The Best Hiking Poles for the Camino de Santiago
Hiking poles (or trekking poles, as they are known throughout much of the world) are one of the most hotly debated items for pilgrims on the Camino. Some peregrinos swear by them; others swear at them.
Let’s settle the debate quickly: Hiking poles are definitely suggested gear for the Camino de Santiago or any distance walk you may undertake. The reason is simple: Trekking poles enhance your overall stability and provide support regardless of the terrain. Some hikers also find that poles help them to keep a more consistent pace given the natural rhythm they help create during the walk.
Of course, hiking poles are worthless if they do not fit the hiker or lacking in key features. For that reason, we will focus on two key aspects to find the best hiking poles: how to correctly size hiking poles and which features are worth paying for.
HOW TO BUY THE CORRECT SIZE HIKING POLES
For hiking poles to work best, they need to be the correct size so that your arm and stride lengths allow the poles to work in concert with your body. Properly sized poles will put your elbows at a 90-degree bend when you hold the poles with tips on the ground near your feet. Many trekking poles are available with adjustable height and easier to fine-tune for correct fitting. Adjustable height poles are also easier to buy online, as you can be confident that they can be adjusted to fit you best.
I personally recommend adjustable height poles because they can also be tuned situationally: adjusting them shorter by 5cm – 10cm on long uphill inclines to improve the placement or increasing the length by 5cm – 10cm to improve grip on downhill sections.
For adjustable-length trekking poles:
- If you’re taller than about 6 feet, choose a hiking staff or trekking poles that have a maximum length of at least 51 inches.
- If you are shorter than 6 feet tall, you’ll be able to shorten most brands of adjustable trekking poles enough to make them work for you.
For fixed-length trekking poles:Use the chart below and consult the manufacturer’s size chart that’s specific to the poles you’re looking at.
|Height||Suggested Pole Length|
|< 5 ft. 1 in.||100cm (39 in.)|
|5 ft. 1 in. – 5 ft. 7 in.||110cm (43 in.)|
|5 ft. 8 in. – 5 ft. 11 in.||120cm (47 in.)|
|6 ft.+||130cm (51 in.)|
IMPORTANT FEATURES FOR HIKING POLES
In the older times, hikers only had to find a good stick to aid their walk. With new technologies, hikers have more choices to find the best poles. I recommend finding poles that feel comfortable to you with the following features (listed in my own order of priority):
Adjustable: Many trekking poles adjust in length to enhance stability on different terrain. They generally adjust from about 24 to 55 inches long. Typically you’ll want to shorten the poles when going uphill and lengthen them when going downhill. For me, this is the number one feature for hiking poles.
Foldable: Foldable trekking poles are perfect for packing into your backpack or stowing away in an outside pocket. These poles generally function like tent poles in that they segment rather than collapsing into themselves.
Hand Grip: The two most popular grips are cork and EVA foam. In my opinion, cork feels better as it conforms a bit to your grip, seems less slippery when damp, reduces vibration and generally ages better. There is often a small price premium for cork grips but it is definitely worth it. Do not buy poles with a rubber grip.
Lever Lock: All adjustable poles use locks to set and hold the desired length. In my experience, twist-style locks are the first to fail and are not recommended. Some manufacturers use screw locks that dial into the pole; however, my best experience has been with lever locks. These clamp-style locks are easy to adjust, even when wearing gloves.
Ultralight: Ultralight poles (generally weighing less than 1 pound per pair) offer the advantage of less swing weight, which makes them easier and quicker to move. Over the course of a long hike, this means less fatigue. Ultralight poles are also easier to pack. Aluminum poles will weigh more and cost less whereas carbon fiber poles will weigh less and cost more.
One feature I do not recommend is “shock-absorbing” poles. While this may sound beneficial, I actually find shock-absorbing poles to be less secure on every terrain. The last thing I want is to feel like my pole is moving after I place it or to have one more point of mechanical failure when I’m far from resupply.
MY RECOMMENDED HIKING POLES
Dollar for dollar: the best poles you can buy. Adjustable, carbon poles with real cork handles, reinforced connection points and multiple basket options. These are a great lightweight option for all trail conditions. I’ve used these poles on the Camino, Florida Trail, and Appalachian Trail. If you bought me nicer poles, I would return them and buy these. 18 oz combined weight.
Cascade Mountain Carbon – $50
My first hiking poles; I traded them for the Paria folding poles. A great option for the beginner, these poles collapse to 26″ in length and – for this reason – are not recommended for travel. 16 oz combined weight
Ultralight carbon poles with foam grips. These poles may be the most durable ultralight poles available but you pay a premium price. 13.6 oz combined weight.
Again, there are many choices available for trekking poles today. This video from retailer REI highlights some additional considerations.
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Husband. Father. Backpacker. Pilgrim. Author.
My recent treks include the Camino de Santiago through Portugal and Spain as well as section hiking along the Florida Trail and the Appalachian Trail. In 2021 I began walking the California Missions Trail in the United States and – once it is safe to do so – I will complete England’s ancient Pilgrims’ Way from London to Canterbury. Afterward, I’ll begin the Via Francigena, the historic way in Europe connecting Canterbury to Rome.