Home / Reader Surveys / Backpacker Trekking Pole Preferences – Survey Results

Backpacker Trekking Pole Preferences – Survey Results

Most backpackers use trekking poles.
Most backpackers use adjustable trekking poles.

Most backpackers use adjustable trekking poles to help relieve knee stress, improve walking stability, and increase their hiking speed. Though many consider them an essential piece of backpacking and day hiking gear, the choice of which pole to use is largely a function of price, rather than gear weight or design.

While trekking poles manufactured by Black Diamond, Leki, and Komperdell are the most popular trekking poles used by backpackers, we found that budget poles from Outdoor Products, Cascade Mountain, and Kelty have a significant customer base. A breakout of trekking pole brand popularity is provided below.

Backpacker Trekking Pole Use

When surveyed (n=443), we found that most 72.7% of backpackers use a pair of trekking poles for hiking, 5.8% use a single pole, and 21.4% don’t use poles at all.

Trekking Pole Material Preference

Aluminum trekking poles are much more widely used than carbon fiber trekking poles, 77.2% to 22.8%. This difference is still largely driven by price, even though less expensive carbon fiber trekking poles from reputable brands such as Cascade Mountain (under $50) are increasing in popularity.

The majority of backpackers use aluminum trekking poles.
The majority of backpackers use aluminum trekking poles.

Earlier generations of carbon fiber trekking poles were also known for breaking easily, which may have slowed their market penetration and widespread use.

Locking Mechanism Preference

There are several different locking mechanisms used by adjustable trekking pole manufacturers. Lever lock poles (also called flick lock or clamp lock) have an external clamp that squeezes the outer pole, holding the inner pole in place. They’re considered lower maintenance than twist lock poles which use an internal expander to prevent the inner pole from sliding up or down inside the outer pole.

Backpackers don't have a preference between different locking mechanisms that affects the poles they purchase.
Backpackers don’t have a preference between different locking mechanisms that affects the poles they purchase.

When surveyed, we found no significant preference across backpackers between the two locking mechanisms. It’s important to understand what this means. While some individuals may have a preference for one locking mechanism over another, the material that the pole is made with – aluminum or carbon fiber – is more important in deciding whether to purchase one pair of trekking poles over another. Note: the “other” category in the pie chart refers to fixed-length folding poles like Black Diamond’s Distance Z folding poles which are surprisingly less popular among backpackers.

Most Popular Trekking Pole Brands

Survey participants used poles made by Black Diamond (34.3%) the most, with Leki (16.6%) and Komperdell 11.4% in the second and third spots. Lower cost poles from Outdoor Products (7.7%), Cascade Mountain (5.2%) and others made up the balance.

Most Popular Trekking Pole Brands

About this Survey

This survey was conducted on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 300,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.

While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=443 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant.

There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpacker who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.

The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the very strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about trekking poles and what their peers use.

Disclosure: I sincerely hope you’ve benefited from the information provided by this post. This article contains affiliate links.

Most Popular Searches

  • hiking


  1. I was surprised at the split on lock mechanisms. If you’ve ever had a twist lock fail, you’ll try a lever lock, and never go back, right?

    • I’ll say that I don’t like the twist locks even though I haven’t had one fail. I’m sure my biggest problem with them is “operator difficulty”.

    • I used to think that too. But I use trekking poles that only come with twist locks and I’ve learned how to care for them so that they don’t fail. I care a lot more about the hand grips on my Pacer Poles than the locking mechanism. It’s simply not a make or break feature – which is probably what other people think about their poles too.

    • That’s why these surveys are so useful. What you would expect and what people do is often quite different. The numbers don’t lie when you have this big of a population sample participating.

      In other words, locking mechanism is less important than the pole material (which is a surrogate for price). People are buying cheaper poles when they can, which also makes sense, since poles break.

      • I think it warrants being careful about assuming preferences if the survey is about what people use. Twist locks and aluminium have been around a lot longer than lever locks and carbon, so, many people may have made their choices based on what was available, not what their peference would have been had they had other options.

    • Pacerpoles only come in twist lock. I wish lever lock was an option but the grips are, by far, the most important thing for me on the hiking poles. I’ve had twist locks not want to lock and others be difficult to release, however, those situations were fixed by cleaning the interior mechanism as directed.

    • I think either works well – usually – but I feel there are some drawbacks to the twist locks. They are not easy to work with when wet or while wearing gloves. If you use them for shelter and need to lengthen them after pitching, levers are much easier for that. Twists are more sensitive to wear/slippage from grit abrasion over time, too, and no way to compensate for that other than replacing the locks (if possible) or clamping/taping the pole in place. There are some cruddy lever locks out there, so choosing one or the other isn’t a guarantee of anything. I’m surprised the percentage of twist lock poles was so high in this survey. Anecdotal observations of comments over the last several years would make it seem that levers are far more popular and most often recommended.

    • Yeah, this was my first impression, too. Locking mechanism tops my list of features when selecting poles, and twist locks are so fragile and failure-prone that I would never even consider poles with them. I have repaired at least a dozen twist lock mechanisms on the trail over the last five year, never had a single issue with a flick lock. (I’m that guy who stops and helps strangers on the trail who seem to be having equipment trouble, which accounts for most of the repairs.)

      • Twist-locks are fussy, but I can deal with it. That is the lock on my Gossamer Gear poles, so whatever. I’m sure they drive some people nuts.

        Of course, I’m happy with my Gitzo tripod, which can get into a really bad “collet lock” state if you collapse the leg sections 100%.

        The only aluminum poles I’ve used were the Ramer ski poles that I repurposed as trekking poles. Everything else has been carbon.

        Maybe you should have asked how many people wrap duct tape or other junk around their poles…

  2. Interesting. I really like these polls you’ve started doing, and I really appreciate your candor with regard to your survey participants. In this case, I think that your audience probably represents the more advanced hiker because most of the people (day hikers, etc.) I see on the trail don’t use poles… But this is great info none the less. As for the results, I’m really surprised that more people don’t use the folding z-poles. Personally, I keep my BD Distance Carbon Z-poles shock-corded to the bottom of my pack 75% of the time (I mainly use them for downhills, rocky terrain or of course “porch mode”.) I love being able to pull them out or put them away on the move. The “foldablility” really makes storing them SO easy and they are super light. I guess most pole users probably use their poles 100% of the time they walk so storage probably isn’t that big of a deal.

    • They’re not so good if you use trekking poles to pitch a tent.

      • I use BD FL-Z poles, which are the Z poles but have a flick-lock for 20cm of adjustability. They still aren’t perfect for pitching a tarptent, however; since the points are big and nubby compared to a carbide pole tip, it doesn’t fit through the grommets I’m typically using. It’s possible to work around that, however (I reverse the poles typically).

        They are light and fold up well, but I use them most of the time when hiking (not off trail very much) so the fold-ability is not a factor for me.

      • What makes them unsuitable for pitching tents? I’m not arguing, I’m just ignorant because I have always used a hammock/tarp combo.

      • The length doesnt match the tents required height

  3. Philip,
    I’m thinking about buying the Pacer Poles. Which one have you been using; the 7075 alum. 3 pcs poles?
    Also wondering how those grips feel in the summer when it’s hot with sweaty hands?

    • I use the CF ones year round. Three piece. The hand grips are fine in summer. Not sweaty at all. The CF are somewhat lighter than the aluminum ones, but still quite sturdy.

    • I have the aluminum Pacerpoles and have used them in hot desert hiking as well as winter. As Philip said, the grips are fine in summer. I’m not sure a 3 piece carbon option was available when I bought mine. I need 3 piece so that they will pack into my luggage easier for fly ‘n hike trips.

  4. I noticed about 1 of 8 is using Outdoor Products poles, which are available at Walmart. I bought a pair several years ago as a spare set and they were a great value for the money. The aluminum wasn’t as thick as the Lekis I used at the time so they might be more prone to breakage but they were surprisingly competent poles. They also didn’t extent quite as long so I had to use a small aluminum pipe extension to pitch my Tarptent. If someone is mulling the idea of using trekking poles but doesn’t want to invest a hundred bucks into an experiment, the Outdoor Products poles would be a good option.

  5. I guess I’m a bit surprised about the preference for aluminum, although I’m sure price is a key factor. My poles are Black Diamond Trail or Trail Back, or whatever they’re called. They’re probably heavier than most people would like, but I had bad knees at a young age and time has only made them worse, and I need a sturdy pole to get up if when I’m sitting on the ground.

    • I think another reason for the predominance of aluminum poles (and I think price is the main driver) is that aluminum poles’ failure mode is less catastrophic than carbon fiber poles, at least anecdotally. A bent aluminum pole can be bent back; a carbon fiber pole may shear off. I’m curious about this, however – who has had a carbon fiber pole fail, and how bad has it been?

      • I’ve broken 7 carbon fiber trekking poles. There was a time when I was averaging 7 hours of use per pole before they snapped – clear through. They were made by Gossamer Gear and BPL.

        I think a lot depends on shaft thickness. I haven’t had any breaks with my CF Pacer Poles, but they have thicker tubes than most. I’m also testing a pair of Cascade Mountain CF poles and they’re doing well so far.

      • It really depends on what each material is made of. Seems like most have finally wised up to what makes for a good carbon product for this application. The aluminum alloys in these thin walled tubes are actually pretty brittle and will not bend much before either cracking/shearing or collapsing, so in that regard it’s not necessarily better than carbon. Most of the cheapie poles use the ubiquitous 6061 aluminum which is somewhat more durable in this fashion, just slightly heavier than 7075-or-similar. The crux with carbon here is that for it to be more durable in flexion the layups need to be more complex (time spent), thicker (negating most or all of the weight savings vs. metal), or using much more expensive carbon media than what is typically used. I think the best part about carbon for trekking poles is vibration dampening without the need for silly anti-shock springs which are noisy, heavier, and sometimes don’t seem to hold their “lock” position if they’re an on-off model. I’ve seen a few aluminum poles fail pretty catastrophically just like carbon…but either would have most likely broken in those situations. I’m sticking with aluminum now simply because I hike through an awful lot of rocks and there’s no sense in beating up and compromising the integrity of carbon tubes/my safety…it’s ok to scratch aluminum. One of these days maybe trekking pole manufacturers will take up some of the carbon tech that the bicycle industry has been using for years and give us a truly excellent and dependable/durable/non-catastrophic/lighter than metal pole model.

      • I was recently hiking off trail up a steep, rocky, mossy watercourse and slipped on a slimy rock. The tip of my hiking pole (BD Z-distance) was firmly lodged between two solid rocks and caught my fall. Much of my body weight was held by that pole and it bent in a ninety degree arc, but then recovered with no damage. I wonder what a carbon pole would have done in that scenario.

      • I have never had a carbon fiber pole break. I’ve used mine probably well over 100 days over 4 year period, but I mainly hike in the southeast.

    • Price is completely secondary for me, I buy aluminum trekking poles for their graceful failure mode. (I also ride titanium-framed bicycles for the same reason.)

    • The BD Trails and the BD Carbon Cork are about 1 oz total difference for a pair of poles. Not really worth it IMO unless you go to substantially less robust poles.

  6. 7075 Pacer Poles are 3 pc
    Carbon Fiber poles are 3 pc
    7075/Carbon Fiber combo is 2 pc

  7. I’m wondering if there’s a regional bias to these results? I don’t see anywhere near 72% of backpackers using trekking poles in the (flat) Midwest.

  8. I love my Fizan Compact 3’s…I’m surprised there aren’t more people that use them. They’re great quality and super light…maybe just a little pricey. But hey, what quality hiking gear isn’t a little bit pricey!?

  9. I am curious about carbon fiber. I have been using my carbon fiber Scott brand ski poles as trekking poles for a number of years. I not been gentle with them. Is there a difference in durability between carbon fiber ski poles and poles made for trekking?

  10. I am all about flip locks. I use my treking poles for pitching my tent, seem much more secure and easier to use when pitching a tent.

  11. I’ve never read anything about pole length/height. In my observations, I’ve never seen a commercial pole that’s long enough. I would like to raise the idea that poles should be at least up to your armpits in length, and no higher than your shoulder.

    Poles of this length help considerably going downhill and walking on uneven terrain, and can be held lower on the shaft when going up hill.

    I like old bamboo ski poles, and will use a pair of bush cut poles for two or three seasons before they wear down to be too short. This is taking KISS to it’s basic element.

    • My wife and I were storm testing our Mountain Laurel pyramid tent in preparation for the JMT last year. My CF twist-lock Pacer poles were endlessly squashed by the wind (no damage). At about 3am we switched to my wife’s adjustable BD aluminium/aluminum flick-lock poles. These held the tent up beautifully but were a little bent in the morning. The tent was fine. Needless to say the weather over your way was far superior on the trek to our test conditions on this side of the pond (UK)! I still use my Pacer poles because I love the handles and my wife sticks with her BD poles.

    • General recommendation by mfrs is that your forearm should be about parallel with the ground…vary it by personal preference. Personally I like them quite a bit shorter than that for trail hiking unless it’s on nice smooth groomed trails. This is assuming that the user is actually using them like trekking poles and not like a hiking staff. Sounds like you want a staff, and there are a few of those out there.

  12. The survey is so informative and interesting to read for. Appreciate for the resources and effort. Thanks and have a nice day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *