What Size Hiking Poles for Optimal Comfort?

Not sure just how tall your hiking poles should be? In this article, I'll cover how tall both adjustable and non-adjustable hiking poles should be for optimal comfort.

No, a hiking pole is not a tool that only the injured, the elderly, or anyone who needs the additional support from a pole use to be able to hike. It’s actually a tool that anyone can use as it’s a common hiking accessory that assists hikers by providing them enhanced stability, reduces the strain on their joints, among other benefits.

Some of the best hiking trails in the US can also sometimes be some of the most challenging, so having that additional support can be very beneficial. Yet, a hiking pole isn’t going to benefit you while hiking in the manner that it should if you don’t get the right size. That can’t be too difficult, right? No, it’s actually not. So… what size hiking pole do I need?

The most critical aspect is to make sure that when the pole or poles are on the ground near your feet, your arm or arms are at a 90-degree angle. You ensure that and then you’ll have the right size. That’s it then, right?

Not so fast as there’s still a lot that we have to cover. This includes discussing whether you need one or two poles, sizing for adjustable trekking poles versus fixed-length poles, and also talking about additional features that can further enhance the comfort you experience from them.

What size hiking pole do I need if it’s adjustable?

woman walking with an adjustable hiking pole
Image credits: Colby Winfield

First things first, it’s important to know that many trekking poles will come with the ability to be adjusted regarding their lengths. Some will be sold in fixed lengths, but if you want the ability to adjust the length to your liking, you’ll want to avoid those types.

Now, with that out of the way, we need to look at what you need to do to ensure that the adjustable poles you buy will be sized to provide the best comfort possible. The best rule of thumb is to go based on your height. Given that adjustable models will provide a lot of room for error, the most critical factor is to ensure that they can adjust to a tall enough length.

In general, if you’re shorter than six feet tall, virtually all adjustable trekking poles and hiking staffs will be able to be adjusted to your liking. However, if you’re taller than six feet, make sure that the pole or poles you get have a maximum length of at least 50 inches (127 cm).

Yet, because they won’t be fixed in length, you still have to adjust them to be the right size to ensure that you don’t cause distress to your neck, back, shoulders, or arms. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, when the poles are on the ground and you’re clutching the grips, your arms need to be at a 90-degree angle for optimal performance, support, and comfort.

With that in mind, there are still some other factors that can come into play.

Some trekking poles will come in three different sections. A way to make life easier is to first set the top adjustment to the middle of the adjustment range. Then, adjust the bottom section to ensure the length places your arm at a 90-degree angle. While hiking, you will then be able to easily adjust the height (if needed) by using the top section.

If you encounter longer uphill sections of your hike, you may want to shorten your pole or poles by 5 to 10 centimeters. This will provide you with more leverage to make ascending the hills a bit easier. If you feel as if your shoulders are being pushed back and if they’re in an unnatural position, the poles will need to be shortened some more.

On the contrary, for long downhill sections, you’re going to want to lengthen your pole or poles by 5 to 10 centimeters. This should provide you with better balance on the descent.

What size hiking pole do I need if it’s a fixed-length?

man walking with fixed hiking poles in snow
Image credits: Alessio Soggetti

Given that you can’t adjust poles with fixed lengths, getting the correct size takes a little bit more effort and research. If you’d rather have fixed-length poles, though, here’s a general sizing chart that you can go off of:

Your heightLength of pole
< 5 ft. 1 in. (< 155 cm)39 in. (100 cm)
5 ft. 1 in. – 5 ft. 7 in. (155 cm – 170 cm)43 in. (110 cm)
5 ft. 7 in. – 5 ft. 11 in. (170 cm – 180 cm)47 in. (120 cm)
> 6 ft. (> 182 cm)51 in. (130 cm)
These numbers are estimates

Note that these numbers are estimates. It’s always a good idea to consult the manufacturer’s sizing chart for the most accurate results.

What are some features that can affect comfort?

When it comes to comfort, figuring out what size hiking pole do I need is very important. But it’s also not the only factor that determines how comfortable your hiking poles are going to be.

Here are 3 other features that improves comfort:

  1. The design of the grips
  2. Using the wrist straps correctly
  3. Using poles with shock-absorbing technology

Let’s dive straight into the first feature which is the grip design:

1. The design of the grips

It mostly comes down to what material is used, but certain grips on certain poles will be ergonomically designed for enhanced support and comfort. Outside of that, though, it’ll mostly come down to materials, and there are three main grips that you’ll see on poles and staffs:

  • Rubber: Rubber is quite possibly the least comfortable grip material out there, but it also serves its purpose well in the winter. On top of being very water-resistant, rubber will also help to insulate your hands from the cold. In the summertime, rubber grips can be troublesome as they can cause chafing.
  • Cork: Cork is really nice during warmer weather as it will resist moisture, and this will be helpful if your hands begin to sweat. Additionally, cork will conform to the shape of your hand so the more you use it, the more comfortable it will be.
  • Foam: While foam is the softest of the grip materials and maybe the most comfortable, it can have issues with moisture. Foam will absorb water and moisture but will also tend to break down quicker than the other materials.

2. Using the wrist straps correctly

This sounds really simple, but hikers will oftentimes use the wrist straps on trekking poles incorrectly. The good news is the proper way to use them is quite easy.

All you need to do is place your hand through the bottom of the strap, and then pull down to grab the pole grip. While keeping your hand relaxed, this will also help to support both the heel of your hand and your wrist.

3. Using poles with shock-absorbing technology

In addition to everything else including figuring out what size hiking pole do I need you can also buy poles with shock-absorbing technology if what you’re after is truly the most comfortable and supportive models on the market.

On descents, these types of poles do an excellent job of soaking up a lot of the impact that your knees would otherwise be taking. The stability decreases a tad with this technology, and you lose a bit of power on the ascent, but these types of poles are still great if you want that extra layer of protection for your knees and joints while hiking. Believe it or not, some of the higher-end trekking poles will allow you to turn the feature on and off.

Trekking poles versus a hiking staff

Okay, so just for clarification, we wanted to make mention of the main difference between trekking poles and hiking staffs. Trekking poles are typically sold in tandems and can help to reduce the force on your knees while backpacking or hiking. Meanwhile, hiking staffs are single poles that are best suited for flat terrains with virtually no load on your back. They are also sometimes referred to as travel staffs or even walking staffs.

Do you need one or two poles?

So, then the question becomes do you need one or two poles? We guess it depends on your liking, but if you’re taking a long trek and possibly are carrying a backpack or even just a fanny pack with you and are looking for the additional support that trekking poles provide, it’d probably be best to take two. Then again, for a shorter hike, you may just want one pole for a little bit more stability on your hike.

Final thoughts

Who knew that the answer to the question of what size hiking pole do I need would be as simple as needing your arms to be at a 90-degree angle with the poles on the ground? As you saw, there’s clearly more to it than just that, but that’s kind of the gist of the entire question.

Now, you can go hiking without the use of any poles. However, if you’re a hardcore hiker and like to go often, buying trekking poles or a hiking staff can be very beneficial. And you now know how to get the correct size!

Speaking of hardcore hiking, are there any women reading this right now that find it hard to get the right hiking pants during the winter? Well, struggle no more, as we think you should check out our list of the very best on the market.

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Tyler Jones

Tyler is much like a swiss knife. Even though he has a degree in Computer Science, he knows almost everything there is to know about camping. He has been writing for HeadlessNomad since 2021 and has contributed with over 100 articles. If you have an outdoor-related question, then Tyler much likely knows the answer.