Trekking poles, bought in pairs, are best for balance and comfort in hiking, but some hikers still like long, shoulder-length staffs. Photographers may prefer a hiking pole that doubles as a monopod, with a grip that unscrews to reveal a camera mount. Expert reviews suggest that these features are important in choosing trekking poles or hiking staffs:

  • Decide between adjustable or fixed. Adjustable trekking poles are most flexible for different types of terrain, but fixed poles are lighter.
  • Look for flexible carbide tips. Trekking-pole tips that have some flex built in withstand forces that can break stiffer tips. Carbide tips are slip-resistant on rock.
  • At least two basket options should be available. Baskets are discs mounted a few inches from the top and keep your trekking poles from sinking into the mud or snow. Different baskets are available for different terrain, including snow and sand.
  • Try out the grip size. While reviews say smaller grips are comfortable for large hands, too large a grip can be uncomfortable for those with small hands.
  • Cork or EVA grips are best. Cork molds over time to fit your hands, and both cork and foam absorb sweat, while rubber and plastic grips can get slippery (and thus unsafe) when damp. Poor-quality foam grips don't wear well, and some rubber grips leave marks on your hands.
  • An extra-long grip is convenient. Long grips have foam that extends down the upper part of the shaft. This gives you extra gripping surface, useful for quick ascents when you don't want to take time to shorten the poles; you can just grip them below the handle.
  • 10- to 15-degree positive-angle (PA) grips are best. These grips are angled slightly to keep your wrist in a neutral position, to prevent repetitive-motion injuries and fatigue. Users confirm that they're more comfortable than straight grips and well worth the extra cost.
  • The shock-absorbing (SA) mechanism should be reliable, quiet and easy to set on or off. Some trekking poles have a third setting, for 50 percent shock absorption. When this feature is turned on, a spring inside the trekking pole adds a little flex to the action, to dampen vibration from the pole hitting the ground. The vibration can otherwise stress your hands, wrists and arms. Most users like this feature; some turn it off on steep ascents. It's important that the mechanism be well-built. Users report that on some cheap trekking poles it rattles and/or doesn't keep the setting, turning itself on or off.
  • Aluminum-alloy shafts are light and strong, but make sure the aluminum is high-grade. Low-grade aluminum is apt to bend under stress. Carbon-fiber shafts are lightest of all, but not as strong.

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