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This is not a shopping question just to preface that issue. I'm not looking for a specific brand or model of trekking pole. Also to add some background information, I have borrowed trekking poles once, but do not own any. They are a rather new thing for me to consider as I've been a bit stubbornly (and maybe irrationally) opposed to them until I began to have knee pain as I grow older.

There are several trekking pole manufacturers, and they all seem to have a myriad of options and models. One of those major categories is the Anti-Shock, (hereafter known as "AS"), or shock-absorbing models. These poles use different methods to reduce the amount of force transferred to your hands and arms upon the poles' strike with the ground. Well, at least that's my understanding anyway. Standard poles do not have this mechanism.

So my question is what are the pros & cons of each: AS versus Standard trekking poles?

Just a few of the the things I'm wondering about as a jumping off point:

  • Effectiveness of the AS mechanism. Does it really make that much of a difference over non-AS poles?

  • Weight differences between AS and standard: noticeable or negligible?

  • Reliability: is one type more reliable than the other? Or are they about the same?

  • Are all AS designs roughly the same or are some better (more effective or more reliable) than others?

  • Are there specific occasions when AS is a definite advantage/disadvantage when hiking?

There are a nearly overwhelming number of trekking pole reviews out there so to help direct this question, I'm really looking for answers from those who have owned or used both types of poles thus having their experiences with them informing those answers.

Any possible studies out there would also be welcome information.

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There's not much evidence that trekking poles are useful at all: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/4470/… Therefore I doubt that anyone can give any useful, objective answer as to whether one kind is better than another. –  Ben Crowell Apr 14 '14 at 22:15
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@BenCrowell - That may be, but I know that on my last trip where I borrowed some poles I found them almost indispensable for my knees compared to the previous trip without. So I know there is at least something to them. That's the only reason I'm now interested in them after years of thinking they were just another "accessory." –  manoftheson Apr 15 '14 at 0:34
    
Personally, I will always use trekking poles with shock-absorbing features because they are much more efficient and comfortable on hard/rocky terrain. –  Amine Apr 16 '14 at 17:18
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Ben - your own post says that the are useful, just not at decreasing work. If someone has bad knees, wouldn't you say the are useful in that context? –  Ryley Apr 16 '14 at 23:00
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What I glean from both Ben and DavidR's answers in the post to which he linked is that poles are useful in the context of lessening load/impact/wear & tear on the lower extremities by engaging the upper body as well. Which makes sense and seems obvious. That they cause a higher calorie burn is also not surprising since more of the body is being engaged in activity. But it seems usefulness of some kind is established regardless. –  manoftheson Apr 22 '14 at 7:11

2 Answers 2

I don't have any hard evidence other than personal experience, but using poles with shock absorption tends to be easier on the joints - it cushions, at least a little bit, the jolting on your body, especially when going down steep terrain. With a standard pole, when it connects with the ground, that's it - your downward motion is halted immediately. With the shock absorption mechanism, when the pole hits the ground, the pole gives at least a little bit to decrease the sudden impact.

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Personal experience is good. Any disadvantages you've found? –  manoftheson Apr 21 '14 at 22:39
    
I haven't encountered any disadvantages with using poles w/ shock absorption. Just a side comment - poles that merely twist to tighten tend to untighten from normal hiking motions. There are some poles with special locking mechanisms that work well to keep your poles from collapsing on you unexpectedly. This is independent of shock absorption, though; just a side comment. –  saratogahiker Apr 23 '14 at 20:02
    
Good to know! And the set of poles I borrowed were the twist-lock kind and I found myself readjusting the poles multiple times over the course of the trip. I was not a fan. Thanks for the confirmation! –  manoftheson Apr 24 '14 at 3:24
    
"tends to be easier on the joints" - I assume this is the elbows, primarily? Or is there an effect all over the body? –  neilfein Oct 27 '14 at 2:21
    
@neilfein - Yeah, it seems to help with the elbows a little having the shock absorption due to less jarring. And using poles in general definitely helps with the knees, especially going down-hill. –  saratogahiker Nov 13 '14 at 21:11

The main advantage of anti-shock poles is that they tend to be less jolting on joints (like elbows and wrists) when used on firm ground or rocky terrain. On softer ground, where the dirt, sand or snow provides natural impact absorption, they can sometimes feel "mushy", and most people would find the benefits negligible. For this reason (and also to prevent lockup due to freezing), you'll notice that snowshoeing and skiing poles usually do not have the option for shock absorption. Much of the perceived effectiveness of anti-shock poles will depend on the conditions and environment they are used, as well as the user's personal preference.

As far as weight and reliability, the performance will vary depending on the mechanism (which is usually a spring of some kind). For example, some telescoping poles with a latching lock have anti-shock built into the handle (such as Black Diamond), which keeps the mechanism more protected, but can add weight to the pole. Other poles (such as Komperdell or Leki) have the anti-shock mechanism built into the lower section of the pole, integrated into the twist-lock mechanism. This can result in weight savings, but tends to be less reliable, as it is more delicate and prone to damage. In general, considering there more moving parts on pole with anti-shock features, there is more chance of failure (even if only nominally).

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