If you are already converted to the advantages of using the trekking poles but you have not yet added to your baggage, I hope that this little article will help you to recognise all the key points you have to look for before you buy them. Let’s go!
The crucial point of a good grip is that it has an ergonomic design to adapt perfectly to our hand and that the material used is moisture wicking, to allow a better grip and avoid slipperiness of the hand. If this is not the case, we will find ourselves having to grip hardly in a continuous way, which in turn will make our hands ache. On the market there are all sorts, from cheap plastic to the expensive cork ones and mixed foams with a varying degree of resistance to chafing and abrasion; these are also something worth taking into consideration how often we are going to use the poles
These straps are not for hanging them when not in use, their main use if to hold the poles as you walk, for an ease of usage, so we do not need to exert too much force to hold the poles. On the market we can find anything from simple adjustable straps, to the ones with a kind of independent set of gloves that is adjusted to the strap, these are usually found in the most expensive models. The materials used for the straps come in different materials, to make it soft to the touch and also allowing a for moisture wicking
The extended grip is an element that does not appear in all models of trekking poles, so you might see them in only some of the ones you come across. It is not something that should influence much your decision, this feature is specially for places with a very high gradient where the marching technique is quite different for the one required on El Camino
These sections of the poles for mountain walking are made of aluminium or carbon fiber in the most expensive models. The difference between these two materials is very clear: carbon fiber is more resistant and lighter than aluminium, but aluminium offers very good resistance, durability and it is not that heavy. I do not see the need for a carbon fiber one for walking El Camino. There are also many different levels of quality among the poles, it is better to get one with enough durability for the whole of our trip. Everyone has their own taste and preference. The ones with two sections tend to be longer ones they are folded as well
It is possible that this is the most controverted point between the users of poles, so it is better to see which one you prefer personally. There are two different types of locking systems, internal ones, are the ones that use a rotating system in which an internal component gets bigger to create friction and grip between the tubular sections. The external mechanism works with a clamp that is activated through a lever , it creates a force and pressure to lock one section against the other. Which are the advantages and disadvantages of each kind? The external mechanisms allow a faster fitting than the internal ones, but this is also its downside, because it is also more likely that it will open unexpectedly if it gets caught on something; on the other hand, this is more unlikely event with the internal locking system, but the detriment of the internal one is that the durability of the elements of the internal ones tend to be worse, according to many users
Except for the poles of very low quality, the material used for the tips is usually tungsten, a hardy material that doesn’t wear easily. Normally they are built with a pattern for a better grip, concave or round (see illustration). It is not very easy to discern what kind of tip we have, but according to the principles of what is best for a better grip, we can say that a round tip will work best on soft ground, and a concave tip will work best on wet and rocky terrain. The one with a pattern is a mixture between the two of them
The baskets are elements that can create confusion. Their main function is to be a buffer stop, so when on soft ground, such as sand, mud, snow, grass or shrubs, it stops the pole from going too deep when we need support. When on dry and arid ground it is advisable to take them off because they can get damaged or they can cause the pole to get caught between rocks, branches or roots that can lead to some breakage or fall. We can choose different size diameter, according to what kind of terrain we will be treading. They are easy to install, usually they are screwed in through the tip
In theory, this should be a removable element, especially because on the routes of El Camino you find sometimes stretches of tarmac road. It is in these cases when we need more adherence (there will be often loose gravel or wet rocks), the rubber tips will give us extra grip and it will protect the pole from unnecessary wear. Once we have finished walking along this kind of road we should take the rubber tips off to avoid losing them (it is not unusual to find rubber tips on El Camino). There are several kinds of tips, the most common ones are the ones shown on the illustration. There are also different components, some have some little metal inlays making it a hybrid between rubber tip and metal tip
Since a few years ago some poles have incorporated an “anti-shock” system. It is basically a cushioning system located at the end of the pole and that absorbs the impact at every step. I personally find it a bit weird using them because the spring inside makes a little noise. I prefer the classic model with no shock absorbing system
I hope you found this little article useful and help you when choosing the one that fits better to your needs
Buen Camino everybody!