Trekking poles tested around the world

Sarah is a writer and radio journalist who travels around the world for assignments. Previously, she was a reporter and producer in Minnesota, and a clinical researcher in Philadelphia and Atlanta. Cerebral palsy affects her mobility, so she appreciates practical solutions that make it easier to carry supplies, navigate a crowded airport, cross an ice-covered sidewalk or trek through the sand.

*As always, Day Undefined encourages you to find the products and mobility devices that are right for you. We do not offer health advice: we share personal insights and experiences!*



I started using trekking poles as a daily mobility aid during my first Minnesota winter. It had been years since I attended regular physical therapy appointments, and it showed. I couldn’t get from one place to another without falling on the way, and winter was especially challenging—I was falling all the time, more and more as patches of ice and snow stretched across the sidewalks.

A friend suggested I try trekking poles. I chose the Ultra Z Folding Trekking Poles and I loved them, at first. I was walking faster, falling less. I could safely walk by a frozen lake, or climb up the hill near my house at sunset. I could change the tips, adjust the height, and collapse them for travel. Those poles wore out quickly, though. When the first pole broke, the company sent a replacement pair. Over the course of a year, two more poles broke, and out of four poles, only one remains.

Next, I tried a hand-me-down pair of Trail Trekking Poles in excellent condition – almost new. I used these poles consistently for four months, though never in the snow – mostly for walks in the desert. I took them into the water, and they held up well. The ends made them a bit slippery on hard surfaces and they were not foldable. They felt very durable and sturdy as I used them to stand in the water or walk in the desert.

Now, I use my favorite poles: Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles. I have been using them for 8 months across the US, Europe and Africa. I have three poles: one pair of matching Distance Z Trekking Poles, and one extra pole—a slightly altered, newer model of the same brand—the Black Diamond Distance Women’s Carbon Z Foldable Poles.

Sarah, a white woman with brown hair who is wearing a dark long sleeve shirt and jeans is using her trekking poles on a hike through trees in Spain.
Image: Sarah using her trekking poles on a hike in Spain.


When I’m going for a walk through the sand-covered pathways in Ouakam, Senegal, or to the market for mangoes, I usually use my one Distance Women’s Carbon Z Foldable Pole as a cane. It’s so light, it’s easy to travel with, easy to pick up and fold—only 240 grams. 

When I’m feeling tired and less able to keep my balance, when I’m at the airport carrying a large, heavy pack, going for a hike, or to the beach to stand in the water, I bring my two Distance Z Folding Trekking Poles. They are heavier, at 330 grams, and they have a thicker grip to hold onto. This is my winning pair—they just feel so solid and sturdy to me, and I appreciate the thicker hand grips. I am secure, holding onto them.

[Watch: Sarah's demo of these poles on a walk in Senegal]

Both models are wonderful. I have never adjusted the tips myself—they were applied for me at REI, and they have remained firmly intact. Both are equally easy to collapse. These poles come in different lengths. I selected the shortest length, which works perfectly for me. 

They may not work for you if the length options don’t match your height—they are not adjustable. If you don’t yet know your ideal trekking pole measurements, you might want to try them out at REI before purchasing a pair. 

The simple folding mechanism is one of my favorite features—I can press a small silver button on the side of the poles to release them, fold them up and slide them into my backpack before a meeting, or keep them safely by my side during a long flight. Here's a demo:


Here are a few key takeaways for each type of trekking pole:

  1. Ultra Z Folding Trekking Poles are the most affordable at $85.99, with changeable tips included in the purchase. They are adjustable for height and collapsible, but not durable enough to recommend for long-term use.
  2. The Trail Trekking Poles are adjustable for height, but not foldable for transport. They felt especially sturdy while in the water or crossing challenging desert terrain. A new pair is $119.95
  3. The Distance Women’s Carbon Z Foldable Poles are remarkably lightweight, and easily foldable. Different sizes can be purchased, but the height is not adjustable. They are the most expensive, at $189.95.
  4. The Distance Z Folding Trekking Poles are $139.95 and the height is not adjustable, though they come in different sizes. They are my favorite pair – solid, durable, easy to fold and transport, with an especially comfortable hand grip.
Three trekking poles in a row leaned against a wall.
Image: Three trekking poles in a row, leaning against a wall.


Have you used trekking poles? What are the features that are most important to you?

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