Walking and Trekking pole design has advanced in leaps and bounds over the past decade, with the invention of new locking and adjustment mechanisms, as well as the pioneering use of lighter, stronger materials in construction. To help you decide which pole/poles to go for we’ve compiled a list of materials and features found in modern walking and trekking poles, so you know what to look for.
Modern trekking poles are generally constructed in one of three materials:
A lightweight yet strong metal, which has the added benefit of resisting corrosion. The majority of walking and trekking poles are constructed froma, as it is affordable, durable, and has been used in the manufacture of poles since the 1970s. Aluminium is generally used in entry and mid-level walking poles due to its comparatively low price point, but these will be excellent for long-term use by outdoor enthusiasts on moderate walks and treks.
A comparatively new addition to walking pole design, Titanium has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal. It is lighter and stronger than aluminium, but is more expensive. In most real-world applications titanium is slightly heavier than carbon fiber, but its natural flex and shock-absorbing properties mean that it is also stronger. Its price, high strength and low weight make it best suited to use by serious enthusiasts and professionals who partake in weight-centric but technically demanding activities like mountaineering and multi-day backpacking.
Often referred to simply as carbon, carbon fiber has been used in recent years as an alternative to metals in the production of poles. It is extremely light (the lightest per volume of any material listed here), but has an extremely high tensile strength, so is ideal for use in poles for fast and light pursuits such as trail running and fast mountain ascents. Though it has a high strength under tension (with your weight on it), it is stiffer and more brittle than titanium and aluminium, so is more prone to damage from bashes and knocks to the shaft. It is an expensive premium product, so well suited to the serious enthusiast or professional who will benefit most from its low weight.
Here’s a lowdown on the different locking and adjustment mechanisms available today. We’ve used our own terminology to best describe how they work – manufacturers have their own names for their versions of these systems:
The classic locking mechanism for walking poles, which produces maximum locking safety and a high holding force. Adjustments to pole length are made by unscrewing to loosen and extend the pole, and screwing to tighten and lock in place. Simple and easy to use, this is most commonly found on entry and mid-level poles. This system does not function well in sub-zero temperatures due to expansion and contraction of joints, which causes them to seize.
A pole locking mechanism that works in a similar way to the ‘quick release’ mechanisms found on many bike wheels, which allows adjustments to be made rapidly to pole length even whilst wearing gloves. This mechanism also allows poles to withstand high pressure, and will continue to function in sub-zero temperatures, unlike screw-locks.
Walking pole design that can be folded at joints along its length to achieve the smallest pack size possible, similar in appearance to most folding tent poles. A flexible internal rope attaches the sections together, which combined with a push-button release mechanism makes for quick and easy assembly. It’s small size and light weight makes it ideal for use in sports such as trail running and mixed mountaineering, where regular stowing in/on a rucksack may be necessary.
While some poles feature just one of the above adjustment systems, many feature two in conjunction to achieve the ideal compromise between short folded length and ease of adjustability. Those of you looking for higher performance poles for demanding pursuits and harsh conditions should consider those featuring Flick-Lock adjustment and/or Z-Pole adjustment. For those of you seeking hardy and reliable poles for less demanding walking and trekking use, Screw-Lock poles will do just fine. Screw lock is the longest established and most widely-used adjustment for a reason – it works!
Hopefully you’re now ready to choose yourself some walking poles!