If you are new to hiking, learning to choose the best gear to suit your needs can be daunting. “Do I want a hiking pole or trekking pole; what’s the difference anyway?” Does it need to fold, collapse, or stay all in one piece?

Let’s start with the basics and break it down. I’ll cover the basics to get you going!

Benefits of Hiking and Trekking Poles

Using poles, of any kind, provide numerous benefits. Both types of poles provide additional stability when on steep or challenging terrain as well as walking on less than ideal conditions: icy or snow covered trail, forging through creeks, over rocky terrain, down steep slopes. Know how to use your poles effectively in each type. Poles also reduce the amount fatigue on hips and shoulders caused by heavy packs and trail challenges.

Franconia Ridge Loop, New Hampshire @westboundnomad

Difference Between Hiking and Trekking Poles

This is where you consider where and how far you will be going, and the adventure your taking. A hiking pole, or walking staff, is generally sold as an individual pole and made out out of wood, metal or composite. It’s counter-part is the trekking pole. Trekking poles are designed to be lighter in weight, and sold in pairs. Hiking poles are perfect for short duration outings meaning a day or less. Generally speaking, day hikes are a few miles with smaller and lighter weight packs.


Hiking poles range widely in materials. Wooden poles, or staffs, were used early on and were often carved with patterns or could be adorned metal badges awarded for completing popular trails. Nowadays, poles are made from high tech materials such as aluminum and carbon for durability and lightness. Most common are aluminum, offering durability while sacrificing weight savings. On the high-end side are carbon fiber poles. These high tech poles, light to ultra light, weigh in at a pound or less. Both materials have their draw backs, carbon poles can collapse down smaller as well as saving you from greater fatigue.


  • Locking Mechanism – Collapsible poles come with either a twist-n-lock closure (internal) or lever lock (external). Twist-n-Lock mechanisms are durable but can be cumbersome to be fixed in the field. Lever locking mechanisms can be easily manipulated with gloves on and have less moving parts to break.
  • Shock Absorbing – This feature is used to reduce impact on arms and shoulders. Often built into the twist-n-lock or directly below the handle. They absorb the impact before transferring the load onto the hiker.
  • Grip – Handles themselves can be made from rubber, cork, and foam. Choosing the right one for you can be essential. While foam might be the most comfortable upfront it will also absorb moisture from sweaty hands. Cork resists moisture will conform to your hand over time and provide a long term comfortable grip. Rubber offers the best solution for cold days by insulating your hand. At the same time it can lead to friction and open the possibility to blisters. Choose the application best for you. Staying to day hikes, foam could be best. On those longer treks cork might be the best for long terms comfort.
  • Basket – Baskets provide a convenient way to use your new poles in a variety seasons and conditions. These attachments screw onto the bottom of the pole just above the tip. Baskets are used on snow covered trails and slopes to create a larger surface area. When placing downward pressure, the pole resists sinking all the way through the snow pack. Some manufacturers sell them separately as an accessory. If you plan on using your poles during the winter they are worth every penny!

Using Your New Poles

Congratulations! You’ve poured over reviews and found the pair for you. Now it’s time to get outside.

Hiking and trekking poles may seem straightforward but below are some Pro Tips on adjusting them to the right height and how to use them.

The right length: makes all the difference, especially when on flat ground, going down or up hill. Set your poles to a height that when on flat ground and holding the grip, your arm and elbow are at a 90 degree angle.

Prolonged Downhill Sections: Walking downhill, especially with a heavy pack, can prove more tipsy than you’d like. Use your poles to your advantage for extra stability by keeping your arms in front of you. We want to keep that 90 degree angle. Lengthen each pole 5-10 cm to keep that 90 degree angle.

Prolonged Uphill Sections: Walking uphill can be less daunting when properly using your poles. Again, we want to remember to adjust our poles for optimal length. Shorten the pole 5-10cm. For steeper uphill travel you will want to use a double pole plant (both poles ahead of you) and use the poles to leverage yourself forward, easing the burden on your knees.

Stay safe and happy hiking!

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