How to Choose Trekking Poles

Most walkers, runners, trekkers, backpackers, and snowshoers carry trekking poles as regular equipment. The explanations are straightforward: They improve flexibility and provide protection on every ground.

Types of Trekking Poles

Trekking Poles: Sold in pairs, trekking poles improve your safety and can minimize force on your knees when hiking and backpacking. Most are flexible in length, and others have internal springs that absorb shock to minimize impact even further.

Trekking Pole Length

  • If you’re taller than about 6 feet, choose a hiking staff or trekking poles that have a maximum length of at least 51 inches.
  • If you are shorter than 6 feet tall, you’ll be able to shorten most adjustable trekking poles and hiking staffs enough to make them work for you.

For fixed-length trekking poles:

Use the chart below and consult the manufacturer’s size chart that’s specific to the poles you’re looking at.

Height Suggested Pole Length
< 5 ft. 1 in. 100cm (39 in.)
5 ft. 1 in. – 5 ft. 7 in. 110cm (43 in.)
5 ft. 8 in. – 5 ft. 11 in. 120cm (47 in.)
6 ft.+ 130cm (51 in.)

Adjusting Pole Length

If you have trekking poles that can be adjusted in length, you should know what height to place them at. Trekking poles that are not correctly calibrated will cause pain in your head, elbows, back, and spine.

Change the length for general hiking so that when you place the pole with the tip on the ground above your foot, your arm makes a 90-degree curve at the elbow. This would be sufficient for most of your hiking.

If you have three-section poles, it’s a good idea to set the top adjustment to the center of the adjustment range and then set the bottom adjustment to the length that positions the arm at the proper angle. Then, if you need to change the length when hiking, you should just use the top adjustment.

To get more leverage and more stable pole plants on long uphill sections, shorten each pole by around 5–10cm. The shorter your poles, the steeper the slope. Your trekking poles should help you move uphill without putting pressure or exhaustion on your shoulders, and your shoulders should never feel like they are in an unnatural, lifted position or being pulled up against your backpack straps. If that’s the case, you’ll need to shorten the poles even more.

Try lengthening each pole by 5–10cm from the length you set it at for general hiking for long downhill stretches. This will help you maintain a more balanced posture and improve your balance.

If you’re on a long traversing section, you can shorten the uphill pole and lengthen the downhill pole as required to increase comfort and stability.

Trekking Pole Features

Depending on how you plan to use the poles, you may want to consider poles with some of these features:

Adjustable: Many trekking poles adjust in length to enhance stability on different terrain. They generally adjust from about 24 to 55 inches long. Typically you’ll want to shorten the poles when going uphill and lengthen them when going downhill.

Non-adjustable: Some trekking poles don’t adjust in length. These fixed-length poles tend to be lighter weight than adjustable poles because they operate with fewer parts, making them popular among the ultralight crowd. They are great for activities where you know you only need a certain length.

Foldable: Foldable trekking poles function kind of like tent poles rather than collapsing into themselves like adjustable poles. Foldable poles are typically the most packable and often are very lightweight and quick to deploy. They are especially popular among ultrarunners and fast hikers.

Shock-absorbing poles: These offer internal springs that absorb shock when you walk downhill. With most poles, this feature can be turned off when it’s not needed, like when you’re walking uphill. Shock absorption is a nice feature for any hiker but is particularly recommended if you have unstable hips, knees, or ankles or have had any previous injuries to those joints.

Standard poles: These do not have a shock-absorbing feature and are lighter and less expensive as a result. While they don’t absorb as much impact when going downhill, they do provide a similar level of balance and support as shock-absorbing poles.

Ultralight: Ultralight poles offer the advantage of less swing weight, which makes them easier and quicker to move. Over the course of a long hike, this means less fatigue. Ultralight poles are also easier to pack. The pole shaft’s material is a key determinant of the pole’s overall weight. REI classifies ultralight poles as those that weigh less than 1 pound per pair.

Camera mount: Some trekking poles include a built-in camera mount under the handle, enabling the pole to be used as a monopod.