I had never once used trekking poles, even hauling my own gear when backcountry camping. With 44-year-old knees and currently training for my first Tour du Mont Blanc, however, trekking poles suddenly seemed like a really good idea! Looking online there were so many choices. How to narrow it down? I asked my MTS colleagues who have loads of experience in the most extreme hiking destinations and conditions what they look for when buying poles. Here's what I learned to look for in a trekking pole:
1. Cork handles: These absorb sweat and give you a more comfortable grip with less blisters.
2. Ergonomic handles: The best ergonomic handles help prevent stress on wrists and arm nerves.
3. Wrist straps: If you put your hand up through the strap, then pull down gripping the strap and handle at the same time, the strap helps to form a better pivot point. This looser grip makes it less tiring, just like with a ski pole.
4. Non-slip grip below the handle: This is good for situations where you need to lower your grip to push/pull yourself up a large step or ledge.
5. Snap-locks: We recommend snap-locks instead of twist locks for the extension sections. Snap-locks are quicker to manipulate, with gloves on or in cold and wet conditions.
6. Weight: The lightest poles are not always the best for durability. Go for durability over weight if possible.
7. Material: It's interesting to note that carbon fiber dents easily if you hit you pole from the side, quickly losing its structural integrity; aluminum weighs more but is harder to dent.
8. Rubber tip protectors: Rubber tip protectors (sold separately) help stop the poles from poking holes in the edges of trails, which can accelerate trail erosion especially during the rainy season. Plus it's a quieter ride.
9. Downhill pole extension: Extend the poles an inch or two extra when going downhill, especially a steep one, provides a better angle for your wrists.
10. Practice with poles: If you've never used poles before or are investing in new ones, be sure to get out on the trail and practice with them on varied terrain before your trip. When you extend your poles we recommend that your elbows are bent at a comfortable 90-degree angle when your poles are at the correct extension on level ground. For example, I'm 5'4 and a pole extension of 115cms gives me the proper trekking pole position.