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Trekking Pole Weight

Does It Really Matter?
David Mwangi

David Mwangi

Trekking poles differ in a number of ways, with weight being one of the most notable variables. And everyone seems to have a different view on this topic. 

Some people like durability and don’t seem to mind lugging around heavy poles. 

But personally, based on my hiking experiences, I prefer the lighter poles over heavier, bulkier alternatives.

does trekking pole weight matter
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I’ve tried poles at both ends of the spectrum. I’ve used heavy Leki Trekking Poles as well as premium Rei Peak UL Poles, and I immediately noticed a difference. 

Of course, it’s not like my shoulders got tired from the heavier poles, but the weight savings were noticeable.

So, the short answer to whether trekking pole weight matters is “yes.” As I’m concerned, you want the lightest poles you can afford to get the job done.

Why You Need Lighter Trekking Poles: 5 Key Reasons

Let’s look at a couple of reasons why lighter trekking poles are often better than heavier, bulkier ones.

1. To Avoid the Weight Multiplier Effect

One thing you need to understand about trekking poles is that they move – just like your shoes. This means their weight is generally multiplied by all the times you swing/pick them up during the course of the day.

This is why I usually categorize the weight savings of light trekking poles as more significant than the weight savings provided by something the same weight in your backpack.  

See, your backpack is, by and large, moving with your body.

It only swings up and down slightly.  

On the other hand, a trekking pole is usually lifted, rotated, struck back to the ground, and pivoted.

Weight Matters More for Things That Move

Because they move, trekking poles are a lot like shoes. The difference between a heavy and lighter pole is as dramatic as switching from hiking boots to trail runners. In fact, researchers with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine studied the issue and found that it takes about the same amount of energy to carry 1 pound on your feet as it does to haul 6 pounds on your back! 

And you’ll do this with each step. It’s essentially a lather-rinse-and-repeat situation all day long. 

Each time you plant a trekking pole, you impart energy to it, which is transferred to the ground.

It means you expend more energy moving poles than a pack (on a per-pound basis — your pack is undoubtedly heavier).

And this means that the more they weigh, the more energy you expend.

2. They Will Lighten your Backpack  

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Theoretically, the trekking pole weight matters most when they’re being used. However, their weight also matters when you’re lashing them to your pack. This may happen if the terrain you’re trekking has long stretches of flat ground, and you just don’t need them for a while. 

The amount of weight trekking poles add to your backpack may seem negligible, but it adds up.

I like comparing the hiking poles to the kinds of wrist or ankle weights people often use when exercising.  These weights are usually not a big bother for short exercise sessions, and you might hardly notice them – just like the weight of trekking poles. 

However, they may start to wear you down during extended exercise sessions. And the same is true of trekking poles, which may start to bog you down during long hiking stretches.

So, yes, if your poles are in your backpack most of the time, the packing weight can be a big deal. And personally, I find the value of lightweight trekking poles to be most noticeable during times I’m not carrying them in hand.

3. Lighter Poles Provide Improved Trekking Performance

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Lighter trekking poles make a huge difference in your trekking performance.

With heavier poles, it’s easy to get sloppy with placement, especially by the end of a long day. Heavy trekking poles also generally feel more cumbersome to use.

Heavy trekking poles are also likely to fatigue you more than the lighter poles on the steeper grades, where they require you to lift them higher when ascending.

On the other hand, lighter trekking poles are really comfortable to use. They feel more like an extension of your arms, and you’ll find them more maneuverable in your hands. The nimbleness provided by light trekking poles is particularly handy when you need to make last-second corrections on placement when descending.

4. They’ll Help Provide Additional Safety and Efficiency

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Generally, hiking poles will give you more confidence on steep slopes and ensure you hardly hold back or take tentative steps on shaky grounds.

But while heavy poles may fatigue you and cause you to stop using them, lightweight trekking poles are easy to swing. And this means you’ll hardly put them aside. 

Because you’ll keep them in your hands longer, you’ll be better prepared to avoid falls. When you slip, you can always stab them in the ground to keep from falling.

5. They’ll Encourage You to Hike More

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Trekking poles aren’t for everyone, but most people who try them find that they help you to hike longer distances and conquer more challenging terrain

But heavy poles don’t work as well in this regard – swinging all that weight around will tire you a bit. But because light poles are easy to carry and less fatiguing, you’ll feel fresher at the end of your hikes.  

And this will likely make you hike more, push even harder and go out more often.

It’s Not All Upside: The Durability Compromise of Lighter Trekking Poles

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Of course, the strength-factor is the biggest downside with the lighter trekking poles – lighter trekking poles tend to be more fragile than the heavier options.

But the thing is, even if you do manage to snap your trekking pole, it’s not like you need it for survival on the trail. This advice might be different if it’s an essential part of your emergency setup, but I’m willing to bet you can always find a stick in an emergency.

Plus, the modern trekking poles are more technologically advanced, and I find them strong enough to withstand pretty serious compression forces. So, unless you’re prying with it or mishandling it, you should be fine.

***

Overall, pole weight does impact your performance on the trail. But be sure that you like using trekking poles before you drop your big money. Try a pair of affordable, lightweight poles and see how they feel. 

But if you do like using them, you’ll likely appreciate poles that are both lighter and more expensive than low-cost, heavy poles.

And chances are, once you get used to hiking with the lighter poles, you’ll never want to look back; you develop a rhythm, and it becomes second nature. A lighter trekking pole is much easier and more enjoyable to use.

What about you? Do you prefer using heavy trekking poles for their durability and strength or the lightest ones you can find? Let us know in the comments below!

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