Two years ago I decided to purchase and try out a pair of Outdoor Products trekking poles from Wal-Mart. I figured that my $20 would buy me a pair of garbage poles that might last a couple of hikes and then fall apart. They are heavy with cheesy grips, uncomfortable wrist straps, and an unreliable locking mechanism but at the end of the day they still work 99% of the time and never irritate me enough to stop using them mid hike. Mine came with a pair of rubber tips, clips for storage, and mud baskets one of which I lost. Here are some things to be aware of before purchasing these.
- Weight: My pair comes with shock absorbers and tips the scale at 26 ounces. That may not sound like a lot but consider that you have to lift those poles roughly 1700 times per mile and 13 ounces per pole adds up real quick. If you have to hang one or both off of your pack that affects your pack weight and you may already be maxing out on weight if your budget for such an essential piece of gear is 20 bucks.
- Grip: The grips on these poles are simple plastic and have a shape that is intended to mold to a hand that is holding them perpendicular to the ground. If your hands get wet from sweat, rain, or boogers this plastic grip will offer no traction. The ergonomics are off as well since you will not be planting your pole perpendicular to the ground very often.
- Strap: The wrist strap bears much of the weight as you push-off with your poles so it is important that it fits well and is made form a comfortable material. Outdoor Products has chosen to use rather thick and narrow nylon webbing and place the adjustment buckle so that it falls on the back of my wrist and rubs against the back of my hand, wrist, and randomly pushes the buttons on my watch.
- Locking Mechanism: My poles are equipped with an internal “twist lock” mechanism which uses rubber rings attached to twist actuated expanders to prevent the pole sections from collapsing under weight. I have had mine fail 3 times in the last two years. You may not think this is a big deal but if you are using one of these poles while descending with a kid on your back as his brother holds your hand you would find those three collapses very disturbing. The twist lock mechanism is prone to failure because you cannot reliably verify that it is fully locked. It also relies on rubber rings that will inevitably dry rot and break down over time. You cannot be sure of their condition which creates a situation where you know they are going to stop working but you don’t know when.
- Tips: The metal tips are not replaceable. You will inevitably wear through the tips of any trekking poles after using them regularly. Almost all trekking poles have replaceable tips and the best have tip assemblies that are designed to be weaker than the shaft of the pole. They will break away before your pole snaps. These have neither so once you have worn through them your only option is to toss on the rubber tips. They are great for rocks and pavement but almost useless on dirt so you might as well trash these poles once the metal tips wear through.
These poles do have a few advantages over some other options. While I am not sure they outweigh the negatives they are certainly worth considering.
- Anti-shock Mechanism: I like the springs in these poles, though they do make them heavier. They add a nice bounce when I lean on them and reduce vibration in the poles when I plant them. The springs do nullify some of my exertion when I am going uphill but I don’t really mind that.
- Price: I paid 20 bucks for these so who cares if they aren’t perfect. I wanted to try out some trekking poles to see if I liked them and I did. The price was right for an experiment and I am impressed that they are still holding together after 2+ years. They come with some serious drawbacks but all in all I feel like this was a good $20 spent.
- Availability: I purchased these from Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is everywhere! Not all stores are going to carry them but odds are you can find one near you that does. I have seen mine for sale at a few different Wal-Marts but it looks like they have stopped making the specific model I bought. If you are interested they make an almost identical model without the shock absorbers that is 2 ounces lighter per pair.
Outdoor Products trekking poles from Wal-Mart are cheap and easily available. They are a great option for people who want to try using trekking poles but don’t want to shell out the money. BAFX also makes a set that fit this criteria as well. They have significant drawbacks that can make them less safe and more difficult and less safe to use long-term. They are functional but these drawbacks I’ve outlined combined with the abundance of other options leave me with no choice but to give these poles 2 out of four stars.