Trekking poles have long been considered an essential piece of gear for hikers and backpackers who have reaped the benefits of the increased stability and support provided by poles while climbing and descending with a loaded backpack. As technology improved, these “walking sticks” went from literal wooden sticks to lighter and more durable versions made of modern materials that fold to make them easy to carry and store when not in use.
As more and more trail runners and ultrarunners took to the hills, the use of trekking poles to move fast across steep terrain skyrocketed. The boom of mountain and ultramarathon trail running meant that these lighter and smaller poles soon became a staple for runners seeking mountain goat-like speed and stability when climbing and descending technical mountain trails.
Trail running poles became a common sight on the starting lines of European trail and mountain races, with their popularity soon catching on in the United States as well. Trekking poles for trail running have become so popular that in recent years, many companies have begun to produce poles designed specifically for running.
For this guide, we tested a number of these lightweight trail running poles in many types of terrain and conditions to select our favorite trekking poles for trail running that are on the market today. Please note that we tested only foldable trail running poles that runners can stow in a pocket or with cords on their hydration pack. Their versatility is unmatched among all the other trekking poles available to trail runners.
Click a link below to skip directly to a specific pole.
- Best Carbon Fixed-Length: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles, Leki Ultratrail Fx.One Superlight
- Best Carbon Adjustable-Length: Leki Cross Trail FX Superlite
- Best Aluminum Fixed-Length: Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking/Running Poles, Camp Xenon Pro 2.0
- Best Budget: Paria Outdoor Products Tri-Fold Carbon Cork Trekking Poles
Best Carbon Fixed-Length: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles ($190)
The unisex Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles and the women’s specific Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles – Women’s are extremely popular among trail runners and ultrarunners, and for good reason. Their simple, lightweight design is strong and reliable, making them a great choice for long mountain days and a longstanding favorite among the iRunFar team. The poles feature 100% carbon fiber shafts with reinforced joints to improve stiffness and durability. A simple push-button locking mechanism makes extending and folding the pole quick and easy. When not in use, the poles quickly collapse into three parts and fold up in parallel, allowing for secure storage in or on your pack.
The poles are available in a variety of lengths in five-centimeter increments from 100 centimeters to 130 centimeters between the unisex and women’s versions, so they should fit runners anywhere from four feet 10 inches tall to around six feet four inches.
The straps are simple, lightweight, and moisture-wicking loops that are easy to get in and out of — making aid stations and snacking on the go a breeze. These are attached to a comfortable EVA foam grip that provides just enough cushion without compromising grip security, especially in cold or wet conditions. These poles also come with interchangeable rubber and carbide tips and are compatible with snow baskets for winter use, making them a versatile addition to your running gear.
Available Lengths: 100-130 centimeters, in 5-centimeter increments
Length When Folded: 33-44 centimeters, depending on pole length
Pole Material: Carbon fiber shafts, EVA foam grip
- Relatively lightweight and durable
- Easy to extend and fold the poles
- Widely available
- Heavier than other options on the market; seems a model update might be necessary to continue competing in this space
Best Carbon Fixed-Length: Leki Ultratrail Fx.One Superlite ($220)
There are many trail running poles on the market today, but the Leki Ultratrail Fx.One Superlite stands out from the crowd. These are folding fixed-length carbon fiber poles that are light as a feather and made to move fast in the mountains. They feature a very light carbon fiber shaft that folds down into three sections with just enough slack to keep them parallel for storing without flopping around.
The most unique feature of these poles is Leki’s signature Trail Shark grip system. The poles come with a lightweight mesh glove-like strap that velcros onto your hand to stay snugly in place. A loop attachment clips the strap to the cork grip on the pole, allowing you to push off hard on those steep climbs without having to keep a death grip on the poles with your hands.
When it’s time for a snack, a photo, or any of the other trailside activities that require the use of your hands, a quick push of a button on top of the grip releases the loop and sets your hands free. The Trail Shark mesh straps stay on your hands, which is fine for most tasks. But in fluctuating weather, having to take them on and off whenever you want to put on or remove gloves can become tedious. In most conditions, however, leaving the straps on was comfortable and easy.
A small trail running-specific basket is attached near the bottom of the pole to keep it from getting stuck in soft ground, though we have had to pull these out of an unexpected sink into dirt or moss at the edge of the trail. These poles come with a carbide trail running tip that provides a good grip on many surfaces. Unlike poles from some other brands, these do not come with a rubber tip option.
Available Lengths: 105-135 centimeters, in 5-centimeter increments
Length When Folded: 33 centimeters
Pole Material: Carbon fiber shafts, Trail Shark grip system with cork grip
- Extremely lightweight
- Trail Shark grip system improves energy transfer and decreases the risk of dropping poles
- A wide range of lengths can accommodate most trail runners
- Grip straps attached to poles are not as quick to get in and out of for eating, taking photos, etc.
- Only one tip included
Best Carbon Adjustable-Length: Leki Cross Trail FX Superlite ($250)
Adjustable trail running poles are not nearly as popular as fixed-length folding poles among runners, but there are some circumstances where they may be your best choice. The Leki Cross Trail FX Superlite is our top pick of the adjustable-length poles tested for this guide. As with all of Leki’s trail running poles, these feature a glove-like strap with a cork grip, carbon fiber shaft, and a carbide tip.
These poles come in two different sizing options, the standard, which can be adjusted between 110 and 130 centimeters, and compact, which adjusts between 100 and 120 centimeters. Both sizes have an internal locking mechanism for folding and extending the poles, which is a very nice feature that avoids the sometimes difficult push-button lock. An external speed-lock lever is very smooth and easy to use, even with gloves on, and makes it very easy to adjust the pole length.
These trail running poles fold into three sections for easy storage when not in use. The section with the grip is approximately three inches longer than the other two shaft pieces when it is folded and sticks out a little, but this was not a problem when storing the poles. The longest section is 42 centimeters in length — like a 120- or 130-centimeter fixed-length pole when folded. The cork grip is longer on these poles as compared with Leki’s running-specific fixed-length poles for a more ergonomic fit for hiking, and they are billed as a dual-use trail running and hiking pole. Despite this, they are quite light for an adjustable-length pole.
Available Lengths: 110-130 centimeters for the standard version, 100-120 centimeters for the compact version
Length When Folded: 42 centimeters
Pole Material: Carbon fiber shafts, Cross Shark grip system with cork grip
- Lightweight and nicely packable
- Grip strap helps maintain good contact with the poles
- Adjustable length makes them shareable with family or friends of different heights
- Adjustable length makes them useful for setting up fastpacking tarps
- Very pricey
- Adjustable length adds some weight and bulk
- Grips are not quick to get in and out of
Best Aluminum Fixed-Length: Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking/Running Poles ($140)
The Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking/Running Poles are the aluminum version of the popular Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles, which we reviewed above. Made from 7075 aluminum alloy, these fixed-length folding poles are a great option for both trail running and hiking. While they are heavier than their carbon counterpart, they are still a lightweight and durable option that easily folds into three parts to stow on your pack when not in use.
These poles offer most of the same features as the Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles, including the foam grip and wicking wrist strap, interchangeable carbide and rubber tips, removable low-profile trail basket, and snow basket compatibility.
The aluminum poles are a great fully featured pole that compromises some on weight, but is a more affordable option when compared to most carbon poles.
Available Lengths: 100-130 centimeters, in 10-centimeter increments
Length When Folded: 33-44 centimeters, depending on pole length
Pole Material: 7075 aluminum alloy shafts, EVA foam grip
- Affordable in comparison to carbon fiber poles
- Full-featured poles
- Heavier than carbon poles
- Aluminum has the potential to bend under stress
Best Aluminum Fixed-Length: Camp Xenon Pro 2.0 ($100)
The Camp Xenon Pro 2.0 is another great aluminum fixed-length folding pole that is an affordable, lightweight option and great as an entry-level trail running pole. They are made of 7075 aluminum alloy and feature a Kevlar tensioning cord running through the shaft. The poles fold into four pieces for compact storage.
A Velcro strap remains conveniently attached just below the foam grip to secure the pieces when folded so that they don’t flop around or get tangled when you’re taking them on and off your pack. The wrist loop is a simple non-padded adjustable nylon strap that isn’t as comfortable or sturdy as most of the other poles tested.
These poles have a unique design as compared to the others in this guide. To extend the poles, the Kevlar tensioning cord is pulled upward through the center of the pole, out the top of the grip. There is a small knot that is used to secure the cord in a notch at the top of the grip. This system can be adjusted and re-tensioned as needed. The poles include both rubber and carbide tips and a solid rubber basket to improve stability and prevent the tips from catching between rocks.
Available Lengths: 115-130 centimeters, in 5-centimeter increments
Length When Folded: 33-36 centimeters, depending on pole length
Pole Material: 7075 aluminum alloy shafts, foam grip
- Packs down small for easy storage
- Attached Velcro strap to secure pole segments when folded
- Heavier than carbon poles
- Wrist strap is basic and can be uncomfortable
Many of the trail running poles we tested and chose for this guide are a pretty hefty financial investment as far as running gear goes. While you won’t be able to get the lightest or most innovative poles on the market without forking over some serious cash, there are some good options out there for budget-conscious runners.
The Paria Outdoor Products Tri-Fold Carbon Cork Trekking Poles are adjustable-length folding carbon poles that won’t break the bank. While not marketed specifically for running, their size and features make them more than capable of making the leap from hiking to running.
The poles come in two size ranges to accommodate a wide range of heights, a 100- to 120-centimeter option and a 110- to 135-centimeter one. The adjustable poles have carbon shafts with aluminum connectors, carbide and rubber tips, cork grips, and a wide and comfortable nylon strap. They fold into three 15-inch sections to store easily in or on your pack.
These poles have a thicker shaft diameter than the other running poles we tested and would be a good option for hiking as well. They are noticeably heavier than our other winning poles. The height adjustment lever was simple to use, and the click-button locking mechanism is also on par with other pricier poles.
Available Lengths: 115-135 centimeters and 100-120 centimeters
Length When Folded: 38 centimeters
Pole Material: Carbon shafts with aluminum alloy connectors, cork grip
- Very inexpensive compared with other running poles
- Packs down small for easy storage
- Sturdy, good crossover for hiking/backpacking and running
- Adjustable lengths make them useful for setting up fastpacking tarps
- Heaviest pole we tested
- Screw on the adjustment lever can loosen and may need adjusting when deploying
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose Trekking Poles for Running
Types of Trail Running Poles
When shopping for trail running poles, there are three common designs to choose from: fixed-length folding poles, adjustable-length folding poles, and fixed-length non-folding poles.
Folding poles do just what their name implies — they fold up into three or four sections to make them short and easy to store when not in use. Non-folding poles are one solid piece, much like a traditional ski pole. Folding poles can be found in fixed-length and adjustable-length versions; fixed-length poles remain the same size when extended, while adjustable-length poles have an extra sliding section that can extend their length by 10 to 20 centimeters. Any of these pole types can be found in a carbon fiber or aluminum version, two of the most common materials used in trekking poles.
As with all pieces of gear, there are pros and cons for each, depending on your budget and planned use.
Folding Versus Non-Folding Trail Running Poles
The most commonly available trail running poles, and the type you will most often see in use at your next ultramarathon or mountain race, are folding poles. All the poles chosen as top picks in this guide are folding poles. Folding poles are made of three to four sections of either carbon fiber or aluminum with a cord threaded through the center of each piece.
When the pole is extended, the cord tightens and the pieces lock together at reinforced joints, creating a stable, secure pole. When not in use, the poles fold up, allowing for easy storage in or attached to your hydration pack.
Fixed-length non-folding poles are usually the lightest poles available as they do not need the extra materials required for the construction and mechanics of folding poles. These poles are difficult to store on a pack, however, so you will need to carry them in hand throughout the duration of a run — which can be inconvenient on long sections of runnable or flat trail.
Fixed-length non-folding poles work best in settings like uphill-only events such as vertical kilometer races where the poles will be in use for the entirety of the run. Because their versatility is much lower than folding poles, there are very few options available for purchase, and we chose not to include these in our testing for this guide.
Adjustable-Length Versus Fixed-Length Trail Running Poles
Fixed-length folding trekking poles, such as our winning picks, the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles and the Leki Ultratrail FX.One Superlite, fold up into a compact carrying size and extend to a set length while in use. The ease of use, packability, light weight, and simplicity of fixed-length folding poles make these a very popular choice for ultrarunning and trail running.
Adjustable-length folding trekking poles, such as the Leki Cross Trail FX Superlite, fold in the same way as fixed-length folding poles, but once extended can be adjusted within a range of lengths. This can be a budget-conscious option if the poles will be shared among runners of different heights. The ability to adjust the length of your poles on the fly can be helpful in specific terrain settings, such as extending the length of your downhill-facing pole when traversing a narrow off-camber hillside trail.
If you are fastpacking and using a pole to set up an ultralight tent, the ability to adjust its height may be a useful feature as well. Adding adjustability means more materials, which increases the weight of the pole as compared to a fixed-length pole.
Carbon Versus Aluminum Trail Running Poles
Almost all trail running poles are made of either aluminum, carbon, or a combination of the two materials. Both materials are very durable, but there are some key differences to consider when choosing the best poles for you.
Aluminum trekking poles are usually made of 7075 aluminum, which is a strong, lightweight aluminum alloy with a high fatigue point. These poles are durable and able to withstand the stress of pushing off the ground and being leaning on heavily. Under high stresses, aluminum poles are more likely to bend rather than break because aluminum metal is softer and less brittle than carbon fiber.
While no one wants to end up with damaged equipment out on trail, a bent pole can potentially be straightened and remain usable. Some users have noted feeling increased vibration from striking the ground with an aluminum pole when compared with carbon. Aluminum is a less expensive material, so aluminum poles will be more budget-friendly than full carbon fiber poles.
Carbon fiber poles are the gold standard for lightweight trekking poles. The material is very stiff and strong and will bend and flex less than other materials during use. Carbon also minimizes vibrations and offers exceptional energy transfer. But, if a carbon fiber pole is damaged, there’s no bending here — it will break.
Temperature extremes, particularly cold temperatures, can affect the durability of carbon fiber trekking poles, making them more brittle and susceptible to breaking. Their lighter weight means you’ll conserve a little more energy with every arm swing.
While it may seem negligible at first glance, every little bit of energy savings will help when tackling 30-plus hours of a mountainous 100 miler! That weight savings comes at a premium though, as carbon fiber running poles are more expensive than their aluminum counterparts.
Choosing the Correct Trail Running Pole Size
Trekking pole sizes are based on the height of the user. An easy way to determine the appropriate size for your height is to stand with your elbows flexed at around 90 degrees with your forearms parallel to the floor. The distance from your hands to the ground will be the approximate length you will need for your trekking poles. Most manufacturers have a size chart or calculator available on their site to help you confirm the appropriate pole length based on a range of heights.
A longer pole will increase the bend in the elbow and provide more support and stability, especially on downhills, while a shorter pole will improve forward and uphill propulsion. These measurements and guides are a good starting point, but ultimately the best pole size for you comes down to what you feel comfortable using — practice makes perfect!
In theory, all trail running poles would be created equal — I mean, how many ways can you reimagine a stick, am I right? — but in reality, there are many subtle differences to consider when shopping for the right poles for you.
As we mentioned above, the most popular trekking poles for trail running are foldable ones. The way the poles fold is slightly different from one brand or model to another and something to keep in mind when choosing your poles. They all have a joint of some sort where the pieces come together, and a cord threaded through the middle keeps them in place. This cord is usually Kevlar and is sometimes covered in a plastic sheath for extra protection. Some poles fold up very easily and loosely, while others are under more tension and harder to keep folded.
The poles will fold into either three or four sections for stowing in or on your pack. The length of the folded poles can vary a bit, and not all poles will work well with every pack’s pole storage system.
The pole grips are one of the most widely varied features of trail running poles. Grip material is usually made of cork or foam, and some have unique features.
A traditional pole grip features a wrist loop, usually made of a lightweight, moisture-wicking material that loosely encircles the wrist and allows you to loosen or adjust your grip without dropping the poles. These straps may also include a little padding or a Velcro adjustment for comfort and a more secure and universal fit. Some trail running poles, including the Leki FX.One Superlite, have glove-like Velcro straps that stay securely fastened to your hand and click on and off the pole with an attachment on the grip.
The tips of the poles are an important yet under-the-radar feature of trail running poles. Most poles have a carbide tip at the end, which is more durable and provides traction on rocky or icy terrain. Rubber tips are softer and better suited for areas where ground damage may be an issue, such as environmentally sensitive alpine tundra or softer ground. Rubber tips are also a good choice for long stints of pavement to prevent damage of carbide tips and because they are less noisy.
Some poles, such as the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking/Running Poles and Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking/Running Poles, provide both types of tips that are interchangeable. Other brands include a rubber cap that can be placed over the carbide tip that can protect your pack from damage.
Why You Should Trust Us
iRunFar’s testing process ensures you get the best gear for your needs. We consider quality, durability, cost, and a host of other elements when choosing which models of gear to test.
We extensively researched what trail running poles are on the market today and narrowed our list to 15 top candidates for testing.
Our team is primarily based in the mountains of Colorado, and we put the poles through their paces on miles of rocky mountainous terrain there as well as on the rocky, rooty trails of the U.S. East Coast. From long climbs to scree-filled descents, on summer summits and wintry treks, we tested the efficiency and durability of the poles to decide which are the best for trail running.
This guide is meant to grow and evolve as products do. COVID-19-era inventory issues and materials shortages meant we’ve got a few more top models we need to test when they are generally available again.
Frequently Asked Questions About Trail Running Poles
How do trekking poles help when running?
There are a few different ways trekking poles can help improve your trail running performance. The most common use, and the one with arguably the most benefit, is when climbing. Poles help offload some of the strain on your legs by allowing you to use your arms for points of contact and additional power. Getting your upper body in on the fun can improve forward propulsion when climbing, particularly on steep, mountainous terrain.
What goes up, must come down — and in the case of mountain ultras, the descents can be pretty darn treacherous. Those trail running poles that helped propel you up the mountain can also help keep you stable and upright on the way back down. The extra points of contact on a steep, rocky downhill can help maintain speed over obstacles when you’re cruising and slow you down when it is so steep that your poor quadriceps muscles are in over their head.
Keeping an upright posture is another major benefit of using trail running poles. In addition to using more upper body strength to offset leg fatigue, the arm swing and pole contact with the ground help keep you in a more upright position, lessening the strain on the low back. While trekking poles aren’t a substitute for strength and core work, they help keep you standing tall as the fatigue from the late stages of a race kicks in.
Hiking speed and cadence also benefit from the use of trekking poles. The arm swing and audible click of the poles on the trail function like a metronome, keeping your hiking rhythm going up steep terrain.
The extra points of contact are a huge benefit in maintaining balance. If you’ve ever crossed a river or stream using poles, you know what I’m talking about! Traversing uneven or slippery terrain with poles is much easier than trying to do it without them — and can save you a slip and fall along the way.
What are some downsides to using trail running poles?
Using poles properly takes some practice. If you hit the trails with them and haven’t gotten the hang of your arm swing or pole placement as you climb or descend, they can get in the way and cause more harm than good. The excess energy spent holding and swinging them as you are hiking or running will be for nothing if you aren’t placing them properly and pushing off correctly — turning the potential power gains into losses and tiring you out in the process.
While trail running poles can do a lot of good for running and hiking power, they are, simply put, another thing to carry. Becoming proficient at hand placement, carrying them while running, eating and drinking while using them, navigating aid stations, and attaching them to a pack takes a lot of practice and repetition to make it second nature when fatigue sets in.
As we mentioned above, one of the benefits of running with trekking poles is their help with balance on uneven terrain. While they give a lot of help here, they aren’t magic sticks, and slips and falls still happen. Having a pole in your hand can increase the risk of injuries if you inadvertently fall onto the pole.
This is magnified if using a style of grips that attach your hands to the poles very securely. This is certainly not a reason to skip running poles altogether, but it should be kept in mind as you practice your pole running technique on the trails.
What terrain is best for using trail running poles?
Trail running poles will have the most benefit on steep terrain, be it climbing or descending. They can be used for increasing power on the climbs, where your arms will help do some of the work of propelling you to the top. Using the extra points of contact when rock-hopping your way back down the descents is an acquired skill — as is the use of your poles as an emergency brake on those super-steep downhills where it feels like you might start somersaulting instead of running!
If your run is on more moderate runnable terrain, you will want to leave the poles at home, as they will more likely be a hindrance and just add extra, unnecessary weight to your kit. That’s not to say we have never used them in the late stages of a flatter 30-hour race to keep ourselves awake and upright — but these situations are few and far between.
Should I use trail running poles made of aluminum or carbon?
The short answer is … yes. There are many great aluminum and carbon poles on the market, and either will give you the benefits we discussed above. When deciding which type of poles is right for you, the biggest factors to consider are budget, the amount you will be using them, and how you plan to utilize them.
Aluminum poles are less expensive than carbon and will, in most cases, be heavier. If you are just starting out with poles, will be using them sporadically, don’t care too much about gear weight, or plan on a combination of running and hiking with your poles, then aluminum may be the best choice. For very long days in the mountains, frequent use, and those looking to keep their running gear ultralight, carbon poles are the way to go.
Is there a difference between men’s and women’s trail running poles?
While some companies list poles that are women’s specific, the reality is that there is little to no difference between those and poles that do not include a gender-specific model. Pole sizing is based on the height of the user, with most spanning between 100 centimeters at the shortest end and 135 centimeters at the longest — fitting users from four feet, 10 inches tall to six feet, seven inches tall.
Poles marketed toward women tend to be at the lower end of the size range and may have a smaller wrist strap, but that’s about the extent of the differences. Most companies have moved away from a gender designation for trekking poles, as it is unnecessary.
How do I learn to use trekking poles when running?
Practice makes perfect! Or at the very least, proficient. There are a few different strategies for using trekking poles while running and hiking that depend on the terrain you are on. Before you hit the trails, get comfortable with the poles on even ground. Try out the wrist straps and grip. Hold them while walking to get used to the feel of your arm swing with trekking poles in hand.
Once you feel comfortable with the basic grip and swing of your poles, practice on the hills to dial in that power and efficiency boost. The most common ways to use the poles are by alternating with your arm swing or by planting both poles in front of you as you push off, either going up steep terrain or downhill over rocks.
Can I use hiking poles for running?
Hiking poles serve the same basic function as running poles and can certainly be used for running, especially if you are trying them out or using poles very infrequently. Their design will be a little different, as hiking poles are designed to distribute the load with a heavy pack on rather than improve forward propulsion when moving quickly.
Hiking poles may have some shock absorption built in, which means the poles will have some give and spring when leaned on — eliminating some of the energy return you need to propel you forward uphill. Hiking poles usually collapse into a shorter length by telescoping in on themselves rather than folding and end up being much longer and bulkier than running poles when they are collapsed.
How do I carry my poles if I’m not using them?
The simplest way to carry running trekking poles is to just keep them in your hands. This is the only option if using a fixed-length non-foldable pole. Some runners will opt to keep their poles in hand even when they are folded to make it quick and easy to deploy them when needed. This option means that you will have to do a little juggling act every time you have to eat, drink, refill hydration, or do any other trail activities that require the use of one or both hands.
A more common way to carry poles when they’re not being used is by using trekking pole attachments on a hydration pack or waistbelt. Most hydration packs on the market today have at least one bungee cord-type attachment to secure poles to the outside of the pack, with many having multiple configurations to attach poles to either the front or the back of the pack. Running poles can also be stored inside a pack that has a large enough rear pocket.
Some companies, such as Salomon or Raidlight, also offer a separate pouch or “quiver” that is made to hold trekking poles and attaches separately to the outside of the pack. These systems are similar to an archery quiver that would hold arrows.
A waistbelt that has elastic attachments is another pole-carrying option that provides quick and easy access to your poles. Check out our best running belts and waistpacks guide for some of our favorite running belts and waistpacks that have trekking pole attachments.
Call for Comments
- Do you run with trail running poles?
- What type of terrain do you take your poles on?
- What trail running poles are your favorite?