Trekking Poles... should I get them? Carbon Fiber or Aluminum?

You may be wondering when you would want to use trekking poles.   Their two main uses are for hiking and snowshoeing

While not mandatory for either activity, trekking poles can make hiking and snowshoeing easier, more efficient, and fun.  Here are some reasons why:

  • They ease pain if you have hip, knee, or ankle pain or injury.  By transferring some of you body's weight to your arms and the trekking poles, less force is applied to your hips and everything below them.  
  • They can help with endurance.  By helping propel you ahead and up, you will likely get some extra mileage on your outing, especially if you have nagging pain or lingering injuries.
  • They help with speed.  Adding your upper body to the mix contributes to your locomotion.
  • They provide extra footing. On those moss-covered creekside hikes or icy shoeing outings, having additional ground contact points makes for better stability.
  • They help with balance.  If you have balance problems trekking poles can help steady the ship. They provide a feeling of security if you are concerned about height and it's effect on your balance.  If you loose your balance, a trekking pole might save you from falling.

If the benefits of trekking poles are compelling and you want to buy a pair, the question arises: Alumiunum or Carbon Fiber?  

Carbon Fiber trekking poles have the distinct advantage of being lighter.  Regardless if you are on a brief outing or going far, every bit of weight makes a difference. With trekking poles, lighter is usually better.  Carbon fiber poles are about 40% lighter which translates to several ounes per pole.  When that weight is in your hand, you can feel the difference.  Carbon fiber poles are also more stiff.  Less flexing provides the benefit, albeit subtle, of more support and less lost energy.  If you are going the distance or going for speed, carbon fiber is the clear choice. A caveat however, is that carbon fiber poles are not a good choice if temperatures are below freezing.  Carbon fiber tends to get brittle in the cold hence, they are not recommended for snowshoeing.

Aluminum trekking poles offer some compelling attributes.  They can generally handle more load.  So if you have a large back pack, or have more bodily weight, aluminum is a good choice because carbon fiber trekking poles are less resilient to snapping under heavy load.  Also, if you plan on snowshoeing, or hiking in frigid temperatures, aluminum is up the the task.  Aluminum poles are less susceptible to temperature extremes.  Aluminum is also typically less expensive.  That translates to extra beer or burritos post-trek!

In summary, trekking poles can make your hiking and snowshoeing trips better.  If you are snowshoeing or otherwise in cold weather, or want poles that can handle heavier loads, or want to save some coin, go aluminum.   If you are hiking in above-freezing temperatures and want to go longer and faster on your hikes, go carbon fiber.

Thanks for reading.  Now go enjoy the outside world!