olgak_articlesI’ve never written a review on trekking poles. But then again, I’ve never owned poles in my life, unless those poles are for cross-country skiing. Even with alpine skiing, I prefer to tuck mine under the arms and scream downhill freely. I am just not much of a poles user.
But in the last decade or so, it seems that you can’t go to a mountain ultra race without seeing a few folks using them. At first the rule was – poles for anyone over 60. But as years progressed, more and more folks had began carrying them. At first in races like Hardrock 100, where the climbing is steep, long and at altitude, and even the best of the best power-hike the uphills. But soon after, any race that is on mountainous trails experienced the surge in runners utilizing poles.
To see what the buzz is all about and if they really help, yet not take away from the experience of a purist mountain runner and hiker, I managed to try out one of the best on the market, Black Diamond Distance Trekking Poles. The official use of these poles ranged from trail running to fast packing to day hiking and backpacking, to trekking and snowshoeing and even backcountry skiing.
Can it be more versatile?
Features (per Black Diamond)
  • Durable aluminum construction
  • Three-section Z-Pole folding design with speed cone deployment
  • Lightweight EVA foam grip with breathable, moisture-wicking strap
  • Non-slip foam mini-grip extension for secure choke ups
  • Includes interchangeable, non-marking rubber Tech Tips, carbide Tech Tips and stow bag
  • Stopper basket with shaft catcher secures folding sections
The most important thing one has to do when choosing trekking poles is to pick the correct sizing. Most of the poles these days come as collapsible ones, and have a switch that will allow some lee-way in how long they can become, however, they do not change in size too much. There is a table for the poles with suggested sizing, and while technically I fit into a medium category, I prefer my poles to be rather low, and therefore I picked them at 100 cm, for persons under 5 ft 1 inch (I am 5’5”).
Generally, you want the top of your poles to be at your waist. As you can see, mine are much lower, 10 cm shorter then recommended but in full extension I was probably missing no more than half of it.
The Specs for 39″ / 100 cm
  • Weight: Per Pair: 12 oz / 340 g
  • Usable Length: 39″ / 100 cm
  • Collapsed Length: 13.2″ / 33.5 cm
Correct sizing chart and example of how it supposed to look.
The size-adjusting happens via a lock mechanism. In these poles the lock is hidden right under the rubber handle and is easy to click on to pull the pole to its full extension.
To put the poles into a collapsed position, just slightly pull them apart in two joints and fold. It happens easily as well, the poles click at the end into each other to hold properly and the handles can be used to wrap around for tightness.
Once collapsed, the poles are extremely compact and can be carried in hands, in your hydration pack, or on the side/bottom of your backpack (for longer hiking adventures). The lightness of these poles can not be overstated – the added weight to the pack was barely noticeable, and when in hands, they basically felt like a feather.
Handles are made from lightweight, EVA foam grip.
I experimented with holding the poles. It was easy to keep my hands the traditional way by wrapping them around the handle, or on top of it with the use of the Velcro-adjustable moisture-wicking wrap. The stability of the handle grip was great. That very wrap also allowed me to use my hands for finger food or to take a photo with my camera as the poles could freely hang off my wrists. The diameter of the pole handle was perfect for my hands.
The overall durability is managed by the aluminum material and took all the beating while leaning on them with a heavy (up to 30 lbs) backpack on the serious climbs, as well as lots of rocky terrain and somewhat fast downhill running that included pushing off with the poles.
The tips of the poles are made from interchangeable, non-scarring rubber (with extra rubber and carbide included in a package). The tips did not slip on rock, wet wood, or softer terrain with sand.
Methods of usage I played with included alternating arms and legs (like in general running form), as well as bringing both arms together forward and pushing off both poles simultaneously. Both ways were useful at some points or another, and provided relief to arms by variety.
Why Trekking Poles?
What are the general reasons to even consider trekking poles?
I asked myself and others, since I always believed in ultimate personal overcoming and fitness.
  1. Trekking poles, like ski poles, allow your arms to help propel you forward and upward. Whether walking on flat ground or up steep hills, poles can help to increase your average speed.
  2. Poles reduce the impact on your legs, knees, ankles, and feet. This is especially true when going downhill.
  3. Trekking poles can be used to deflect backcountry nuances, like push away thorny blackberries and swipe away spider webs that cross trails.
  4. Walking with poles can help you establish and maintain a consistent rhythm, which can increase your speed on flatter, non-technical terrain.
  5. The extra two points of contact significantly increase your traction on slippery surfaces like mud, snow, and loose rock.
  6. Poles help you maintain balance in difficult terrain such as during river crossings, on tree root-strewn trails, and on slippery bog bridges. Staying balanced in turn helps you move more quickly and more easily.
  7. Poles can act as a probe to give you more information than you can get with you eyes. Use them to learn more about puddles, melting snow bridges, and quicksand.
  8. They can help to defend against attacks from dogs, bears and other wildlife. Swing them overhead to make yourself look bigger or throw them like a spear.
  9. Trekking poles help to alleviate some of the weight you carry. For example, if you have a heavy pack on, and you take a short break, leaning on the poles will make you more comfortable.
  10. Trekking poles can be used for things other than trekking. They save the weight of bringing dedicated tent poles.
As I tried these poles on my daily hikes in the mountains, running downhill, pushing up on the uphill, training even on the roads – and as I used them extensively on our 93 miles backpacking trip around Mt. Rainier on Wonderland trail – I couldn’t stop to be thankful for their existence.
While I may remain a purist in more regular mountain 100 milers, I would certainly highly recommend trekking poles:
  • in multi-day trekking races (like European ultras and a couple in the US developing these days, where a heavier pack is important)
  • at Hardrock 100
  • on all the backpacking adventures you may try
  • or simply if your knees or other joints are giving up on you but you are not ready to quit doing what you love
Try them and see where the trekking poles take you.
– Olga King

Talk Trekking Poles for Trail Runners
  • Have you used the Black Diamond Distance Trekking Poles? What has been your experience?
  • What etiquette do you recommend during a trail race for those using poles?
If interested in a set of Black Diamond Distance Trekking Poles, check out Amazon where there will be a number of lengths to choose from.

[The above honest review was completely our own. There are Amazon links included in this article. If you would purchase the poles, we would receive a small commission (at no cost to you).]