Walking poles (Shutterstock)
Review Words : Phoebe Smith | 26 December

Traveller's guide to walking poles

From aiding stability to saving your knees; from clearing branches to doubling as a make-shift tripod, if you're heading into the wild make sure you pack a pair of poles…

How to choose your walking poles...


WEIGHT Key for any traveller, the lighter the better – but losing grams usually means spending more cash and often means losing features such as easy-to-use clip locks.

LOCKING MECHANISMS Poles will usually be divided into two or three segments that lock together. The main types you’ll encounter are twist locks (they keep weight down but can be difficult to operate with cold or wet hands) or external clip locks (easy to use even when wearing gloves or when wet but tends to add more weight).

ONE OR TWO?
Some poles are sold singularly but most as pairs. One pole is fine if you’re walking on flat terrain with a small pack, but for reducing impact on your joints, backpacking and using for stability, you should definitely get two.

SHOCK ABSORBERS Some poles will have this feature: basically internal springs that absorb the impact when walking downhill. This feature can usually be turned off if not needed. Some people like it, others don’t, but they usually add weight.

LENGTH Most good poles will be length adjustable, offering a height of between 90-130cm. The segments will either be telescopic or foldable – it’s worth checking that the folded length will fit inside your luggage before you buy.

HANDLE Every pole will have a handle, but make sure you try holding them properly. They can be made out of different materials – from cork, to plastic, rubber and foam – but the key thing to look for is cushioning and a moulded grip; make sure there’s not too many blister-causing indentations. Foam and cork work better for warm weather.

WOMEN’S SPECIFIC A lot of poles are unisex but for ladies you may want to consider those specifically designed for women – they are usually shorter (so save space and weight in your luggage) and have smaller handles too.

MATERIAL Poles are usually made from aluminium/ alloy (durable – will bend before they break; is cheaper, but often heavier) and carbon fibre (often much lighter but if they do break they are more likely to splinter; is more expensive).

VANGO

Deluxe Cork, £28 (also available as singles)
Packed length: 65cm

At £14 per pole and made from alloy metal, these are – unsurprisingly – the heaviest (600g/pair) on test and the longest when folded. However they do boast some nice features. They are the only poles on test to offer shock absorbers (which you can turn on and off with a switch in the handle), they also have a partially padded and adjustable leash and a cork handle covered with neoprene: good for breathability though there are a series of ridges cut within it that have the potential to cause blisters.

The locking system is a twist design (which can be a pain in poor weather) and the poles are telescopic for easy packing. They only come in a unisex model, though that’s to be expected for the price.

The verdict: Heavier, longer, but cheaper than the rest and for a ‘just in case’ option this is a good price for the features.

Features: ★★★★★
Design: ★★★★✩
Ease of use: ★★★★✩
Length & weight: ★★★✩✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩
Buy it here

CRAGHOPPERS

Travel Compact, £30 (also available as singles)
Packed length: 55cm

For extra cash you do get a lighter weight (480g/ pair; fifth lightest on test) and a shorter folded length. However the price for this is a shorter walking pole – as these only adjust to 98cm max (rather than 135cm – Vango) – not a problem for some, but worth noting.

They are made from aluminium, and have an adjustable leash – though no padding, but they do offer both a cork handle (good for breathability but with ridges so blister potential) and a more traditional walking stick style option too, which some might be prefer – although this is plastic so less breathable. The lock system is a twist design and it’s telescopic for less bulk in your pack. These also only come in a unisex model.

The verdict: A good weight/length make this a budget option for the shorter among us who want a choice of handle types.

Features: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★✩✩
Ease of use: ★★★★✩
Length & weight: ★★★✩✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩
Buy it here

KOMPERDELL

C3 Carbon Compact, £100
Packed length: 59cm

If you’d like to go lighter then you need to invest some extra cash. Made from two-parts uber-light carbon and one-part aluminium alloy these weigh in at 410g/pair (third lightest on test) and feel it. They haven’t compromised on folded length however – which may be important to some – but by doing so offer a reliable external clip lock and a telescopic design that helps with bulk when packing.

The handle is a comfy foam with a slightly longer than average length down the pole, which is good when hiking on uneven terrain. The adjustable leash is lined with a softer material for comfort. There is no women’s specific version, though, and you have to buy them as a pair.

The verdict: A good price for lighter poles that, though the packed length isn’t so short, still offer solid external clip locks.

Features: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Length & weight: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩
Buy it here



HELINOX

Passport TL130, £130
Packed length: 37cm

Bringing down the weight and the folded length further is Helinox, coming in at just 400g/pair (second lightest on test). Made from ultralight alloy, these are both part-telescopic and part-foldable, courtesy of a combination of a twist and pull and click locking system, making them not only lighter but smaller in your luggage too.

Despite cutting grams the handle is still a great length, so good for uneven terrain and made from a comfy foam – though it must be said, this one feels less padded than others on test. The leash is adjustable and partially padded – though again this is not the softest or most comfortable. They are only available in unisex and as a pair.

The verdict: A good length, weight and pack size and good price for a foldable pole, though comfort is compromised.

Features: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★✩
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Length & weight: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩
Buy it here

ANATOM

Explorer, £35
Folded length: 65cm

Similar to the offering from Vango the Explorers are made from aluminium, have a longer folded length and heavier weight (530g/pair; third heaviest here). Where they excel is the handle.

Made from a comfy foam, with no unwanted ridges, they also stretch down the pole for a good length meaning on undulating ground you can move your hand up and down the handle without needing to adjust the pole’s length. The adjustable leash is lined with a soft fabric for comfort.

Another plus is the external clip lock system that is easy to use in all weathers. They are telescopic, so have minimal bulk. They are only available in a unisex model and you will have to buy them as a pair.

The verdict: Not the lightest or the smallest when packed, but they offer budget comfort and a reliable clip lock system.

Features: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Length & weight: ★★★✩✩
Value: ★★★★★
Overall: ★★★★✩
Buy it here


TERRA NOVA

Trail Elite Trekking Pole, £60
Packed length: 37cm

Known for their record-holding tents (lightest in the world), you’d think that their new line of poles would be superlight, however they’re the second heaviest (532g/ pair). They may not have shed grams, but they have cut folded length impressively, meaning an easy fit in your luggage.

Made from aluminium alloy, they offer an external clip lock coupled with a pull and click system that works well. Rather than telescopic, it splits and folds neatly away. The handle is a comfy foam with no unwanted ridges, though it doesn’t extend far down the pole like others. The adjustable leash is not padded, but it is flatlock stitched for comfort. These are only available in unisex and as a pair.

The verdict: The budget end of the scale: a good design, reasonable weight and a great pack length for your money.

Features: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★✩
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Length & weight: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩
Buy it here

BLACK DIAMOND

Distance Carbon FLZ, £140
Packed length: 37cm

Hitting the scales at a miniscule 348g/pair, these are the lightest on test. Not only are they weight friendly, but also length friendly too – meaning an ideal pair to pack in your luggage. Made from carbon, they are both parttelescopic and part-foldable, due to an external lock and pull and click operating system.

The foam handle is well padded and longer than a standard length, however ridges added in for breathability are a potential blister causer and the adjustable strap is not padded either – maybe a weightsaving device gone too far. As with most high-end poles these are only available as a pair; happily they are available in both men’s and women’s specific designs.

The verdict: An excellent weight and superb length, but comfort is compromised with the handle and leash design.

Features: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★✩
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Length & weight: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩
Buy it here

LEKI

Micro Vario Carbon, £150
Packed length: 39cm

A pole that certainly aims to do it all. Weighing in at 438g/pair it’s the fourth lightest on test and also boasts an impressively short folded length too. It’s made from 100% carbon that keeps it light, but Leki have opted not to skimp on comfort, with a nice foam handle with a good length and no ridges (at least on the main handle, lower down there is a criss-cross design).

The adjustable leash is not padded but is flatlocked fabric to avoid irritation. It too offers a combination of telescopic and folded design making them luggage-friendly, with both an external clip lock and fold and click sections that are easy to use. Available only in pairs, it comes in both men’s and women’s specific models.

The verdict: A good – if costly – compromise between weight and packed length that still offers comfortable handles.

Features: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Length & weight: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★★
Buy it here


Main image: Walking poles (Shutterstock)
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