Whether you're planning a weekend backpacking trip or a long hike, you'll be carrying heavy loads and traveling over rugged terrain. Trekking poles can help keep you stable and reduce the impact on your ankles, hips and knees so you don't arrive at your destination tired and sore. You can also use trekking poles to build shelter in a pinch.
Telescoping trekking poles consist of two or three pole sections that fit together and then extend to lock in the desired length. They are easy to adjust and are stronger than folding poles. Two-part poles are usually good for winter use because they are more durable, but they are not as short as three-part poles.
There are three main types of trekking pole handles: cork, foam and rubber, with cork being our personal favorite. A quality cork handle feels very comfortable in the hand and absorbs sweat extremely well. It will also fit your hand well over time, making it perfect for long hikes and multi-season use. If cork isn't your thing, the next best option is foam. EVA foam is soft, provides a degree of shock absorption, and wicks moisture well through the summer months (although it usually retains more moisture than cork). Rubber is the third option, usually found on budget hiking poles. We found these grips to be best for cold weather activities because they protect against rain and snow, but they lack the wicking properties and premium feel of foam and cork.
While the vast majority of hikers use two hiking poles, it's worth noting that a certain group prefers one. We find that this is usually hikers who want to carry as little weight and gear as possible, and one pole does provide you with more balance and support than not using either pole at all. For those who use an ultralight shelter with trekking pole support, it is clear that the design only requires one pole.
For example, most Hyperlite Mountain Gear shelter models require one pole, while popular ultralight tents such as the Zpacks Duplex require one pole on each end (two total). In the end, the choice depends on personal preference, and one pole may be a good option for those who want some of the benefits while staying free.