Trekking poles are the piece of gear most debated over whether or not it’s worth paying more for top brands like Black Diamond, Leki, and even Z-Packs. Cheaper brands fall under Cascade Mountain Tech or ‘just something from Walmart or Amazon’. Which price is right for you depends on many factors but ultimately comes down to whether you want to spend more money or not? We’ll be breaking down a couple different factors and recommendations on what the best models in each price category are.
Aluminum vs Carbon Fiber
This will be the most important decision affecting the price and weight of your trekking poles. Aluminum is a lightweight metal but not as light as carbon fiber. Poles made from aluminum can be stronger however they are more susceptible to getting bent. Carbon fiber on the other hand is unable to bend, and what doesn’t bend is going to break. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in many cases where an aluminum pole would bend, the flexibility of carbon fiber will withstand and leave you with an unharmed pole.
Carbon Fiber Weight: 7.8 oz per pole
Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles - Carbon Fiber
Aluminum Weight: 10.4 oz per pole
Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles - Aluminum
To show the weight comparison I’ve taken the same exact model of poles from Cascade Mountain Tech and looked up the weight per pole. The aluminum poles are roughly 2.5 oz more per pole. Where this isn’t a big difference, it’s still about a third heavier than the carbon fiber and you will likely notice that difference. This isn’t much of a difference but have that extra weight in each hand over the course of an entire day of hiking it will add to more energy being spent.
Foam Grip vs Cork Grip
This difference won’t have any technical effect on your hiking so it’s important to go with what you think will feel the most comfortable over a long period of time. Foam grips have a squishier feel while cork grips feel more natural. Cork grips also wick away sweat and moisture while foam grips tend to absorb. My personal preference is cork grips for the smooth but steady feel they provide.
Z Poles vs Adjustable
Most trekking poles you’ll see are the adjustable type with dual flick locks. These are my favorite and what I would recommend unless you have a special need for trekking poles. The only other style to this worth mentioning is the Z type poles. These poles remind me of tent poles because of how they are multiple pieces with a cord that goes through the center and lets the poles fold up and snap back into place. The pros with these are that they come in at lighter weight because of using less material and they are able to fold up smaller than your normal adjustable poles. The word of caution for this type is that it could be more difficult to repair if a piece breaks.
Favorite Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
Expensive: Black Diamond Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
What we like: This is an all around quality built pole at the top of the market and popular among hikers. It comes with a hefty price tag but if that is not a concern you're guaranteed to love these poles.
Cheap: Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
What we like: These come in as the most popular pole and highest performing if you're looking to avoid the price tag of other poles. Cascade Mountain Tech is a real manufacturer and supplies all replacement parts that match the original price of these poles making them a cost friendly pole even when something breaks.
Favorite Aluminum Trekking Poles
What we like: Looking for a top name brand for quality outdoor equipment but not as focused on the carbon fiber factor? These poles are an identical build for significantly less and will have cheaper replacement parts too if needed.
Cheap: Cascade Mountain Tech Aluminum Trekking Poles
What we like: This is what I consider to be the least amount of money to spend on a pair of trekking poles. Anything less may be bargain hunting with a future cost associated. These poles will hold up well and are the quintessential '$20 amazon poles are just as good as the expensive version'.
The Bottom Line
Only buy expensive poles if that is what you want, don't fall into the trap of needing to spend money where you don't want. Expensive poles like Black Diamond I view as having a higher quality and that is something I value when hiking as much as I do. Trekking poles are made to get bent, snap, break, and have the tips lost along the way. During my Appalachian Trail thru hike I was using a pair of Black Diamond carbon fiber poles that I had bought a couple years before my trip. Over the course of the trail I broke the tips off two of my poles and snapped the upper shaft section. And right before leaving I had snapped the bottom shaft section. I did have some luck with securing replacement parts and modifying the poles with duct tape to keep them trekking me forward and sturdy. Whatever you end up buying, know that they will become one of your most beat up pieces of gear.
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