A trekking pole is simply a stick with a handle and a wrist strap. You can just get yourself a stick before you hike and it serves pretty much the same purpose. However, there are some advantages of purchasing an actual trekking pole, for example, most trekking poles are adjustable meaning you can lengthen them or shorten them depending on what size you are.
There are commonly two types of trekking poles i.e. aluminum and carbon fiber. The main differences between the aluminum and the carbon fiber poles are durability and weight. Generally, aluminum poles are more durable but heavy. On the other hand, carbon fiber poles are lightweight but they are not as durable as aluminum.
Aluminum Poles: Pros & Cons
Aluminum poles are sturdy and relatively heavy. Good aluminum poles are 7075 (or other 7-series) alloy and they will handle much more abuse than carbon. They usually weigh between 18 and 22 ounces per pair.
Pros: It is a metal so it can bend and still retain its usability. However, it becomes more susceptible to breakage once it is bent. So you a second chance if they bend because you can still sue them. You can also carefully re-straighten them and continue to use them for the rest of the trip. Aluminum is a cheap material compared to carbon and you can get a decent pair of poles at an affordable price.
Cons: Aluminum trekking poles tend to be heavier due to their thick shafts, which is often less lightweight focused. They also vibrate due to the metal construction, which is not stiff like carbon. The vibration can be so annoying without shock absorbers. If you want to purchase aluminum poles, get the one that is made of 7075 alloys. Anything made with a cheaper alloy such as a 6-series may break during an intense hike.
Carbon Fiber Poles: Pros & Cons
It is a matrix of fibers set in resin. The quality varies depending on the manufacturer. These poles weigh between 12 and 18 ounces per pair. A good pair of carbon fiber trekking poles can be very strong for forces aligned with the lay of the fibers (top to bottom). But they may not be very strong for forces across the fibers (side to side). The poles can be broken if the fibers are cut by abrasion or if the resin becomes fatigued through regular heavy flexing.
Pros: They are much more comfortable if you get a high-end (probably expensive) model. They feature less flex, which gives more immediate support. These trekking poles are also highly customizable and the shaft that is both light and strong. They are very stiff, they don’t vibrate, and feel very stiff and comfortable in hands when in use.
Cons: Where aluminum poles bend, carbon shatters. So you don’t get a second chance to use them. There is a variety of cheap carbon trekking poles available and selecting the one that is right for you can be challenging. Some manufactures use cheap materials, which results in a weaker shaft that is too brittle and fragile. They also become more brittle in colder temperatures. It is the epoxy that makes the carbon shafts, which tends to become brittle at low temperatures, not the carbon itself.
Aluminum vs. Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles: Summary
|Weight||Relatively heavy due to the metal shaft.||Lightweight|
|Durability||Durable if you get a pair that is made of 7075 alloy.||Less durable unless you purchase an expensive high-end model.|
|Comfort||Average comfort.||Relatively more comfortable.|
|Price||You can get a decent pair at an affordable price.||Usually expensive.|
|Reliability||Even reliable if get a budget-friendly model.||Only high-end and expensive models are reliable.|
|Best use||When you are carrying heavy load or hiking on uneven and rocky terrain or you are planning to use them to support your shelter.||When you want to go ultralight or you often carry your poles in your backpack or the trail is well-groomed and easy.|
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork: Best Aluminum Trekking Poles
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 2 oz.
Type: Telescoping (Lever Lock)
Basket type: Trekking, standard
These aluminum poles feature all-natural cork grips with joint-friendly design and other grip options for different terrain and variable baskets for all-weather versatility. The pole is constructed with three telescoping aluminum sections. This forged aluminum construction gives you strong and durable support while keeping the weight low.
This telescoping construction allows the poles and adjustability range with a minimum of 27 inches and a max of 55 inches. The sturdy flick locks hold the sections of the pole together. These kinds of locks are popular due to their reliability and ease of use especially when you’re wearing gloves. The poles have cork grips. Cork provides you with a firm grip while managing moisture. Over time it will mold to your hand, giving you a custom fit.
The Trail Ergo Cork poles go a step further. Beyond being cork, the grips also have a 15 degree economically angled design. This means that you can hold the poles naturally, creating less stress on your wrists and arm joints. Below the cork grips, there are foam sections. These sections allow you to simply change your hand position in response to terrain without having to change the overall length of the pole. The adjustable high surface wrist straps reduce stress on your joints.
The poles include carbide tech tips and low profile 38-millimeter trekking baskets. These carbide tips can be switched out for compatible rubber tips, available from Black Diamond. This means that you can use the carbide tips when you need a bite on the icy ground but when you need a grip that won’t damage trails you can use the non-scarring rubber tips.
The baskets are also interchangeable. Wider 100-millimeter powder baskets are available for deep snow. The interchangeable tips and baskets are sold separately. These poles offer high-quality cork grips with wrist-friendly, angle interchangeable tips, and baskets make them ready to go in all four seasons.
Pros: Solid construction, comfortable, light for an aluminum telescoping pole
Cons: Not very packable
LEKI Micro Vario: Best Carbon Trekking Poles
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 0.9 oz.
Type: Folding (Lever Lock)
Basket type: Trekking
These poles are designed to give you ultralight and packable support for those long-distance backpacking trips. The Micro Vario poles are neat because they’re collapsible so you can store them much more easily than telescoping trekking poles. Due to the packed size, you can stow them just about anywhere. Setting them up is easier than ever. LEKI built this ELD system which stands for External Locking Device. It’s different than traditional push-button systems.
This pole stays tensioned by an internal mechanism but releasing that tension is as simple as pressing on the outer lever. These are some of the easiest poles to set up and break down that I found. On top of the ease of setup, you can further adjust the length. These poles can range from 44 to 55 inches which is plenty for most people.
When you’re adjusting that overall length, the section is held in place by LEKI’s SpeedLock system. This is one of the most reliable and user-friendly systems out there just open the lever adjust the height and close the lever. It can also be maintained in the field. If you find the lock loosening up or slipping, just open the lever turn the plastic dial clockwise and close it down. Make sure to give them a quick test.
The grip is made with thermo foam material, which is great for all seasons. It’s got wicking property when your hands are sweaty and it also helps to insulate a bit in the winter when things get cold. The foam extends further down the handle which is great for adjusting your grip without changing the length of the poles. It just allows you to move that much more efficiently on the trail. At the base of the pole are LEKI’s carbide flex tip and the trekking basket. These are both excellent for trail surfaces and they help to bite down hard. You can replace the tips if you need to and the trekking baskets can be swapped out for snow or deep powder baskets. Those accessory baskets and replacements are sold separately.
Overall, these poles are really great. If you’re an ultralight enthusiast or a long-distance backpacker and you need extra support without adding a ton of weight, check out the LEKI Micro Vario Carbon trekking poles.
Pros: Very packable, easily disassembled lightweight, comfortable grip
Cons: May be less durable than some aluminum models, expensive
Which one is right for you?
It depends on your particular use but the following are a few considerations besides weight and durability, which will help choose the right pair for your next adventure trip.
If you are planning to hike mostly on well-groomed trails, you should probably go for a carbon fiber because carbon, even cheap one can handle easy trails. If you abuse your poles often by vaulting bogs, boulder-hopping or leaning on them heavily during rough descents and stream crossings, go for aluminum poles because they are sturdy enough to handle these kinds of things.
Your Body Weight and Height
Taller folks, who carry heavy backpacks, should probably choose aluminum pole because they need the reliability of aluminum. On the other hand, if you are a small guy and you hike ultralight, you are less likely to break carbons.
In your hand vs. in your Pack
If you carry your trekking poles mostly in your backpack, choose carbon trekking poles. On the other hand, if you carry them in your hands mostly and use them intensively, choose aluminum because you probably want a sturdy and reliable pair poles.
If you are planning to use your poles to support a shelter or tarp, aluminum always adds security. You can’t afford pole breakage if you are doing this because a pole breakage may ruin your entire trip.
Carbon poles are generally more expensive than aluminum. As I mentioned earlier, there are cheap carbon poles available but they are a bit of lottery and they can be broken at any time during your hike. If your budget is low, I would suggest always go for 7075 aluminum alloy because it is an international standard and will always be of high quality.
Aluminum poles are great when your budget is low and you want a decent pair. These poles, however, a little heavy but at the end of the day, you get a sturdy pair of poles. Choose carbon when you are going ultralight and want a comfortable pair. Avoid purchasing low-quality carbon poles because they will fail on a more intense hike. When comparing shafts made of the same thickness, carbon will be lighter if they are made with the same level of quality and finish. So, it also depends on the manufacturer making the poles.