Trekking or walking poles have become ubiquitous in the British hills, deployed either singly or in pairs in the Nordic Walking style. I’m a confirmed double-pole user – coping with the cries of “Oi, where are your skis?” when walking through busy areas – and it appears that many other hillwalkers have discovered the benefits. The primary purpose of a pair of poles is to enable your arms to assist in propelling you upwards and along, as well as taking a load off your knees through use as a brake when descending. On flat terrain the benefits are less obvious – though they can assist in building and maintaining momentum and keep your body upright and mechanically efficient. On slippery ground an additional point of contact or two can be very welcome, though poles should not be used in winter in place of a proper ice axe and the ability to use it. In addition, the ability to probe suspect ground before stepping on it can be very useful, as well as the ability to probe suspect animals when threatened. Oh, and mine often hold up my shelter saving me the need to carry separate tent poles.
Many people prefer not to carry poles at all – I know of one Walkhighlands member who just can’t get to grips with the rhythm of pole use and whilst it’s very amusing there’s no point bringing them if they’ll just end up lashed to your pack. I can understand that photographers may find poles an unnecessary encumbrance, but I tend to swing them up under my arm if I need to use both hands. On popular trails it could be argued that the repeated plunging of pole tips is causing increased erosion, so most poles are provided with rubber caps that fit over the carbide tips to reduce this damage and reduce the clicking noise on hard surfaces.
Most trekking poles are of telescopic design, with either a twist-lock or clamp-style mechanism designed to lock the poles at the desired length. The clamping system seems to be most successful in my experience – the twist-lock mechanism tends to either jam completely or slip when negotiating particularly moist and unpleasant terrain (just the moment when a pole would be very useful). Handles are generally equipped with straps echoing those found on Nordic Walking poles where pushing-off is a key requirement. Whilst useful on flat terrain these straps can be dangerous when crossing technical terrain where it would be useful to be able to drop your pole when jammed before your momentum twists the pole too much and breaks either the shaft or your wrist. Some poles are equipped with an “anti-shock” mechanism which invariably adds cost and weight to the pole, as well as making them feel less secure just when a firm placement is required. In some poles this mechanism can be locked-out in the manner of mountain bike shock absorbers.
As I feel poles are most useful in pairs, all price and stats in this review are for two poles.
Craghoppers Super Lite Shock Absorber Poles RRP £50 (pair)
If you’re new to the wonderful world of trekking poles it’d be foolish to spend a load of money only to find that you hate them. So sensible people would turn to poles such as these from Craghoppers, extremely well priced but possessing some pretty decent features. The cork and foam handle is comfortable and extends some way down the shaft – this can reduce the need to shorten the pole length on ascent and is a nice touch. The three-section pole folds down to a relatively short length for easy stowing on a rucksack or packing into luggage. With this small collapsed size comes a short maximum length of 125cm which won’t suit particularly tall people. There’s an anti-shock system that can be locked-out with a twist of the upper section – even locked-out there is some rattle and play and as I can’t see the point of this mechanism in the first place I’d prefer it to have been left out altogether. The overall quality belies the low price, and describing these as somehow ‘budget’ does them a disservice.
Length: 60-125cm Material: aluminium Grip: composite cork and light foam Anti-shock: yes – with lock out Weight: 485g
Leki Corklite Speedlock PolesRRP £90 (pair)
Leki are the pole experts – they produce poles for all kinds of snowsports as well as Nordic Walking and hillwalking from their own factory in the Czech Republic. As you’d expect, the Corklite Speedlock exude quality, beginning with the very clever handle. The CorTec material is a cork composite and when coupled with the ergonomic shape the handle feels great no matter the weather. The large rounded top permits palming of the pole when descending, and the strap length can be adjusted ridiculously easily. The three aluminium sections are collapsed through the use of the SpeedLock clamp system – more reliable than the traditional twist-lock mechanism and with easy fine adjustment. They extend to a huge 135cm, which should suit the tallest of walkers and offers good flexibility when used as to support a tall shelter. The price and weight are both high but justified by the superior construction and finish. These are the poles that have come closest to tempting me away from my Pacerpoles – and I’m contemplating creating a hybrid from the Pacerpole handles and Corklite shafts….hmmm…
Length: 67 – 135 cm Material: aluminium alloy 7075 Grip: CorTec – natural cork composite Anti-shock: no – though an anti-shock model is available Weight: 544g
Mountain King Super Trekker PolesRRP £60 (pair)
This UK company has managed to design a decent product at a decent price without resorting to offshore manufacture. Mountain King produce a range of poles, from the spindly tent-pole-esque Trail Blaze poles which are popular with Mountain Marathon participants to rugged, chunky poles such as the Super Trekker that can stand the abuse meted out by Scotland’s most rugged mountains. The EVA handle is comfortable in all conditions and extends down the shaft a long way for easy planting on steep terrain, though the strap length adjustment is a touch fiddly – modifying it on the hill to accomodate gloves or mitts isn’t as easy as the Leki system. I like the matt finish on the shafts, this makes unscrewing the sections easier and I’ve not found the mechanism to be particularly suceptable to jamming. The anti-shock system can be locked out via a twist of the upper section, which can unintentionally operate if the pole tip gets jammed and the pole twisted. I like that Mountain King provide both small trekking baskets and large snow baskets for the tip. The weight and packed size is good, as is the 135cm maximum length. There’s a lot to like about the Super Trekker, particularly the keen pricing.
Length: 65 – 135 cm Material: aluminium alloy 7075 Grip: EVA Anti-shock: yes – with lock out Weight: 507g
MSR SureLock TR-3 PolesRRP £100 (pair)
MSR have attempted to solve the pole-slip issue through the use of a new ratchet length adjustment system. It’s certainly innovative – instead of relying on the friction of expanding plugs within the shaft the SureLock system has a very positive hole and pin arrangement that feels safe and secure. Impressively, the pole length can be adjusted with one hand by depressing a trigger located just beneath the handle. By squeezing this and either pushing the end of the pole on the ground or standing on the basket and pulling up, there’s no need to handle the pole shaft at all, or even remove your hands from the handle. It’s a clever system that appears to work very well, but whereas standard twist or clamp lock poles are relatively simple, there seems to be a lot to go wrong with the SureLock system, and it’s certainly not user serviceable in the even of a failure. In non-winter conditions the ease of deployment and adjustment and positive locking system makes these attractive poles, even more so for snowsports in winter which I feel is the target market. The hi-tech SureLock system has ensured that the TR-3 poles are a premium product with a high price-tag and they’re pretty heavy too, but the ease of adjustment certainly is attractive.
Length: 57-130 cm (standard), 61-140cm (long) Material: 7000-series aluminium alloy Grip: ABS with TPE Anti-shock: no Weight: 569g (standard)
Pacerpole 3-section Aluminium RRP £73 (pair)
And now for something completely different. Pacerpoles – designed by Windermere-based Alan and Heather Rhodes – are heavy, bulky and don’t stow on your pack particularly well. Those huge plastic handles are what sets them apart from the other poles in this review and has assured them Best Buy status. The moulded plastic handle allows the poles to function like an extension to your lower arm – turning your wrist into a second elbow and giving hillwalkers the stability of a quadruped without drastic surgery. The walking style is different to that used with ‘normal’ poles, there are no straps and the handle seems to stay in the hand with just the lightest of grips. Walking efficiency and posture feels vastly improved and the high weight simply isn’t noticed. The pole length can be adjusted via the normal twist-lock system which has a tendency to stick – though a bit of rubber glove is supplied to help free stuck sections – along with a foam section below the handle to aid grip. I’ve been using Pacerpoles for years and despite the best efforts of models such as the Leki CorkLite with their SpeedLock system and ergonomic handles they’re still my preferred poles for 95% of my hillwalking, though you’ll not want to carry them on your pack for long.
Length: 67-137 cm Material: 7075 aluminium alloy Grip: moulded thermo-plastic/rubber Anti-shock: no Weight: 669g
Vipole Carbon Trek EVA Poles RRP £80 (pair)
This is the lightweight option, featuring carbon fibre shafts in place of the aluminium alloys used elsewhere. Whilst the poles may appear thin and fragile compared to beefy models such as the Mountain King Super Trekkers they are anything but – tolerating a fair amount of abuse including repeated bashing against rocks and use as a solitary shelter support in decent winds. Carbon fibre also possesses natural shock-absorbing properties – so there’s no heavy anti-shock mechanism included – and the poles feel rigid and secure when tightened fully. The EVA handles are fairly standard and have the same fiddly strap adjustment method as most of the poles featured, in fact they’re almost identical to those found on the Mountain King poles. The 138cm maximum length is good, making them suitable for taller users, and the small pack size and low weight make these a breeze to stow on a pack when scrambling or if the poles won’t be getting a lot of use. Whilst a carbon fibre shaft is strong, instead of bending like an aluminium pole it will generally break – and where an aluminium pole can be be bent back into shape a snapped carbon pole won’t be much use. On a day trip this could be little more than inconvenient, but on a multiday trip where the poles are used to support a shelter it could be disastrous. Nonetheless, for ultralight backpackers these are a very sensible choice.
Length: 64-138 cm Material: carbon Grip: EVA Anti-shock: no Weight: 366g