The Best Trekking and Hiking Poles of 2021: Tested

Tackle the trail with our favorite poles for hiking, running, snowshoeing and more.

8 reviews with an average rating of 4.1 out of 5 stars
A pair of hikers in use the Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec trekking poles and the Black Diamond Distance Carbon trekking poles in Boulder, Colorado.

Give yourself a boost next time you’re on the trail. Trekking poles enhance your stability and balance and provide extra support, which can help you go farther and feel stronger doing it. Don’t believe us? Just ask our expert member-testers who set pole to pavement (and long, winding trail) to bring you the best sticks available at the co-op.

We sent our team into the field to evaluate everything from a pole’s weight to how easy it is to operate its adjustability mechanism while on the move. In the end, they identified the best options for activities like hiking and running—and even discovered the best staff for folks who simply want a third leg. The eight trekking poles listed here are their favorites.

 

Test Results

For quick recommendations, check out the results of our round-robin here, or scroll down for in-depth reviews.

 

Other Top Performers

 

REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles - Pair

Best All-Around Trekking Poles & REI Co-op Editors’ Choice Award Winner

Score: 97

REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles

  • Shaft material: Aluminum
  • Grip material: Cork and foam
  • Adjustable: Yes (three-section telescoping with external lever locks)
  • Minimum length: 37 in. (size 95–120 cm), 41 in. (size 105–140 cm)
  • Maximum length: 47 in. (size 95–120 cm), 55 in. (size 105–140 cm)
  • Collapsed length: 22 in. (size 95–120 cm), 25 in. (size 105–140 cm)
  • Weight (pair): 1 lb. 2.5 oz. (size 95–120 cm), 1 lb. 3.5 oz. (size 105–140 cm)
  • Price: $99.95

Test Results: Keep ’em simple and take ’em everywhere—that’s the idea behind the REI Co-op Traverse trekking poles, the runaway favorites in our round-robin. It starts with a huge range of adjustability and an intuitive design. The Traverse poles, which come in two sizes, serve up nearly a foot of play via a couple of massive lever locks. Our testers appreciated being able to make on-the-go adjustments (shortening the poles for climbs and lengthening them for descents and water crossings) and lauded the oversize locks, which are easy to thumb while wearing gloves but nestle neatly inside a couple of grooves that prevent you from accidentally knocking them open when hiking. The Traverse poles telescope down to roughly 2 feet for storage.

Durability comes next. Superstrong aluminum can handle typical rigors of the trail—our testing samples withstood the notorious rocky tops of New Hampshire’s White Mountains without any bends or knicks and even held their shape when used as a rudder on a sporty glissade down a snow-covered slope in Colorado’s Tenmile Range.

A just-right set of features rounds out the Traverse trekking poles’ near-perfect score, including cushioned, adjustable straps and oversize grips. Articulated cork sections on the top are easy to paw with sweaty hands, while foam lower down is great for hanging onto with gloves if you need to make a quick probe or reach uphill when breaking trail in the snow. Oh yeah—the Traverse poles are the only ones in our lineup that come with both trail and powder baskets, so you can use them year-round. “They’re the champions of versatility,” crows one tester. We couldn’t agree more. Buy here.

 

Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a single pair of sticks that can handle the trail, the slopes and every activity in between, you can’t go wrong with the do-it-all REI Co-op Traverse trekking poles.

 

Testing stats:

  • Days out: 61
  • Testing states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine and New Hampshire
  • Best testing story: “One second I’m pointing at a bald eagle, the next my pole’s flying over the cliff,” one tester explains with a hint of chagrin. “I scrambled around in the boulder field and undergrowth for 20 minutes on the descent to find it, and when I did, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t bent. Shows me I need to use the straps more often.” Editor’s note: But extra points awarded for durability testing.

 

Leki Cressida Cor-Tec Trekking Poles - Pair (Women’s) & Makalu Lite Cor-Tec Trekking Poles - Pair (Unisex)

Best Trekking Poles for Hiking

Score: 93

Leki Cressida Cor-Tec Trekking Poles

  • Shaft material: Aluminum
  • Grip material: Cork and rubber
  • Adjustable: Yes (three-section telescoping with external lever locks)
  • Minimum length: 36 in. (Cressida), 40 in. (Makalu Lite)
  • Maximum length: 50 in. (Cressida), 54 in. (Makalu Lite)
  • Collapsed length: 25 in. (Cressida), 27 in. (Makalu Lite)
  • Weight (pair): 1 lb. 0.2 oz. (Cressida), 1 lb. 1.1 oz. (Makalu Lite)
  • Price: $119.95

Test Results: Comfortable, easy to use and lightweight—what more could you want from a pair of poles for hiking? The Cressida Cor-Tec and Makalu Lite Cor-Tec from Leki are reliable trail companions with enough features to satisfy most trekkers without weighing them down.

“The first thing I care about is adjustability, and these are my pocket aces,” declares one editor who’s been using the Cressida Cor-Tec poles for five years now. The Cressida Cor-Tec and Makalu Lite Cor-Tec poles offer more than a foot of play in length, which means not only that hikers can tweak size mid-hike, but they can share. “My mom and husband will both borrow my poles and change the size,” the same editor says. “Since it’s so easy to reset them to my own liking, I don’t mind.” To do so, simply pop open one of two oversize lever locks and slide the pole to your desired length. The three-piece poles snug down to 25 inches (the Cressida Cor-Tec) or 27 inches (the Makalu Lite Cor-Tec), so you can toss them in a pack or strap them to the outside, even if you’re not sure you need them. (At a hair over a pound, it’s not much of a commitment for ounce-counters, either.)

An ergonomic grip fashioned with both sweat-absorbent cork and sticky rubber is easy to grasp and won’t give you blisters an hour into your hike. A larger knob on the bottom of the handle lets you rest your hand without a death grip, and the wrist loops are made from a lightweight, ribbonlike material that doesn’t dig in or catch on gloves. It also dries fast. Buy here.

 

Bottom Line: Trekkers will appreciate the lightweight comfort of the sleek Leki Cressida Cor-Tec and Makalu Lite Cor-Tec trekking poles.

 

Testing stats:

  • Days out: 86
  • Testing states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont
  • Best testing story: One tester—a Maine-based search-and-rescue volunteer—discovered a plethora of alternative uses for the Makalu Lite Cor-Tecs. “A chair, a splint, a water station,” he says. They even helped him “leave the young bucks in the dust” on one call, which is reason enough to take a flyer.

 

Black Diamond Distance Carbon Trekking Poles - Pair

Best Trekking Poles for Ultralight Backpacking

Score: 92

Black Diamond Distance Carbon Trekking Poles

  • Shaft material: Carbon
  • Grip material: Foam
  • Adjustable: No (fixed length)
  • Length: 43.3 in. (size 110 cm), 45.3 in. (size 115 cm), 47.2 in. (size 120 cm), 49.2 in. (size 125 cm), 51.2 in. (size 130 cm)  
  • Weight (pair): 6.4 oz. (size 110 cm), 6.6 oz. (size 115 cm), 6.8 oz. (size 120 cm), 6.8 oz. (size 125 cm), 7 oz. (size 130 cm)
  • Price: $149.95

Test Results: Poles don’t often make the cut for ultralighters. But then again, not many poles weigh less than the Distance Carbon trekking poles from Black Diamond, which pleased our ultralighters, fastpackers and thru-hikers.

Carbon shafts make the Distance Carbon poles lighter than aluminum options, though they maintain enough durability for the trail. Our testers weighted these babies generously on downclimbs and used them to probe for stable footing on rocky ridgelines without issue. But note that carbon won’t bend (it will snap), so save aggressive pole whacking and acrobatics for aluminum hand-me-downs. Still, the lack of moving parts (these poles are fixed length) gives the Distance Carbons a level of durability unmatched by others on this list. You won’t have to worry about any failing adjustment points.

While the Distance Carbon poles aren’t adjustable, there are five lengths to choose from between 110 cm and 130 cm. A flexible strap and oversize foam grips mean you can drop your hand placement for climbs and still have something to hang onto, but that’s just about all she wrote when it comes to features. The Distance Carbon poles are bare-bones sticks—but that’s exactly the point. Buy here.

 

Bottom Line: Looking for a lightweight pair of poles for moving fast and far? You want the fixed-length Black Diamond Distance Carbon trekking poles, of course.

 

Testing stats:

  • Days out: 36
  • Testing states: Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania
  • Best testing story: Thru-hikers may be the pickiest testers out there, so we flagged a feedback form from one who took the Distance Carbons along for the ride. “My first section of the Appalachian Trail wouldn’t have happened without these poles,” she says. “I wanted to give up, but I found myself setting each pole down in front of my feet and telling myself, ‘One more step. Four more steps. Ten more steps.’ Got that section out of the way.”

 

Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking Poles - Pair

Best Trekking Poles for Trail Running

Score: 91

Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking Poles

  • Shaft material: Carbon fiber
  • Grip material: Foam
  • Adjustable: Yes (three-section folding with external lever lock)
  • Minimum length: 37.4 in. (size 95–110 cm), 41 in. (size 105–125 cm), 47.3 in. (size 120–140 cm)
  • Maximum length: 43.3 in. (size 95–110 cm), 48.9 in. (size 105–125 cm), 55.1 in. (size 120–140 cm)
  • Collapsed length: 13.4 in. (size 95–110 cm), 14.6 in. (size 105–125 cm), 15.7 in. (size 120–140 cm)
  • Weight (pair): 11.7 oz. (size 95–110 cm), 12.7 oz. (size 105–125 cm), 13.6 oz. (size 120–140 cm)
  • Price: $189.95

Test Results: Runners know that incorporating your upper body will propel you higher and farther than your legs can do alone, and that’s where the Distance Carbon FLZ trekking poles from Black Diamond come into play. These featherweight poles can keep you upright and balanced on off-kilter terrain, then stow away in your pack or on your running vest when the trail flattens out.

As with the regular Distance Carbon poles, the FLZs barely tip the scale, thanks to carbon construction. But with these, two joints allow you to fold the FLZs down to about a foot long—small enough for nestling inside a pack’s water-bottle holder or lashing to the outside. To extend, pull on the slider shaft until the pole locks into place. “I yanked them out of my pack, deployed them and packed them away when I was done—all without breaking stride,” says one New England-based trail runner. A flick lock beneath the handle lets you adjust the length between 6 and 8 inches, depending on size, which our testers believed to be more than enough range for a typical mountain run.

Ergonomic foam grips are grooved to promote airflow and extend a bit down the shaft so you can adjust your hand placement. A ribbonlike strap feels airy light like the rest of the pole. And make no mistake: The Distance Carbon FLZs are expensive. But if you want poles that fold small and weigh next to nothing, you can’t go wrong. Buy here.  

 

Bottom Line: The ultralight, foldable Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ trekking poles will help you make miles without interrupting your winged feet.

 

Testing stats:

  • Days out: 12
  • Testing states: Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont
  • Best testing story: One tester used the Distance Carbon FLZs on a run of the Skyline Traverse, a 16- to 18-mile ridge route across the mountains on the Boulder, Colorado, horizon. “They handled the hard sandstone of the Flatirons and saved me from falling on a series of tippy boulders beneath Bear Peak,” she says. “They also made me look a lot faster,” she adds.

 

Other Top Performers

 

REI Co-op Walker Power Lock Staff - Single

Score: 90

REI Co-op Walker Power Lock Staff

  • Shaft material: Aluminum
  • Grip material: Cork
  • Adjustable: Yes (three-section telescoping with external lever locks)
  • Minimum length: 20 in.
  • Maximum length: 39.4 in.
  • Collapsed length: 20 in.
  • Weight: 8.8 oz.
  • Price: $54.95

Test Results: Don’t pay for two poles if you only use one. For the folks who like hiking with a single pole (or nice stick, harvested trailside), consider the Walker from REI Co-op. It’s your basic aluminum trekking pole with a couple adjustment points, so you can size it up how you like. The cork grip feels great on bare hands, and an extended, canelike handle gives you a few more carrying options than a typical trekking pole. One editor who swears by the single-pole life says the extended lip on the handle allows for making “no-look passes” between hands as you negotiate tricky trails. “And Gandalf impressions are much more socially acceptable with a single pole,” she adds. Buy here.

 

Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles - Pair

Score: 85

Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles

  • Shaft material: Aluminum
  • Grip material: Foam
  • Adjustable: Yes (two-section telescoping with external lever lock)
  • Minimum length: 41 in.
  • Maximum length: 55 in.
  • Collapsed length: 26 in.
  • Weight (pair): 1 lb. 4.2 oz.
  • Price: $159.95

Test Results: Some hikers swear by shock-absorbing poles, and for those folks, we recommend the Trail Pro Shocks from Black Diamond. Like a mountain bike, these poles have shocks in the grips (pictured above) that smooth out the ride and swallow the chatter you might feel clacking across Yosemite’s granite or down a boulder-choked Fourteener in Colorado. Beyond that, the Trail Pro Shock poles have a feature set that should please most hikers: flick lock adjustability, oversize foam grips and wide straps. Fair warning: Internal shocks aren’t cheap. Buy here.

 

MCT Superlite Carbon Trekking Poles - Pair

Leki MCT Superlite Carbon Trekking Poles - Pair

Score: 84

$199.95 from REI Co-op
  • Shaft material: Carbon
  • Grip material: Foam
  • Adjustable: No (three-section folding fixed length)
  • Length: 43.3 in. (size 110 cm), 47.2 in. (size 120 cm), 51.2 in. (size 130 cm)
  • Collapsed length: 12.6 in. (size 110 cm), 14.6 in. (size 120 cm), 15.5 in. (size 130 cm)
  • Weight (pair): 10.4 oz. (size 110 cm), 11.1 oz. (size 120 cm), 11.9 oz. (size 130 cm)

Test Results: Behold: the Rolls-Royce of trekking poles. Primo materials, primo features and a primo price tag make the Leki MCT Superlite Carbon sticks the choice for adventurers who want the best option out there. Featherlight carbon keeps weight down, while a three-section folding design (like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles) lets you pack them up into a tiny bundle when not in use. Even the features are bougie—articulated mesh straps, airy foam grips that look like cork but offer more friction and a foam zone on the shaft for lower handling when climbing or probing. The MCT Superlite Carbon trekking poles are the best money can buy. Buy here.

 

REI Co-op Trailbreak Trekking Poles - Pair

Score: 84

REI Co-op Trailbreak Trekking Poles

  • Shaft material: Aluminum
  • Grip material: Rubber
  • Adjustable: Yes (three-section telescoping with external lever locks)
  • Minimum length: 41 in.
  • Maximum length: 55 in.
  • Collapsed length: 25 in.
  • Weight (pair): 1 lb. 1 oz.
  • Price: $59.95

Test Results: On the other hand, here you have the Honda Civic of trekking poles. The REI Co-op Trailbreak sticks are entirely serviceable—and even adjustable!—yet cost a third of others on this list. At roughly a pound, the Trailbreaks are still on the lighter side, and their 14 inches of play mean you can tweak length mid-hike or lend them to a different-size friend. The slippery foam handles and basic straps won’t impress anyone, and the plastic lever locks protrude from the shaft where boulders and haphazard packing can have their way with them, but for the person who wants a simple aid for low-key hiking, the price is certainly right. Buy here.

 

Buying Advice

Buying Advice

When choosing the perfect poles for you, first decide whether you want one or two. Next, find the right length and weight. Lastly, consider features.

 

Types of Poles

In this case, we mean one or two—do you want a pair of trekking poles or a single hiking staff? Trekking poles are sold as a pair and designed to be used in tandem. A hiking staff, which can be called a walking stick or cane, is intended to be used by itself and often costs—you guessed it—half as much as a pair of trekking poles.

All of the poles in this guide are sold as pairs, except for the REI Co-op Walker Power Lock Staff.

 

Pole Length

With the pole tip on the ground by your feet, your arm should create a 90-degree angle when you hold the grip. This should give you enough wiggle room when the trail isn’t as flat—you’ll slide your hand down the grip of the shaft when ascending and reaching up and move your hand closer to the top or the knob when descending and probing lower ground.  

This table provides basic estimations for most folks:

Height Recommended Pole Length
< 5 ft. 1 in. 39 in. (100 cm)
5 ft. 1 in.–5 ft. 7 in. 43 in. (110 cm)
5 ft. 8 in.–5 ft. 11 in. 47 in. (120 cm)
> 6 ft. 51 in. (130 cm)

Adjustable poles allow you to fine-tune the length of the pole, but that tends to come at the cost of weight.

 

Pole Weight

For short hikes and day trips, the weight of your poles doesn’t really matter. But if you intend to use your poles on overnight trips or even trail runs, they contribute to your traveling pack weight. Carbon poles tend to weigh less than aluminum poles—but they’re less durable.

On this list, the carbon options are the Black Diamond Distance Carbon, Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ and Leki MCT Superlite Carbon trekking poles. The aluminum options are the REI Co-op Traverse, Leki Cressida Cor-Tec and Makalu Lite Cor-Tec, Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock and REI Co-op Trailbreak trekking poles. The REI Co-op Walker Power Lock Staff is also made with aluminum.

 

Pole Features

REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles

The main feature to consider is adjustability. As mentioned above, adjustable poles will be more versatile, but likely heavier and pricier. When evaluating a pole’s adjustability, consider the mechanism used to tweak the length in addition to its range. You’ll also want to pay attention to the stated collapsed length, especially if you plan to tote your poles anywhere when not using them.

Pay attention to the baskets that come standard with your poles and whether they accept different ones. Most poles come with small baskets designed for dirt and duff, but some—like the REI Co-op Traverse, pictured above—also come with wider powder baskets so your trekking poles can move with you from three-season hiking adventures to four-season skiing and snowshoeing trips.  

For more buying advice about poles, read our article How to Choose and Use Trekking Poles and Hiking Staffs.

 

Methodology

Trekking pole duel

In summer and fall of 2021, we sent 25 co-op members with penchants for trekking (and mountaineering and trail-running) into the field with the best poles available at REI. They hit the dirt, mud, rock, ice and snow across the country to evaluate each staff and pair of poles.

After hundreds of miles, our co-op member-testers filled out feedback forms that asked them to rate each pole’s durability, comfort, features, ease of use and overall performance in its intended activity. The scores listed here are the cumulative averages on a 100-point scale.

The REI Co-op Traverse trekking poles earned a near-perfect score and our REI Co-op Editors’ Choice Award honor. The Leki Cressida Cor-Tec and Makalu Lite Cor-Tec, Black Diamond Distance Carbon and Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ trekking poles were the next-highest scorers, and we believe they’d be great choices for most users. The REI Co-op Walker Power Lock staff, Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock trekking poles, Leki MCT Superlite Carbon trekking poles and REI Co-op Trailbreak trekking poles scored high in some—but not all—metrics and would be stellar options for specific users.


Article by Josette Deschambeault. Josette is a dog mom and self-proclaimed water woman who contributes to REI’s Co-op Journal and Uncommon Path. She’s freelanced for publications like Backpacker magazine while guiding in Alaska, Colorado and Maine, and is currently based out of Skagway, Alaska. When she’s not on the water, she’s road-tripping to camp in new places. REI member since 2019.