By Michael Lanza
One of the most immutable truisms about hiking is this: Backpackers, dayhikers, climbers, mountain runners, and others who start using trekking poles almost never hit the trail without them again. No matter how much weight you’re carrying—from an ultralight daypack to a godawful heavy monster backpack—using poles will lessen your chances of an accidental fall and your leg muscles and joints, feet, back, and body will all feel better, thanks to the reduced strain, fatigue, and impact on them.
Consider this: I do not know a single experienced dayhiker or backpacker who does not use poles.
This review covers the best trekking poles available today. My picks are based on testing all of them (and many other poles) extensively on backpacking trips, dayhikes, mountain climbs and scrambles, backcountry skiing, and/or ultra-trail runs and dayhikes—as well as my experience of thousands of trail miles over more than a quarter-century of testing and reviewing gear, for many years as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine and even longer for this blog.
In the reviews below:
- The poles are listed in order from lightest to heaviest because weight best distinguishes them in terms of intended uses and will be the key factor influencing your choice.
- I’ve given every pole an overall score—but keep in mind that, with poles, you should first figure out whether you need ultralight, lightweight, or heavier and sturdier poles, and then compare the scores and details of the models in your chosen category (which is why I list the poles in order of weight, not score). You will see that some poles models reviewed below have a similar or identical overall score but are very different from one another.
- For reasons of comparison and intended uses, I categorize poles under 12 ounces (per pair) as ultralight, poles 12-15 oz. as lightweight, and poles one pound or more as the sturdiest, for hard use.
- The capsule reviews below include a link to my full reviews of individual poles.
- Key point for backpackers who use an ultralight or lightweight tent: If you use a tent that pitches with trekking poles, many require poles that are adjustable and extend to 125cm or longer. Not all poles meet those specs.
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I regularly update this review with new poles that belong on this list. I’m confident you will find at least one model of trekking poles ideal for the way(s) you ambulate on or off-trail—and you’ll usually find the best prices at the links to online gear retailers below. Those are affiliate links that support this blog at no cost to you when you make purchases through them, so thanks for doing that.
Please share your questions, opinions, and experiences with any of these poles or your own favorite model in the comments section at the bottom of the review. I try to respond to all comments.
The chart below compares key metrics and features of each pole covered below, including an overall score. But keep in mind that some models have similar or identical scores even though they are very different; look closely at the scoring categories and specific reviews—and use my expert tips for choosing trekking poles—to determine which poles are best for your purposes. That’s why I list them in order of weight, because that metric most clearly distinguishes the types and best uses of poles.
The Best Trekking Poles
|Trekking Pole||Score||Price||Weight/Pair||Sizes||Collapsible/Folding||Adjustability||Packed Length|
|Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z||4.1||$180||10 oz.||Four: 110, 115, 120, 125, and 130cm||Folding||No||33cm/13 inches (110cm poles)|
|Gossamer Gear LT5||4.1||$195||10 oz.||One size, adjustable||Collapsible||60-130cm||60cm/23.5 inches|
|Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ||4.4||$200||11-13 oz.||Three men's/unisex and two women's sizes, adjustable||Folding||95-110cm, 105-125cm, and 120-140cm||34-40cm/13.4-15.7 inches|
|Leki MC Vario||4.2||$250||15 oz.||Two sizes, adjustable||Folding||100-120cm and 110-130cm||42cm/16.5 inches|
|Leki Micro Vario Carbon Black Series||4||$250||15 oz.||One size, adjustable||Folding||110-130cm||40cm/16 inches|
|MSR DynaLock Ascent||4.4||$170||1 lb. 1 oz.||Two sizes, adjustable||Folding||100-120cm and 120-140cm||36.2cm/14.3 inches (100-120cm poles)|
|Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork||4||$190||1 lb. 1.5 oz.||One size, adjustable||Collapsible||61-130cm||61cm/24 inches|
|Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork||3.7||$140||1 lb. 2 oz.||One size, adjustable||Collapsible||74-140cm||73.5cm/29 inches|
|Montem Ultra Strong||3.7||$70||1 lb. 3 oz.||One size, adjustable||Collapsible||61-135cm||61cm/24 inches|
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
Best for: ultra-runners and -hikers and lightweight and ultralight backpackers.
$180, 10 oz./pair (110cm, with trekking baskets)
Four sizes, non-adjustable: 110, 120, 130, and 140cm
Lighter gear can entail tradeoffs, but these ultralight, non-adjustable folding poles make no large compromise on strength. BD’s Distance Carbon Z endured a mostly off-trail, two-day backpacking trip in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains, and a mostly off-trail, roughly 14-mile and 5,000-foot dayhike of 10,470-foot Horstman Peak in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, among many other hikes and long trail runs. Quickly deployed to their fixed length (in four sizes), thanks to an internal Kevlar cord, these 100 percent carbon fiber poles have extended EVA foam grips and partly mesh nylon wrist straps. They fold to a tiny 33cm/13 inches (for the 110cm size). But they are non-adjustable, and under rare stresses, carbon will sheer or snap.
See my full review of the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to buy the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles at backcountry.com, blackdiamondequipment.com, or moosejaw.com.
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Weighing (per pair) about as much as a lightweight down jacket—and less than five ounces of water—the minimalist, collapsible LT5 poles stand up to more abuse than they’d receive on many well-maintained trails, as I discovered on a 74-mile backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon—including a 15-mile day traversing most of the rugged Escalante Route—on a seven-day, 96-mile traverse of the Wind River High Route, two-thirds of which is off-trail; and on a four-day, 45-mile hike through Yosemite. The carbon shafts extend to 130cm/51 inches, long enough for all but the tallest hikers, but their collapsed length of 60cm/23.5 inches isn’t very packable. While the twist-lock mechanism doesn’t lock as securely as a lever, they rarely slipped in use. The LT5 offer the performance needed by many hikers, backpackers—especially lightweight and ultralighters—climbers, and others.
See my full review of the Gossamer Gear LT5 trekking poles.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase the Gossamer Gear LT5 trekking poles at gossamergear.com.
Plan your next great backpacking trip in Yosemite, Grand Teton, and other parks using my expert e-guides.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ
Best for: ultra-runners and -hikers and lightweight and ultralight backpackers.
$190, 12.7 oz./pair (105-125cm, with trekking baskets)
Three sizes, adjustable: 95-110cm, 105-125cm, and 120-140cm
BD’s folding, carbon fiber Distance Carbon FLZ hit a sweet spot between the most packable, ultralight poles and models only marginally heavier and less packable and offer greater versatility through their adjustability. On dayhikes and trail runs of up to 15 miles in Idaho’s Boulder and Pioneer Mountains and Boise Foothills and a 10-mile, 3,600-vertical-foot dayhike on a trail strewn with wet, slippery rocks and mud in New Hampshire’s White Mountains—as well as backpacking trips on the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier and in the Wind River Range and The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park—I found they perform very much like the Distance Carbon Z and are tough enough for backpacking. Quickly deployed and adjusted using BD’s FlickLock levers, they have extended EVA foam grips and partly mesh nylon wrist straps. If you’re looking for the lightest and most packable adjustable poles, look no further.
See my full review of the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ trekking and running poles.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to buy the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com.
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Serious hikers, trail runners, and backpackers who want light, strong, adjustable, and very packable poles designed to help you conserve energy will find much to like about Leki’s folding, four-section, adjustable MC 12 Vario. Most uniquely, the comfortable, adjustable Cross Shark strap wraps snugly around the hand and has a trigger button to release the strap from the pole. The design elevates control of these sticks when hiking or running, enabling a quick, easy swing, plant, and push-off that’s superior to basic pole straps. Two sizes adjustable within a 20cm range, good packability, sweat-absorbing and ergonomic foam grips, a smart locking device, and tough but light, all-carbon construction give the Leki MC 12 Vario poles one-of-a-kind functionality.
See my full review of the Leki MC Vario trekking and running poles.
Make all of your trail runs and fast hikes better with one of “The Best Running Hydration Vests”
and one of “The Best Ultralight Hiking and Backpacking Jackets.”
These sticks have a rare combination of qualities ideal for many hikers, backpackers, and climbers: a very packable, folding design, fully carbon construction, and adjustability in a range suitable for most people: from 110cm to 130cm. One of the most compact models on the market, the poles fold to just 40cm/16 inches, fitting easily on a daypack or running vest or inside almost any luggage, even carry-ons. Testing them on various hikes, including a three-day, 36-mile backpacking trip on the Teton Crest Trail and a steep, eight-mile, 5,200-vertical-foot dayhike of Idaho’s 12,662-foot Borah Peak, I found these poles strong and easy on the hands, thanks to the anatomical Aergon Thermo Long Grips—which extend down the shaft.
See my full review of the Leki Micro Vario Carbon Black Series trekking poles.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase the Leki Micro Vario Carbon Black Series trekking poles at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
Get the right pack for you. See “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs”
and the best ultralight backpacks.
These folding poles find a unique balance of three qualities: durability, exceptional packability, and adjustability in folding poles. In the backcountry, they stand out for being tough and stable, proving their value on outings from backpacking in the Wind River Range and a 20-mile, mostly off-trail peaks traverse in Idaho’s Sawtooths to a rim-to-rim dayhike across the Grand Canyon and some of the hardest miles on the Appalachian Trail. They have Kevlar-reinforced, all-carbon construction, an adjustability range of 20cm in each of two sizes—serving virtually everyone—and a packed length of a mere 36.2cm/14.3 inches (for the small size). The sections lock rigidly with a simple pin and the Dynalock levers never slipped. And that price is a super value.
See my full review of the MSR Dynalock Ascent trekking poles.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase the MSR Dynalock Ascent Trekking Poles at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or msrgear.com.
Get the right tent for you. See “The 9 (Very) Best Backpacking Tents”
and “5 Expert Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent.”
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork
Best for: many backpackers, hikers, climbers, and snow sports users.
$190, 1 lb. 1.5 oz./pair (with trekking baskets)
One size, adjustable 61-130cm
From a 94-mile traverse of Glacier National Park and a rugged, 74-mile hike in the Grand Canyon to backcountry skiing and scrambling off-trail up mountains, BD’s collapsible Alpine Carbon Cork poles proved tough enough for any activity year-round. The 100 percent carbon shafts have extended grips and don’t feel too heavy. Adjustable from 110-130cm, they can effectively be used at any length nearly down to their packed length of 61cm/24 inches—a wider range than most poles, serving all but very tall hikers. The FlickLock Pro levers are basically flawless. Two complaints: They’re not very packable and adjusting the lever tension requires a tiny Allen wrench, rather than a screwdriver head that would be found on many multi-tools or knives.
See my full review of the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com.
Get the right synthetic or down puffy to keep you warm. See “The 10 Best Down Jackets.”
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork
Best for: many backpackers, hikers, climbers, and snow sports users.
$140, 1 lb. 2 oz./pair (with trekking baskets)
One size, adjustable 74-140cm
Testing these collapsible poles on trails in Idaho, New England, and Glacier National Park, I found their most unique feature, the 15-degree forward angle of the grips, naturally places the pole tips behind my feet, where they deliver the most power. I like that. The FlickLock levers are reliable and the aluminum shafts a bit heavy but highly durable. The cork grips don’t feel greasy with sweaty hands and the foam extensions on the shaft are useful on steep uphills hiking and backcountry skiing. Perhaps best of all, the huge adjustability range of 74-140cm/29-55 inches exceeds most trekking poles—but so does the collapsed length of 73.5cm/29 inches. Lastly, that’s a good price for sturdy, versatile poles.
See my full review of the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork trekking poles.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork trekking poles at backcountry.com, blackdiamondequipment.com, or moosejaw.com, or another model in BD’s Trail series at moosejaw.com.
Want to hike the Teton Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, or another trip? Click here for expert advice you won’t get elsewhere.
If cost is a barrier, these collapsible sticks are your answer. From the rugged, 25-mile Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop in the Grand Canyon to a four-day hike in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and other trips, Montem’s 7075 aluminum shafts suffered no damage—although the piece attaching the upper lever mechanism to the shaft broke on one pole after a few years (there’s a lifetime warranty). The adjustability—61-135cm/24-53 inches—beats poles costing much more. Like pricier models, these have flick-lock levers, extended EVA foam grips, and adjustable straps. Tradeoffs: The levers occasionally slipped—in rugged terrain, not on moderate trails—the poles are heavy, and the collapsed length of 61cm/24 inches ranks them among the least-packable.
See my full review of the Montem Ultra Strong trekking poles.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase the Montem Ultra Strong trekking poles at montemlife.com.
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Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” the lightweight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all my gear reviews at The Big Outside.