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. Learning to use them, if you’re a beginner, isn’t difficult, and there are great resources out there on using 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 aluminum poles work fine in the short term, if you want the absolute best option, I would go with carbon poles, despite their higher price tag.
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 three choices for the best overall carbon set, aluminum choice, and the best budget set.
This solid pair of aluminum trekking poles for 14ers from REI is a good option for those looking for an affordable, yet high-quality pair. Their joint locks last years of heavy use on the trail, with a lightweight build that saves weight on your pack. The cork handles help absorb sweat for a comfortable experience during your hike. They can be stowed away securely on your pack during scrambling sections too.
While it isn’t very likely, trek poles do break from time to time – especially in the rough, rocky environment of the fourteeners. If you want to be sure your trekking poles for fourteeners survive the climb, it is worth upgrading to stronger carbon poles like this pair from Black Diamond. While the price is premium, the high-quality construction is all but guaranteed to last no matter what kind of hiking or climbing you through at these poles. While they are the most expensive option on the list, they will not let you down.
REI makes a lot of great gear and their trekking poles for 14ers are no exception. The Trailbreak Trekking Poles don’t have many special features as the Trail Ergo, like cork handles and padded straps and they are slightly less strong with more general aluminum, but they’re still a solid option at a more affordable price than the alternatives. They’ll hold up much better than a $20 pair from Walmart and are a good option for beginners.
Click here to learn more or buy a pair.
Get Extra Support With Trekking Poles for 14ers
Climbing a fourteener is no easy task. These pairs of trekking poles will go a long way in providing you extra stability and support as you climb rough slopes, along with extra power from your arms and upper body. Regardless of whatever pair you choose, you’re doing yourself a big favor for your next 14er. Safe travels on the trail!