Hiking Poles Review – What I Like And What I Wish For
I bought my wife a pair of Leki hiking poles – or “trekking poles” as there are referred to – a few years ago for Christmas. By the way, Leki is pronounced “Lay key”.
This hiking pole review starts with real life experience. After covering the specs, how to adjust, feature highlights, and replacements / repairs you will find a handy hiking pole buyers guide that will help you select the right trekking poles for you.
My track record with picking the right present at Christmas is spotty at best.
One year I bought an electric cooler that you could plug into your car’s cigarette lighter. It is not like we were planning a monster road trip through the desert or something like that. Needless to say, that was a fail.
On the other hand, the hiking poles for Christmas were a surprise winner in the present department.
Hiking Poles For Year Round Activity
It also helped that I bought some of those traction cleats that you slip on the bottom of your boots and we had snow in town around Christmas time.
We have two labradors that get at least one, and usually two, walks a day. My wife typically takes them somewhere in the foothills of Boise in the morning. The trails can look like this in winter …
… yes, that is a creek running across the trail during winter with ice!
In the evening, we both walk the dogs around the neighborhood.
Of course, with all the enthusiasm my wife had for her hiking poles, I had to go out and buy a pair for myself.
After a trip to the local REI in Boise, I came home with the Leki Corklite poles.
What do you get
You get 2 poles, tips covers and a clip to keep your poles together when not in use or when you want to use the poles as a monopole.
Plan on losing the tip cover and clip unless you are religious about storing your poles in the same place every time. I leave the poles in the back pocket of the driver seat in my car and – cross my fingers – still have the hiking poles plastic tip covers and clip.
Hiking Pole Specs
The Leki CorkLite hiking poles weigh in at 1 pound, 1.1 ounces for the set, 17.1 ounces. That is 485 grams for most of the world. A little over half a pound, 8.5 ounces, for each pole. The buyer’s guide has a list of hiking poles that includes weight.
These hiking poles extend to a length of 135cm / 53 inches with a clear message that says “STOP MAX.” Of course, you can extend the poles further, approximately another 10 com / 4 inches total, 5cm /2 inches per stage, till you get to the point that says “SPEEDL”. I did the full extension on one pole and max extension on another pole just for fun. The longer pole has a noticeable amount of flex when you push down on it versus the pole at the recommended max length. Word to the wise, do what they say and stop at the 135cm mark.
Longest length: 135cm / 52 inches
Shortest length: 66cm / 26 inches
Hiking Poles Adjustment
To set the length of your hiking poles, find your height on the chart.
For instance, if you are 5’8” tall, then set the lower section of your pole to the 120cm mark. Leave the middle section of the pole unlocked so it can slide up and down easily. Have your elbow at a 90 degree angle. Lock the middle section.
An alternative method of adjusting the pole length is to hold the pole upside down below the basket and adjust from that position. Either works, just be sure you are wearing the shoes or hiking boots you would be wearing when out hiking.
One tip – if you are going uphill or want to hike faster then you normally would, drop the height by 5cm on both the middle and lower section. At this lower height it is easier to push yourself with the poles.
To adjust the hiking pole strap.
- Grab the top of the strap to release the locking mechanism.
- Pull the lower strap to tighten or the upper strap to loosen the grip.
- Once set, either push down on the locking mechanism with your finger or pull down on the top strap to close the lock.
- You want your hand to fit easily through the strap from the bottom going up so the strap is between the palm of your hand and the pole handle. This gives you the ability to swing the pole back and forth fairly freely.
Not going to list every feature here, just the important stuff to consider when purchasing hiking poles.
Cork versus plastic, or in Leki language “Cor-tec”. The new Corklite poles use what I thought was a hard plastic. It looks like cork, sort of. The older Cressida uses cork that seems to be shaved down to fit the pole.
With that said, apparently the Aergon Cor-Tec grips are made out of natural, ground cork and a natural rubber for comfort and quality (thank you for that description Amazon). On the other hand, my hands say that the grips are plastic at first. But you know what, when I actually squeeze the grip and I can feel a little softness in the grip and my hands don’t slip on the grip like they would if it was plastic. I won’t disagree with the materials, just the the initial feel is more like plastic.
I suspect the reason Leki went with Cor-Tec is that it is more durable then ‘regular’ cork. Again, no disagreement.
I will point out that the Cressida with cork handles seems to be holding up well. There are no parts broken off from the grip and this is after a few years of use. Granted, it is not everyday that the hiking poles get used, but enough across all seasons that they are showing a few scratches on the shaft and on the tips / baskets. The cork is more comfortable then the Cor-Tec.
Recommend the Cor-Tec grips over the cork grips for longevity even though I find the cork a little more comfortable.
One other grip item is the angle. What do I mean by that? The grip can be straight on the shaft or at an angle. The Leki poles have the grips on at a slight 15 degree angle. This design puts less stress on your wrists allowing you to hiking more comfortably.
Aluminum versus carbon fiber. Do you want to be a weight weenie (carbon) or a workhorse (aluminum)?
I am making a generalization with that statement, the other factor is quality which usually equates to price.
Assuming price is the same, the carbon fiber poles are likely to be stronger for the weight, more rigid, and – this is debatable – better for vibration, then aluminum poles. Aluminum will likely be heavier.
Should you apply too much weight to either a carbon or aluminum hiking pole, the aluminum pole is likely to bend first, then break. When a carbon fiber hiking pole fails, it tends to be catastrophic – snaps and has sharp “snippy” edges.
Unless you are planning a multi-day, high mileage trekking expedition, I think most people would benefit from the reliability of aluminum. However, for the higher priced carbon fiber hiking poles, you can get a lightweight, robust set of poles that will serve you well.
Flick lock versus twist lock?
The flick locks, i.e. – Speedlock for Leki, are foolproof. Just flick the lever and the shaft is either unlocked and can slide up or down or it is locked in place and isn’t going anywhere.
With the twist lock, the poles will likely be lighter versus a comparable hiking pole with flick locks. Twist locks use an expander setup
However, over time you are likely to have issues with the pole segments spinning for the twist models. To fix, you will actually need to take the pole apart and turn the dowel a half turn. Put the shaft back in and twist to lock.
The flick lock system is the superior choice to reliability and ease of use, especially in crappy outdoor weather conditions.
Use your eyeballs on this. Is the strap material thick? Is it stitched on both sides? If yes, great, then you likely have high quality straps that are going to last you a long time. If not, well …
… the picture of the Leki poles show the straps with two layers – the outer layer is this grainy thick material and the inside material is a thinner softer material stitched into the heavier material.
Shocks or no shocks?
There are pros and cons for both, of course.
A hiking pole with a shock will certainly make for a less jarring hike and even help with relieving pressure on other parts of your body like knees, ankles, even your elbows.
However, there is a weight penalty – they do weigh more and if you are hiking for an extended period of time, weight does matter. Additionally, the amount of spring in the shock might be too much / too little.
A hiking pole set with an adjustable shock is preferable over a non-adjustable shock. Hiking poles without a shock tend to be lighter weight and handle better. When I say handling, I mean moving the pole back and forth with a hiking pole is usually easier when the pole is better balanced.
Hiking Pole Replacement Parts
The quality of the straps can vary significantly from brand to brand.
If you do need to replace the straps, you will likely need to pop open the top locking mechanism and find a screw that holds the strap in. Unscrew that and slide the strap out.
Word to the wise, do each pole separately – don’t do them at the same like. The straps are usually setup for the left and right hand and you want to make sure when you install a new hiking pole strap that you set them up properly.
A picture is worth a thousand words, here goes …
The inside of the strap needs to be facing up and out towards the hand. Just facing up is not enough. You can end up with two left or two right hand hiking poles, and you don’t want that. Best to do one at a time so you can compare to make sure it gets done right and not left (pun intended).
If you need to replace the tip of your hiking pole, bang downward on the tip until it comes off. Say what?
That is what Leki recommends … taking an adjustable wrench and fit it loosely around the shaft of the pole and striking downward until the tip comes off. See for yourself.
Then put the new tip on and tap it on the ground, hard, a few times until it is on. That’s it.
You will find the baskets are hard plastic with “teeth” to grip whatever you are hiking on. I prefer the smaller, low profile baskets that come with the Leki Corklite poles for all conditions.
They basically stay out of the way when swinging the poles front to back and make it easy to pack away and carry. Sure, the bigger baskets are good for snow and such … your pole might not sink down as far with a bigger basket, but for the hiking I am doing in the winter – either on dry trails or snow / ice covered trails, I don’t need the poles to “float”.
Leki uses that they call a Speedlock system. In my opinion, that is an appropriate name. You can very quickly adjust the length of the poles with a quick flip of the curved levers. There is a screw adjustment that you should set initially, then only use the Speedlock. One complaint, the women’s Leki poles that we have has one of the levers snapped and finding a replacement part has been a challenge.
With regards to breaking the locking mechanism … it really is our fault. There is a screw on the other side of the speedlock that allows you to adjust the tension when you clamp down the speedlock to lock the height down.
If you have the screw set loosely you run the risk of the pole height collapsing when you apply weight down on the pole, like you might do when making a big step up a trail with assist from your hiking pole.
The other extreme is if you adjust the screw too tight making it difficult to close the clamp. It is great for making sure the pole stays in place, but over time the stress of opening and closing the clamp might cause it to break.
Bottom line, take the time to adjust your poles before you go out for that first hike.
Leki offers a lifetime guarantee on aluminum shaft hiking poles and a one year warranty on carbon fiber shaft hiking poles. The Corklite shown here is made out of aluminum.
Hiking Pole Recommendation
After all of that, what hiking poles should you buy?
As you can tell, I am a big fan of the Leki CorkLite poles.
We do have a hiking pole buyers guide that you can review for choosing the right hiking pole for you.
Hiking poles are great for support and stabilization when carrying heavy loads. There are also good for the tricky creek crossing you might experience when hiking.
Hiking poles help decrease the impact on your knees as you are hiking and reduce muscle strain. This means you can move faster with less effort.
Just about all trekking poles are designed for easy transportation when not in use. This means you can either collapse or compress to make them much smaller.
Go with the clamp lock mechanism and not the twist lock mechanism. There I said it. Both work, or should work, great all the time. The twist locking mechanism usually aren’t as reliable and will fail when you least want them to.
Aluminum versus carbon fiber. Most people will be fine with aluminum. Aluminum poles will fail ‘gracefully’ if at all. They will first bend, then break. Carbon fiber poles are stronger and typically more resilient, though when they fail, they break.
Cork versus rubber versus any type of plastic grip. Go with cork if you are hiking with bare hands, like you would in the summer months. Natural cork will conform to your hand over time and help with sweat evaporation. Rubber grips are for winter weather.
Grips on the shaft. Good if you want to use your poles on a short, steep section of a trail. The majority of the time you will not get any value from these.
Shock absorbers are good for reducing the impact on your wrists and arms. There is a cost though with additional weight. Really depends on you, your body, and the type of hiking you do.
Most poles can switch from the small, narrow baskets to larger baskets that work in snow. I didn’t say it was easy, just that it can be done. Nor do I think it is worth the effort to swap out baskets on a regular basis, maybe twice a year between the beginning and end of winter if you hike in the snow.
If you use your hiking poles on asphalt or concrete, switch out the carbide tips to rubber tips.
Buyer’s guide for hiking poles
hiking poles Summary
Reviews for hiking poles
Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles, Black, 2 Poles
Foxelli Trekking Poles – Collapsible, Lightweight, Shock-Absorbent, Carbon Fiber Hiking, Walking & Running Sticks with Natural Cork Grips, Quick Locks, 4 Season / All Terrain Accessories and Carry Bag
Montem Ultra Strong Hiking / Walking / Trekking Poles – One Pair
Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles – Women39;s
The Black Diamond Woman’s Trail Pro Shock trekking poles are all-around poles designed for women’s use. Made up of three pieces of aluminum shafts, each pole is ultralight and narrow, boasting reduced weight while still delivering optimum strength. This is reinforced by the Dual FlickLock Pro pole locking mechanisms, which also allow for easy length adjustment and clamping force.
The poles come with patent-pending Control Shock Technology (CST) for excellent shock absorption. Meanwhile, for improved comfort and ergonomics, the padded adjustable 360 degree Padded Wrist Straps are Left and Right hand specific.
Length can be extended from 62 cm to 125 cm (24″-49″), shorter than that of poles designed for men. The narrower diameter and specifically-sized foam grips are other indicators that these poles are women-specific.
The Black Diamond Woman’s Trail Pro Shock trekking poles are available as a pair of two poles. Tips can be switched from rubber to carbide, depending on the type of terrain. Tip protectors are not automatically included.
Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles
Short Person’s Trekking Poles / Folding Collapsible / Hiking Poles / Walking Sticks by Sterling Endurance (buy 1 pole or 2 poles)
High Trek™ Trekking Poles [ Pair ] Hiking / Walking Sticks Ultralight – EVA Grips & Easy Flip Locks
Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles – Women39;s
Alpine Summit Trekking Poles [ Pair ] Collapsible Hiking / Walking Sticks, Tungsten Tips, Ultralight, Cork Grips, Flip Locks
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles (Pair)