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How to Select Trekking Poles

rekking poles have gained in popularity in recent years due to the many benefits that they provide. Also known as walking sticks and hiking sticks, these poles add stability and support to your hiking adventures. Made of high-grade aluminum, Carbon fiber, or in the case of some staffs, wood, your choice of poles will be based on some of these factors:

Cost and Weight – These go together because in order to get the weight down the price will be higher

Locking Mechanisms -- Most trekking poles come in two or three sections. This allows you to adjust the length of the pole from around 2 feet to almost 5 feet. Since a single length pole would be the most secure, the quality of the locking system can determine just how safe your adjustable pole is going to be.

Hand Grips -- Grips are usually made out of cork, foam or rubber, each material has its pros and cons. Cork conforms well to your hands, resist moisture from sweaty hands and decreases vibration. Foam absorbs moisture from the hands and is softer to the touch, while rubber insulates your hands from cold and vibration but is more likely to rub your skin into blisters in warmer weather.

Wrist Straps -- Straps should be adjustable and made of a soft material. Used properly, wrist straps reduce the amount of grip that is required to hold the pole making it easier to transfer weight from the legs to the shoulder and arms.

Other Components -- Baskets and pole tips are also considerations when choosing a trekking pole. Most poles have removable baskets that can be changed to adapt to surface conditions. Tips are usually made of Carbide or steel. Some poles offer rubber covers and most staffs have a rubber tip.

My first experience with trekking poles was a snowshoe trip in Lassen Volcanic National Park many years ago. The MSR Denali II Trekking Poles I used gave me the extra support that I needed to traverse the varied terrain from the trailhead on Lassen Park Road to the base of Mt. Brokeoff.

<< Mt. Brokeff ascent April 2011

I can’t even imagine making the steep ascent to the top of Mt. Brokeoff without some means of stability, and the descent was just plain hairy! The snow was too soft for crampons and to unstable to glissade in many places. The poles provided the points of contact necessary to redistribute my weight and maintain balance, and therefore my safety. We revisited Mt Brokeoff this spring and this time I used MSR Overland Carbon trekking poles. These poles they are made of Carbon fiber, they are lighter and easier to use and carry and very well balanced.

These experiences helped me realize that the same benefits could be transferred to hikes that did not involve snow. The same stabilizing effect, transfer of weight and extra points of contact could make hiking, especially in terrain, a much more enjoyable experience. Trekking poles not only make hiking safer, according to a 1999 study in The Journal of Sports Medicine, they can reduce the impact compressive force on knees by up to 25 percent.

MSR Overland Trekking Pole

The proper use of trekking poles redistributes the forces required to ascend or descend, your shoulders, arms and abs also get a workout. This transfer of energy is what reduces the impact on your legs and lets you use more of your body to absorb the impacts.

<< MSR Overland Trekking Pole

My business partner and son-law-law Karl is an avid trekking pole user, He loves to hike but has knee and ankle problems that constantly threaten to derail any hike in uneven terrain. Trekking poles allow him to continue an active hiking schedule while reducing the risk of injury. He maintains that it gives him more confidence on the trail that further enhances his outdoor experience.

My wife Cyd prefers a hiking staff. She uses the 54-inch Hickory Staff from Whistle Creek. Beyond improving balance and stability, she has an unnatural fear of snakes and likes having something with some reach and heft in her hands. For those who want to carry a less weighty pole the Tracks Surelock and Surelite Staff offer lightweight options. The Tracks Compact Travel Staff and Sherlock Travel Staff are versions that collapse down to less than 24 inches.

A new trend in trekking pole and staff users are sent to us by our local orthopedic surgeons. People recovering from knee and hip surgery can benefit greatly from the safety and stability provided by trekking poles. They provide a more independent option to the use of walkers and for many are a path to freedom of movement that was previously unattainable.

Our snowshoe rental program has used the MSR Denali II and III poles for the past five years with great success, but all things must change. While we still have some MSR Denali II, III and Overland Carbon poles, MSR has come out with a new series of trekking poles that offer additional advantages. MSR’s new Surelock system is designed to address the three highest priorities of Trekking Pole users, ease of use, quick, fail safe adjustment, and strength. With an indexed positive locking system, users are assured of an absolutely secure adjustment in length. The MSR TR-2 (two section) and TR-3 (three section) poles have a one-handed trigger release adjustment to make changing the length of the pole a one handed affair.

The MSR UL-2 and UL-3 provide an Ultralight option minus the trigger release adjustment system. Weighing in at 14.4oz, the MSR UL-3 gives you surefire adjustments in a lightweight package.

Whatever choice you make, trekking poles and staffs can make your next adventure safer and more enjoyable. Please stop by Trailhead Adventures, 62365 Skyway in Paradise, California if you would like to see the latest trekking poles or pick up some more advice.

Jim Broshears was born and raised in Northern California and has enjoyed the great outdoors in the State of Jefferson for over 50 years. Jim worked as a firefighter for 35 years and currently owns and manages Trailhead Adventures, an outdoor outfitter store in Paradise CA. Helping others enjoy the beauty of our amazing area is his passion. Jim co-manages a blog, that is dedicated to providing information about hiking and backpacking gear, local adventures and tips on outdoor safety and survival.


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