If you are looking to have a fit and healthy body, hiking can be one of the best ways to do so. Not only is it an amazing exercise form, hiking can be an adventure, a way to explore new places. And hiking success begins with the proper gear!
Ten years ago, hiking poles were uncommon. Now almost everyone – from casual walkers to those taking on nature at its most rugged – use them as part of their outdoor routine.
With hundreds of affordable hiking poles to choose from, the challenge lies in finding the right set for your needs. We present five of the market's best hiking poles, with in-depth analysis of all the considerations — materials, adjustability & features, performance, and price.
Whether you call them "trekking" or "hiking" poles, if you're a hiker, you want support that's light, strong, flexible, and comfortable. We look at the grip and structure of each pole to get an overall impression of durability and ergonomics.
Adjustability is important for people of differing heights, and it's essential for hikers to get maximum leverage as they travel various terrains. In this part of our ratings, we also look at some interesting product features, such as internal springs for shock-absorption.
Denise has a background in healthcare and physical therapy. She also has the unique experience of raising three boys. Through the years, she has coached her sons and many of their friends through their share of childhood health problems and accidents. When not helping others recover from their injuries, you may find Denise working in her garden or reading.
In this section of our hiking pole review, we combine our findings with feedback from owners. Our goal: to provide a true understanding of what each set of trekking poles is like in real-world situations.
Whether you're an infrequent hiker or someone who spends as much time as they can in the great outdoors, value is important. In this part of our review, we examine dollars, cents, and what you really get for your money.
The Neewer® Durable AntiShock Trekking Retractable Outdoor Hiking Walking Stick is largely made from aluminum alloy and represents a good compromise between weight (three quarters of a pound), strength, and cost. The grip is rubber over sponge, which is decently comfortable but not everyone's favorite material in hotter weather. Below the grip, there's a foam section for carrying the pole when it's collapsed. An adjustable wrist strap is also included.
Like the Neewar, the main stem of the Hikker HP-5 Anti-shock Hiking Pole is a light aluminum alloy; each pole weighs about 13 ounces. There's a two-stage grip with a rubber section for carrying when collapsed and a "cork" handle for hikers to hold when walking. This handle gives a nice firm grip and isn't affected by heat or cold, but it can be prone to damage. Like the Neewer, the Hikker's wrist strap is adjustable.
The slender BAFX Products Anti-Shock Hiking / Walking / Trekking Trail Poles are made of aluminum alloy and weigh around 12 ounces. The handles are plastic, which is great for durability but not so great for "give." Some owners though a different material would have made them more comfortable. As is common, there's an adjustable wrist strap and a foam grip area just below the handle for carrying the poles when not in use.
The Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock Trekking Poles are the only poles in our ratings made from carbon fiber. This material is tough, but it's also remarkably light; each pole weighs just eight ounces. The difference between the weight of a carbon fiber pole and an aluminum pole may not seem like much – after all, it's just a few ounces – but when you've been walking all day, every ounce makes a difference! The grips are made of EVA foam, which attempts to combine the breathability of cork with the toughness of plastic and rubber. It does the job pretty well, and because it's comfortable for longer periods, Cascade Mountain Tech poles have also been used as fishing rods. Like our other finalists, there's a foam carry area and an adjustable wrist strap.
Like many of our shortlist finalists, the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles are made of aluminum alloy. Narrow in diameter and weighing just 10 ounces apiece, these poles are lightweight and popular with consumers. The grips, designed to be tough on the outside but soft and comfortable for the user, are made of dual-density foam. There's a lower grip area for carrying the poles, and adjustable wrist straps are included — though this time, the straps benefit from a nice bit of padding.
The Neewer Walking Stick's length can be set anywhere between 26 and 53 inches. The topmost section is marked off (in millimeters, not inches). It's tightened by a twist-type mechanism that's easy to use but can wear over time. The manganese steel tip is fitted; its rubber cover protects other gear and makes walking easier on roads and other smooth surfaces. A removable snow/mud basket is included, and the top of the handle holds a mini compass. Some owners have commented that the compass falls out rather easily, but it's a quick job to glue it back in.
The Hikker Hiking Pole's range of adjustment (27 - 55 inches) is similar to that of the Neewer, and there's a measured section in the middle for quick setting. The Hikker also uses the same kind of rotational lock as the Neewer. Rather than a metal tip, however, the Hikker has a carbide tip that is claimed to be tougher than steel. This tip has the usual rubber ferrule to cover it when not in use. To prevent the tip from sinking in snow or soft ground, the manufacturer includes a "snow disk" that is very similar to the Neewer's snow/mud basket. You also get a compass and a thermometer; these two items are located on the wrist strap rather than the handle.
In terms of adjustability and features, the BAFX hiking poles are much like the Neewer and Hikker products on our shortlist. The same kind of turn and lock device allows you to open and close the poles between 25.5 and 53 inches. Each hiking pole is fitted with a metal tip and a rubber cover. (BAFX calls it a "foot.") You also get a spare pair of covers with this product — presumably in case you do a lot of road work and wear them out! The removable snow disk is perhaps a bit more robust than others, but in the end, it does the same job.
Height adjustment on the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Hiking Poles goes from 23 to 53 inches; locking comes by way of a fast, lever-type system that is claimed to outlast twist-lock competitors. The poles are certainly engineered well, though some owners have said they have a bit of a bulky feel (despite being the lightest poles in our ratings). The poles include extremely hard tungsten carbide tips and two kinds of rubber covers: standard round ones and angled ones with a tread on the bottom specifically designed for road and sidewalk use. With these trekking poles, you also get two removable basket types: one pair of baskets for mud and soft ground and the other pair for snow.
Black Diamond's Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles can be adjusted from 27 to 55 inches, and they employ a "flick-lock" arrangement that is similar to the locking system on the Cascade Mountain Tech poles. (The Black Diamond mechanism is a little neater.) Tough tungsten carbide tips are featured, though the rubber ferrules are not covers; they actually interchange with the tips. There are also "low-profile" trekking baskets, though many owners consider these to be a bit small for snow use. (Alternatives can be found, but it's important to check pole diameter first.) Though the features themselves don't stand out, the build quality of the Black Diamond is excellent. This is underlined by the anti-shock system — a patent-pending, four-stage set-up that is reminiscent of the progressive response you'd find on a car or motorcycle.
Most hiking poles come in pairs, but for reasons we don't understand, the Neewer hiking pole is sold individually. While it could be used as a walking stick, its specification is definitely that of a hiking pole. As such, we believe that few people would only want one. That said, they are very cheap (as we'll see in the next section), so the simple answer is to buy two. They're intended for light or occasional use, not for regular trekking over serious terrain. Owners who adhere to these parameters are generally very happy. These poles aren't the strongest on the market, but while a small percentage of owners had cleats fall off or poles come apart, most were fine with what they got for their money.
Hikker hiking poles are what many would consider ideal entry-level equipment. They're great for those who want to try poles without spending a lot of money. Quite a few owners use them for Nordic walking and hill or desert trips. These supportive poles are of a higher quality than the Neewer model, although they too receive some criticism in terms of occasional breakage and problems with the twist locks. The Hikker poles perform at their best in moderate conditions; they're not designed for "extreme" outdoor challenges.
BAFX hiking poles are very popular. This is due, in part, to the manufacturer's clear instructions that give people confidence in setting them up in the first place. The BAFX poles are designed for moderate trekking, but owner feedback suggests that some have pushed them through quite difficult terrain and come out the other side still smiling! A few found the handles uncomfortable in hot conditions, and the twist locks also receive some criticism (this seems to be a common occurrence, regardless of manufacturer). On rare occasions, the carbide tips and rubber ferrules have been known to fall off, but this is uncommon and is covered by the 12-month warranty.
The first thing most owners notice about the carbon fiber Cascade Mountain Tech hiking poles is their weight — or rather, the lack of it. They may weigh only a few ounces less than aluminum poles, but this difference is apparent as soon as you lift them. Carbon fiber hiking poles don't give the same feedback as aluminum poles when they hit the ground. The difference is neither better nor worse; it just is. However, potential buyers should note that carbon fiber can shatter under duress. (Metal, on the other hand, is more likely to bend.) Granted, you'd have to put the Cascade poles through some severe abuse in order to break them, but we have heard from a few owners who did manage to damage them. However, the majority of owners — including a number who consider themselves to be experienced hikers and trail runners — are extremely happy with their choice.
With an enviable reputation among serious trekkers, Black Diamond is one of the market's top-rated hiking pole makers. The company makes several different pole models, and it's fair to say that the Trail Pro is an "entry-level" product in the Black Diamond world. However, many owners will tell you Black Diamond's entry-level is higher than most manufacturers' "best." Built for people who regularly take on the toughest outdoor challenges, these are seriously good poles. In particular, the springing comes in for much praise. When you plant a Black Diamond pole, you don't just enjoy confidence in your balance; you also enjoy terrific feedback that allows you to "feel" what's happening at the end of them. Negative comments are rare. We heard from one person who had a pole that was defective (replaced under warranty, we presume), and a couple who thought the flick-lock was hard to close. Other than that, this product's performance seems to be faultless.
You're unlikely to find more budget hiking poles anywhere. They're not too heavy, they're adjustable, and they offer all the features you'd find on trekking poles that cost two or three times as much. Yes, the Neewer product has its weaknesses. Some owners find the handle to be uncomfortable after a while. Others have issues with how they're put together. For every person who has a complaint, however, there are ten who are perfectly happy. As long as you realize these hiking poles are for light use, you're likely to be satisfied with this product. At just $0, they are definitely a bargain.
With a current price of $24, the Hikker HP-5 hiking poles offer a range of benefits that is similar to the Neewer pole. To be fair, these poles get many of the same criticisms, too. The "cork" handle isn't actually made of cork (that would be too fragile), but most owners think it's comfortable. There's a generally higher production standard to the Hikker, and while some don't like the rotational locks, it's a complaint you hear about that kind of mechanism on most hiking poles — not just the Hikker. Nordic walkers in particular favor these poles, which should give a good indication of the kind of terrain they're suited for.
At first glance, there's little to separate the $39 BAFX Products Trekking Trail Poles from the Hikker poles. They share a similar design and have a similar extension range. Both have anti-shock systems, and both lock via a turning collar. The only difference appears to be that the Hikker has a thermometer and compass (albeit not that accurate) and the BAFX has extra rubber feet. According to our research, BAFX hiking poles are considerably more popular. Indeed, customers are highly satisfied with their BAFX hiking poles.
Though they are made of carbon fiber, the Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles are still priced toward the lower end of the price range. At $42, its adjustability is on par with most other poles on today's market. The locking mechanism is the clamp type that many consumers prefer. Buyers also get a choice of rubber "feet" and two different baskets (rather than universal ones). The main difference between these poles and others is their lower weight. Saving a few ounces on each pole may not sound like a lot — until you carry them all day. There are some questions about strength; after all, carbon fiber could smash where aluminum would only bend. But a kinked aluminum tube is just as useless as a snapped carbon one; so, in the end, it's a matter of personal choice. Most who choose Cascade hiking poles are delighted with them.
If you want high-end hiking poles, there's a price to pay. At $127, however, the Black Diamond Trail Pro Trekking Poles still represent great value when compared to rivals of similar quality. Many trekkers and climbers would argue that there are actually very few manufacturers that offer hiking poles of the Black Diamond's high standard. Complaints about their quality and performance are negligible. They're comfortable, strong, light (for aluminum), and they have the best anti-shock system in our ratings. Indeed, some experts think these poles are the best in the business. Owners love them, and independent testers consistently put them at the top of their ratings.
Our "Best of the Best" decision was a simple one: the most coveted hiking poles on today's market are the Black Diamond Trail Pro poles. In fact, they're the best by some distance.
It's not that the other contenders aren't perfectly adequate for most people. Black Diamond doesn't make concessions to what "most people" want, though. Black Diamond builds poles for hikers who intend to use them for the most challenging outdoor activities imaginable.
The poles can be adjusted from 27 to 55 inches, which is fairly standard. The locking mechanism is the stronger "flick-lock" type you find on high-end poles. At 10 ounces apiece, these poles are lighter than many of their aluminum counterparts. Grips are dual-density foam with a durable exterior and enough "give" for good comfort.
That extra attention to detail extends to the wrist straps, which are padded, and the fact that these are the only poles that are specifically right and left-handed.
The poles' most outstanding feature is their four-stage, anti-shock springing; this progressive feature offers tremendous feedback. It's undoubtedly the best in these ratings, and many experts think it's the best springing on any pole anywhere.
Black Diamond poles don't look particularly different, but their pedigree shows when you cover hard miles with them. One part of their construction comes in for slight criticism: the snow disks. Some people would have preferred them to have a larger diameter. The poles aren't cheap, either, but with this Best of the Best product, it's a question of getting what you pay for. Committed outdoor enthusiasts are more than happy to make the $127 investment.
All of the hiking poles on our shortlist are excellent products. The Neewer, Hikker, and BAFX all make strong arguments for the Best Bang for Your Buck title; each offers a lot for very little money. In the end, however, it's the Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Pole that wins the distinction of being the best pole for the least amount of cash ($42).
So why the Cascade Mountain Tech hiking poles? Put simply, they're a great deal and you get so much more for your money than you'd expect. The poles share some high-end features with competitors that cost twice as much. For hikers who want poles that will tackle the rough stuff — and that can be carried all day long without causing fatigue — these are tough to beat.
The poles extend from 23 to 53 inches — a range as great as most others. The grips are made of EVA, a material specifically developed to maintain comfort whether it's hot or cold. The locks are the lever type you would expect on high-quality equipment. Though they're a little bulkier than some owners would like, they are definitely effective.
Of course, the Cascade Mountain Tech's star feature is its super-light carbon fiber body. Each hiking pole weighs just eight ounces (a savings of around 30 percent over most aluminum-bodied models). Such a light weight really has an impact when you're covering any kind of distance!
There have been questions about whether carbon fiber is a resilient enough material. This depends on individual circumstances, of course, but most of the time, they're a match for their metal alternative. The manufacturer is confident enough to offer a 100 percent guarantee. According to them, if you're not fully satisfied, you can return the poles at any time and for any reason. We think few people will.