Review: Coleman Trekking Poles

[I posted an earlier version of this page in my Climbing Mt Kinabalu blog.]

Soon after committing to my trip to Mt Kinabalu, I decided that trekking poles were in order. I ended up acquiring  a pair of Coleman trekking poles. These weren’t my first choice, but they seem to be the only ones available in Vietnam. I was after something not too expensive that would let me not only learn how to use them but also what help me decide what I really needed.

The Coleman poles are positioned in the budget segment of the trekking pole market. I looked at a large number of user comments (Amazon has a heap of them) and they were mostly very positive. The advertised features are impressive for a product in this price range:

  • collapsible (sliding, twist-lock shafts)
  • shock absorbers
  • cork grips
  • tungsten-carbide tips
  • aluminium shafts
  • removable rubber bootees (or whatever they’re called)

As I said, the reviews were good. Negative features that were mentioned included:

  • an overall ‘cheap’ feel, i.e. lack of quality
  • the bottom shaft pulls out of the middle shaft too easily and is fiddly to get back in.
  • several people said the tips come off easily [I think they may have been talking about the removable rubber feet]
  • one person said a pole bent on first use (no details)

Based on this (and the fact that these are the only trekking poles available locally!) I decided to go ahead and get them. The best of the local online suppliers is I ordered them and they arrived a couple of days later. The cost, by the way, was just over USD50 including shipping, about what I would have paid to Amazon (USD30 per pair plus shipping and duty) if they delivered to this neck of the woods, which they don’t.

They arrived a couple of weeks ago. I quickly unpackaged them and set about setting them up. No manual was supplied, but there was no rocket science involved. Sure enough, a bottom shaft pulled right out the first time I extended it. A few seconds of fiddling with the rubber expanding grommet thingy (please excuse the technical talk) and I had it back together. No biggy, but it is a poor design feature. The wrist straps were fiddly and awkward to adjust. Unfortunately I had to head off to work instead of taking off to the countryside to play with them.

The following day I took them out to my favourite trail and took them for a spin. After a bit of fumbling around (all right, a lot of fumbling around) I had them at the right length and fitted to my hands, strap in the correct position and all. I set off down the trail and within a few strides found my rhythm: left foot-right stick, right foot left stick, etc. Yeah, it was easy as long as I stayed on a straight, level and smooth trail. When I hit the first obstacles, it threw my rhythm off and I nearly speared myself through the foot. This was going to take a wee bit more practice, I thought.

Over the next week I familiarised myself with the poles. Adjusting the length was fiddly but easy enough. The one thing I found really annoying was that there was no shock absorber as advertised. Nothing. Nada. I found the jarring when using the poles on rock unpleasant. I figured, OK, I’ve ended up with a cheap Chinese knockoff of a made-in-China product. After a few days, the shock absorbers magically appeared. It turns out that after adjusting the middle shaft for length, you twist it back an eighth of a turn until it clicks. Voila! Shock absorbers! Well, I did say there was no manual.

After three months of solid use, I’ve found a number of good points and some not so good points.

  • Firstly, for somebody just getting started they’re a good first choice. They’re light, easy to use and adequate for the task. For the price you pay, they’re excellent value.
  • The cork handles were great. Comfortable, fit my hands well, nonslip even with sweaty hands and no abrasion or sore spots.
  • They’re reasonably easy to adjust but take longer than I’d like, especially with wet hands.
  • If you tighten the shafts too much, it’s a devil of a job to free them. This is perhaps the major problem with them.
  • When you collapse them, they are still too long to stow in a backpack.
  • There are lines painted on the shafts to assist you when adjusting the length, but they are already starting to wear off.
  • From the start, they had a flimsy, low quality feel to them.
  • I regularly disassembled them for cleaning, but even so there is quite a bit of scoring and corrosion at the top of the shafts.
  • I managed to bend one of the lower shafts slightly when the pole got caught between two rocks. It’s still usable but now it won’t fully retract. Th ething is that it bent all too easily.

The verdict? I don’t regret buying them. I learned a lot from them. The features you get for this price are unbeatable. If you’re in the same position as me and want an inexpensive pair of sticks to learn on, they are ideal. I think they’re also good for the occasional hiker.

However, I also recognised that they weren’t a long term proposition for me. With the treatment I dished out they weren’t going to last a lot longer. I replaced the Colemans with a pair of Lekis just before heading up Mt Kinabalu. The Colemans are still in occasional use – my wife loves them, and she’s much easier on them than I was.