Trekking poles like the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork (long-term review) and Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Poles (long-term review) come stock with nylon hand straps and plastic trekking baskets. But on 3-season backpacking trips, I leave the trailhead with both features removed.
The hand straps are rooted in Nordic skiing. By looping one’s hands through the straps in such a way that the strap runs between the thumb and index finger, it eliminates the need to tightly hold the grip, which is difficult to do with gloves and which can strain the wrist. Instead, the strap transfers energy from the lower arm and allows for powerful push-off, which is a vital technique when skiing.
Trekking baskets are the warm-weather offshoot of snow baskets, which give the pole floatation in winter snowpack. Without snow baskets, the narrow shaft would sink deeply into unconsolidated snow and create no firm backstop against which to push off. I’m less certain about the purpose of trekking baskets, but suppose they might prevent the poles from sinking into soft 3-season surfaces or jamming deeply into a small crack between two rocks.
The case for removing straps
When using Nordic skis or skinning with my alpine touring skis, I prefer that my poles have straps, for the aforementioned reasons. For all 3-season backpacking trips, however, I remove them. Specifically, I cut them off with scissors, or I remove the metal pin with a finishing nail and hammer. Why:
1. Not useful as intended.
Snow-covered terrain is a relatively flat surface, and is more conducive to exactly repetitive movements. In contrast, snow-free ground is littered with rocks, roots, overgrowth, log steps, blowdowns, and minor slope undulations.
My pole swing and tip placements reflect this variability. While I try to keep them behind me so that I can push off on them, I regularly must plant them directly to my right or left, or in front of me; I also must steer them around obstacles and keep them out of vegetation. Finally, while descending I often keep the poles in front of me, to assist with breaking. When planting poles in these alternative locations, my push-off ability is compromised and therefore the straps are much less useful.
2. Agility and futz
Even on well groomed trails, I regularly take my hands off the pole grips. For example, to:
- Take a photo,
- Retrieve my water bottle,
- Open a food wrapper or storage bag,
- Look at my map,
- Operate a compass or GPS, and
On more challenging trails, or when off-trail, I take my hands off the grips even more often. For example:
- While climbing or traversing steep slopes, I move one or both hands to the lower extension grips;
- On talus, I carry both poles in one hand, so that I can grab rocks for balance or more quickly put a hand down if I fall; and,
- While bushwhacking, I hold the poles near their middle and use them as brush guards.
Without straps, I am a more agile hiker, and I avoid the minor futz involved in pulling my hands out of the straps or inserting my hands back into them multiple times each hour
3. Torque trap
I have broken several poles, both carbon fiber and aluminum models. In every case, the pole was subjected to excessive lateral force. For example, as I was slipping and falling down a creek embankment, the pole tip became wedged in an exposed root and was then levered until it broke; or, I stumbled on talus and landed on the pole.
Removing the straps is not a surefire way to prevent pole breakage. But without straps, you can more quickly let go of the pole if it gets caught.
The case for removing baskets
I use snow baskets in the wintertime on ungroomed and untracked surfaces. Usually, Colorado’s snowpack calls for wider powder baskets. But for 3-season backpacking I remove the baskets. Why:
In wet environments, on low-traffic trails, and when off-trail, trailside vegetation can be thick, especially late in the season after growing all summer. Baskets cause the poles to become more ensnared in the brush, limiting their usability.
2. Surface testing
In early-season conditions, poles can be used to test the depth and strength of snow bridges. Without a basket, the pole can more easily punch through the consolidated snow, allowing for good evaluation.
It’s a similar story in areas where I may encounter deep mud or quicksand. A basket limits my ability to probe the surface tension and depth.
A trekking pole is like a pendulum, and more energy is required to move weight at its tip than the same amount of weight at its grip or in another static spot like inside your backpack.
A 0.5-oz basket at the tip of each pole is probably equivalent to adding a few ounces of weight elsewhere, in terms of energy expenditure. More significantly, the extra weight slows swing speed.
During creek fords, baskets add drag, making the pole more difficult to control and plant exactly where you want.
I’ve never missed having baskets on my poles in 3-season conditions, making me question their entire purpose. It’s as if they solve a “problem” that does not exist. Without baskets, I’ve never become annoyed at how deeply my tip sinks into the ground, and it’s extremely rare that the tip becomes caught in a small crack between rocks. What am I missing?
I can take or leave baskets. I do not find that they are a real positive or a negative. They may help a little in mud but you are still hiking in mud. I do use the straps and find that it allows me to drag my poles along if I am doing something with my hands. This allows me to NOT have to hold them both in one hand or under an arm. This is not a trick you should try in truly difficult terrain
Same here. Without straps, what do you do with the poles when you need your hands for something else?
I took them under an arm. They’re fairly secure there, and overall I prefer much it over having 4-foot long sticks tethered to my wrists while handling a camera or my pants zipper.
I can see the potential for epic failure of the Backcountry Bidet as well
I know this post is old, but this comment of yours made me laugh out loud! Backcountry Bidet! :):)
Made my day….
Thanks! I think I’ll give it a try.
If you take a bad fall with the straps around your wrist, you are more likely to break your wrist as the pole leverages the force of the fall and/or can prevent you from moving your hand to protect yourself. I took a fall in Patagonia with my wrists in the strap and lacerated my hand. The guide said straps were a no-no for summer hiking.
I like to use straps by putting my hand in from the top down. This way they loop around the bottom of my wrists and form a V between my thumb and index finger. I don’t think this is the proper way to use them but I do this because I can lift the poles up without actually gripping the handles tightly allowing my hands to rest a bit.
Robert: Be aware that, from my understanding, using straps in this manner increases the risk of fractures in the event of a fall. Your natural instinct when falling is to open you hand to catch yourself. With the standard “bottom up” grip, the strap falls loose when you open you hand (when the tip is not in contact with the ground) and has some freedom of movement. With a “top down” insertion, the loop remains tight as gravity pulls it down and can in fact tighten further if you’re falling forward due to leverage. This keeps the pole grip locked in your palm, where it can dislocate or fracture bones in your hands and wrist if you catch yourself on the uneven surface.
Having, inadvertently, left behind my $2 trekking poles as trail magic in Grayson Highlands a few years back, I began to use a set of ski poles someone gave to me. Just this Saturday I was telling my wife that I really didn’t miss the ability to collapse my poles. Less than an hour later I found myself on the Cabin Trail in Linville Gorge…eating my words. 1,000 vertical feet of descent/ ascent in 3/4″ of a mile with borderline rock climbing and I was ready to leave my ski poles behind as trail magic. Since I love the Gorge and nearly all of the trails are along the same technical level…I suppose I’ll start looking for a set of collapsible poles. Of course, this has nothing to do with straps and baskets but I thought I’d share. Thanks for the post!
I’ve not needed baskets unless mountaineering with the poles, but that qualifies as winter conditions.
An argument for straps is for people with RSI where it is easier on the hands to transfer some of your weight to your wrists in the straps than gripping more tightly on the poles. It is nice to not have to climb down over scree when a pole is lost.
I’ve not removed my wrist straps for these reasons, but I am moving more and more in that direction as I’ve heard many stories where a strapped wrist has been injured or broken in a fall where they could not free it from the strap.
+1 for RSI. After getting used to my poles with straps, getting the hang of swinging them without gripping too hard, I experimented with not using the straps, still keeping my grip as relaxed as possible.
My wrists had shooting pains within half an hour. The extra stress of putting weight on my finger grip instead of my supported wrist made a huge difference. Fellow repetitive stress injured keyboard jockeys beware.
I can imagine choosing not to use them for limited technical areas where increased control is more important, but no way will I be getting rid of them.
I see the reasons to get rid of straps but I find the benefits outweight them. I will remove the baskets, though. It will also help with storage and transport.
I come from a skiing background and prefer straps. You’re relying on your skeletal structure rather than hand muscles when you use straps. I’ve found a couple great hand positions for desending and ascending that allow me to put weight in the straps which is much less tiring.
I have broken a couple poles due to attached straps. straps are also hot and cause sweating.Newer ski models have addressed this issue with mesh straps so I’m sure that technology will trickle down
I tell ya, on my Costco poles one of the straps just came off on its own. I never missed it. For a year I had one pole with a strap, one without. I cut off the remaining strap today, I just can see how it helps. I always have kept the small 3 season baskets on, but I’ve removed them for this week’s hike to see what its like. Saved me a few ounces that’s for sure.
I have found my trekking poles are easier to use with the straps. I can place more weight/pressure onto the poles (especially on downhills) by simply being able to load the straps instead of actually gripping the poles. They also let me simply let the poles dangle from the wrist if I need to use my hands for something else. As for the baskets, the only thing that I have really seen them fairly useful for is keeping excessive buildup of leaves from accumulating on the poles. Even when the leaves are only stuck up to the basket, it’s surprising how much they weigh until you remove them! I will admit that I mainly stick to trails like the AT, so back-country experience could certainly be different.
In one of your pole breaking examples, it sounds as if a trekking/mud basket may have helped you avoid the pole tip getting wedged in the first place. But it’s impractical to travel back in time and see how it would have gone with a basket. So with the basket, you’re trading some perceived protection for some extra effort the rest of the time.
Re: straps, I find they are helpful (as others have said) to avoid hand fatigue. I haven’t run into as much of the annoyances as you have, but you spend far more time off trail.
Sounds like you’ve found the right solution for you, and I’ll experiment with removing baskets. The straps aren’t a factor with my current poles since those are Pacer Poles (replacing the strap mechanic with a molded handle).
I haven’t considered removing my baskets until now, but with most of my hiking in the New England area, I’m concerned that after a mile of hiking without baskets my poles will be dressed with leaves.
I made a point of giving straps a fair shot before I removed them, and I vastly prefer them gone. While I think they’re absolutely necessary for skiing, I find they add little to the experience when hiking.
Haven’t thought about removing baskets though. I’ll have to give that some thought.
I also tried poles with straps for a few hikes before cutting them off. I don’t miss them at all, and I need more than that to justify the extra weight.
“I’ve never missed having baskets on my poles in 3-season conditions, making me question their entire purpose. It’s as if they solve a “problem” that does not exist.”
I find trekking baskets almost mandatory on the boggy turf covered soil in places like Scotland, Ireland and some spots in Iceland and Scandinavia. Because turf is so dense and ‘sticky’, without baskets, you’d need to pull your trekking poles out on every step. Especially when you’re going uphill and putting a lot of weight on the poles. Turf also has pockets of air and water coursing through it, which can cause your trekking poles to suddenly plunge down much deeper than expected. Very tricky on steep and slippery terrain.
During winter, autumn and early spring, the tall grass on top of the turf layer is dry and lies flat and tangled against the ground, sometimes causing the baskets to snag. But that’s a compromise I’m willing to make.
Baskets are also useful when traversing sand dunes in coastal areas, tidal flats, or wet glacial sediment, which is like walking on freshly poured concrete.
Best explanation I have heard, thanks. I almost mentioned in the post that I’ve debated baskets for Alaska’s “sponga” tundra, but it’s such a niche experience. Plus, it’s not a pure win in that instance: the baskets get snagged in the ankle-biting brush.
I’ve only used baskets when snowshoeing and they’re invaluable in snow but pretty useless anywhere else. I used to use the rubber tip covers on my poles but haven’t bothered to replace them after they wore out and I don’t miss them. I rarely use the straps but never removed them, just lazy on my part. I need new poles though so I’ll probably remove them on my new set
I am used to not using straps due to SAR training on steep snow when you can’t self arrest using your pole if you have straps on can’t quickly slide down to arrest. So I never use them in 3 season either as I move my hands around a lot to different grips for different situations & definitely no baskets.
I’m in AT territory in the SE USA.
I never even installed the baskets on my poles. The need in my area simply doesn’t exist.
I’ve yet to make any decision about the straps. Sometimes I love them and sometimes they are a pain in the arse more than anything else. I wish there was as clear of an answer about straps as baskets for this Ga boy. *sigh*
(First world problems. LOL)
Poles should start moving towards the grips with the latch on glove ring. Hook on when required. Free hold when more movement is required. Currently Leki only offers em on their trail running range.
While descending White Mtn’s west ridge in Eastern CA I had my pole straps on and as my pole got stuck between rocks and I slipped and fell the strap acted like a tether and I smashed into rocks much worse than I would have without the straps on. Lesson learned, I don’t wear straps while descending anymore!
My downhill skiing background makes me want to keep my straps on for the advantage of pushing off that Andrew mentioned, but I’m going to remove them and see if it affects my hiking much as I prepare for Hardrock 100. I have a feeling cumbersome straps won’t be missed when I’m through climbing, getting ready for a descent and go to stuff them in my pack or Running Naked waist band.
I keep the straps on but take the baskets off. I really just hate leaning over to pick up my poles, and I knock them down too frequently when resting and not using the straps. I also do hold the straps the way you show above, and I think it does prevent fatigue.
I totally remove both baskets and straps on most of my poles fir three-season use, for all the reasons you mention, Andy. One exception is a pair of Leki Nordic Walking poles that have specialized straps that provide a very positive connection and have a quick release. But these are not preferred, more occasional. With no straps I do typically carve the handles up a little to permit a comfortable top grip where my thumbs or hand can go over the top giving me a more powerful push-off without putting as much demand on my fingers. This gives me three or four easy positions that can instantly change the effective pole height without any interference from straps.
I leave the baskets on for snow covered trails but remove them otherwise. I always remove the straps. I see no need for them and I like to have the ability to drop the poles immediately if needed.
I have found that the straps get snagged on all kinds of things. I’ve also had an aggressive dog pull on the poles by the straps too – so I am a fan of removal as well. I do see the advantage to removing the baskets – but to be honest I still haven’t and that is 100% due to laziness. Will remove this weekend;)
Straps are good on a group tour, when the put-them-under-one-arm trick have a tendency to rip up the nose of the person who have accidentally sneaked in behind you.
prefer to use them with rubber tips or “tip protectors” specially on steep down slope(turns) with rocks(which metal tips would just slip off or get stuck in the ground)
straps are useful on such descends
I find that my palms often get quite sweaty while hiking with poles, and so it’s nice to be able to alternate between gripping the poles with my hands and letting the weight rest in the straps via my wrists. The latter gives my palms (and the cork grips) some added airflow to dry out and prevent chafing etc.
I haven’t made up my mind on the straps, yet. I’ve hiked with them and without them, but don’t have a real preference. The question on the straps is whether they help reduce Carpal Tunnel with poles. If I can relax my grip while using the poles, it may be a good thing. My baskets fell off after a few miles and I haven’t bothered to replace them.
i usually just a pick up a stick and use it as a walking staff. it doesn’t cost anything and i leave it behind when i’m done with it. no baskets, no straps, no worries. also you can just throw it aside when you need to use your hands for scrambling… and then find a new one later on.
I use my poles very actively going uphill on trail as well as off. Going downhill I swing the poles well in front of me, anticipating slips—they’re also especially useful for scree skiing. I’ve had my my BD Alpine CC poles for three years in very rough conditions, used almost every other day, super solid.
Though I understand the hazard of my straps, I simply couldn’t generate the power, reach or the control that I have using the straps to the max. The straps allow you to weight the pole after it has swung almost completely out of the grasp of your fingers. When your hand can only grip the pole, the pole must stay inside the limited range of your wrist tilt—more or less a 90 degree angle to your arm—and not as useful for doing anything but maintaining balance.
So— just like I unfasten the waistbelt of my pack for water crossings, I occasionally grip my poles without straps if I feel the situation warrants it. Using my poles as often and as actively as I have, I think I’ve cut way down on the incidence of issues that might persuade to remove the straps.
A few weeks ago we were postholing across snowfields up Mount Hurd in the Eastern Sierra, and it seemed to me that the snow baskets on my poles allowed me to take some small amount of weight off my feet, thus reducing the overall number of times I sank to my thighs. The baskets also made the poles much more useful in recovering from postholing.
The opinions on this subject are almost as powerful as religous beliefs, aren’t they? I only ever take 1 pole with me, to be honest. Obviously I’ve removed the strap and basket. Where I put it to use is on the descent of a peak on steep, off-trail terrain where you would be crazy not to have at least one hand free. I put it out in front of me, and it gives me another friction point so that I don’t slide more than I have to, or worse, fall.
A basket would be useless and a strap would be aggravating. If attempting to use the strap, it would be dangerous – think of falling while your tethered wrists breaks because your pole is wedged in a rocky crevice (or something equally terrible). I can’t see anyone making an argument for straps and baskets in that situation, let alone using two poles, so no, straps aren’t always the way to go, and in fact, can be harmful at times.
In a situation like you’re describing, I’m definitely not using straps. It’s like skiing in the trees — no straps. Don’t want to be tethered to a long stick if I fall. Otherwise, where the footings good and the terrain not so dicey, I’m strapped.
I use my Black Diamond telescopic poles fitted with powder baskets for alpine skiing in the winter,and fitted with trekking baskets for kiking in the summer.
I have them fitted with straps in winter and without straps in the summer
For me, straps are mostly a plus. Less pressure on the hands, and you can let go without the pole dropping to the ground. When I take photos, I just let go of the grips, pull my camera out of my Peak Design clip and shoot with the poles hanging. No worries about planting the poles somewhere so they’re easy to retrieve. Baskets, yea, I remove mine. I do agree about torquing a pole when falling. I have a pair of cheap Leki poles that survived a full body weight fall when wedged in a crevasse and strapped to my wrist. Score 1 for aluminum, but I was lucky, especially considering that I was using a trekking pole tent. I’m sure carbon fiber poles would have snapped.
No one has mentioned the risk of injury using pole straps. I have two aquaintances, both women, who fell on different occasions with their hands in their pole straps. One of them sustained a bad wrist sprain, and the other broke her wrist (on day one of her holiday!). The poles somehow twisted under them and put a large force on the wrist.
For myself, in hilly terrain I put a lot of force on my poles. I use the poles long rather like a cross country skier, for a lot of push.
Going downhill, contrary to what you said above, I shorten my poles , and when stepping down I bend my knees and put a lot of load on the poles. This is much more stable than putting your hands on the top of the poles.
For both these cases I need the straps. However on a hike in more level terrain I use the GG ultra light carbon poles with the straps removed, because the load on the poles is much less.
All my poles are twist lock because they are lighter, and I go for hundreds of miles with no shaft slippage.
Hey John, I did mention injury, but unlike your scenario, I won’t even use the straps going downhill. I have been in situations where my pole has caught in a rock and I simultaneously fell pretty hard. With my aluminum poles, I can only imagine what that would have been like with straps on.
I just hike without pants. That way I don’t need to mess with my zipper when I need to urinate and thus I don’t need to remove my hands from my pole grips.
I have a Leki Wanderfreund Seeedlock with the Aergo grip (cane style). They came with just a thin cord as a strap. I was trying to decide whether I need wider wrist straps, but from reading your posts, they may be more trouble than they are worth. Suggestions? Thanks!
My suggestion is to remove the strap.
Today, while taking a picture, one of my poles dropped off the edge of the trail and ended up about 4 feet down on a narrow ledge, one end supported by a branch. The only way I could safely retrieve it was by lying on my stomach. putting my other pole tip ( with basket ) through it’s strap. Once the basket was through, it supported the pole as I lifted it free. I’m sticking with straps and baskets!
My case for using snow baskets, was when hiking through the sierra this July with the high snowpack. One of my baskets broke, so I had one with & one without. Anytime I planted my non-basket pole, it sunk down a couple feet & put me in awkward positions especially when trying navigate across snow cups. I could never trust that pole for even the lightest support.
Baskets, no. Straps, yes. Carpal tunnel means any way to reduce the need to grip extends the length of time I can hike without pain and numbness.
I keep the straps and use them. If I’m going up a long, steep ascent, I shorten the poles a bit so that I can lean forward onto them as I step. I don’t find that they ever impede my motion or ability to use them. The straps also make it possible to ease my grip, reducing hand and wrist fatigue. If I ever feel like not using them, they’re light enough that I can just take my hands out and let the straps flop wherever.
So I never used trekking poles until recently. But as I get older and my knees get weaker, I’ve been finding them incredibly useful. I don’t always use the straps, but I don’t remove them either. I like to leave them attached just in case I do want to use them. Or maybe want to take a break, and hang them from my pack while I’m taking some photos. The baskets, I’ve never actually used. I keep them in the center console of my car. But so far that’s where they’ve stayed. I’ve never actually attached them to the polls. There have been a couple times where I put the mud ones into my pack, because the trails were a little wet. But never actually ended up putting them on the polls.
Obviously, I came here for answers to the questions of whether I should remove the mud baskets and straps from my trekking poles. After reading the article and the comments, I still have questions, but less so.
I will probably remove the mud baskets but bring them along on my next through hike. Same with the straps by removing the pin as the author mentions. Then I can test out both ways in the muddy spring when it rains.
I need my poles for my tent, steep descent, and steep ascent. With the latter two, it’s mostly because of those larger steps up or down that you are forced to take, since trails are not level terrain.
I am not one to use trekking poles all the time as part of my natural stride. Coming from a running background, it just seems like extra weight in my upper limbs. My stride is more natural and efficient without them. As I said above, however, the poles do have their place at times. But I try not to change my form when I use them. In running we called that the toilet bowl of doom. One tends to bend at the waist, you become less efficient, you use compensatory muscles, you sink lower and lower with your hips and overly flexed knees, and pretty soon you are sitting on the toilet … having burned through your muscles (and the wrong muscles) and destroying your stride.
You see most people not using their poles correctly. I have no problem walking upright , open chest, not at all crouched down as you describe. In fact , it is walking with a backpack that makes you bend forward, which I find can give me backache, and using poles counters the weight of the pack and enables me to walk straight. It is all down to technique, and I gain 0.5 mph extra speed, and an upper body workout at the same time.
I rarely use the straps but I always use the basket. I do trail patrol in wetlands area where the ground under the water is mush. One of my jobs is to measure the water depth. I’ve marked off distances on my pole. While pressing down my pole, the basket stops at the top of the mush and I can get a fairly accurate water depth. Without the basket, the pole would just sink in the mush.
On flat ground with rocks or gravel I find that baskets reduce pole vibration and the little extra weight plants the pole faster for a more efficient push off which helps me keep steady momentum. Baskets are also more efficient when crossing muddy or swampy ground.
Straps provide versatility; easier on the wrists and elbow joints, less hand fatigue, less likely to lose a pole, and better for ascending. I can see why some photographers might leave straps behind, but who says I have to drop my poles to take a leak? And if I’m pausing to eat, I’ll just unstrap anyways.
I recently acquired a set of pre-loved poles and the first I did was go out abs buy baskets for them.
Trekking poles allow me to travel about three times as far with my spinal and pauci articular arthritis. I almost always use straps since bending over to pick up an escapee would in itself be a challenge. I live in a forested woodland and open dune country with four seasons so my use of baskets is highly variable and dependent on weather and terrain. At 76 I usually use real rubber tips when in public buildings and airports which love terrazzo and marble floors. (I’ve never turned down an offer of priority boarding.) All to suggest straps and baskets probably have multiple correct answers.
Just ordered a pair of the BD ALPINE CARBON CORK WR TREKKING POLES, and looking forward to their arrival. I have been using a pair of REI branded poles for the past 15-20 years. I picked them up in as new condition for a song in a “used equipment bin.”
For trekking poles I feel that straps are a must; they allow for loading when I shorten them for technical ascents to assist in the climbs It is nice to be able to use arm & back muscles as an aid. I will also use them for the same purpose when the poles are lengthened for descending. This is what works best for me (may not work best for others).
Regarding baskets I keep the small trekking baskets on to mitigate the possibility of “plunging” into voids, or sinking far into soft substrate when loaded. They have never seemed a hindrance (no deep/fast water crossings though).
That being said, as a ski patroller for 35 years I do not run straps “on the hill.” They definitely pose a danger when skiing in trees, or in other areas where the baskets (particularly larger powder baskets) could snag on limbs or other objects. That could result in nasty shoulder/arm/wrist injuries, should they get hung up.
I appreciate the article and comments–Get outside!!!
My hiking buddies think I am weird for removing my straps. Thanks for your perspective.
Puzzled as to why someone would even use trekking poles If they don’t use the straps.
I have knee osteoarthritis, and trekking poles are a game changer for me – I put a lot of weight on the poles pretty frequently — especially on downhill stretches.
If you are putting weight on them regularly but not using the straps (i.e. relying on your grip), how do you not have forearms like Popeye?
If you’re not putting weight on them, why are you carrying them?