11 Best Ultralight Trekking Poles for Thru-Hiking in 2018 - Greenbelly Meals

11 Best Ultralight Trekking Poles


A guide to the best ultralight trekking poles (hiking poles)
and important features to consider for thru-hiking in 2018.

ultralight trekking polescredit: alicehikes.com

One big mistake many people make while backpacking or hiking long distances is not using trekking poles (or ‘hiking poles’ if you prefer). Most people think trekking poles are for beginner hikers and add unnecessary weight. Well, after personally experiencing a week of agonizing knee pain while hiking followed by several days of ice baths, I can urge to consider bringing a pair. If you are hiking for any significant amount of time, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND hiking with at least one, if not two poles.

You can grab a cheap pair of twist lock snowshoeing poles, but their big baskets and rubber handles are not ideal for hiking. They may last for the duration of a hike, but they will be more of a hindrance than a help. However, we are not talking about heavy snowshoeing poles in this post. We are talking about high-performance, ultralight trekking poles for the real ounce-counters.


TREKKING POLE ADVANTAGES


1. Weight Distribution: Poles help to distribute your body and pack weight off your knees and onto your arms. When you first start using poles, your arms might be sore for the first few days.

2. Balance: No more looking like you are walking a tightrope. Poles help prevent you from falling at slippery river crossings, log bridges, rocks, steep downhills, muddy patches, etc.

3. Rhythm: There is something about having all four limbs working in tandem on the hike. Poles help with that flow.

4. Spider Webs: First on the trail in the morning? You will take lots of webs to the face. Use the trekking poles to do the blocking for you.

5. Official Jabber: If you see a muddy patch in front and you are not sure how deep it is, jab the poles to see if you can step in it or need to step along the side.

6. Save Gear Weight (maybe): You can trim ounces by using trekking poles instead of tent poles on some ultralight non-freestanding tent shelters.

7. Protection: A trekking pole will help act as a barrier in the rare occasion you accidentally get too close to any grouse, snakes, or any aggressive wildlife really.

One of my most ‘vicious’ wildlife attacks happened in Maine. I heard a loud rumble in the bushes next to me. It was convinced it was either a silverback gorilla mating call or a massive black bear that was hidden three feet away under some flowers. I was terrified and confused. A small chicken-like bird then flew out from the brush and head-butted my shin. My trekking pole helped whack it away. It was a very territorial grouse. Grouse make bizarrely deep rumbles on the ground with their feathers (wtf, I know). - Chris (Founder, Greenbelly)


ultralight trekking poles against treecredit: palisadegear.com


TREKKING POLE ANATOMY


trekking pole anatomy

CONSTRUCTION: Unlike some "fixed" ski poles, you want poles that collapse for easy storage. Most poles will come in two or three piece sections. The two-piece poles don’t collapse as small as three-piece ones. However, the two-piece poles have less connecting parts and, therefore, less probability of breaking.

LOCKING MECHANISM: When extended to your ideal hiking length, there are three main ways manufacturers ‘lock’ these sections of the pole in place: a twist lock, a flip lock or an unfold-and-slide lock.

Option A = Twist Lock: A twist lock requires you to twist the individual pole sections in opposing directions until they are firmly locked. Though easy to use and cheap to manufacture, this locking mechanism has a tendency to loosen over time and collapse when you least expect it. If you over tighten the lock, then you risk not being able to loosen the poles, forcing you to hike with fully extended poles.

Option B = Flip Lock: A flip lock is like a small clip that folds over. Flip locks are easy to use, hold without slipping, and generally last longer than the twist lock.

Option C = Unfold-and-Slide Lock: An unfold-and-slide lock uses an internal cord to hold the sections of the trekking pole together and a push button lock to keep it secure., When the pole is removed from your pack and the sections are aligned, you slide one portion of the pole to put tension on the internal cable and lock all the pieces into place (like tent poles). These are typically less flexible on length and potentially more fragile, but they don’t collapse inside themselves unexpectedly.

    SHOCK ABSORBERS: Gettin’ real nerdy now. These soften the impact you place on your poles, and subsequently your arms, as you hike. Just like a car, it is a spring-loaded cushion located at the joints of the pole sections. Some people like that extra flex, while others feel the additional inch or two of movement from the spring makes them feel unstable.

    WEIGHT AND MATERIAL: A pair of poles should weigh around 1 lb. or less… or about 6-8 oz. per pole. Get Carbon Fiber or Aluminum poles to save weight. Aluminum is generally a tad stronger and more flexible than carbon fiber, but it is slightly heavier. The differences are negligible, in my opinion.

    GRIPS: Grips are your connection to your pole over the long miles of your hike. Make sure they feel comfortable in your hand. There are three main types of grips: cork, EVA foam and rubber.

    Option A = Cork: Cork is the most popular grip found on trekking poles. It molds to the shape of your hand and has a comfortable, ‘natural’ feel. It's the middleweight option of the three types of grip and is not often found on ultralight poles.

    Option B = EVA FoamFoam is lightweight and feels comfortable in your hand. It absorbs rain and sweat and can get spongy when wet, but dries quickly. Foam is less durable than cork or rubber.

    Option C = Rubber: Rubber is the heaviest on the list but is well-liked by hikers. Unlike foam, it does not absorb water nor any oil from your hands. It also adds a little more insulation which makes it better for winter sports like snowshoeing or skiing.

      POLE TIPS: The end point of your trekking pole is what actually makes contact with the ground. All poles have metal carbide or steel tips about twice the size of the lead tip of a pencil . The sharp point is helpful to grip small contours of a rock or stab into a slick surface. Most metal tips last about 2,000 miles before needing to be replaced. Some poles provide mini rubber tips that are used to protect sensitive alpine areas or gear when the poles is stowed inside a pack. Multi-use poles may include angled, shoe-like rubber tips that are useful on pavement.

      BASKETS: You might be more familiar with the baskets on ski poles. They are plastic circles fixed about 4 inches above the pole tip. They help prevent your pole from jabbing too deep into soft ground or snow. The wider the basket, the more they prevent you from stabbing into the ground. Big baskets are great in the snow, but not necessarily helpful in the warmer weather. They naturally make a pole a bit clunkier and heavier and may tangled in trailside vegetation as you walk.


      BEST ULTRALIGHT TREKKING POLES

      best ultralight trekking poles - LEKI Micro Vario Carbon

      LEKI - Micro Vario Carbon

      Weight: 9.6-11 ounces

      Collapsed Length: 15 inches

      Folding/ locking method: Unfold-and-Slide Lock

      Material:  Carbon fiber shaft with EVA foam grips

      Price: $199 per pair on amazon.com

      Feature-rich with a luxury price tag, the Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles are the Cadillacs of ultralight trekking poles. The poles break down into three sections that slide to lock securely with a push pin. Just fit the three pieces together and slide-pull until you hear a click. Once extended, you can adjust the height of the poles using a durable metal flip lock. Other niceties include interchangeable baskets and EVA foam grips that extend below the handle for steep ascents. They also are available in either a women's or a shock-absorbing model.


      Black Diamond - Distance Carbon Z

      BLACK DIAMOND - Distance Carbon Z

      Weight: 9.6-11 ounces

      Collapsed Length: 13-17 inches

      Folding/ locking method: Unfold-and-Slide Lock

      Material: Carbon fiber shaft with EVA foam grips

      Price: $170 per pair on amazon.com

      The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles are among the lightest trekking poles on the market weighing approximately 10 ounces per pair.

      The three sections have a cone-shaped connector that makes it lightning quick to deploy. You don't even have to fit the pieces together first, just open the pole and slide until the push-pin locks. The poles ship with a slim, three-season mud basket, but it is not interchangeable. They also are fixed length poles which simplifies the construction but also means you can't adjust them for different terrain or use them with a trekking pole shelter.


      LOCUS GEAR - CP3

      LOCUS GEAR - CP3

      Weight: 10.6 ounces

      Collapsed Length: Not Published

      Folding/ locking method: Flip Lock

      Material: Carbon fiber shaft with EVA foam grips

      Price: $140 on locusgear.com

      Locus Gear is a Japanese cottage manufacturer whose poles have found favor in the ultralight world due to their lower price and lightweight construction. The carbon fiber poles weigh an airy 10.6-ounces and ship with both a standard mud basket and rubber cap that fits over the carbide tip. The poles have three sections and two flip-lock mechanisms that adjust up to 135cm. If one of the adjustable sections breaks, you can easily replace it for $15.


      Gossamer Gear - best ultralight trekking pole

      GOSSAMER GEAR - LT4

      Weight: 8.2 ounces (without a strap)

      Collapsed Length: 33 inches

      Folding/ locking method: Twist-Lock

      Material: Carbon fiber shaft with EVA foam grips

      Price: $191 on gossamergear.com

      Gossamer Gear's LT4 poles epitomize the company's slogan, "Take Less. Do More." The ultra-lightweight poles shed the straps and baskets to weigh an astounding 8.2 ounces for the PAIR. You can add these extras back, but they will bump up the weight to just over 9 ounces. The two-piece poles are equipped with a single twist lock and telescope up to 140cm for use with a shelter and down to 33-inches for storage. If you are looking for more compact poles and don't mind a few extra ounces, then check out the three-piece LT5s which fold to 23.5-inches.


      Big Agnes - PASSPORT SERIES Tension Lock

      HELINOX (BIG AGNES) - Passport Tension Lock

      Weight: 11.6 ounces

      Collapsed Length: 14.5 inches

      Folding/ locking method: Unfold-and-Slide Lock

      Material: Aluminum shaft with EVA foam grips

      Price: $150 on amazon.com

      The three-piece Passport poles are ultralight in weight and fold like their carbon fiber competition, but that's where the similarities end. The poles are made with the slightly stronger aluminum alloy which will bend under extreme stress and not break like carbon fiber. They are fixed length poles and available in 115 or 125 sizes with a cinch strap on the handle to keep them folded when packed. If you need something longer, then consider the adjustable Tension Lock 130s.


      KOMPERDELL - Carbon C2 Ultralights

      KOMPERDELL - Carbon C2 Ultralights

      Weight: 12.8 ounces

      Collapsed Length: 42.5 inches

      Folding/ locking method: Flip Lock

      Material: Carbon fiber shaft with EVA foam grips

      Price: $100 on amazon.com

      Austria-based Komperdell has been making mountaineering and skiing poles since 1922, and their experience shows. The  Carbon C2 Ultralights are two-section collapsible trekking poles with an easy-to-use flip lock for adjustment between 110-145cm. The no-frills, ultralight poles are praised for their four-season capability thanks to removable baskets and a flexible tip that'll save your pole shaft if the tip gets wedged between rocks or stuck in ice.


      LEKI - Legacy

      LEKI - Legacy

      Weight: 16 ounces

      Collapsed Length: 26 inches

      Folding/ locking method: Flip Lock

      Material: Aluminum shaft with EVA foam grips

      Price: $100 on amazon.com

      Comfort and durability are the two words that describe Leki's Legacy Poles. The three-section telescoping poles are adjustable and lock with two very secure flip locks that can be tightened using a thumbscrew. The shafts are made of aircraft-grade aluminum which can handle some stress as you power hike up mountains. The poles ship with three-season baskets that can be interchanged with snow baskets and a molded EVA foam grip that is comfortable and warm.


      MONTEM - Ultralight Carbon Fiber

      MONTEM - Ultralight Carbon Fiber

      Weight: 15.2 ounces

      Collapsed Length:  24 inches

      Folding/ locking method: Flip lock

      Material: Carbon fiber shaft with EVA foam grips

      Price: $75 on amazon.com

      The Montem Ultra Light is a three-section telescoping pole with a flip lock that allows the pole to extends up to 135cm. Though not the lightest pole, Montem stands out for its affordable price tag. For most terrain, these poles will perform just as well as any carbon fiber trekking pole at half the price. They are an excellent choice for hikers on a tight budget who are shopping for their first pair or a backup pair of trekking poles.


      HIKER HUNGER - Carbon Fiber

      HIKER HUNGER - Carbon Fiber

      Weight: 15 ounces

      Collapsed Length:  24 inches

      Folding/ locking method: Flip Lock

      Material: Carbon fiber shaft with cork grips and an EVA foam extension

      Price: $70 on amazon.com

      Hiker Hunger is a small outdoors company that is garnering attention thanks to its lightweight and affordable poles. The carbon fiber poles ship with hiking baskets, snow baskets and two sets of rubber tips. An outstanding bundle for such a low price tag. The Hiker Hunger poles are very similar, if not identical, to Foxelli poles which are made by the same manufacturer.  These poles are best suited for hikers who want a pair of lightweight poles that won't break the bank.


      CASCADE MOUNTAIN TECH - Carbon Fiber Quick Lock

      CASCADE MOUNTAIN TECH - Carbon Fiber Quick Lock 

      Weight: 16 ounces

      Collapsed Length: 26 inches

      Folding/ locking method: Flip Lock

      Material:  Carbon fiber shaft with EVA foam or Cork  grips

      Price: $40 on amazon.com

      Weighing about a pound, the Cascade Mountain Tech poles don't qualify for ultralight status, but they are super cheap and light enough for most hikers. Found at Costco, the three-section carbon fiber poles telescope to 135cm and use flip locks for adjustment.  The poles ship with two rubber feet for the road or trail and two baskets suitable for four-season usage. If you are looking for your first set of poles or a second pair for friends to borrow, you can’t go wrong with the Cascade Mountain Techs.


      DIY trekking pole options

      DIY Options

      When it comes to trekking poles, you don't have to shell out $200 for the latest technology.

      You can be creative and make your own. Many people use old graphite golf clubs as the shaft and add grips (bicycle or fishing pole) and replacement tips to round out the pole.

      Others use bamboo, a broom handle or a hiking stick as the shaft and add the grip and tip of their choosing. If you fancy a pair of collapsible poles for travel or storing on a pack, you can even hack together a couple of those, too. 



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      By Kelly Hodgkins and Chris Cage
      Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine and Bicycling Magazine to Fast Company and Science Alert. He recently wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe.



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