In purchasing equipment for the outdoors, I always use the same thought process. How often am I going to upgrade my equipment based on the new radical improvements that
the manufacturer will come out with? How long before my existing equipment will become obsolete and I will have to replace it? How long will it be before I have a disadvantage with my existing equipment? When the time came to choose hiking poles, I decided that I would choose the best hiking poles that I could afford based on the use of the poles.
Two sticks are better than one on the trail. Using a pair of hiking poles or trekking poles gives you balance and takes more stress off the lower body joints. The poles are designed to provide extra stability and to spread the load on your legs and on your arms. You end up in better shape since the poles burn additional calories. The grips and straps are designed so you can push down on them to assist yourself on the trail, but also for quick release if the pole gets stuck between rocks or roots. Always try to use the hiking poles in a store or use a demo model outdoors if it is at all possible.
What type of grip?
There are many types of grips: Rubber, Cork, Plastic and a new Foam material. Plastic is the least expensive and not very practical or efficient. Rubber is more expensive than the plastic grip and is efficient. The rubber grip will be a little colder than the cork grip, more tiring and will become slippery due to sweaty hands. The cork grip is the most efficient, warmer, not slippery, is very comfortable and is the most expensive. Try all types of grips to determine which grip is the best for you. Some hiking poles have an extra section for the grip underneath the grip so that you can shorten the length of the poles by just gripping the poles below the grip (so you don't have to shorten the poles each time).
What angle for the grip?
Most of the hiking poles are straight, but some have a grip that has an angle of about 15 degrees. The angled grip is supposed to help your wrist from getting tired and overused since your wrist does not go back and forth when hiking. I have not used the angled grip so I do not have an opinion on that type of model. The straight grips are the most popular (and less expensive), but try them both to see if the angled pole is right for you.
What type of strap and grip?
Grip and strap designs differ for the type of activity you are doing (fitness walking or hiking). Select the grip and strap to match your activity. Check to make sure that the strap is easily adjusted, even with heavy gloves on. You don't want to have to remove your gloves on a very cold day to start adjusting your straps. A quick-release mechanism for the strap is very useful for emergencies.
Adjustable or non-adjustable height poles?
If you are using your hiking poles for hiking and not for a walk in the park, your poles must be adjustable. If you are not sharing your poles with anyone and the walks are flat, then you can use the non-adjustable height poles. Adjustable hiking poles either have 2 or 3 adjustable sections. The 3 section hiking poles collapse into a smaller length (good for traveling and storing in your backpack). Each manufacturer has a unique type of mechanism to adjust the height of the hiking pole. Take the pole apart and look at how the locking device functions. Make sure you can adjust the length of the hiking poles with your heavy gloves on if you need to when it is cold outside. If you want to be safe, purchase an extra locking mechanism for safety reasons when you are using your poles.
Anti-shock or no shock system?
When the pole hits the ground, the anti-shock system in the pole can reduce the shock. Some poles actually use a spring in each pole to act as shock absorber. The anti-shock system will weigh more, so if weight is a factor, choose the poles that have no shocks. But the anti-shock system can increase your comfort in using the poles. Make sure the poles that you choose can turn the shocks on or off.
The tips and baskets?
There are usually at least 2 or 3 types of baskets for hiking poles: smaller baskets for hiking on dirt, sand, rocks, etc., a large baskets for snow and the largest basket for deep powder snow. The larger baskets will keep the hiking poles from sinking deeply in the snow. There is usually a carbide tip on the hiking pole. Make sure the tip can be replaced by you if it is broken accidentally. Usually there will also be rubber tips available to place over the carbide tip if you just want to go for a walk on the sidewalk or on pavement. Make sure the baskets can be changed, too.
Don't forget to learn how to maintain your hiking poles correctly because incorrect methods might damage your hiking poles and choose your hiking poles wisely.