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How To Choose Trekking Poles And Hiking Staffs - Expert Advice

The best hiking staff and trekking poles

Need help deciding which trekking poles are suitable for your next hike?

A woman hiker standing on top f a mountain with a hiking staff in her hand. Trekking poles and hiking sticks are standard equipment for walkers, hikers, and backpackers looking for balance and mobility. They are standard hiking equipment for many because they assist trekkers with their rhythm, provide stability, and reduce strain on joints on rough terrain. Trekking poles and hiking sticks are the main staples used by most hikers. Due to the vast variation and wide option range in trekking poles, it is encouraged to consider the following when purchasing for the first time.  

1. A length that is suitable for you

Your goal should always be maintaining a 90-degree bend at your elbow when the pole tips touch the ground. For this reason, we highly recommend adjustable poles with choke-down grips.

2. Amount of poles needed

You will most likely need a pair of poles. Two points of contact to the ground are more effective than one as they provide more balance, stability, and traction. Though two are recommended, some individuals prefer casual walks with a single hiking staff. Decide what works best for your specific needs!

3. Helpful trekking pole characteristics

Trekking poles are designed with multiple and varying features. Pole material, wrist straps, foldability, cork/foam grip material, micro Vario carbon, adjustability, choke-down shaft material, shock absorption, and locking mechanisms (specific to adjustable poles) are just a few of the many characteristics a trekking pole may have. Becoming familiar with these options and their benefits will help you select the best poles for you.   Montem - Spring Sale

The Difference Between Trekking Poles and Walking Sticks

Walking sticks' terminology varies from one retailer, manufacturer, and hiker to the next. This can make it somewhat confusing to research the various products available. Typically, short sticks and staffs are marketed as walking sticks or wood walking poles. Contrastingly, those made of space-age materials and packed with additional features are often considered trekking poles.

Types of Trekking Poles

Aluminum Trekking Poles

Aluminum poles are durable, sturdy, and can take a beating. They tend to be heavier than their carbon counterparts, but it is typically unnoticeable unless you are actively backpacking and need weight conservation. Aluminum poles are excellent for providing stability and reducing the impact on your joints.


Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles

Carbon fiber lightweight trekking poles tend to be more specialized, focusing more on pack weight reduction. They are typically 4 ounces lighter per pair when compared to other materials. This is most important for backpackers who frequently travel with their poles but is also helpful for anyone who wants to preserve energy (4oz matters!). Like aluminum poles, carbon fiber poles reduce the impact on your knees while providing support.


Anti-Shock Trekking Poles

While providing the same benefits as other models, anti-shock trekking poles provide additional relief to joints. They come equipped with a spring mechanism within the rod that absorbs impact when coming into contact with flat or steep terrain.


Folding Trekking Poles

Folding trekking poles can be made out of both carbon and aluminum materials. Folding poles offer a combination of locking mechanisms, including a twist lock. They also have the added benefit of folding down to 16″ versus the typical telescoping rod, which closes down to 24″. Their foldability allows them to be easily transportable.


Wooden Hiking Staff

Wood positively contributes charm and romance to a hiking staff, but it is also a heavy material. Given this, wood is rarely used to manufacture trekking poles; instead, it is primarily used to make wood walking sticks for strolls through the forest. Wooden hiking sticks are seldom adjustable, so selecting the proper size when purchasing is essential.


How thick should a hiking staff be?

In general, the thickness of a hiking staff can range from around 0.75 inches (1.9 cm) to 1.25 inches (3.2 cm), but the thickness of the hiking staff you choose will vary based on your personal preference and the specific activity and terrain you’ll be using it for. There isn't a strict standard for thickness, but here are some general guidelines to consider:

  • Comfort: The thickness of the hiking staff should feel comfortable in your hand. It should be thick enough to provide a secure grip, but not so thick that it becomes difficult to hold or maneuver.
  • Grip: The staff should allow you to maintain a firm grip, even if you get sweaty hands. You should be able to wrap your fingers comfortably around the grip section without straining.
  • Weight: A thicker hiking staff might be heavier, impacting your comfort and energy expenditure during a hike. Consider the material of the staff as well; a wooden hiking stick might be thicker to provide durability and strength, while lightweight materials like aluminum or carbon fiber might allow for a slimmer design.
  • Terrain: The type of terrain you'll be hiking on can also influence the thickness you prefer. If you're trekking through rugged and uneven terrain, a thicker staff might provide better stability and support.

How long is a hiking staff?

Similar to thickness, the length of your hiking staff will vary based on your personal preference and the intended use. There is no strict rule for the minimum or maximum length of a walking staff for hiking, but here are some general guidelines to consider:
  • Height: Typically, you should ensure your elbow maintains a 90-degree angle when the tip of your pole makes contact with the ground. It’s a good idea to opt for adjustable poles equipped with choke-down grips.
  • Terrain: The type of terrain you'll be hiking on can influence the ideal length. For uphill hikes, a slightly shorter staff might be more comfortable. For downhill descents, a slightly longer staff can provide better balance and support.
  • Adjustability: Some hiking staff are telescopic or adjustable in length, allowing you to customize the height based on your needs. Adjustable staff can be more versatile, especially if you prefer hiking on different terrain.

What makes a good hiking staff?

The best hiking staff should possess several key qualities to enhance your hiking experience and provide reliable support.
  • Durability: A quality hiking staff should be built to withstand the rigors of hiking and be made from durable materials that can endure varying terrains and weather conditions.
  • Material: Hiking staff can be made from materials like aluminum, carbon fiber, or wood. Each material has its pros and cons regarding weight, durability, and cost. Choose a material that aligns with your preferences and needs.
  • Grip Comfort: The handle or grip of the hiking staff should be comfortable to hold for extended periods without wearing gloves. Ergonomic grips that reduce strain on your hands and wrists are preferable.
  • Strap Design: Many hiking staff come with wrist straps that help secure the staff to your hand. Look for adjustable, padded straps that allow you to comfortably hold the staff without gripping it tightly.
  • Tip Design: The tip of the hiking staff should provide reliable traction on different surfaces, from rocky paths to soft trails. Some staff have interchangeable tips (rubber or steel tips) to adapt to different terrains.
  • Shock Absorption: Some hiking staff feature built-in shock absorption mechanisms that can help reduce the impact on your joints, particularly during descents.
  • Collapsibility: If you're looking for a staff that's easy to transport, consider collapsible designs that can be shortened for storage or transportation.
  • Weight: While you don't want a hiking staff that's overly heavy, a certain amount of weight can provide stability. Choose a balance between weight and durability that suits your preferences.

Adjusting Your Trekking Poles for the Terrain

A woman using hiking sticks. It is crucial to understand and set your trekking poles according to your height and the terrain, as properly adjusted poles substantially reduce the probability of back strain. Trekking poles that are adjusted improperly can lead to arm fatigue, as well as pain in the neck, knee, and shoulder joints.

Trekking Poles For Flat Terrain Hiking/Walking

Adjust your poles to the length that puts your elbows at a 90-degree angle. This is the perfect length for hiking and walking on flat terrain. Experts recommend setting the top section of your trekking poles to the middle of the shaft, then using the bottom lock to find the correct length for you. From this point, you can adjust the top lock until achieving the perfect size. Additionally, you can always use our chart below to find the ideal trekking pole height for you. Trekking Poles Hiking Staff Adjustable Chart.

Trekking Poles When Going Uphill

We recommend shortening each pole to a few centimeters, roughly 5-10, to give you more leverage on steep terrain. Simply stated, as the landscape gets more vertical, you will want to reduce your pole size proportionately.

Trekking Poles When Going Downhill

Similar to uphill hiking, when descending, it is recommended to adjust your poles, so they are around five centimeters shorter than your typical flat terrain length. You may be wonder why this is important, and the answer is balance! Doing this will assist in keeping you more upright and decrease your risk of falling forward.

Adjusting Your Trekking Poles: A How-To Video

Helpful Tips & Tricks for Using Trekking Poles

A woman hiking with a pair of hiking staff. Trekking poles are easy to use and a worthwhile investment; this becomes evident within even a few minutes of using them. Here is our list of tips and suggestions to get you started easily!
  • Walk Naturally(!)

    Try your best to walk naturally! The less you walk like poles are in your hands, the easier you will find using them. Try angling them to where you can strike the ground slightly behind you. In this way, pushing off of them becomes easier.  
  • Alternate your poles with your legs

    You want your poles to plant in time with the opposing foot (right pole, left foot, left pole, right foot, and so on) for best motility. If you happen to lose your groove, keep on walking, lift your poles, then drop them back in, and you should fall right back into place.  
  • Two poles at once

    Sometimes, it makes sense to use two poles simultaneously and take two steps while pushing forward off both planted poles. This skill is helpful for steeper inclines and any type of climb you encounter.

Trekking Poles and Navigating Obstacles

Trekking poles are beneficial for trail navigation when encountering obstacles.
  • Large Rocks and Rocky Terrain

    When hiking on hard surfaces, place both poles on the ground as you step up and onto the rock, then push off them as you make your way forward.  
  • Rivers, Streams, and Other Bodies of Water

    Wading through water can be rough. Trekking poles provide much-needed balance. Secure each pole on the bottom, then slowly wade forward. Depending on the depth of the water, lengthen your poles. When you're done hiking for the day, make sure to dry your poles out!  
  • Puddles

    As much as we love jumping in puddles, now is not the time. You can use your poles to pole vault, in a sense, over the puddle by placing both sticks into the ground and then jumping over.

Benefits of Montem Trekking Poles

A woman holding hiking staff with text stating the different benefits of walking staff.

1. Trekking poles help alleviate pressure on both your spine and legs

By employing one or two additional contact points with the ground, your upper body can help offset the strain on your lower body and core. Allowing you to walk longer and further while stimulating core muscles.

2. Hiking poles and trekking poles help improve your balance

Even experienced hikers occasionally find it challenging to keep their balance while carrying a heavy pack. You will benefit from much better stability and balance by giving yourself an additional point of contact (or two). Trekking poles are ideal for enhanced balance and mobility. A 1999 study in The Journal of Sports Medicine found that trekking poles can reduce the impact on the knees by up to 25%!

3. Hiking sticks make it possible to cross more challenging terrain when necessary

Want to cross a stream, climb a steep hill or negotiate a dune? Your Montem trekking poles will turn that hassle into a breeze. 

4. Hiking poles provide a small measure of increased safety

While they are not designed for this purpose, hiking sticks can help increase your apparent size should you encounter a coyote, bear, or stray dog that gets too close for comfort.

5. Hiking staff can strengthen your core

Nordic walking or pole walking is an efficient and healthy way of strengthening the abdominal muscles. These are the muscles you utilize to support yourself while walking, bending over, and lifting. When using trekking poles, the abdominal muscles are engaged while lifting and planting the poles in front and returning them to the show.



Using Montem Trekking Poles is Easy!

Hiking and long-distance walking are fun activities that provide physical and psychological benefits. Trekking does not need to be grueling and tiresome but rather fun and effortless. One of the best ways to make hiking easier is using walking sticks or trekking poles!

Price Points

Trekking poles, hiking sticks, and folding walking poles vary significantly in price. You may find entry-level walking sticks for about $20, or you could spend several hundred dollars on a pair of premium trekking poles. While price should never be your final determining factor, it is helpful to use price to help narrow down your selections. For example, if you are a casual walker with little practice, who merely wants a functional hiking stick without any bells or whistles included in high-priced models, you should focus on the lower end of the price spectrum. In this case, you would probably be better off applying these savings to other needs, like quality footwear. On the other hand, serious hikers who want to head to the best national parks for weeks at a time should avoid budget-priced models and instead concentrate on finding the best poles possible.

Extra Features of Hiking Poles

The primary job of a hiking pole is to provide additional support to your body while you are racking up the miles. Modern outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen can access much more elaborate hiking sticks, including some with additional, helpful features. The most important and valuable features to look for in a good hiking stick fit are listed below for your convenience!
  • Cushioned Grips

    Most poles typically include cushioned hand grips to help improve your comfort and prevent blisters. Manufacturers use various grip materials, including molded plastic, rubber-over-foam, EVA foam, and cork. Some of the best trekking poles come with different variations of the same pole with varying grip materials.
  • Shock Absorbers

    Many shock absorption trekking poles – and a few hiking sticks – contain compressible springs or other mechanisms designed to absorb some of the impacts from repeated contact with the ground.
  • Wrist Strap

    Wrist straps are often included on trekking poles, but they aren’t as common on hiking sticks. Wrist straps are invaluable, as they allow you to use your hands for tasks without forcing you to find a place to put your poles. High-quality straps are made from moisture-wicking materials, enabling sweat to evaporate quickly.
  • Compass

    High-end trekking poles and walking sticks often include a compass to help keep you on track. While these tools are worthy additions to a walking stick, you shouldn’t let them play an inappropriately significant role in your selection process. After all, you can purchase a small compass for very little money.
  • Locking Mechanism

    Trekking poles will come with two or three interlocking sections that make it possible to adjust their length. There is a range of adjustability, and this lets you adapt the poles to various heights and kinds of terrain.
  • Thermometer

    Some trekking poles include thermostats, which help you determine the temperature at any time. This is especially valuable for hikers covering profound elevation changes or those moving through areas where the temperature and weather vary widely.
  • Tip Covers

    Trekking poles – and, to a lesser extent, walking sticks – often come equipped with sharp metal or carbon-fiber prongs at the distal end — which help penetrate the ground and give more traction to the hiker. However, you may not always want to use these prongs; sometimes, it is more advantageous to have a broad foot on the trekking pole. Accordingly, some trekking poles come with removable tip covers of varying styles to provide you with several different options.
  • Camera Mount

    Although they are not commonly included in trekking poles, many high-end hiking sticks also have a camera mount or attachment, which allows you to use the staff as a monopod. This is a desirable feature for shutterbugs, who like to snap photos while hiking!