Trekking poles really aren’t all that complicated. People have been using basic hiking staffs/sticks for 1000’s of years. Since the dawn of time nomadic cultures have been using poles/staffs to reduce their workload. They all work on the same basic principle with modern poles only offering slight technical advantages.
Since major manufacturing took over companies have started to add little features to give their poles an advantage over the competition. They’ve become lighter, easier to adjust and compact adding more features every year(some good, others bad).
To reduce the impact on your joints some of the modern trekking poles have started using shock absorbers to reduce the impact on your joints.
Whether or not these anti-shock devices is up in the air, but I’m gonna list a few of the main advantages and disadvantages of Anti-Shock Trekking poles.
Anti-Shock Trekking Poles Pros and Cons
Anti-shock trekking poles tend to be less jolting on your joints in tough terrain. Your gonna feel a huge difference in your elbows and wrist when hiking on hard ground.
Whether or not your poles are actually effective will depend on theconditions and environment that they are used. If you do a lot of hiking on hard dirt, gravel, asphalt/cement definitely go with anti-shock poles. Traveling through mud, snow and slush the poles will feel somewhat “mushy”.
What Makes a Pole Shock Absorbing?
Shock absorbing poles have internal air pistons, that are used to compress spring every time you put down the pole. Although shock absorbers add a little bit of weight and cost they really do help take pressure off your joints. Reducing stress on your knees, ankles, wrists and elbows is always a good thing.
You Can Always Turn Off The Shock Absorber
You can almost always turn the shock absorbing feature off your trekking pole if you don’t like it. When hiking through solid ground and hard dirt I’m gonna use the shock absorber. I only turn it off when traveling in the snow/rainy seasons.
Since you can turn the shock absorber off the only real disadvantage to them is gonna be the extra weight and cost. You’ll pay about 40 bucks more and add a few oz to shock absorbing poles.
My Favorite Shock Absorbing Poles in 2020
- Leki Micro Vario Carbon Series (On Amazon)
- Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock (On Amazon)
- Budget Option: Kelty Range 2.0 Trekking Poles (On Amazon)
The average middle-aged hiker in healthy shape really doesn’t need anti-shock poles. With a strong legs and a healthy base to work off of the added complexity really isn’t necessary. They are far better off with your standard lightweight adjustable poles.
When you use standard trekking poles do your wrists/hands get sore by the end of the day? Unless you’re driving through the ground and carrying a ridiculously heavy pack this isn’t normal. You might be a good candidate for anti-shock designs.
Older people and people with arthritic joints will feel a big difference over the course of a day. If you’re hiking on tough stable ground for days on end the anti-shock designs will take serious stress off your wrist and elbow.
Better When Traveling Downhill
I don’t have any hard evidence to back this up, but from personal experience anti-shock poles have a much bigger impact when traveling downhill.
It cushions the blow on your joints(at least a little bit) as you put your full body/pack weight on the poles. Instead of that stiff jolt as your downward motion is halted you have a gradual decrease of impact.
It’s kind of like the cushioning of an airbag as you get into a car accident. Instead of slamming forward the shock absorber slows down your momentum and impact.
Disadvantages to Anti-Shock Poles
When switching from standard trekking poles to anti-shock you will instantly feel the difference. Every time you set down the pole it feels like you’re pushing into mud.
If you’ve been using standard poles for years the extra give is going to take a long time to get used to. This can be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences.
Give You Less Stability in Technical Terrain
Shock absorbers make the sense of touch through your pole feel imprecise. This makes it much harder to feel the ground through your poles.
When traveling through rough hilly terrain you want to have as much stability as you can possibly get. Traditional no-shock poles will give you way more control.
Without shock absorbers you’ll have more feel as the ground moves beneath the pole. This slight difference in play is huge when traversing through steep rocks that could slide at any time.
Terrible in Sand Mud and Snow
There’s a reason why ski poles and snowshoe poles don’t have shock absorbers built into them. Your impact is already being slowed down by the unstable surface. Plus shock absorbers tend to lock up in freezing weather further complicating the issue.
In sand and mud your poles will feel “mushy” and pretty terrible. When the mud is slick and you really need a few extra points of contact for stabilization shock absorbers don’t provide the necessary stability.
You can always add snow and mud baskets to help you out a little bit, but these won’t make a major difference. Trekking pole baskets are gonna help keep your poles from sinking so far into the mud and snow.
Easier to Damage
Shock absorbers add one extra piece that can potentially get damaged in your poles. Poles that have internal anti-shock mechanisms built into the lower section of the poles (Leki and Komperdell) are notoriously finicky, but this makes the poles lighter.
Black Diamond’s Trail Pro Shock (On Amazon), which I occasionally use, have the shock absorber built into the handle. These are way more durable, but the anti-shock mechanism adds a few oz to the pole.
Carbon Fiber is Naturally Anti-Shock
If you’ve decided that shock absorbers aren’t for you carbon fiber poles are another option. Carbon fiber is less stiff than aluminum making them easier on the joints as you walk. Plus the pole weight reduction is gonna make using the poles much easier.