The Best Trekking Poles of 2019
Looking for trekking poles? We aggregated hundreds of professional and customer reviews on to find the most popular models. Then we tested them. Here’s what we found.
We analyzed trekking pole reviews from Adventure Junkies, Andrew Skurka, Backpacker, Clever Hiker, Outdoor Gear Lab, Outside, REI Coop Journal, Section Hiker, Switchback Travel, and Wirecutter. Then we analyzed over 200 Amazon and REI customer reviews to see what customers had to say about the most popular trekking poles. Based on this research, we found the best trekking poles to be the Black Diamond Ergo Trail Cork for its balance of price, durability, and ease of use. We also identified five other stand-out trekking poles well-worth considering.
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THE BEST OVERALL TREKKING POLES:
Grip Material: Cork
Compare the Ergo Cork with other Poles
Weight: 18 oz (pair)
Pole Material: Aluminum
The Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork is the best all-around trekking pole because of their unique grip, their durability, and their high rankings on both the Amazon and REI bestseller lists. That’s one reason they rank highly on Switchback Travel, Clever Hiker, REI Journal, and Section Hiker. Clever Hiker called these telescoping poles “tough, easily adjustable, and dependable.” Reviewers on Amazon also raved about the ergonomic grips, set at a 15-degree angle to help prevent wrist injury.
The Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork poles are for the frequent hiker who wants a versatile trekking pole that will last. We think they provide the best balance of comfort, reliability, and value for most users.
For this article, we purchased and tested a pair of the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork on a 800-mile backpacking trip across Arizona on the Arizona Trail (see our Long-Term Arizona Trail Gear Review for more on our testing). Our tester, Mike Unger (author of our Best Backpacking Backpack story) has tried many trekking poles over more than 20,000 miles of hiking. Mike has found he requires durable poles that can handle a significant weight load (like, a majority of his body weight).
The Arizona Trail is a rocky, rugged trail that eats gear for breakfast. Yet, we found the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork held up well. When the testers returned to the office, we were shocked by how well the tips stood up to the abuse. They looked almost new despite daily rough use.
In our tests, we also found a stand-out feature of the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork are the thoughtful grips. Unlike other poles we tested, the Trail Ergo’s are at a 15 degree slant, angled for easy grip. We noticed this when our hands were wet from rain or sweaty from the sun. The cork material is comfortable and easy to hold. Over time, the cork molded to our hands.
The Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork also come with foam grip extensions that wrap around from the handle to the shaft of the pole. This is useful because in snow conditions or on tricky or technical terrain, you may need to grip lower on the pole. In most of those situations, you would readjust the length of your pole. But the foam grip extension lets you do this without having to stop to readjust. The foam grip extensions gives you that a similar advantage of readjusting by gripping lower on the pole.
Another advantage of the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork is the ease of tailoring it to your adventures. They have compatible snow baskets that are easy to take on and off as conditions change on your hike. Snow baskets keep your poles from getting torqued, providing extra support for you in deep snow. While we had no durability issues with the Black Diamond Trail Ergo tips after more than 1000 miles of use, new tips are easy to purchase and just a bit of additional work to replace.
Flick locking mechanisms are notoriously finicky, but we’ve found the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork was sturdy. It didn’t collapse against heavy weight. It was easy to shorten when we preferred to carry our poles or for packing up.
Other reviewers and our testers noted that at 18 ounces for the aluminum pair, the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork are not the lightest option. One reason for the weight is that the poles are made of aluminum. Aluminum offers a good balance of weight and price. Plus, in times of extreme stress, aluminum flexes instead of shattering like carbon fiber. These means aluminum poles can take sudden twisting or extra weight burden associated with falling, stumbling, or tripping. If you’re looking for a similar featured trekking pole that’s lighter weight, we’d suggest the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork.
We wish the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork condensed more. At 29 inch collapsed length, they’re not the most packable option. On the Arizona Trail, we were able to find a work-around by securing them to the outside of our pack. Most backpacking backpacks come with straps just for this use. So as long as you weren’t hoping to put your poles in your backpack, you should be fine.
One thing to note is that the lever locks on the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork need to be tightened with a screwdriver. Some customer reviewers found this a hassle, although we were able to do it in the backcountry on the Arizona Trail trail using a pocket knife.
If you’re picking up the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork, we’d suggest adding on the rubber tech tips. They allow for better grip on rock and can be less damaging to trails than the carbide tip that comes with the poles. It’s not uncommon in places like the Arizona Trail to see scratches in red rock created by carbide hiking pole tips. The rubber tips won’t scar the rock, leaving less of a trace. If you aren’t ready to screw in rubber tips, the easy-put-on-easy-take-off tip removable rubber tip protectors do the same thing and are almost as secure.
THE BEST Budget trekking poles:
Grip Material: Foam or Cork
Compare the Cascade Mountain with other poles
Weight: 15.6 oz (pair)
Pole Material: Carbon
If you’re not sure if trekking poles are for you, the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock are a cheap way to find out. The Cascade Mountain Tech are among the top five best-selling trekking poles on Amazon, and make the cut on Adventure Junkies, Section Hiker, and Switchback Travel. They are also available at Costco and are a favorite of budget hiker Paul Magnanti, who covered them in his “Outfitted by Costco” story.
The Cascade Mountain Tech poles beat out the frequently-recommended and similarly priced Montem Ultra Strong due to reports of better durability and relatively easy repair. At 15.6 ounces, they’re not particularly light for carbon fiber, but for the price they can’t be beat. While they come in both cork and foam grips, multiple sources recommend going with the foam grips from this manufacturer.
The Cascade Mountain Tech is mentioned often in noted hiker and guide Paul Magnanti’s budget gear lists, who believes it is possible to get quality hiking gear at Costco. It’s his go-to budget carbon fiber pick in his Sub-$300 Gear List guide. These Costco poles are also a budget pick of guide Andrew Skurka.
The REI Flash Carbons are among the most highly rated hybrid carbon-aluminum poles available. REI’s #1 best-seller are also highly ranked by Backpacker, Clever Hiker, REI Coop Journal, and Switchback Travel. The Flash Carbons balance weight, price, durability, and ease of use. Paired with REI’s warranty and ease of returns, these poles are lightweight option considered to be a solid pick among outdoors people.
Another thing we liked about the Flash Carbons is the menu of options available. There’s a women’s version--which we recommend for most people who are 5’10” and under (the women’s version weigh almost an ounce less). There’s also a folding version of the Flash Carbon that comes with a push-button lock, which makes travel easy. These collapse down to 14.5 to 18 inches-- small enough to fit in a backpack or carry-on size suitcase. (Curious about whether you can get on a plane with your gear? Read our section on Can I Fly with Trekking Poles?)
That being said, unless you are traveling and need a shorter pole, we recommend the telescoping lock version. This allows for versatility when you need to shorten your poles while hiking uphill and lengthen your poles while going downhill. They’re also less expensive than the folding version.
Backpacker calls the telescoping version the “best-in-test adjustability” for tent supports, but they note that the measurement markings wear off easily. Pro tip: To adjust the height, reviewers suggest extending the bottom length fully and using the middle section to shorten and lengthen. If you’re concerned about measurement markings wearing off, use a Sharpie pen to mark your desired lengths or wrap duct tape around your poles at your desired height.
In a previous version of this story, we recommended that taller people consider the REI Co-op Traverse Power Lock Cork as an alternative to the Flash Carbon. Since then, the Flash Carbon has been updated to accommodate taller people. We found the aluminum Traverse Power Lock Cork to be a good mid-range, durable choice for taller people. They ranked in the top ten on both Switchback Travel and Section Hiker. Reviewers found the 20 ounce unisex version of the Power Lock to telescope up to 140 centimeters--which was taller than last year’s Flash Carbon design.
However, the updated version of the REI Carbon Flash extends to 140 cm--as long as the REI Co-op Traverse. Now that they both are the same height, we suggest the REI Carbon Flash. Why? The biggest problem reviewers reported about the Traverse is, as far as we can tell, that they have no replacement parts available. But, if either of these REI poles won’t work for you, REI’s generous return and exchange policies can help you trade them in for something you like more.
As with the other poles we recommend, we find that adding rubber tips to the REI Carbon Flash poles can give you better grip when you’re hiking on rock. Rubber tips also are less likely to leave scars on the rock and dirt. The best part of the REI Coop Flash is that they come with REI’s one-year return warranty, so you can easily return them if you find they aren’t right for you.
THE MOST DURABLE TREKKING POLES:
Grip Material: Foam
Compare the Leki Legacy with other poles
Weight: 17.2 oz (pair)
Pole Material: Aluminum
The Leki Legacy Lite Cor Tec is the updated version of our favorite aluminum trekking poles, the Leki Legacy (still available on discount at a few stores but rapidly disappearing). The Legacy have garnered a 4.8-star average on Amazon and a 4.6-star average on REI. They make Switchback Travel’s top five recommendations and REI Coop Journal’s Top 5 list. We purchased and relied on the Legacy on a 200-mile traverse of the San Juan Mountain range in Colorado in 10 feet of snow. We found these poles to be heavy duty, affordable, and surprisingly light for all they can handle. While we have yet to get our hands on the Legacy Lite Cor Tec, everything we have seen leads us to believe that they have all the same features we liked in the Legacy.
The unisex and women’s versions of the Leki Legacy Lite Cor-Tec are nearly the same weight, at just over 17 ounces each. The unisex poles telescope to a slightly longer length, at 135 centimeters rather than the women’s-specific poles’ 125 centimeters. Leki’s “Speed Lock” lever locking system allows you to adjust each lock by hand.
The Leki Legacy Lite Cor Tec have optional snow baskets for snow and mud, which allowed us to gain extra leverage while walking. Should the tips on the Legacy break or wear out, replacement tips are widely available.
On our San Juan Mountains traverse, we relied on the Leki Legacy with the snow baskets. The strong aluminum shaft on the Legacy felt at times almost more like a ski-pole--designed for the kind of torque and twisting associated with rugged terrain. The snow baskets allowed us to lift off of the snow more and get the most out of using poles in that kind of terrain.
One minor customer concern with the Leki Legacy Lite Cor Tec is that the top of the grip is flat rather than rounded, limiting the number of comfortable hand placements for these trekking poles.
One of the best reasons to choose any aluminum Leki pole like the Leki Legacy Lite Cor Tec is that they are guaranteed for life. We interviewed Junaid Dawud, part of the team who traversed all the Colorado 14ers (14,000 foot peaks) on foot as part of a thru-hike. He reported positive customer service at Leki (Dawud is not sponsored or an ambassador or employee of Leki). Leki’s customer service is well recognized within the hiking community to work with you should any issues arise with your poles.
THE BEST CARBON FIBER TREKKING POLES:
Grip Material: Cork
Compare the Alpine Carbon Cork with other poles
Weight: 17.1 oz (pair)
Pole Material: Carbon
If you’re looking for carbon fiber trekking poles consistently reviewed as the best of the best, look no further than the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork. Nearly every site we reviewed mentioned these poles, and most sites ranked these poles in their top three. There are plenty of satisfied reviewers on Amazon. While they’re listed farther down on the Amazon’s Best Seller’s list than we expected (#42), they’re awarded with the Amazon’s Choice rating (we suspect the lower ranking is because not every customer is looking for carbon fiber). The Black Diamond Alpine Cork take the #1 spot for happy customer reviews a REI and are also highly rated by the REI Coop Journal.
It’s rare that you hear carbon fiber poles called “durable, comfortable, and versatile,” as these poles are described by Outdoor Gear Lab. With cork grips and metal flicklock lever-locks, these poles seem to be some of the most reliable telescoping poles on the market.
One thing to note is that the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles are heavy for carbon fiber: 17.1 ounces for the unisex pair compared to the 14.8-ounce REI Flash Carbon poles.
For the absolute lightest carbon fiber trekking poles, a few of our staff use exclusively use the Gossamer Gear LT5. However, fair warning: those poles need some care and aren’t recommended for people who crank on their poles. That’s why we think the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork are the best option for everyone--even if you put a lot of pressure on your poles. They’re not just light, but can take a surprising beating for carbon fiber.
BEST TREKKING POLES FOR TRAVEL:
Grip Material: Cork and Rubber
Compare the Leki Micro with other poles
Weight: 16.9 oz (pair)
Pole Material: Aluminum
If you want to travel with your carbon fiber poles, and are willing to pay, the Leki Micro Vario Carbon might be for you. While it made fewer lists and didn’t rank quite as high as the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork, most review sites show that the Leki Micro Vario Carbon are some of the best poles available for portability. It’s a favorite at Backpacker, Switchback Travel, Clever Hiker, and Outdoor Gear Lab.
What convinced us on the Leki Micro Vario Carbon as the best travel poles is that at 16.9 ounces, they are slightly lighter than the Alpine Carbon Cork poles. And as folding poles, they collapse down to 15 inches, compared to the Alpine Carbon Cork’s 25 inches. This means they will fit in checked luggage with ease, compared to 25 inches, which only sometimes fit into a suitcase diagonally. The Leki Micro Vario Carbon takes the prize against its competition for portability.
Even if you don’t need to check your gear on a plane or squeeze it in a suitcase, (see Can I Travel with my Poles?) having portable poles is plus. You’re less likely to poke an adventure partner in the eye with inconspicuous poles. If you’re traveling on rough terrain that requires hand-over-hand scrambling, anything in your hands will need to be put away in your pack. If you are walking across snowy slopes, you may want to have an ice axe in hand instead of poles. The Leki Micro Vario Carbon, have some clear advantages.
Do I need trekking poles? Why use trekking poles? Top 12 Reasons to use Trekking poles
Trekking poles reduce strain on knees, secure balance on uneven terrain or during creek crossings, and are essential to set up lightweight tents, filters, and camera systems. Here are the top reasons we can think of to carry poles:
- The most common reason people choose to use poles is to protect their knees and reduce injuries. Michael Torry, director of biomechanics research at Steadman-Hawkins Sports Medicine Foundation in Colorado, found that trekking poles reduce risk of injury in knees, calves, thighs, and hips.
- Less impact on the body over time. Steadman’s research also shows that poles can reduce 4.4% of force. That may not seem like much, but it does add up over time.
- Trekking poles make your hike easier and/or faster. You can use your arms to propel you forward, much like Nordic ski poles can help you move faster. A study published in Applied Science by Christopher Knight at the University of Massachusetts found this works by transferring the workload from your lower body muscles and joints to your upper body.
- Trekking poles make crossing rivers and creeks easier. When you are trying to move through running water, having an additional point of contact with the ground via your pole helps you secure your balance.
- On loose or steep downhill terrain, trekking poles can secure your balance. This is especially true for when the surface is loose, such as when you are crossing scree or other ball-bearing sized rocks where a foot may slip at any moment. Many European hikers and trail runners use poles for this reason, as this kind of terrain is common on continental trails.
- On slippery terrain, like wet rocks or roots, having four points of contact (two feet and two poles) can also secure your balance.
- Trekking poles can help you secure balance on icy or more slippery terrain like mud and snow. Many hikers choose to use sturdier poles in conjunction with snowshoes.
- Many tents require trekking poles as part of the set up, including several of those we recommend in our Best Backpacking Tents story. Trekking poles are stronger than most backpacking tent specific poles. This means they’ll hold up to storms that would otherwise topple tents.
- We also use our trekking poles to secure sun shades, prop up gravity filters, and set up tripods for taking video and photos. See our Best Water Filters guide for examples of how we use poles as part of a Do-It-Yourself gravity filter system in areas where there are no trees (like sections of our thru-hike of the Arizona Trail).
- We’ve used poles to scoot snakes off trail (not recommended) or to look bigger when we’ve encountered bears on trail.
- Trekking poles can help you move brush or spider webs out of the way without requiring use of your hands.
- You can use your poles to judge the depth of a river crossing, strength of a snow bridge, and deep mud.
What makes a good trekking pole?In our research of almost a dozen professional reviews of trekking poles, we developed criteria to identify the best trekking poles.
Whether you are on your very first day hike or undertaking a long backpacking trip, our trekking pole criteria will steer you towards the best pole for you.
To read more about how we decided whether a trekking pole was good, see our research section. We go in-depth on each of the criteria we looked for. We will also point you towards the questions you can ask yourself about your hiking style and destination that will narrow down the choices.
Can I bring trekking poles on a plane?As of several years ago, TSA Guidelines state you can’t fly with trekking poles in your carry-on. However, they can be checked luggage. This means it is important to ensure that your poles collapse down to the size of your checked suitcase or duffel bag. All of the poles we recommend collapse by folding, telescoping, or disassembling into a z-shape.
If your poles don’t fit into your luggage, we recommend flying with a cardboard tube. However, with many airlines charging $25 or more on baggage fees, you may find that using USPS or UPS or FedEx to ship your poles could be more cost effective than checking in your luggage.
Are the best budget poles the Montem Ultra Strong or the Costco Trekking Poles?For the budget trekking pole section, we considered both the popular Montem Ultra Strong and the Cascade Mountain Tech, which can be purchased at Amazon or Costco. The two poles have many similarities. Both are made of carbon fiber. Both are lightweight (sub-1 lb for a pair). They are similarly priced. Both poles are frequently recommended.
When we deep dived into the customer reviews, we saw more frequent and serious reports of durability issues in the Montem Ultra than in the Cascade Mountain Tech. We get it. Both poles are inexpensive. We didn’t have high use expectations for either set. Yet, if you’re going to go for a budget pair, we think you should get the pair that lasts longer and is easier to repair. That is the Cascade Tech.
Want more data to make your decision? See Comparison Tables by price, what reviewers say, and features.
How do I use trekking poles?
Remember your poles are there to help you leverage your upper body strength to propel you forward. Experienced users look more like they are Nordic skiing on dirt than walking. Our friend Justin “Trauma” Lichter, part of the team who was the first to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail in the winter, shares his tips on how to use trekking poles for maximum efficiency. Using his knowledge of skate skiing and striding, he’s developed tricks for hikers to get the most out of their poles.
How long should my trekking poles be?
The ideal length of your trekking poles will differ from person-to-person depending on not just by their height, but also the length or their torso, arms, and legs. A better way to think about the ideal length is by the angle formed between the ground, the pole, and your arms.
When you’re on flat trail, hold your poles at 90 degrees. You want your the tips to hit the ground at an angle behind you--not straight down. Push on the ground behind you to propel yourself forward.
When you’re on sloped terrain, readjust the height to be shorter on the uphill and longer on the downhill. How much you need to adjust depends on the angle of the hill you are ascending or descending. Your ideal height should make it easy and comfortable to grip your pole. If it’s too short, you can feel hunched over. Instead, aim for a height that allows your posture to be straight.
How do I Use Trekking Pole Straps and Handles?
Using the straps and handles properly is crucial. To grip the trekking pole, your hand should come through the strap from underneath and rest on top of the strap, keeping a loose grip on the handles while you hike. If you come straight through the handles to grip the pole there is greater chance of injury to your hands and thumbs if you fall.
Planting Your Trekking Poles
Hiking uphill, the poles should be slightly angled toward you and strike the ground slightly behind you. This helps to propel you up the hill.
Hiking downhill, the opposite is true: the poles should be slightly angled away from you and strike the ground in front of you.This helps to take pressure off your joints and make the descent easier. In really steep terrain you can try the “double planting” method where you plant both poles in front of you to help with stability.
For more information, we recommend reading REI’s article:
How do I repair trekking poles?Read our Care and Maintenance Tips for details on how to repair trekking poles in the field or clean and care for them once you’re back from your trip.
In addition to our own product testing, we aggregated reviews from the following outdoor journals:
We supplemented our research with interviews with:
Junaid Dawud, an explorer and adventurer part of the team who pioneered a thru-hiking route connecting on-foot all Colorado 14ers (14,000 foot peaks)