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I recently purchased some collapsible trekking poles (Komperdell Ridgehiker, made in Austria) and found them quite useful in terms of being able to extend or retract them slightly for going up and down hill when my knees are most strained with my 30-40 pound pack.

A major issue with the design was that it snapped at the plastic rings that make up the joints while going downhill with only a 15 pound pack and fast pace, with conscious effort to plunge them in a way where I would not bend them too much while moving forward.

If I am to be abusing the poles like this (absolutely am looking for them to be strong enough for the rare slip somewhere at a minimum) should I look for much pricier ones with stronger joints, or go with fixed? And if I choose fixed, should I size them at a 90° bend or should I size them for say uphill climbing or slightly longer for downhill and possibly adjust the hand loop much longer for when I use them for uphill? Or is the benefit of collapsing mainly for packed size and not much is gained by adjusting them for the incline?

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This question on optimal trekking pole length is probably a useful supplement to this one. –  Eyal Feb 19 at 15:29
    
It's doubtful that trekking poles are beneficial at all: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/4470/… Since there is no clear benefit at all, I don't think there's any way to say whether the putative benefit is optimized by adjusting their length in a certain way. The optimal benefit might be gained by throwing them in a dumpster. –  Ben Crowell Feb 19 at 16:07
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@Ben Crowell, In the link you say they reduce soreness and knee strain, this is more important for some people than the number of calories exerted. –  QuentinUK Feb 20 at 6:59
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@Ben Crowell Above you say "there is no clear benefit at all", but in link say "reduces strain on joints", this could be a benefit. –  QuentinUK Feb 20 at 18:38
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@BenCrowell your comment is misleading. For hiking long trails reducing strain is a non-negligible benefit. –  ppl Feb 24 at 2:54

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I don't know of what quality are the poles which you are using, but it's a fact that the better the quality, the better the joints. It's one of the most important components of the price.

For me, a good pair of poles from BlackDiamond behave pretty well under my 90 kg weight with a 30 kg backpack, which totals in 260 pound. This is a good side: yes, expensive poles should help you.

The bad side is that trekking poles are expendable. If you happen to walk on scree, or your are heavy, or you are just unlucky, you poles may live for only a week or two on intensive trekking. Then a tiny accident happens and you find that now you have 3 poles instead of 2. And collapsible poles are weaker than regular ones. Or heavier, or both. And definitely more expensive.

Now, some shopping advice for non-collapsible poles. You can get the most of the poles in 2 scenarios:

  1. Going downhill - they protect your knees from shock
  2. Walking on horizontal or slightly inclined ground - they let you move longer by evenly distributing the stress and move faster by keeping better balance.

My experience is that when going up, they don't help that much - your legs are much stronger than your arms anyway. And if you are on a really steep slope, you can hold them together with two hands - the same technique as with an alpenstock.

So if I was going to buy non-collapsible poles, I would go for the size which you are comfortable with walking on the level ground - this will cover most of the scenarios.

Ps. Please note, that I don't have much experience of walking with non-collapsible poles in summer - the conclusions are drawn from observations of collapsible poles usage.

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Friends (one who's dad has been on many backpacking adventures in South America and other places) said that even the pricier collapsible poles all fail pretty easily when roughed, so I gather I should treat them as expendable and as such not worth it with my low budget. I'll trial a longer fixed pair and see how well it does in various situations, I ''need'' the strength. –  Trail Tiger Feb 21 at 11:15
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I have abused the crap out of my collapsible ones, and they have not broken. –  Russell Steen Feb 24 at 19:36

Collapsible poles, compared to fixed poles

  • Easier to fit in luggage.
  • Easier to fit in the side pockets of backpacks when doing something that requires two hands, for example river crossing.
  • Can be loaned to other people who are of different height to you.
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Fixed length non-adjustable trekking poles have the advantages of being lighter, comprise of less failure points and sturdier (especially for cheap poles). On the other side of the medal, transporting them by airplane is more costly and they can be inconvenient when hitch hiking to/from a trailhead.

I have used slightly longer fixed trekking poles in order to be able to use them with my shelter system. I personally did not mind adjusting my hand on the long handle depending on the inclination of the trail. In fact, if they would have been non-fixed I would seldom adjust them as it takes time.

I prefered fixed length poles because of their weight and not having to adjust them every time I setup my shelter. I do not use loop handles so this wasn't a problem for me.

If you prefer quick adjustment and fixed-length; an interesting compromise are the Black Diamond Z-Pole Series trekking poles. They are fixed and collapsible for the most part. The top-most section allows you to adjust it to your liking.

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My personal experience is that I do not hike/backpack with out trekking poles. I find them very useful on inclines, declines, and even flat terrain. I long ago lost count in the number of times they have save me from a fall, especially while backpacking.

I use the collapsible poles. The ease of storage is important to me. They also allow adjustment for different terrain. I've only had one pole go bad on me (bent), so to me it's not really a concern.

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This does not really answer the question, does it? –  Benedikt Bauer Feb 21 at 9:35
    
The question was collapsible or fixed. I could have given a better answer with brands and styles I like, but I believe I did answer the question. –  Tom Collins Feb 21 at 15:52

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