The humble walking stick is now an essential part of any hiker's kit – discover the best poles for you with our handy buying guide
Walking poles have come a long way since early man found a nice big stick and used it to take his weight on a walkabout. It’s now common to see Nordic walkers swinging carbon poles as they lap the local park at 6am, trail runners stabbing the ground as they stomp past. They’re super popular with walkers and hikers of all ages, too.
Why? Is it just part of the “look”? Maybe a bit. But walking poles have many practical benefits. They aid balance on all surfaces, take strain away from your legs and knees, make going up and down hills much easier, and improve momentum by helping to swing you forwards. Some hikers even use them to prop up tarpaulins to create makeshift tents.
Here, we’ve picked out the best walking poles you can buy now, highlighting factors such as lightness, durability and adjustability. Our buying guide will run you through all the key details you need to know; if you’re in a hurry, then check out the list below for a quick summary of the best walking poles to buy.
Best walking poles: At a glance
- Best all-round walking poles: Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles | £160
- Best folding walking poles: Leki Micro Vario Carbon Poles | £186
- Best walking poles under £170: Black Diamond Distance Z Poles | £160
- Best women’s walking pole: Leki Cressida Trekking Pole | £110
- Best budget walking poles: Robens Keswick T6 Walking Poles | £38
- Best innovative walking poles: Les Batons d’Alain | £96/€108
How to choose the best walking pole for you
Why are walking poles usually sold in pairs?
Walking poles are designed to be used two by two, with one in each hand to support the weight of each leg as you walk. The idea is to swing each pole in time with the opposite foot moving forwards: right foot, left pole.
However, many walkers prefer to use just one. That way, you’ve got a free hand when you need it. But you don’t have as much stability as you would with two poles, so if you’re off to scramble up a fell, you’ll definitely be wanting two poles.
What features should I look out for?
Adjustable length: Size really matters. You should be able to hold your elbow at a 90-degree angle when holding the pole by its hand grip. Either make sure you choose the right length for your height (specialist retailer Alpinetrek has an interactive guide to help you) or buy a fully adjustable pole. Not only can you adjust it to suit your height, but also for different needs – for example, downhill stretches need a longer pole than uphill treks.
Light weight (within reason): The lighter the pole, the less weight you will have to carry on your travels – and in your hands while walking. But don’t get too hung up on “ultralight” walking poles. Carbon fibre poles are the lightest, while aluminium is slightly heavier but also cheaper and much more durable. The lightest ultralight walking poles may save a few grammes of weight, but they tend to be fixed and unfoldable, so you can’t pack them in a bag.
Small packed size: Most trekking poles can be folded or collapsed down to 30-60cm to fit in your backpack. Foldable poles have separate sections connected by a Kevlar cord, a bit like tent poles, and can be packed very small. They can’t normally be adjusted in length, though. Collapsible poles collapse like telescopes and can usually be adjusted to any length within a range, using a locking mechanism. Flick locks (such as those on camera tripods) are more secure than screw locks.
Interchangeable baskets and tips: The “basket” is the ski-shoe type attachment above the pole’s tip. Baskets stop your pole from sinking into the ground, and they come in different types and sizes for different terrains such as soft mud and snow. Tips come in different types, too: single-point carbide tips are basically a spike and good for trails; rubber tips are better for hard surfaces and chiselled tips boost traction on slippery surfaces.
Cork or rubber grips: It’s vital that you feel comfortable holding hands with your walking poles. Typically, the grip is made from cork, which moulds to your hand over time and wicks moisture well (good for sweaty hands). Many grips are made from EVA foam or rubber, which is good for comfort but can get soggy when it rains. The best pole in our rundown has cork and EVA grips.
Well-fitting strap: Look for a strap that fits comfortably around your hand, preventing you from losing the pole. That said, if you’re on rocky or slippery terrain, it’s best not to use the strap because your pole could go flying and take you with it.
Shock absorption: Some trekking poles have an internal spring to reduce the impact on hands and elbows. These poles are usually slightly heavier and pricier, but may be worth the extra cash if you do a lot of walking on hard surfaces and want to help protect your joints.
Nordic walking poles: Poles designed specifically for Nordic walking tend to be fixed-length without folding mechanisms, and combine extreme lightness with super-strength to support your weight. Specialist walking pole maker Leki has a great guide to selecting the length of your Nordic walking pole.
READ NEXT: Best trail-running shoes
The best walking poles you can buy in 2023
1. Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles: Best all-round walking poles
Price: £60 (pair) | Buy now from Trekitt
These carbon classics from trekking specialists Black Diamond strike a great balance between weight and durability. They’re the best all-rounders to get you through river deep and mountain high for years to come.
You won’t have to worry about choosing the right size for your height because these poles are fully adjustable to any length you want, from 61cm (as in the photo above) to 130cm. The flick locks are quick and easy to use and much more secure than twist locks, so once you’ve locked the poles in place, you will feel confident that they won’t loosen as you’re scrambling down a hill.
The ergonomic grips are made from cork, but there’s also a rubberised “extension” for added grip on steep terrain, so you get the best of both worlds. The padded wrist strap feels really secure, too. The poles come with two basket sets (including one for deep snow) and interchangeable carbide and rubber tips for when the going is soft and hard.
Key specs – Material: carbon shaft, cork grips, EVA (synthetic rubber) extension; Length packed: 61cm; Length extended: 61-130cm; Weight: 234g per pole
2. Leki Micro Vario Carbon Poles: Best folding walking poles
Price: £186 (pair) | Buy now from Amazon
Leki’s Micro Varios are only a little lighter than Black Diamond’s carbon poles, but they fold up much smaller – to just 38cm, which is dinky enough to fit in a daypack or even a waist pouch. This makes them ideal for trail runners and travellers.
Their three break-apart sections lock together easily, even when you’ve got giant gloves on, and the top section has its own adjustment mechanism to help you find your perfect length.
The foam grips on the Micro Varios are amazingly comfortable and many people prefer them to cork, but they can get a bit sweaty on long, warm treks and aren’t as durable as cork. The Kevlar cords may need replacing if you use the poles a lot, and you need to buy additional tips and baskets separately.
Key specs – Material: Carbon shaft, Aergon rubber grips; Length packed: 38cm; Length extended: 110-130cm; Weight: 224g per pole
3. Black Diamond Distance Z Poles: Best walking poles under £170
Price: £160 (130cm pair) | Buy now from Elite Mountain Supplies
These rugged aluminium poles from Black Diamond only weigh a few grammes more than their carbon cousins and cost considerably less cash.
Their folding Z-pole design is similar to Leki’s Micro Varios and breaks down to 40cm for easy storage. Then you just grab the sections and fold out to create one pole. The lightweight EVA foam grips come with breathable, moisture-wicking covers to stop your hands getting clammy. A quality, but pocket-friendly choice if you’re after your first pair of poles for mountain paths or for a trekking holiday, and aren’t sure where to start.
Key specs – Material: aluminium shaft, EVA grips; Length packed: 40cm; Length extended: 100-130cm; Weight: 185g per pole
4. Komperdell Carbon Classic Poles: Best poles for Nordic walking
Price: £69 (pair) | Buy now from Alpinetrek
These fixed-length carbon poles may look like riding crops but they’re specially designed for Nordic walking.
They’re exceptionally strong and reasonably lightweight, and their mechanism-free construction means they don’t vibrate even when you really get into your stride. The vulcanised rubber hand grips feel great and is easy and comfortable to grip for hours at a time.
The Carbon Classic poles aren’t adjustable, so you will need to make sure you buy the right size, but with a wide range of lengths, from 105cm to 135cm, available for a sensible price, it’s difficult to go wrong.
Key specs – Material: carbon shaft; Length: from 105 to 135cm; Weight: N/A
5. Leki Cressida Trekking Pole: Best women’s walking pole
Price: £110 (pair) | Buy now from Ellis Brigham
Leki’s Cressida trekking pole is made for smaller hands and petite heights, and is fully adjustable. The aluminium shaft feels rugged and stable in all terrains, but without much weight – it’s just 221g. The clips are quick and easy to lock and unlock, allowing you to get the right length for you and your needs, while the breathable skin strap helps keep your hands warm on the comfy cork grip.
Key specs – Material: aluminium shaft, cork grip; Length packed: 64cm; Length extended: 90-125cm; Weight: 221g per pole
6. Robens Keswick T6 Walking Poles: Best budget walking poles
Price: £38 (pair) | Buy now from Cotswold Outdoor
You do tend to get what you pay for with walking poles. Products from trekking specialists such as Leki and Black Diamond have been perfected over years, and they’re worth the investment if you’re a keen hiker or traveller.
But if you’re not sure a walking pole is for you at all, or you just want some support on a one-off camping trip, these adjustable aluminium poles from Robens are the best pair you will get for under £50. They adjust down to 66cm and up to 135cm (they’re at full length in the photo) using a screw mechanism, and come with a detachable basket and extra rubber tip. And at half a kilo for the pair, they’re not much heavier than our other picks. That’s a really good deal. They won’t last for years, though.
Key specs – Material: aluminium shaft, EVA grips; Length packed: 66cm; Length extended: 66-135cm; Weight: 252g per pole
7. Leki Wanderfreund Makalu Trekking Pole: Best single walking pole
Price: £60 (single) | Buy now from Ellis Brigham
Leki’s rubber-tipped aluminium pole is very light and folds down super-quickly to just 63cm. However, it’s also extremely strong and has a big ergonomic handle that you can use as a walking stick, so it’s ideal for taking your weight after an injury.
We love how easy the stick is to adjust and lock to precise lengths, although if you’re tall you will wish you could extend it to longer than 120cm. Not many poles on the market are sold singly, so if you prefer using one pole and keeping one hand free, this is a good, solid quality single pole choice.
Key specs – Material: aluminium shaft, vulcanised rubber tip; Length packed: 63cm; Length extended: 63-120cm; Weight: 266g
8. Les Batons d’Alain Trekking Poles: Best alternative design
Price: £96 (pair)/ €108 | Buy now from Les Batons d’Alain
Look out, world of walking poles – Alain’s here to shake things up. Les Baton’s d’Alain (French for ‘Alain’s poles’) are eye-catchingly bright hiking and skiing poles designed and made in the shadow of Mont Blanc in Chamonix in the French Alps by mountain guide Alain Desez.
These poles have a sturdy aluminium main body and a long, padded foam grip that allows the hiker to grip the pole at different heights on the go. Sounds simple – but when you’re hiking in rocky, mountainous ground (or snowshoeing or hiking with crampons in winter), Alain’s poles let you adjust your grip and stick height on the fly, which saves tons of time compared to fiddly adjustable walking poles.
The ‘batons’ don’t have wrist straps, which can also be safer if you take a slip on a trail. And of course, you can ski with them come winter.
Keep in mind that these walking poles are sold in euros, our conversion to GBP was made using the exchange rates at the time of writing.
Key specs – Material: Aluminium shaft, foam grip; Length packed: N/A; Length extended: 115-135cm; Weight: 205g