Trekking poles have a lot going for them… they give you a boost hiking uphill, provide balance for creek-crossing and rocky trails, and reduce shock on your knees on downhill descents. For these reasons and more, I highly recommend hiking with trekking poles for 14ers. Here’s an overview of why and how they help, the factors you should consider when buying a pair, and my personal recommendations.
Why use Trekking Poles for 14ers?
As I said earlier, trekking poles provide a lot of benefits. They allow you to use your arms to push off the ground, giving yourself a boost going uphill and saving energy for your legs. Second, they provide greater balance when crossing creeks or moving across rocky terrain. When going downhill, they can reduce the impact on your knees, allowing you to keep hiking longer. There are other benefits too, including:
- Useful for moving branches, plants or spider webs out of the way.
- Good for crossing snowfields and patches of ice.
- Helpful to have for emergency shelters or splints.
- In a worst-case scenario, it can be used to defend against wildlife.
Trekking Pole Factors to Consider
If you decide a pair of poles sound like a good idea, you should know the main factors that affect their performance and price. The main things to consider are their weight, grip style, adjustability, locking mechanism, shock absorption and replacement parts. Let’s dig into each category now in greater detail.
Material: Aluminum vs Carbon
Most companies use either aluminum or carbon materials to construct their trekking poles. Aluminum poles are generally cheaper, but are less tough and break more easily. Carbon fiber poles cost more but will likely last longer too. While cheap aluminum poles work fine in the short term, I don’t recommend buying them for a permanent personal pair unless it’s all you can afford as they’re bound to break eventually.
Grip Style: Plastic vs Cork
Grips are usually made with plastic or cork materials. While plastic is more affordable, cork crips absorb sweat while you hike, providing a more comfortable and less slippy grip. Some poles also provide special ergonomic shapes that are easier to grab. While not essential, these extra features are nice to have if you can afford it.
Adjustability: Folding vs Sliding Poles
The biggest difference between ski poles and trekking poles are their adjustability: Most trekking poles can be collapsed or slid together to adjust the height or store it compactly. Folding poles break apart into 2-4 shorter lengths, wild sliding poles slide down into one another to save space. These are almost always better, allowing you to make small changes for your height and store the poles more compactly in your bag.
Locking Mechanism: Twist vs Lever Locks
Locking mechanisms ensure your pole length does not slide around while you’re using them. Typically, these are either twist locks or lever locks. I recommend lever locks whenever possible as they are more dependable. Twist locks tend to loosen over time until they eventually no longer work.
Shock Absorption: Standard vs Springs
Some trekking poles provide optional shock absorbers that help further reduce the impact on your knees while walking. While they provide marginal benefits, they’re expensive and can take some getting used to. I would test out this option before you make a purchase yourself.
Replacement Parts: What Comes With it?
This is something most people don’t consider: you are likely to go through pole tips, locks or other hardware if you use the trekking poles well. Poles and kits that come with replacement parts, or provide a replacement or repair guarantee are the best option to save money and keep your poles working for the long-term.
My Recommended Trekking Poles for 14ers
With these factors in mind, I’ve tried out several pairs of trekking poles over the past 3 years. After buying, renting or borrowing more than a dozen, I’ve come up with my top two choices for the best overall set, and the best budget set.
Best Overall Choice: Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
When considering these points, when price isn’t a factor, I recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork trekking poles. At just 1 pound, 2 ounces, its lightweight while providing lever locks, sliding adjustability, cork hand holds and aluminum durability. It also includes extra padded wrist straps that provide extra support when ascending or descending peaks. These are my own trekking poles for 14ers. You can buy a pair here.
Best Budget Choice: TrailBuddy Trekking Poles
Trailbuddys are a more affordable alternative that offers many of the same accessories and features as the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Poles. The biggest difference I noticed are slightly less dependable locking mechanisms, and no ergonomic grip. However, these do the job well. The one advantage they have compared to the Black Diamond pair is their tiny packing size – they get down to 21″ when disassembled in your pack. You can buy a pair here.
Trekking Poles for 14ers: What are Your Thoughts?
About the Author: Alex Derr
Alex Derr is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver Colorado. He is working to climb Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and the 20 tallest peaks in California. He created The Next Summit to share advice, stories, history & reflections from the Colorado Rockies & Sierra Nevada. When not climbing, he is managing the Communications strategy at Visible Network Labs.
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