Hiking poles can help you a lot if you plan to do a lot of hiking on woods trails with unpredictable conditions. But even if you plan to hike the wide-open paved roads of your community, hiking poles can be a big asset, gaining stability and enhancing your workout.
So what do you need to know about choosing hiking poles?
Here are ten top tips to help you get started.
1. Determine your conditions—the basis of all camping gear purchasing decisions. Know when you’ll do the majority of your hiking, and where. It matters whether you will be on an uneven woods trail or paved sidewalk, and whether the weather will be warm or cold and the trails dry, solid, soft, or icy.
2. One pole or two—decide whether you are best off with just a solitary pole or a full set. With two you’ll have to carry more, but a pair of poles offers better stability on the trail and relieves the joints of the lower body; a pair of poles is preferable in the woods and wild, while a single pole is okay for casual street walking.
3. Get a grip-the material—pole grips differ depending on whether the pole is for walking or true hiking. Grips are made from cork and rubber blends (the best, but most expensive), which provide comfort and insulation value, polyurethane (also a good, fairly warm grip, but can get clammy when cold) or polyethylene, a plastic (which is durable, but can cause hand-chafing if worn or cut).
4. Get a grip-the angle—poles may be straight or have angled grips (with angles of about 15°). Straight grips are the best seller, but positive angles relieve wrist-joint stress and overuse.
5. Get a grip-the straps—straps on grips help you keep ahold of your poles, but they can get you into trouble if you can’t get out of them quickly. Look for quick- or easy-release grips, as well as grips that are easily adjustable so you can loosen them in a flash, or adjust them without getting your hands chilly in cold weather.
6. Getting adjusted—straight, one-height walking poles are okay for the sidewalk, but for longer trekking and wood or wild hiking, you should really choose an adjustable set of poles. Adjustable poles are available in 2- or 3-section poles; generally three section poles fold up smaller for easier storage. The thing to look for on adjustable poles is strong, quality craftsmanship and locking mechanisms—an unexpected fold-up could cause a bad fall.
7. A shocking experience?—hiking poles are available with or without anti-shock systems. Anti-shock systems help absorb the impact of the pole hitting the ground. Anti-shock systems add weight to poles, and that is generally the deciding factor. Anti-shock systems do allow for increased comfort, though.
8. A tisket, a tasket, choose the right basket—this is where it really helps to know where you’ll be hiking. The basket is the shield-like structure above the pole tip. It helps to keep the pole from sinking too far down into soft snow and ground. There are different types of hiking pole baskets, but here are the top 3—small baskets are for dirt, sand and rocks; medium-large baskets are for snow; large(est) baskets are for deep powder snow. It’s best to choose a pole with changeable baskets in case one is broken or you want to hike in other conditions.
9. A tip for the Tip—tips must be made of durable materials that can withstand the conditions of the trail or surface. The best tips are made from tungsten or carbide, two very durable materials that can stay sharp for a long time, even under the most trying conditions. A cheaper option is steel tips, still durable, but less so than carbide or tungsten. Many poles offer a rubber tip cover for walking on asphalt, too. Another alternative is a “paw”-footed pole which can be used on pavement and smooth walking trails.
10. One last tip Tip—Use breakable tips. Tips are easy to replace, and replacing tips is far cheaper than replacing an entire set of poles. If you purchase poles with breakable tips, you can snap one off should the tip become immovably stuck in a crack, rocks, or ice. This can keep you from having to replace you favorite poles prematurely.
All in all, good quality hiking poles will last you a long time, so it’s worth it to take some time researching poles and invest a little more in them. Know how you plan to use your poles, and choose a strong, quality set, and you’re sure to be hiking with them for a long time to come.