Lightweight Trekking Poles: Gear Guide
Nov 21, 2018 at 9:24 pm #3565273Backpacking LightAdmin
@backpackinglightLocale: Rocky Mountains
Companion forum thread to: Lightweight Trekking Poles: Gear Guide
This lightweight trekking poles gear guide discusses the scientific justification for/against poles, and features reviews of 14 models.Nov 21, 2018 at 9:40 pm #3565275JD SchaeferBPL Member
@jdrowerLocale: North Carolina
Excellent and comprehensive article. My approach is which poles feel the best and those will be the ones I use regardless of weight. That’s why I use Pacerpoles.Nov 21, 2018 at 11:52 pm #3565297Dan @ Durston GearBPL Member
@dandydanLocale: Canadian Rockies
Great article thanks.
“Excluded from the gear guide, notably, are poles manufactured by OEM Chinese factories that sell branded products to end-point suppliers. These are the typical poles you find at large online shopping sites like Amazon under a variety of brand names.”
Actually a number of the poles reviewed here do fall into this category. The Locus Gear ones do, and I believe the Zpacks poles do as well, and probably more. For example, the Locus Gear CP3 are branded until a variety of names including MBC, which you can find on Amazon and Aliexpress.
These poles are from the same factory as the Locus CP3’s and virtually identical (just different straps and graphics) but they cost $74 per set. This factory offers these poles in a wide variety of grips, colors, closure adjustments (flick lock, twist), 3 piece or 4 piece, and in various thicknesses. Want a more ergonomic grip? There are these ones. Or want 4 piece ones? There these ones on Amazon with a ball top grip, different graphics and they are a 4 piece pole because they combine the 12/14/16mm sections of the CP3s with an even thicker 18mm top section. You can also get poles that just use the 14/16/18mm section if you want something identical to the CP3s but stronger. If you look around the variants are almost unlimited.
Working with carbon is hard, which is why only big factories do it for the most part. Most of these cottage company poles are just rebranded white label poles from various sources. There are exceptions though. I doubt GG makes their poles, but they seem to be a unique product. Ruta Locura might actually manufacturer their poles.Nov 22, 2018 at 12:08 am #3565299Stephen KundellBPL Member
Agree with Dan, the ZPacks look just like the Cascade Mountain ones from Costco reviewed by Andrew Skurka, who also had questions about the plastic latch and suggested some modifications.Nov 22, 2018 at 12:49 am #3565306Kristina NethawayBPL Member
Rubber tips are really nice for canyon hiking in the Southwest. They don’t sink into the sand as much as a bare tip, and they don’t skitter and scar the sandstone slickrock. The only secure way to keep them on is by putting some flexible adhesive, like ShoeGoo, inside the tips before installing them.Then duct tape over the sides and up the shaft. Belt and suspenders, never lost a tip with both. A bright color tape helps with the pole plant. Hiking in sand without tips is like having anti-shock poles, extra work with no benefit, and an ugly trail of deep holes. BTW, keep your pole plants close, not off the trail into crypto.Nov 22, 2018 at 1:20 am #3565312al BSpectator
Don’t forget the functionality of poles with hammocks and tarps. The Ruta Locura also fit the foot section of a Warbonet Ridge Runner Bridge while compressed perfectly with the adapter. Poles can be used to pitch a tarp in porch mode or in other configurations. The Ruta Locura also fit with a takora fly fishing kit. I’m a real fan of the Ruta Locura, with about 200 AT miles on my pair, though I use Z-poles while traveling due to there ability to break down into 3 sections.
The BD Z-pole straps last about 50 trail miles (they are crap). I’ve been through 3 pair and now use just nylon webbing.Nov 22, 2018 at 2:20 am #3565320Greg MihalikSpectator
From the article –
- Using trekking poles increases caloric expenditure, giving you a better cardio workout.
- Using trekking poles decreases effort, thus saving energy.
hummmm …Nov 22, 2018 at 3:27 am #3565329
All in all, a good review of the state of the market. While I agree with most of your conclusions, I have to disagree with a few design/use considerations.
1) Pole Angle. While I tried to make a 90 degree angle work for me, it never worked as well as a longer pole setting. a) Up hill Travel: I usually place the staff at my feet or below me letting me use the staff to help balance/push up on up hills. To push off effectively, I always needed more length. b) Level Travel: it doesn’t really help, but when I need to cover ground in a hurry, it helps to have the extra length to push forward. c) Down Hill Travel: I need the extra length to place the staff ahead of me and catch myself as I hop down rocks/boulders, or, on steeper walkable trails, just brake me a little. These all involve shoulder muscles to help with my forward movement. Yes, more work for my body, but distributed over more muscle groups leading to less leg cramps. Net overall energy expenditure is roughly the same per distance traveled.
2) Straps. I consider straps mandatory. In the article you show the straps snugged tightly to your wrist/staff. I disagree with this. I simply use a longer strap. If a short strap is needed (or a somewhat longer staff) I simply give it an extra twist or two before gripping the pole. 99% of the pressure I put on the staff is through my wrist strap. I simply grip the staff much like a pencil, though with two fingers due to it’s size. I NEVER use my hand to actually grip the staff. Since the strap is mounted over the top, this leaves about a 1″x1″ area across the top for extreme downhill bouldering/cragging, only fair for this use. Yes, this is beyond the regular “stuck staff” use, and simply dropping it for going through bush. The longer strap drops well clear of my hands should it become wedged, rather than throwing me off balance. Same for clearing brush/steep climbs, freeing up my hands for scrambling.
3) Handle. As a corollary to #2 above, I never use a handle. Because I never “death grip” a pole, I have no need of any handle. The grip I use is a lot like writing, I got used to this grip in first grade and it has remained quite comfortable. The handle is mostly, excess weight.
4) Tips. All of the tips I have used dig in on loam and softer soils too much (mostly, they are all pointed, conical shapes.) This is very much like shortening the staff another half inch or so. I use a simple 3/32″ longish bolt epoxied through a relatively thick rubber gasket on the tip. The tip is about 3/4″ in diameter. This provides some shock absorber on stone/rock face, bites about as well as carbide, and because it hangs out about 3/4″, lasts for about 2-3 years before needing replacement. (Then I simply heat it up, softening the epoxy, and pull it out with a pliers…) The tip basically looks like a spike with a flatter face area to plant the staff…like a shortened version of the garbage collection spikes used back when… It sinks less into mud/duff/soft ground than normal tips and works as well for climbing.
Obviously, I use MYOG single piece staffs because I could never find one light enough nor rigid enough, despite going through about a dozen pair of different poles 20-15 years ago: Komperdells, Black Diamond, GG LT3(?) (Carrol C. loaned me a pair,) etc. I use a simple 10′ panfish fishing rod butt section (about $9), a pair of bolts (one for the tip and one to attach the long strap) and a couple rounded washers. The only bad thing is the over the top press when jumping down 3-4′. Each staff weighs about 3-4oz (85-11gm) and is 45-48″ long (115-125cm). No more than $12 each for a good solid staff, with slight anti-shock, and capable of holding about 150 pounds easily. Also they make good tent poles, as you mentioned, but, I also make my own tarps.
Anyway, there are just soo many ways to skin a cat…as long as they work well and are light.Nov 22, 2018 at 6:59 am #3565343Eric BBPL Member
“Trekking pole shafts are made of either aluminum or carbon fiber tubing.”
Not quite true – I’ve got a set made of titanium tubing. Neener, neener.Nov 22, 2018 at 4:55 pm #3565360Bruce WarrenBPL Member
Great review with lots of details. If you have decided to use a ‘mainstream’ hiking pole, then you can make the right decision after reading this review. Other types of sticks for hiking are mentioned but not reviewed… and I think lots of hikers would discover a much better trail experience using a ‘non-standard’ hiking pole. Every pole listed has one scary problem… they break very easily at that uh-oh moment you are praying that pole will keep you from crashing down. After that happened to me ten years ago, I designed my BigStik pole using fat carbon tubing that is very very hard to break. Walking knarly trails with a hiking stick you totally trust does change your entire hiking experience. No fear. You go faster and you relax.Nov 22, 2018 at 5:24 pm #3565364Jenny ABPL Member
@jenniferaLocale: Front Range
OH NO!!!! I’ve been doing it wrong ;>)Nov 22, 2018 at 6:43 pm #3565371Richard ABPL Member
“Most ultralight and lightweight trekking poles are manufactured with carbon shafts… Manufacturers will be quick to point out that their layup formula is the “best”, but their claims will be limited. Diameter (lower is better) and wall thickness (higher is better) are the controlling factors here.”
I am interested in the idea that lower diameter is better – is this meant in respects to the strength of the shaft? I understand that a thicker wall would lead to greater strength, but had always assumed thicker than average poles such as the BD Alpine Carbon Corks were ‘burlier’ than thinner variants such as those from Ruta Locura? Is it just that thicker walls tend to produce larger diameter poles?
Incidentally, if anyone knows the wall thickness of the Yana poles i’d be interested to know so i can compare them to what i currently use?Nov 22, 2018 at 7:58 pm #3565373Dan @ Durston GearBPL Member
@dandydanLocale: Canadian Rockies
I’m pretty sure “lower is better” is a typo. Larger diameter will be stronger.Nov 22, 2018 at 8:37 pm #3565374JD SchaeferBPL Member
@jdrowerLocale: North Carolina
Forgive me if it’s been said already, but is the ideal height not supposed to be determined by one’s grip on the handle being 90-degrees from the body with the elbow held tight against the torso? That’s what’s worked for me for the past 30-odd years. BTW I use my Pacerpoles to elevate the center of each tent gable with the tie outs Z-Pack provides. It was easier for an ounce and a half to carry premade shock-cord tent poles from Z-Packs.
Happy Thanksgiving all.
JDNov 22, 2018 at 9:04 pm #3565376jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
I own the Gossamer Gear LT 3’s. I didn’t realize that they had been discontinued and replaced with a heavier version. There must have been a reason! My guess is that the LT 3’s were too prone to snapping at the tip. It happened to me. I did ‘learn’ to plant carefully and haven’t broken one for a while now.
Or was it something else?Nov 22, 2018 at 9:59 pm #3565388
Yes, Dan is correct. However, there is a caveat. Strength is not only just “strength.” There are several different components or factors making up total strength. For the same weight pole, the sidewalls will be thinner, making them more prone to side crushing. If the sidewalls are the same thickness then they increase strength with only slight loss of “crushability” but weigh considerably more. If you reduce the overall diameter, you increase the modularity or flex, which can save a pole from snapping if you recognize flex and over flex. Too fine a diameter looses overall up/down support, but usually becomes very flexible, similar to tent poles. With carbon, there is a fine line between too much flex and breaking. I usually opt for larger diameter shafts (3/4″-7/8″) with thin walls and just avoid walking on them.Nov 23, 2018 at 1:23 am #3565403Todd TBPL Member
@texasbbLocale: Pacific Northwest
Forgive me if it’s been said already, but is the ideal height not supposed to be determined by one’s grip on the handle being 90-degrees from the body with the elbow held tight against the torso?
No. You hear that a lot, but it’s probably a better rule for skiing than hiking. If all you use the poles for is balance and as “feelers,” the contrived 90-degree thing is probably fine; but if you want to get significant weight on the poles (and hence off your legs), the poles need to be well under you. For me, the 90-degree rule makes the poles a full 7 inches too long (I’m fairly tall). I recommend starting with the pole at navel height and adjusting to taste from there.Nov 23, 2018 at 3:20 am #3565412Tom KBPL Member
I’m baffled by the short shrift given to the CP3s. I’ve been using them for over 6 years now with none of the potential problems alluded to in the review. The one downside for me is that the carbide tips can wear out, leaving one with the poor choice between a clunky DIY replacement procedure or ordering new lower pole sections. I don’t consider their cheesy straps to be an issue, since I only use straps to retain control of the pole if I lose my grip. For that, I simply removed the straps and replaced them with a retainer loop made of 2 mm Perlon cord tied and taped to the shaft just below the grip. Works like a charm and is lighter. They’re an excellent pole that should have fared better in the review, IMO.Nov 23, 2018 at 4:19 am #3565419Richard ABPL Member
Thanks Dan, that would make sense.
Marco, yes, good points. Firmness (or lack of flex) is desirable for support and energy saving, though can come at the price of brittleness, principally to sideways forces (and increasing wall thickness only helps marginally). Whereas the flexibility of, say, a narrow diameter tent pole wouldn’t prove very useful as a walking staff (or as a centre pole for a mid), even though it may resist certain forces better. Strength is indeed a more complex concept! Which thicker diameter poles do you use?Nov 23, 2018 at 7:35 am #3565429
“Hike your own hike” & “different strokes for different folks” applies to trekking pole selection. I had 17 oz Black Diamond CF poles for 1,000 miles of the PCT. I jealously eyed those feather light Gossamer Gear poles, but heard they broke easily.
I changed to BD Distance Carbon Z poles for the next 1,000 miles.The tip on one pole came off leaving the plastic socket which still protected the shaft from each poke. On the penultimate day of my hike the upper joint of the other pole retracted into the upper section, earning it a “not quite” award. A great lightweight pole with just a few other shortcomings that included BD moving the tip basket closer to the tip where it would catch rocks and roots, a plain strap that didn’t match my unplain hands and a foam grip with grooves that were too grippy leading to discomfort.
I also have ruta locura two piece Yana poles, and made the mistake of getting the straps with them. These plain straps are no worse than any other but they’re also better than no other. They don’t hold their adjustment for me and they don’t feel good. They actually feel awkward and make me yearn for those on my cross country ski poles. The poles themselves are great!
..I want trekking pole strap evolution to follow that of Nordic ski racing where the strap completely encircles my wrist and distributes the force to my entire wrist vs just the back of my wrist and the palm under my thumb. I made my own strap that does this for one pole and it has the other hand screaming with envy.Nov 23, 2018 at 7:37 am #3565430
BTW I’m really with thoroughness of the review. Kudos!Nov 23, 2018 at 7:38 am #3565431
“impressed”Nov 23, 2018 at 11:08 am #3565434
Richard, as I stated above, I MYOG from a couple carbon fiber “panfish” fishing rods. Basically, they are slip together rods about 10′-12′ long. 20 years ago these were easy to find at Wall-mart, but for the past 4 years or so I have had to order them. They cost around $4.50 when I started making them, and they went up to around $9-10 each, now days, at Caballas. They range from ~45″-48″ long, and, the tapered tip is around 5/8″-3/4″dia with the butt around 7/8″-1″dia.
The top is screw on so I drill a hole in it, melt a couple holes in a strap (usually 3/4″-1″ wide) and bolt this together with a #10 finish washer on top. The bottom is a rubber plug which, again, I drill a hole through, insert a longish 3/32″ bolt with a washer on top/bottom, letting the excess threading serve as a tip (between 1/2″-1″ long.) I apply some 5minute epoxy, insert the tip and tighten. This squeezes the rubber locking it in. (I have made replacement tips from 4-5 plumbers washers, a bolt, then sanded to fit.) These normally last three to four years on the trail before needing replacement, iff I don’t break a pole for some reason (falling on it, closing it in a car trunk, etc…)
To strengthen the tip somewhat and as a bumper, I use some 1/16″ nylon chord wrapped in a loose up/down spiral (much like when making a fishing rod) along the lower 6″. I epoxy over it for strength. Using a bright yellow or orange chord, it also makes a good tip marker.
As above, I do not believe in handles/grips. I wrap the straps around my wrist (up and through the loop, down to grab the pole) skiing style. I pinch the shaft with one or two fingers like a pencil, and, go. Larger grips just get in the way. All the weight is held on my wrists. except when bouldering. Then I slip my hand over the top, which could be a bit larger, like 1-1/2″. Again, I never miss the grip, though.
Also, pole length is changed on the fly…no counter-twisting, no flick locks, no buttons. I loop through the strap and then:
a) a longer pole is accomplished by twisting the strap one, two, three or four turns to shorten the strap. This effectively increases the length of the staff.
b) a shorter pole is simply reversing the strap twist, allowing your wrist to drop.
‘Ya kind’a have to play with the strap dimensions a bit, I started out about 12″-14″ from the top…I think I am down to around 10″-12″ these days. As above, I prefer a longish pole, about 100-110 degrees of elbow bend. That lets me put the staff behind me, pushing up & forward, or below me, braking/hopping off boulders. I almost always want a longer staff than a simple 90 degree bend gives me. Even on level ground, the angle between my arm and staff means it will naturally push me forward somewhat. Hmmm, I think this a slightly modified form of the “gas, coast, brake” methode. Never put the staff ahead of your feet!
All together, they range from around 3.5oz to 4.5oz each staff depending on the blank.
Simple and exceedingly easy to make. It took me less than 10 minutes to make up a pair when I gave a set to someone in the High Peaks area of the ADK…I had forgotten about it and had to make a pair the morning I left on another trip. No joints to break. No separate tips to fall off. No clumsy locking mechanisms for the strap. Very simple.
Downside: They are one piece, so can be a hassle on a plane. Some consider this fatal because they travel on planes a lot.Nov 23, 2018 at 1:20 pm #3565439JCHBPL Member
James – sounds incredibly interesting. Pics please, especially of your strap solution. I think I can picture it from your description but you know, pictures are worth 1000. :)Nov 23, 2018 at 2:26 pm #3565444Matthew / BPLModerator
Yes, I’d like to see photos as well.
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