Choosing the best trekking poles involves more than simply selecting ones you like the look of. Instead, we recommend focusing on the grip and what it’s made from. Two of the most popular materials are cork and EVA trekking poles, but which is best?
Cork is generally regarded as being the best choice when it comes to trekking poles. However, that is not to say that EVA grips are poor. Instead, both have their place and are capable of providing you with what you need, depending on things like trail length and hiking conditions.
But to help you decide on which option is best for you, it’s best to look at both cork and EVA grips in detail. Below, we explore the pros and cons of both materials and offer some recommendations for the best brands to choose from.
Table of Contents
While EVA grips are good, there are some potential problems for those that choose this material for the grip of their trekking pole over cork. It’s certainly the case that EVA is better in some areas than cork, but the reverse is also true, so it’s important to consider your specific needs.
EVA is certainly more durable than cork, and considering you are using the grip of the trekking pole on a constant basis, knowing that it will last is important. It’s also less expensive to manufacture than cork, so those two points do come across as potential reasons EVA is better than cork for trekking poles.
This is because EVA is basically foam, though you should be aware that we are talking about a special type of foam, and not your basic stuff. This foam is built to last,and that is why it is making its way onto more and more trekking poles.
One thing you don’t want from your trekking poles is for them to be heavy in your hands. Anything that can reduce their weight is a good idea, and that is where EVA is going to win.
This material is exceptionally light, and it hardly adds anything to the overall weight of the pole. However, don’t think it means that there’s nothing to the grip just because it weighs very little. That is certainly not the case.
Due to it being softer in nature than other options, EVA is fantastic as a shock absorber. You are setting that trekking pole down on all different sorts of terrain, but you won’t always be looking at where you are placing it.
That means you hit stones and all types of surfaces, and that sends shockwaves up the pole and into your hands.It can also affect your knees and hips, so anything that prevents those shockwaves is a welcome addition to your hiking equipment.
EVA handles stop much of that shock energy from transferring into your hands and arms. This in turn will prevent your arms from tiring as fast. This is not something that other grips can do effectively, and it’s a good reason EVA can indeed be better than cork.
However, that is pretty much where it ends when looking at reasons EVA could be better than cork for trekking poles. So, are cork handles better?
Cork handles are widely regarded as being the best material when it comes to handles on trekking poles. However, it’s all thanks to the way in which the cork manages to operate in all sorts of conditions, making cork a very well-rounded material for trekking poles.
Your hands will sweat when you hike, and if you’re hiking regularly then you’ll probably be walking in the rain from time to time as well. So, the fact that cork wicks away moisture quite easily is key. It means you won’t run the risk of losing your grip on the handles under harsh conditions.
But there’s another factor to the water-wicking properties of cork. When there’s less moisture on your pole’s grip, it means your hand doesn’t slide around on it as much. This means that you will be less susceptible to blisters on your fingers and palms over the course of the hike.
Cork has a wonderful ability to effectively mold to your hand over time. It can take a few months, but eventually your hand will fit perfectly into the grip.
That is because the pressure you apply to the cork over time will lead to it slowly changing its shape. That leads to you having better grip no matter the conditions or terrain. Basically, your cork grip becomes unique to you.
Cork will not make your hand sweat as much as EVA. By not producing as much moisture through sweat, you will maintain a better grip, making your hike much more pleasurable.
This all leads to you having a better and safer grip with cork handles. The fact it molds to your hand effectively means you have a unique grip that is only perfect for you. Add in no moisture being held in the material, and your grip will be safe and secure at all times. Not absorbing moisture, which also includes rain or snow, means your grip is not going to diminish even in poor conditions.
Cork vs EVA Trekking Poles
Both cork and EVA handles have their own real benefits, but in a direct comparison between the two, why is it that cork often comes out on top?
Your trekking poles need to cope with whatever the elements can throw at them, and they need to do so without affecting their performance. Cork is the best solution here as it doesn’t allow water to permeate the material.
By stopping water getting in, you will maintain good grip even in terrible conditions. This is important as it is in those conditions that you really need your trekking poles to really be on your side. So, in this case, cork is the clear winner.
If you want something that will last for years without wearing away, then EVA does win in this regard. Cork is tough, but it will start to show some wear and tear the more you use it. Cork will start to degrade quite quickly once that process has begun.
EVA doesn’t have the same problem. It’s made to last, and it’s not going to wear away much, no matter how much you use your trekking poles. So, if you just want something that will last for a long time, then EVA is your best option.
Cork is better at dealing with moisture than EVA. That means you will be able to maintain a better grip at all times even if your hands are covered in sweat, or wet thanks to rain.
This is all thanks to those wicking properties of cork, as the moisture is not absorbed into the material. EVA cannot perform as well in this area.
That changes how comfortable the poles feel in your hands, and that makes a difference on any hike of any length. Cork grips work well in both hot weather and poorer weather conditions, whereas you cannot assume the same from EVA.
As EVA is less efficient at absorbing moisture, it leads to greater abrasion against your skin, and that leads to blisters. Cork is the better option as it is rare for these grips to lead to blisters. If you get blisters on a regular basis, then you may want to change your poles or grips. Blisters do not take long to form and can last for weeks.
From the two options, cork is the most effective grip, and has more advantages over EVA. It may not be the cheapest option out there, but it can really increase the quality of your hike.
We aren’t saying that there’s not a place for EVA grips. It’s just that cork is the most popular due to its effectiveness, and the way it deals with anything nature throws at it makes it stand out from any other option. But what are some of the best options for each type of trekking pole?
First, we have trekking poles by Black Diamond, and they are an excellent example of what is possible with cork poles. They are telescopic, with the pole then locking into place for extra safety, and the shaft itself is made from aluminum. That means they are relatively lightweight in nature, yet still very well built.
But it’s the cork grips that make these trekking poles stand out. They are ergonomically designed, so they start off being pretty close to how you would want to grip your poles before your hands start to mold them further.
This makes these poles very comfortable, but do note that they do not collapse down to as small a size as some other poles on the market. However, that’s the only thing we can find wrong with these trekking poles, and they are pretty impressive!
These poles are made from aluminum, and they are telescopic rather than being a folding pair of trekking poles. However, what we love about these poles is the way they incorporate a shock absorber into the poles as well as the handles. Ultimately, it leads to something more comfortable to use, and it’s much less tiring on your hands and arms.
Do note that these poles are heavier than most, but don’t let that put you off trying them. Considering you will feel less impact when putting them on the ground, this extra weight can be worthwhile having in your trekking poles.
The grips are crafted from cork that has been ergonomically designed, so they fit perfectly in your hands without too much effort. The hand ties also do a good job of keeping your hands in place, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue with cork being the main component of the handles.
The locks on each section can become damaged over time. However, this is a common problem with telescopic trekking poles, and it’s not something that is limited to this particular brand.
Our other two cork options have used aluminum as the material for the shaft, but this model by Black Diamond has carbon fiber as its core. They are also telescopic in nature, making them highly portable.
These poles are suitable for a variety of terrains, and also in a number of different conditions. They feel very well put together, and their carbon fiber composition means they are exceptionally light as well.
The surprising thing with these poles is that there’s no real sense of it flexing even when put under extreme stress. That gives you more confidence in using your trekking poles, and they will support you even in the most difficult of conditions.
The best EVA poles are also from Black Diamond. Being made of carbon fiber, they are lightweight and sturdy. These poles fold down rather than being telescopic, so they can be compressed to a much smaller size. However, these poles are still very strong.
The grips are good on these poles and they are made from high-quality EVA. This means they are rugged, and in fact the grips are perhaps more durable than the poles themselves.
The only problem is that carbon is more fragile than other materials. This means they can struggle when excessive pressure and weight is applied to them. However, this won’t be a problem with proper use.
2. Gossamer Gear LT5
These trekking poles come with an EVA handle, while the shaft itself is made from carbon, so the poles in general are exceptionally light, weighing less than 11 oz. These poles are telescopic and come with a strong twist lock to set them into place.
But be aware that while the handles are durable, the poles themselves are not as durable as some other options on our lists. They are very well made, but are slightly more fragile than other options.
However, the grips are extremely comfortable on these poles, and the fact they are so light is another huge advantage. They could be the perfect option when it comes to long hikes on fairly easy trails.
3. REI Co-op Flash Carbon
REI is another well-known name when it comes to hiking equipment, and their Co-op Flash Carbon poles are an excellent example. The shaft is made from carbon, so it keeps weight to an absolute minimum, and the EVA foam for the handle adds almost nothing to the overall weight.
This means the pair of poles weigh some 13.6 oz in total, so while they are not the lightest of poles, they are still pretty light compared to lots of options out there.
The foam grips do a fantastic job of dealing with any impact from using the poles. This is certainly something you want on rougher terrain as it will help your arms and even your knees since it stops them dealing with some of that energy. They are telescopic, so adjusting the height is easy.
Overall, these trekking poles are a wonderful choice, and while they are not as tough as other options out there, they still outperform many trekking poles on the market.
Even though both cork and EVA are the most popular materials used for the handles of trekking poles, they are not your only options. Another option, which is not as popular, is rubber. While it has its advantages, there are a number of clear disadvantages as well.
Perhaps the main disadvantage, and its largest one, is that rubber grips are just not as comfortable as either cork or EVA. They are cheaper than the other options, and that is undoubtedly reflected in the quality of the actual grip.
They often feel too hard in your hand if using them for an extended period of time. Also, you should expect to get some blisters with rubber grips on long hikes. They tend to create a significant amount of friction, and it’s easy for you to pick up some injuries and damage to your fingers. So, while rubber is an option, it’s something we advise against using.
While both EVA and cork offer fantastic solutions as grips on your trekking poles, cork is the better option. It’s comfortable, and does not absorb moisture from your hand, or the rain, mist and snow. This makes it a more suitable option for those who hike regularly, and for longer treks.