Pole Power

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Four trekking poles that lighten your load

Climbers carry a lot of gear. And for precisely that reason, adding one more piece—a pair of trekking poles—could actually make your approach and descent 10 times more comfortable. Trekking poles spread the stress of a heavy pack to four points (two legs and two poles), and can give you balance and stability for river crossings, talus fi elds, and steep ascents or descents. Trekking poles have traditionally been awkward to carry, but new ultra-light sticks fit inside your bag and barely register on the scale.

Black Diamond Ultra Distance

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These featherweight, threesection, carbon-fiber-shaft poles were the lightest in our test, but still got the thumbs up for stability. The stiff shafts on the poles lock into place with a single push of a button. They fold so small (13 inches for the 100cm model) that you can easily store them in a pack for the walkoff from a climb like Chapel Pond Slab in the Adirondacks. They have two sets of screwon tips, and the non-slip foam grips are comfy and give you space to choke up.

Leki Micro Stick

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Designed for Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck, these three-section poles are all about comfortable grip. Foam handles have a trigger finger and hand-heel rest and a long foam sleeve below the grip for choking down on steep ups in classic Euro style. Rubber on the head of these non-adjustable poles reduces impact on your hand when you’re descending. The Micro Stick’s carbide tips have bite on every kind of rock as well as in soft trail, and the microfi ber wrist straps were soft on bare skin.

  • $150

  • leki.com

  • 14 oz./pair (120cm)

  • 110cm, 120cm, 130cm

CAMP Xenon Trek

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When compressed, the Xenons are the shortest poles (12.5 to 14 inches) in this review, so they’ll disappear into your pack. They’re also the most affordable—so you can use ultralight poles that won’t lighten your wallet. Built like an avalanche probe, the four mated, tent-pole-like sections automatically lock into each other via a connecting Dyneema line. The Xenons don’t set up quite as easily as some of the other poles because the ends aren’t as tapered, but at two-thirds the price, it’s worth some extra effort. On the trail in New York’s Adirondacks, they got high marks for stability, and testers liked their springy feel.

Exped Explorer

Pole Power


As the only adjustable poles in the test, these four-section, four-season aluminum staffs held up to months of long approaches, repeated dragging and banging on rocks, and temperatures ranging from brittle winter to dripping summer heat. The long grip is comfortable even after hours of trekking. The lower portion is ridged for security when you’re choking up on steep sections. Wrist straps didn’t slip under strain, nor did the grooved locking system that pops the poles into place when expanding them. At just more than 20 inches compressed, they’re short enough to pack inside a suitcase, though longer than others. Three baskets available.

  • $120

  • exped.com

  • 14 oz./pair (120 cm)

  • 120cm, 130cm

GET THE RIGHT LENGTH: Poles should be long enough to support you while descending with your hand over the top of the grip, and short enough that they don’t get tangled up when you’re choking up on the shaft. On fl at ground, your arm should be at90° when you’re holding the grip, with your elbow at your side.

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