacking.
Foxelli Carbon Fiber
In late 2019, I finally retired the last of our Costco trekking poles and went with a Foxelli Carbon Fiber for myself. These also have a flip-lock mechanism, as well as a cork handle (which I really prefer), and shock absorption. The flip-lock has some plastic that doesn’t feel as sturdy as Jennifer’s Black Diamond poles but everything else about them feels quality and for less than half the price. I think the Black Diamonds will ultimately hold up better but twice as long? Time will tell. I really wanted cork handles and the Black Diamond Cork Handles are closer to three times as much and I doubt they would hold up three times as long. Trekking poles tend to take a beating.
Choosing the Best Hiking Poles for Backpacking
Ultimately, a decision about which is the best hiking pole for backpacking will come down to how you intend to use it and what your budget is. A hiking stick needs to be reliable but it isn’t a crucial piece of backpacking gear for most trails. There are certain trails like The Narrows in Zion National Park that you need two trekking poles to have a chance at remaining upright. We recommend them but if you are new to backpacking, don’t break the bank on them.