The Best Trekking Poles

For our 2017 trekking pole comparison we researched dozens of manufacturers and asked them to submit their lightest weight model for review. We then covered hundreds of miles and thousands of feet in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Cascades, and on the trek to Everest Base Camp. Once our test period concluded, we were impressed with the durability found in every model we used and abused, however a few models stood out above others.

A distinction should be made when comparing trekking poles with vastly different collapsing mechanisms, namely the traditional telescoping style that collapses by sliding the lower section into the middle and/or upper section, and the newer folding style that allows models to pack down in dimensions previously not possible with the traditional design. Consideration was also given when comparing poles made of more affordable aluminum and those made of pricier, but lighter, carbon fiber.

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Price
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad Price
Leki Micro Vario Carbon
90
Best in Class
2018
Weight 7
Packability 9
Comfort/Swing 9
Features 8
Durability 7

Pack down small

Lightweight

Very comfortable grip

Balanced swing

Most expensive model

Minor durability concerns

MSRP
$200.00
BEST DEAL
Montem Ultralight Carbon Fiber
89
Weight 8
Packability 7
Comfort/Swing 9
Features 8
Durability 7

Incredibly lightweight

Very comfortable grip

Easy adjustment

Tricky wrist strap adjustment

Bulky shaft adjusters

MSRP
$100.00
BEST DEAL
Leki Carbon Ti
86
Weight 7
Packability 6
Comfort/Swing 8
Features 8
Durability 7

Super lightweight

Very comfortable grip

4-season versatility

Minimum collapsed length

MSRP
$180.00
BEST DEAL
Black Diamond Alpine FLZ
85
Weight 6
Packability 8
Comfort/Swing 7
Features 7
Durability 7

Pack down small

Very comfortable grip

All-year versatility

Heaviest folding model

Flick-lock system required adjusting

MSRP
$150.00
BEST DEAL
REI Flash Carbon
84
Weight 9
Packability 5
Comfort/Swing 7
Features 6
Durability 7

Lightweight

Glove-friendly

Easy adjusting

Warmest Grip

Warmest Grip

Longest minimum collapsed length

MSRP
$139.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Mountainsmith Pyrite 7075
81
Weight 5
Packability 6
Comfort/Swing 6
Features 7
Durability 7

Affordable

Cork grip

Anti-shock

Padded wrist strap

Heaviest model tested

Least collapsable model

MSRP
$55.00
BEST DEAL
Leki Micro Vario Carbon

The Leki Micro Vario Carbon trekking poles took our Best In Class award largely in part to the combination of lightweight and extreme-packability. They also scored high in the comfort/swing category as “Aergon (Thermo) grip” felt natural in hand and the small diameter pole had a very balanced swing.

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Montem Ultralight Carbon Fiber

The Montem Ultralight Carbon Fiber trekking poles took second place in our test in large part due to its ultralight weight, 100 percent carbon fiber dampening design, and innovative and comfortable grip.

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Leki Carbon Ti

The Leki Carbon Ti trekking poles were our second favorite telescopic collapsible (instead of foldable) trekking pole in the lineup. Outstanding comfort, easy adjustability, and the “Thermo Mid” grip made this pair the runner-up for best collapsible model and a favorite of those who crossed them over into backcountry ski use.

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Black Diamond Alpine FLZ

The Black Diamond FLZ trekking poles scored high with our alpine climbing testers who all raved about the packability this model demonstrated. Some technical climbers who never carried trekking poles on technical routes loved that these would fit in the smallest of alpine backpacks and in carry-on luggage.

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REI Flash Carbon

The REI Flash Carbon trekking poles were a solid competitor in the category of lightweight trekking poles. Reviewers felt this was a great entry at the price point and appreciated the classic style coupled with high tech materials like the dampening carbon composite uppers and easy-to-use “Powerlocks.”

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Mountainsmith Pyrite 7075

The Mountainsmith Pyrite 7075 trekking poles are a great value option in the highly competitive category of lightweight trekking poles. While lighter (and more costly) materials made other models stand out, testers were impressed that the Mountainsmith Pyrite 7075 still featured comfortable cork grips and anti-shock technology at a really attractive price point.

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Trekking Pole Review Results

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As our 2017 trekking pole test concluded, we discovered some major leaps in performance in this category across the board. Some testers found the lightweight models made choosing to carry and use poles on all trips regardless of length, both for ascent and descent, made more sense. Our technical rock climbers were pleased that folding pole technology allowed them to bring and easily stash a pair of trekking poles in small technical climbing bags once they reached the cliff. Our winter trekkers and skiers all felt like these models could serve multisport purpose and had great year-round versatility. In the future we will likely segregate folding pole models with traditional collapsing models as we expect the industry will continue to design great models utilizing both technologies.

Weight

The lightest model we tested was the REI Flash Carbon. However, three other models were within one ounce and had other features that ended up pushing the REI Flash Carbon down the overall list. The heaviest model we tested was the Mountainsmith 7075 Pyrite trekking poles.

Packability

The Leki Micro Vario Carbon and Black Diamond FLZ tied for most-packable models in our lineup, collapsing down more than 10 inches smaller than any other models because they were the only two that used foldable technology. The Montem Ultralights were the most packable model that used the traditional collapsing technology and the REI Flash was the least packable in the test.

Comfort/Swing

The Montem Ultralights and Leki Micro Vario Carbons tied for most comfortable grips and balanced swing. Despite a cork grip, the Mountainsmith 7075 Pyrite scored the lowest in comfort/swing due to its weight and less ergonomic grip.

Features

The Leki Micro Vario Carbon, Montem Ultralight and Leki Carbon Ti all tied for best features. Testers looked for glove-friendly tensioner adjustment, and included accessories like trekking baskets, powder baskets and storage bags when considering overall features.

Durability

Since none of the models failed throughout the testing period it was difficult to discuss durability, so all models seemed quite equal. Both aluminum and carbon fiber models showed little more than slight cosmetic scratches in the finish. Testers were all experienced hikers who used extra caution when hiking in large boulder fields/talus slopes where many have snapped a lower section of a trekking pole when it gets caught in a crevice and the traveler maintains forward momentum.

Test Methods

Our testers put hundreds of miles on each model in mountain ranges around the world. From the White Mountains of New Hampshire to the Cascades of Washington and even a trek to Everest Base Camp we were happy to find not a single model tested failed over all that terrain.

Weight

This concrete criteria is verified by a calibrated digital scale and is recorded with only trekking baskets in cases where additional accessories are included. Powder baskets, travel tips, indoor tips, are not included in measured weight.

Packability

We determine this by measuring the minimum collapsed or folded mode. While collapsable models can sometimes be disassembled to pack, we do not consider that convenient for those in the field so we omit that info/option in our testing. Some consideration is given to the diameter of the poles.

Comfort/Swing

To determine how comfortable a model is we look at multiple aspects. The grip material against bare skin in all weather conditions, the adjustability and padding (if any) on the wrist strap, the ability to “choke down” on the grip, the balance and “feel” of the pole as the tester swings it into position for the next placement, all get considered when determining overall Comfort/Swing scores.

Features

In this category we look at everything from adjustable wrist straps to included accessories. Tool free adjustment of tensioners and included accessories like powder baskets, travel/storage bags, etc. all help drive this score up.

Durability

In order to test durability we require more than a hundred miles be put on each test model. We then inspect each model for damage or any sign of excessive wear. We check the adjustable tension of expanding nuts in collapsible models and look for any stress cracks in our carbon fiber models.

What is a Trekking Pole?

Trekking poles are much more than “hiking sticks.” Modern design creates high performance options that help backcountry skiers, hikers, snowshoers and climbers go further and faster with less stress on their knees during descents, and more all body power on ascents. Once you start hiking with trekking poles you wonder how you hiked for so long without them!

The two biggest distinctions in this category is collapsible (usually telescopic) versus foldable and aluminum versus carbon fiber (or composite). Collapsible tend to be more affordable, but do not pack as well as foldable. Aluminum is heavier than carbon, but also more affordable and durable.

Our highest rated poles were very lightweight, packable and comfortable to use. Lower rated poles tended to be heavy, have more difficult adjustment mechanisms, and not collapse small enough to conveniently travel with or strap to the outside of a small pack when hands are needed during scrambles.

It is clear that manufactures are using lighter materials and design to trim weight while maintaining adequate durability. Typical retail price ranged from $55 for budget models up to $200 for “performance” luxury models.

All models in our test had height adjustable features. Some telescoping models use an internal cam that expands when you twist the adjacent pole section. Others had a level lock style cam that might require some tweaking with a tension adjuster. The folding models all had the lock style cam on their upper pole section allowing for some adjustability. Some models also offered some level of shock absorption either through an internal spring that acts like a strut while others made of carbon fiber had an overall dampening effect.

Glossary

Handle/Grip: The top of the pole meant for your hand

Pommel: A rounded feature often on top of the handle that allows an open-palmed grip, useful during descents

Shelf: A raised section on the handle/grip that you can slide your hand down to for short steep sections

“Choke Down”: the act of sliding your hand down the handle/shaft to keep your arms in a more balanced position when encountering a short steep section of trail

Trekking Basket: a small basket that is attached to the bottom of the trekking pole intended to help keep the pole tips from penetrating to deeply in mud and earth

Powder Basket: a large basket that is attached to the bottom of the trekking pole intended to help keep the pole tips from penetrating to deeply in snow

Carbide Tip: the durable metal tip on the bottom which grips well on both rock and in dirt

Indoor/Walking Tips: a thick rubber tip meant to protect indoor floor surfaces from the carbide tip

Travel/Storage Tips: thin plastic covers for the carbide tip for storage/travel, not to be kept on when poles are in use