Last Updated: June 12, 2018

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Collapsible/Telescoping Trekking Poles 2018: A Buyer’s Guide

Trekking poles are invaluable tools for modern hikers and campers, as well as recreational walkers seeking to get a bit of exercise. But despite the myriad benefits trekking poles provide the user, they also present at least one challenge: They can be difficult to store when not in use.

This, unfortunately, leads some people to avoid them entirely, which causes them to miss out on the health benefits they provide. However, several trekking pole manufacturers have begun offering telescoping trekking poles, which collapse into themselves when not in use. This increases their portability, making them easy to carry or store.

But, there are many differences between the various collapsible trekking poles on the market, and some will certainly suit your needs better than others will. We’ll try to help you select the best poles below, by explaining the different features provided by the models available and pointing out some of the things you’ll want to consider when making your choice.

But first, it’s important to review some of the benefits trekking poles provide.

Why Use Trekking Poles?

Although they probably shouldn’t be considered mandatory equipment, trekking poles are often considered indispensable by hikers and walkers who give them a try. Trekking poles provide several key health benefits and generally make hiking more fun.

Some of the most notable ways trekking poles improve your health and hiking experience include:

  • Trekking poles help you keep your balance. Because trekking poles increase the number of contact points with the ground, they’ll improve your balance. And while this is helpful for those traveling on paved roads or sidewalks, it can be a game-changer for hikers trying to cross rugged, uneven terrain (including shallow creeks and streams).
  • Trekking poles make it easy for hikers to take a quick break. Everyone needs periodic breaks during long hikes, but you won’t want to take your pack off every time you need a breather. Trekking poles allow you to lean forward and take some of the pressure off your back and legs without removing your pack or having to sit down.
  • Trekking poles alleviate some of the wear and tear hiking inflicts upon your joints. Whether you’re walking on a mulched trail, sidewalk or ice field, your legs, hips and back will suffer minor impacts with each step. And while the stress imparted by a single step is pretty negligible, these impacts add up over the course of a hike. But because your trekking poles (and arms) will absorb some of the impacts your legs normally would, they’ll help reduce the abuse your knees and ankles experience during a typical hike.
  • Trekking poles encourage a natural walking stride. To cover ground quickly and effectively, you’ll want to use a natural walking stride and swing your arms with each step. It is also important to keep your arms close to your side to deliver maximum power to the poles with each step. Trekking poles help encourage you to do so and they’re designed to work in conjunction with your body’s natural mechanics.
  • Trekking poles increase your heart rate. If you like to walk as a way of burning calories, you’ll love the way that trekking poles help elevate your heart rate (which will help you burn more calories). However, it is important to realize that while trekking poles help encourage your heart to pump faster, they don’t make walking feel more strenuous – it is almost as though you get to burn more calories without putting in any more effort.
  • Trekking poles help you travel farther. Because trekking poles improve your balance, encourage a natural walking stride and reduce the pressure on your legs, they’ll help give you the energy to walk farther than you previously could. This is not only helpful for hikers and campers seeking to reach increasingly remote areas, but also exercise-oriented walkers, who’d like to take a slightly longer route during their daily journey.
  • Trekking poles can be used for a variety of additional purposes. Trekking poles are primarily designed to help you walk more effectively, but they can also work in a number of additional ways. For example, trekking poles are great for testing the depth of water or the strength of ice. They also make handy monopods, on which you can rest your camera when trying to get the perfect photo. You can even use trekking poles to support tarps or tents if need be.

The Benefits of Telescoping Trekking Poles

While standard, fixed-length trekking poles make life easier on the trail, telescoping poles provide even more value. Most of this value precipitates from the fact that telescoping poles are much more portable than standard trekking poles are.

This can be especially advantageous in a number of situations, including:

  • Campers who don’t like to strap things to the outside of their packs will appreciate the chance to store their poles inside their backpack. Fixed-length poles are too long to fit neatly in a pack, but collapsible or telescoping poles will usually fit inside camping backpacks and even small day bags.
  • City-dwelling walkers who like to run errands during their walks will find that collapsing poles are easier to take inside stores and other businesses than fixed-length poles are. You don’t want to carry fixed-length poles into a tiny corner grocer, but it is generally not difficult to collapse telescoping poles and carry them inside with you.
  • Adventurers traveling by plane or train will find telescoping poles are easier to pack in their luggage, thereby avoiding a litany of potential problems. You may even want to pack your poles in your carryon bag, so you can use them while walking through the terminal.
  • Hikers and walkers who take public transportation for part of their journey will find that telescoping poles are easier to carry on to buses, taxis and It can be difficult to carry fixed-length poles onto crowded subways, and they may even qualify as additional cargo in the eyes of some cab drivers.
  • Campers who don’t have a lot of storage space at home (or in the car) will find that telescoping poles are quite easy to store. Even fixed-length poles are relatively easy to store in a closet, but if storage space is extremely limited, you’ll find that telescoping poles are easier to tuck into tight nooks and crannies.

Additionally, telescoping poles, by their very nature, are adjustable. This means that you can not only alter their length to suit your height, but you can also adjust their lengths to suit different slopes and terrain.

There are surely other situations in which the average walker or hiker will find telescoping poles beneficial, and fortunately, high-quality telescoping poles don’t present many problems. The only two minor drawbacks telescoping poles present include:

  • Because they include additional components and hardware, telescoping poles are often slightly heavier than fixed-length poles. However, this additional weight is generally rather insignificant for typical walkers, hikers and Only ultralight hikers seeking to shave off every unnecessary ounce will find the difference in weight to be a problem.
  • The extra materials and labor required to manufacturer telescoping poles raise their cost slightly. This price difference is typically quite minor, and most walkers and hikers who would prefer telescoping poles will find them well worth the slightly higher price.

Important Features to Seek and Options to Select When Buying Telescoping Trekking Poles

Once you’ve decided to pick up a new set of telescoping trekking poles, you’ll want to compare the various models available before making your choice. This primarily means keeping the following things in mind:

Pick Poles Made from the Best Material for Your Needs

Most high-quality trekking poles are made from one of two materials: aluminum or carbon fiber. Neither material is inherently better than the other, but each offers different benefits. Specifically, aluminum poles are generally more affordable, while carbon fiber poles are typically lighter.

Always Look for Poles that Feature Comfortable Grips

Comfortable grips are very important to prevent blisters and ensure that you enjoy using your new poles. Different manufacturers utilize different grip materials, but cork, foam and rubber are generally the most common. Aside from the fact that rubber grips work better in cold weather, while cork and foam grips work better in warm weather, personal preference should guide your choice.

You’ll Want Poles with Durable Wrist Straps

When used properly, the wrist straps on your trekking poles will support a significant amount of your body weight (you’ll want to wrap your fingers around the grips, but avoid squeezing tightly). Accordingly, you’ll want to select poles with durable wrist straps, that’ll stand up to the stress placed on them with every step. And while you’re looking at the straps, make sure that they’re made from a comfortable material.

Flip Locks Are Usually Preferable to Twist Locks

Telescoping poles typically have either flip locks or twist locks that prevent the poles from collapsing during use. And while either style can be effective, most flip locks last longer, provide better security and are easier to engage or disengage than twist locks are.

Included Tip Covers and Baskets

Because you’ll want to make minor adjustments to your pole tips to accommodate different types of terrain, it is usually wise to select trekking poles that come with tip covers and baskets. Un-covered pole tips are somewhat pointed, so they’ll dig into mulch, dirt and similar surfaces and provide great traction. However, uncovered tips can suffer damage if used on extremely hard surfaces for long periods of time. So, when you encounter a sidewalk or paved trail, you’ll want to pop the covers on. Similarly, baskets can help provide better traction when you’re walking across loose substrates, such as scree, sand or snow.

Sizing Guidelines

While telescoping poles can be adjusted to suit hikers or walkers of varying heights and body sizes, they don’t allow an infinite amount of adjustment. You’ll still need to pick a pole of the appropriate size.

Most people will find that poles are most comfortable when they can be held with the arms at a 90-degree angle. Others prefer slightly shorter poles, that will allow the hands to rest near your belt. In either case, you’ll want to stick to the following guidelines:

  • Users around 5-feet-tall will want poles that measure about 39 inches in length.
  • Users between 5-foot-1-inch tall and 5-foot-7-inches tall will prefer poles measuring about 43 inches.
  • Users between 5-foot-8-inches and 6-feet in height will want poles measuring about 47 inches.
  • Users who stand over 6 feet tall will want poles measuring at least 51 inches in length.

Once you have selected the proper size range, you’ll want to adjust it to perfectly match your body. You can do so by first extending the lower sections completely and locking them into place. Then, while standing on flat ground, adjust the upper section length until your hands rest in the desired position.

Take Advantage of the Flexibility Provided by Telescoping Poles

As mentioned above, telescoping poles can be adjusted as you encounter different types of slopes and terrain. Generally speaking, you’ll want to extend your poles a bit while trying to walk downhill and shorten them a bit while climbing up hills. This will allow you to use your poles as “brakes” during descents or help get your arms more involved while climbing uphill. Adjusting your poles in this manner will also help you maintain a comfortable and upright posture.

If you’ve adjusted your flat-ground pole height as instructed above (extending the lower sections fully, while adjusting the length of the upper section to suit your height), you’ll find it easy to make quick adjustments on the fly.

As you can see, telescoping and collapsible trekking poles offer a number of significant advantages over fixed-length poles. And while you’ll still see the occasional hiker or walker using fixed-length poles, telescoping models are certainly more popular among modern trekkers.

Just be sure to be selective during the buying process and look for poles that provide the features and characteristics you’ll need while enjoying the great outdoors.