If you love trail running then you’ll be familiar with the hazards of racing on uneven terrain. Rocky ground, obstacles, and loose scree can all present challenges, potentially leading to falls and interrupting your training.
Trail running poles are the answer, and investing in the right set can give you the traction you need on off-road runs.
There are many other benefits, too.
Science has demonstrated that using poles during trail running can be helpful for propulsion when running on level ground and during the absorption phase when running downhill. Some of the workload is transferred from your legs to your arms, which can give your leg muscles a break when climbing or descending.
And if you lose your balance at any point, you’ll have something to lean on to stop your fall.
With quite a few different types of running poles on the market, it can be tough to decide which is the right pair for you. So to make things easier, we’ve put together this handy guide!
Read on to discover our favorite poles for trail running and the features you need to consider when making your choice.
What to Look for in Trail Running Poles
Whilst personal preference will play a large part in making your decision, there are a few important features to take into account when choosing poles for trail running.
Folding, Collapsible, or Non-Folding
One of the most important things to decide before buying running poles is whether you’d prefer a folding or non-folding design.
Folding poles will usually fold into 3 or 4 sections, connected to each other with a cord running through the center.
These sit parallel to each other, making it easy to store the poles in a vest or backpack. When in use, the segments lock together at the joints, giving you a sturdy and reliable pole.
Collapsible poles will shorten, but tend to be longer than the folding variety. This means they’ll need more storage space.
Non-folding poles are constructed from one continuous piece, so you will need to carry them in your hands at all times. On the plus side, they don’t have all the extra mechanisms needed for folding poles, so they tend to be lighter.
Fixed length or adjustable
Non-folding poles have a fixed length, whereas folding poles come in both fixed-length and adjustable versions.
With an adjustable pole, there is a sliding section to extend the length of the pole in fixed increments, usually by around 10 to 20 cm.
Adjustable poles are a good choice if you are going to share them with other runners, as they can accommodate different heights. The adjustability can also be useful when moving over different types of terrain.
Running poles are usually made from either carbon fiber, aluminum, or a combination of both.
Aluminum is generally more durable and pliable than carbon, making it more likely to bend under pressure.
As the poles can often be bent easily back into shape, this is a plus. Aluminum running poles are usually cheaper than carbon poles, too.
However, aluminum poles are heavier – a serious consideration when it comes to racing. Not only are carbon poles lighter in weight, but they are also better at minimizing the impact vibrations from the ground.
For these reasons, carbon poles are the popular choice for most trail runners.
The Best Trail Running Poles in 2023
#1. LEKI Cross Trail FX.One Superlite
– 110 cm or 130 cm extended length, fold to 37 cm, made from 100% high-modulus carbon fiber
– Best choice for trail running and trekking
Part of Leki’s Cross Trail line, these poles feature the Cross Shark grip. This gives you the excellent energy transmission from arm to pole provided by the Trigger Shark system and combines it with the extra support and comfort you’ll need for descents.
The lightweight strap is breathable, effectively wicking away moisture, and with a wide support area for a secure fit.
And if you need to take a drink or tie a shoe, you won’t struggle to take the strap off – instead, the poles use a quick connect/release system that makes it easy.
Both the basket and the carbide tip are exceptionally lightweight for optimal swing weight, with the tip gripping well in almost all conditions.
Although these running poles have a fixed-length design, they fold down to a packable size at just the touch of a button.
#2. REI Co-op Flash Carbon Poles
– 105-140 cm maximum length, 64 cm collapsed length, with a strong but lightweight 3-section design
– Best non-folding running poles
These poles from REI collapse rather than fold. As long as you have adequate pack space to carry them between uses, you’ll find them great on the trail and very comfortable to use.
It’s easy to adjust the length if desired using the cam locks with oversized aluminum levers.
We would have preferred length markings for every centimeter (these are marked in increments of 5). But they are clear to read and remain that way, even if you adjust them often.
The exclusive grips are made from lightweight and breathable EVA foam, ergonomically designed to accommodate various hand sizes and positions with ease.
It is durable, too, and still feels comfortable after many miles.
The wrist straps are fully adjustable and have a smooth finish that feels soft against your skin, even after extended use.
#3. LEKI Vertical K Pole Pair
– 110-140 cm maximum length, fixed length design, with cork handles
– Best running poles for speed
These poles are a great choice if you want to keep weight to a minimum – each weighs just 135 g.
They are built for performance, with an annealed steel sloped Speed Tip and a lightweight single-piece carbon shaft.
The natural cork grip feels comfortable and secure. It can also be extended for a perfect fit.
These poles use the unique Trigger Shark gloves that attach to them securely and work well with your natural hand movements.
It’s also quick and easy to disengage the strap from the grip when you need to.
The only downside is that these poles are non-adjustable and don’t collapse, so they won’t be suitable if you’re looking for something you can pack away when not in use.
#4. Mountain King Trail Blaze
– 115 cm extended length, aluminum alloy, with perlon cord to secure the pole segments
– The most affordable trail running poles
Named ‘Best in Test’ by Trail Running magazine and used in races up Mount Blanc and the Marathon Du Sables, these high-quality poles are durable and supportive.
Weighing a mere 127g each, they are lighter than many carbon fiber poles and specifically made for speed and racing rather than trekking.
The carbide tip provides a safe grip and the wrist strap allows you to use your hands without putting the poles down.
They have a 4-section construction which means you can collapse them to a convenient carrying size of just 38 cm.
This design also gives them a high tensile strength when fully extended.
We found the Airflow grips soft enough for comfort but also very breathable, even in warm conditions. If only the length was adjustable, these would be perfect!
#5. Black Diamond Equipment – Distance Carbon Z Poles
– 110 to 130 cm extended length, fixed length construction, and foldable
– Our top pick for durability
These excellent trail running poles are built to last the distance, with reinforcements around the upper shaft and locking mechanism.
The joint support has also been improved, making them 30% stiffer and therefore much more durable.
They are very easy to store, folding down to just 40 cm, and small enough to fit into a running vest. They are also quick and easy to extend, thanks to the simple push-button mechanism.
At 150g each these poles are extremely lightweight, with a moisture-wicking strap and comfortably cushioned EVA foam grip.
We like their versatility too, as they come with an interchangeable tech tip that is compatible with both carbide and rubber tech tips.
They are also compatible with snow baskets for use in the winter.
The Best Trail Running Poles: Key Takeaways
Many trail runners agree that using poles helps them move more quickly, reduces their perception of effort on uphill runs, and improves their balance – especially when fatigue sets in.
We hope this guide has helped you find a pair that works well for you and that you enjoy the benefits they bring on your next run.
Reasons to Love Trail Running
Trail running is not just a great way to connect with nature. It offers other advantages, too, both for your physical and mental health.
Find out more in our article about The Benefits of Trail Running.