Beginners Guide Series: No. 3 – Trekking Poles

This week, I’m tackling trekking poles for the third edition of the ‘Beginner’s Guide Series’. When I first learned of trekking poles, I scoffed at them. Surely, a real hiker doesn’t need assistance from fancy canes. Then, I borrowed a friend’s on an intense hike in Glacier and I haven’t looked back since.

First time using trekking poles – Glacier National Park, Dawson Pitamakan Loop
Me and my Black Diamond Distance Z poles in Savage Gulf

Not only do hiking poles help decrease impact on knees, feet, and ankles, they also provide 4 points of contact on the ground, making me feel much more stable. They are especially great when going up or down steep terrain, providing leverage or decreasing impact. I’ve avoided multiple falls and slips by bracing myself with my poles. Now, if I forget my trekking poles on a hike, it feels like a piece of me is missing.

There’s a few things you should know about trekking poles before you purchase them so that you get a pair that will fit your hiking needs.

Choosing the Correct Length

Many trekking poles are sold by length in centimeters. As a general rule, you’ll want to make sure that your arm makes a 90° angle when the tips are touching the ground. This ensures that you will get the most comfort out of your poles. However, with adjustable poles, the length is variable, so choosing the correct length when purchasing isn’t as important because you can adjust to the correct length.

Fixed-length vs. Adjustable

There’s two basic types of trekking poles: ones that are adjustable and ones that aren’t. There are more adjustable poles on the market than fixed length because they are simply more versatile. It is great to be able to adjust poles for the terrain and not worry about buying the exact right length.

Pros of adjustable poles

  • People of different heights can use the same poles
  • Adjust for long sections of hilly terrain
    • 5-10 cm longer for downhill
    • 5-10 cm shorter for uphill

Pros of fixed length poles

  • Usually lighter in weight
  • No possibility of multiple locking mechanisms failing

I have some fixed length poles that collapse down (Black Diamond Z-Poles). I love them because they are lightweight and collapse down pretty small.

Aluminum vs. Carbon-fiber

There are two main materials that trekking pole shafts are made of – aluminum and carbon-fiber. Each has their pros and cons so make sure you get a pole made from a material that suits your hiking needs.

Aluminum poles are the more economical and durable option. They provide a strong trekking pole and will bend (rather than break) under pressure. If you are hiking is very rugged areas where you expect to be putting a lot of stress on your poles, aluminum may be a better option for you. However, poles made from aluminum tend to be a bit heavier than their carbon-fiber counterparts.

Carbon-fiber poles are the lighter and more expensive option tending to run $40-$50 more than aluminum ones. They are a strong pole, but can break under high stress (rather then bend). If you are concerned about weight and aren’t hiking is very rugged areas, carbon-fiber poles are a great option.

Rubber vs. Carbide Tips

Most trekking poles will come with interchangeable tips for different terrain. Use the carbide or steel tips when you want more traction on icy surfaces or to decrease impact the impact to the ground/terrain. But, most of the time, I use the rubber tips, which provide more shock absorption and don’t make a terrible grinding sound on rocky terrain.

Using the Wrist Straps

Many hikers actually use the wrist straps incorrectly. You want to insert your hand from the bottom of the strap, then grab the grip so that some of the wrist strap is against your palm. This provides support for your wrist and hand. The wrist strap should also be adjusted so that the strap rests close to the back of your hand.

Added Features

Shock-absorption: These types of poles have springs inside them to absorb shock, especially when going downhill. It’s a great feature to have for anyone, but highly recommended for those with knee/ankle issues.

Ergonomic grips: Holding poles on a long hike is much more comfortable when the grips are fit closely to the shape of your hand.

Camera mount: Some poles feature a built-in camera mount under the handle so you can get that perfect, steady shot.

Foldable: Some poles fold down like a tent pole, making them lightweight, packable and easy to stow in the side pockets of a backpack.

Buying Trekking Poles

There’s a lot to consider when buying something as seemingly simple as trekking poles. Some popular brands are: REI Co-op, Black Diamond, Leki, and Komperdell. Unless you are an ultra marathoner or long-distance trail runner, I don’t think the extra money for carbon-fiber poles is necessarily worth it to save 5-6 ounces of weight.

The REI Co-op Passage Trekking Poles are a good entry level pole with a competitive price.

The Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles are a great lightweight and compact choice that come with a higher price tag. These poles also come in carbon fiber (Black Diamond Distance Carbon AR Trekking Poles) if you are looking to decrease weight.

The Leki Cressida Cor-Tec Trekking Poles are a popular choice among women and have a bit more features and comfort.

I’ve only mentioned a few poles by name, but there are so many good options. Also, if you are hiking mostly day hikes in Tennessee, honestly, most any pole will probably do great as long as it is the correct size.

Do you use trekking poles? What are your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

Beginners Guide Series: No. 2 – Hydration Reservoirs

Water is the most important thing that you need to bring on a hike, regardless of distance. However, water bottles tend to be clunky, heavy, and relatively inaccessible, even if it is in a side pocket of a backpack.

But, you don’t have to live burdened to your water bottle on a hike. Enter the hydration reservoir, also affectionately known as a hydration or water bladder. For about the same prices as a nice water bottle (like a Hydroflask), you can secure yourself a handy water bladder. If you have never used one of these, your hiking life is about to get significantly better.

So, um, what exactly is it?

Hydration bladders are essentially flexible, lightweight water holders with a long-ass thick, flexible straw attached to it. They are meant to be slid into a backpack while the straw sticks out and is clipped onto the strap of the backpack. It’s the easiest way to hydrate yourself while hiking. Because, you know, hydration is the key to victory.

Hydration packs encourage me to drink much more water than if I had to take 5+ minutes to stop hiking, take off my pack, root around for the bottle, then take a few swigs of water. It’s already hard enough for me to drink enough water on a hike, so taking away this hurdle to your water is a game changer.

What size do I need?

You may be thinking, “First of all, I had no idea there were even different sizes.” Let me explain.

There are different volumes of reservoirs: typically 1.5, 2, or 3 liters. You will want to choose a volume depending on how long you typically hike and how hot the weather is where you usually hike.

The general rule is to bring 1 liter of water for every 2 hours of hiking. If it is hot and humid (VERY likely in TN for, like, 10 out of the 12 months), I would double the amount to 1 liter every hour

So, if you are strictly a short-distance hiker, you can probably get away with the smaller liter size. However, the price difference between the sizes is usually only a few dollars. So, when in doubt, get a larger size. Many of the bladders have volume markings so you can only fill what you need. So, in my opinion, there’s really no reason to NOT get a 3L. But, oftentimes, a 2L bladder is a nice middle ground for most.

  • Get a 1.5 liter if your hikes are typically under 3 miles and you don’t hike in the heat.
  • Get a 2 liter if your hikes are typically under 6 miles or you hike short distances in heat often.
  • Get a 3 liter if your hikes are typically longer than 6 miles or you hike mid-distances in the heat.

P.S. Hiking long distances in heat is not recommended; it’s honestly not fun and it’s hard to stay hydrated enough.

What brand should I buy?

There’s a handful of hydration reservoir brands and many of the differences are based on preference of features like weight, ease of cleaning, size/shape of the mouthpiece, and quick disconnect capability. I’ll outline some of the pros and cons of some of the most popular bladders.


This is my overall favorite reservoir. It’s super lightweight, durable, and innovative without being clunky. I particularly like the ‘Shape-Shift’ line with a baffle in the middle. You can lock it for a slimmer profile and stabilization or unlock it for maximum capacity. It has a quick-release, which lets you disconnect the tube for cleaning and easy refilling. It also has a great high-flow mouthpiece with a bite valve shut off (so it doesn’t leak water when you aren’t drinking) and a heavy duty ziploc type closure at the top for a leak-proof seal.

One of the worst parts about owning a hydration reservoir is the cleaning process. It always feels like you can never fully get it clean. But, the HydraPak is fully reversible making this normally painstaking process a breeze.

Pros: Lightweight, durable, adjustable baffle – almost like having 2 different capacities, leak-proof zipper-type seal

Cons: A bit pricier than some others, but totally worth it


Probably the most well-known brand of reservoirs, Camelbak is a trusted brand that was founded in the late 1980s. You can’t go wrong with a Camelbak. It is a quality product that keeps making improvements to its products. They are a little heavier than HydraPaks and have a built-in baffle to keep a slim profile. The bite valve is totally fine, but I just don’t like it as much as others. It’s also harder to clean because of the small opening. I never feel like I can get it completely clean and it’s hard to dry out. It has all the basic features you need like quick disconnect tubing, a bite-valve shut off, and a slim profile.

Pros: Good quality, trusted brand, great value

Cons: Difficult to clean, harder to seal (as opposed to a zipper-type)


Platypus has two main lines of reservoirs: Hoser and Big Zip. The Hoser is cheaper and more lightweight, but not nearly as convenient as the Big Zip. The latter is similar to the HydraPak without the baffle. The bite valve has a great flow rate but is bigger than the others, which I don’t like as much. It’s durable, but not quite as lightweight. It’s moderately easy to clean since you can open up the entire top. It also has all the basic features listed for the others.

Pros: Zipper-type seal, high-flow mouthpiece

Cons: Most expensive, not as easy to clean


Mazama is relatively new to the hydration reservoir market. The have great features such as a piece that holds open the reservoir to dry, a different type of closure, and their DUAL line with two separate chambers and tubes (to carry both water and electrolyte drinks. They have all the basic features of the other brands as well. They also offer a ‘short’ version of the 2L that fits in smaller packs that may not accommodate a longer bladder. My gripe with this brand is that the clips that seal it break easily. They are just made of plastic. Mine still functions, but it’s a bummer.

Pros: Low price point, structured handle

Cons: Plastic clips break easily, heaviest of the options presented

Did I miss a reservoir that you love? Let me know in the comments.

Beginners Guide Series: No.1 – Daypacks

For our first installment of the ‘Beginner’s Guide’ series, let’s talk packs. It’s one of the first things I recommend purchasing if you are looking to start your day hiking gear collection. It can easily be a relatively inexpensive piece of gear and it’s something I take on every hike.

Usually you’ll be carrying no more than 10 lbs in a pack for a day hike and most of this weight will be water, which you will be drinking, so it’ll only get lighter! Other things you may want to include in your pack are trail snacks, first aid items, a bandana, chapstick, and a headlamp/lightweight flashlight (just in case).

Features to Consider in a Daypack

  • Lightweight
    • You’ll probably want your pack to weigh no more than 1 lb
  • Durability
    • Look for materials like ripstop nylon
  • Comfort
    • If possible, try the pack on, put some weight in it and walk around the store.
  • Sternum strap (buckles around your upper chest)
    • For better weight distribution across shoulders
  • Hipbelt strap (buckles around waist)
    • For better stability and weight distribution
  • Hydration reservoir compatibility
    • If you have no idea what a hydration reservoir is, don’t worry! I’ll be going over all you need to know in a future blog post.
  • Small pockets/organization
    • For easy access to things like snacks (v. important!) and chapstick

Wearing a Daypack

I know most of us are probably past the middle school days of extending the straps and wearing a backpack super low because that was the “cool” way to wear it. But, when you are hiking, you want to be sure that the pack sits snugly to your back. The top of the pack should sit right below the nape of your neck. The straps should be tightened down so that the bottom of the back hits near the bottom of your torso, right around the top of your hips. It’s important to wear your pack correctly because, not only will it will be more comfortable, but it will be more stabilized on your back, especially if you are on uneven terrain.

Pack Recommendations

Below, I’ll share three packs that I own, use and would recommend to anyone looking for a reasonably priced daypack. Of course there’s probably “better” packs out there, like the Osprey Talon 22 (Men’s)/Tempest 20 Women’s) or the Deuter Speed Lite but I wanted to share some that are around the $50 price point.

REI Flash 18 Pack – $34.95

I would venture to say that this is probably the best bang-for-your-buck pack. It’s relatively inexpensive, super lightweight, durable and water bladder compatible. There’s exterior loops if you’re into hanging stuff off of your pack and a drawstring closure so you won’t have to worry about zippers. There is slight padding on the back, which can also be pulled out and used as a sit pad. The downside of this pack is that it can get uncomfortable and cut into your shoulders if you are carrying more weight. It also doesn’t have external pockets. But, this is a great starter day pack for any hiker.

Pros: Inexpensive, all the right features, super lightweight

Cons: Unpadded straps can dig in if loaded down, no exterior pockets

Cotopaxi Luzon 18L Del Dia Pack – $55

This Luzon pack has all the basic features listed above. What sets it apart from the REI Flask pack are more comfortable, lightly padded straps and an external pocket to easily access essentials (and the whole pack can be stuffed into this pocket). It’s also made with a slightly thicker material, so it feels a bit more robust without adding a lot ofweight. Also, each pack is one of a kind. If you are unfamiliar with the ‘Del Dia’ series by Cotopaxi, I’d recommend watching this video. Each pack is handmade in the Philippines and the employee has total creative control, which is why each pack in unique. What a great company to get behind!

Pros: Lightweight, comfortable straps, fun and unique colors

Cons: A bit pricier (but it’s for a great cause!), holds odors

Osprey Daylite Pack – $50

The Osprey Daylite pack is a little more structured than the two packs above, making it a favorite for longer hikes. It has just enough pockets for organization without feeling complicated. It sits comfortably on my back and shoulders. The back panel is also more breathable for those extra sweaty hikes. It has all of the features that I find essential in a pack: hipbelt and sternum strap, hydration reservoir, padded straps and exterior/side pockets. A word to the wise: the side pockets are great for smaller items, but are not so great for water bottles. (I always use my hydration bladder for water, so this has never been a problem for me.)

Pros: Breathable back, nice organizational features, sturdier

Cons: Stiff top handle can graze neck while wearing, lower gear capacity (13L)

Do you have a favorite day pack that you think should be included? Let me know in the comments.