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When Should I Use Trekking Pole Baskets?

Ever wonder why people bother to use trekking pole baskets? Beginner hikers and backpackers don’t realize how well they work until they actually need them. They just don’t know when they should be using trekking pole baskets.

So, when should I use trekking pole baskets? Trekking pole baskets should be used anytime you’re hiking through soft ground. They stop your trekking poles from sinking into mud, snow, sand, etc. The right basket will add additional stability where basketless poles fail.

Looking back I should have been using baskets from the start. I knew that they helped in the mud/snow, but I didn’t know when to use them. Had I just learned how to use my trekking pole baskets it would have saved a whole lot of frustration.

Unfortunately, most hikers never learn how to properly use trekking poles. After lots of broken poles and frustrating experiences I finally figured out how and when to use trekking pole baskets.

Why and When Should I Use Trekking Pole Baskets

Trekking poles usually include a small removable plastic basket screwed a few inches above the end of the pole. If you usually go hiking in nice dry weather you probably won’t even know the baskets are there. They don’t serve much of a purpose on dry hard ground.

So why and when should I use trekking pole baskets? You should use large baskets whenever you need to prevent your poles from sinking into the ground. They also protect your poles when hiking through technical terrain.

  • Mud: Ever go out on a muddy spring hike? Trekking poles are basically worthless without baskets. You risk falling and damaging your poles every time you hit a mud pit.
  • Snow: There’s a reason why ski/snowshoe poles have big snow baskets. Those wide baskets stop your poles from sinking into soft powder. When the snow is deep you need to use big snowflake baskets.
  • Sand: You probably never thought about using your trekking poles in the sand. They don’t sell dedicated sand baskets, but that doesn’t mean they won’t help. Larger baskets will provide extra stability in the sand and take the stress off your knees and calves.
  • Rocks and Roots: Ever break a trekking pole? I’m willing to bet you got it stuck in a root or rock crevice. Bigger baskets help prevent damage by keeping the tips of your poles out of the holes between rocks and root pockets.

When Should I Use Small Baskets? (You Shouldn’t!)

Small baskets are basically worthless. They just aren’t big enough to stop your poles from sinking into soft ground. There’s no way to get around it!

Personally I like to use big snow/mud baskets all year round. Other than a slight increase in weight, there’s really no downside to using big baskets. Go with 1 quality set of baskets since there’s not much of a price difference.

Since trekking pole baskets are cheap, you might as well spend the extra money on Leki’s Snowflake or Performance Basket. I really like their snowflake basket which can be used all year long. It’s lightweight and wide enough to keep you up out of the ground.

What are Trekking Pole Baskets For?

Trekking poles aren’t just about taking stress off your joints. When used properly they increase stability and provide extra traction in difficult to navigate terrain.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to get traction in soft ground. That’s where your poles baskets come in handy. Trekking pole baskets stop your pole from sinking into the mud.

Look at the knife pictured above and think about the purpose of a knife guard. The guard on a knife stops your hand from pushing forward on the blade and stops the knife from over-penetrating.

Trekking pole baskets work basically the same way. They work as a barrier stopping the tip of your pole from sinking into soft ground. Choose a wide basket if there’s a chance of mud/snow.

Using Mud and Snow Baskets

Your poles probably came with a cheap set of summer baskets. You might as well toss those into the back of your closet, because they’re basically worthless. Summer baskets just aren’t big/wide enough to stop you from sinking into soft ground.

Just pick up a nice set of snow or mud baskets(it really doesn’t matter). I like to use Leki’s Snowflake basket. They stay on my poles all year long regardless of the weather. You might look like a newb using winter baskets in the summer, but the benefits far outweigh the slight increase in weight.

There’s no reason to swap out snow and mud baskets. You can buy dedicated snow and mud baskets, but they’re basically the same. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference.

Just keep them on all year long. You won’t notice the slight increase in weight and your poles will never sink into the ground. Why deal with instability and possible damage when you don’t have to.

Baskets Protect Your Poles and Keep Them Afloat

Think about how it feels to accidentally step into a hole in the ground. Your ankle stops suddenly and the rest of your body keeps moving forward. That’s how a lot of hikers and backpackers get injured.

That’s exactly what happens to your trekking poles when they sink into the ground or get stuck on a rock/root. The tip of the pole stops and everything around it keeps moving. Something has to break and it’s probably going to be your trekking pole.

I’d be willing to bet that 90% of poles break in 3 basic ways. They break in storage/transport, you fall on them, or they snag on a rock/root. Baskets help with all three of these scenerios.

With a large basket, you won’t have to worry about your pole getting snagged on roots and rocks and the added stability reduces the risk of falling. Plus the trekking pole basket notch will help keep your poles stable in transport and storage.

You’ll save a lot of money over the life of your poles.

When to Remove Trekking Pole Baskets

Although they’re usually helpful, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to use trekking pole baskets. So when should I remove my baskets?

There are 5 main reasons why most people remove their baskets.

  • Unnecessary: I usually keep my baskets on all year round, but sometimes they aren’t necessary. Some people go their entire life without ever using baskets. If you’re sure footed and don’t care about your baskets sinking into the ground just take them off.
  • Tangle: Ever try to use big baskets in tall grass? They end up getting tangled up in the brush and vegetation. You end up having to pick grass off of your pole.
  • Weight and Bulk: If you’re using state of the art ultralight poles you don’t want the added weight of baskets. Weighing in at about .5-.7 oz your baskets can throw off the weight of ultralight poles. They also add bulk when strapping them up to your pack.
  • Drag: The additional drag is usually not that much of an issue. I’ve only noticed it when crossing rivers and hiking through tall grass. You just have to learn how to control and plant your poles correctly. It’s not hard, but it does require extra skill.
  • Less Precision: Climbing/hiking through difficult terrain sometimes requires a gentle touch. I use my poles to feel around pushing on unstable surfaces like deep mud, rocky surfaces, ice, etc. You don’t get the same feel when pushing in with a basket on.

These are all great reasons to remove your baskets, but they rarely come into play. Plan your gear around the expected terrain. If it hasn’t rained in months, you probably won’t need baskets.