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Telescopic Vs Folding Z Trekking Poles Guide: Advantages & Disadvantages Of Each

If you've been researching trekking and hiking poles no doubt you've encountered the terms telescopic poles and folding poles (Z style folding poles). This collapsing system is more often than not contingent on the preferred style of locking mechanism and the number of sections. Having said that, the collapsing system on it's own is really important, mainly because it has an influence on durability, determines how thick the shafts may be and whether the pole is one continuous diameter.

You can also get fixed length poles, however for hiking, running and long distance adventures on varying terrain we would recommend either folding or telescopic poles. We'll probably cover fixed length in another article. 

folding and telescopic are classified as the two primary construction designs used for trekking poles. In todays post we'll take a look at both types and give you an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each type. When referencing technical design of each type of pole we'll drawing on design features common on Leki trekking poles and Black Diamond trekking poles - these are two of the leading brands when it comes these products.

Telescopic Trekking Poles

Telescopic trekking poles are collapsible just like a telescope and this is where the name derives from. In other words this means that, as a result of, there're adjustable. Not only can the length be altered to suit your height, but they also can also be tweaked to adjust to varying terrain.

This really is an excellent option for those runners, walkers or hikers who do not want to strap items to the outside of their rucksack as telescoping poles can usually fit within the bag if they have been collapsed. That being said, for the reason that telescopic poles have further components, they usually are just a little weightier when compared with fixed length poles.

The excess weight, though, is almost always minor, and the benefit gain from the increased convenience of the design quite often overshadows this downside when it comes to the typical hiker. The adjust ability of the poles will also mean that telescoping poles, while still durable, are usually not as robust as fixed-length poles. Last but not least, the additional materials necessary to create telescoping poles increases their price compared to fixed length poles. An example of a telescopic is the Black Diamond Trail Pole - this is a good standard pole and is the actually the one that I own and use.

Advantages Of Telescopic Trekking Poles

  • Wide range of adjustment (normally at least 35cm) to suit different terrain and user height. Going up or downhill will require an adjustment in the pole length.
  • Low weight of the lower parts of the trekking pole
  • Easy to replace sections if one breaks or gets damaged.
  • External locked poles can be repaired in the field if they get damaged, albeit at a reduced length
  • Lower relative cost due to having fewer sections and a less technical design and construction

Disadvantages Of Telescopic Trekking Poles

  • Longer minimum length when not in use so will likely take up more space inside or on the outside of you pack.
  • Can take longer to extend to full length when on a trail. Not a huge issue, unless you are competing in a race and time is important.

Folding Trekking Poles

Foldable trekking poles are much like telescoping poles for what they offer in portability, but they fold instead of collapse. They can be folded down when not in use, which allows the poles to take up less space inside of a pack. A good example of this type of pole is the Leki Micro Vario Carbon - a high end and top quality trekking pole for the serious hiker out there (featured in the video below).

These poles can fold because an elastic shock cord is attached to the inside of the pole. The pole is then divided into two or three parts that can be separated from one another. The separated pieces are attached together with the internal shock cord, but the cord is slack enough that the poles can be folded down into a “Z” shape.

The folding mechanism of the poles slightly increases their weight and makes the poles more susceptible to damage. These types of poles can come in 3,4 or 5 sections depending o the make or model.

Advantages Of Folding Trekking Poles

  • Very small pack size (when stowed away) compared to a 3-part telescopic pole suited to a similar sized hiker.
  • Each pole section is shorter and so can be made more rigid without extra weight added to the construction of the pole.
  • Length adjustment is with one clamp and as a result it is quicker to release and open the pole to its full length. This is ideal if there are shorter sections of a run or hike where you'll need the poles for a steep incline.

Disadvantages Folding Trekking Poles

  • More joints and sections and so tend to be made using higher specification materials to reduce weight - this adds to the price of the poles.
  • Each model has a limited range of adjustment (20cm) and so has to be chosen carefully according to the height of the user.
  • Damage to any one section can render the whole pole unusable.
  • Sections cannot be easily repaired or replaced by the user.

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