Make Your Own Trekking Poles

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by Ryan Jordan | 2003-09-29 03:00:00-06

Overview

The objective of this article is to provide you with a framework for making your own trekking poles, and to identify some of the considerations and pitfalls in doing so.

Types of Trekking Poles

Differences in trekking poles can be characterized primarily by:

  • Shaft material - carbon, aluminum, or wood
  • Grip type - foam, cork, rubber, or plastic
  • Tip - Rubber or carbide
  • Sections - one, two, or three adjustable sections

In this article, we discuss how to source material for and make a simple pair of one-piece carbon or aluminum trekking poles. Our motivation, of course, for manufacturing a one piece pole, is simple: keep construction simple and minimize weight.

For this project, you will need a set of shafts, a set of grips, and a set of tips.

Aluminum Shafts

If you select aluminum, a good source for it is TA-Enterprises, which stocks Easton aluminum tubing used in a variety of tent poles. The advantage to aluminum over carbon fiber is that a tight fitting ferrule can be used to join two smaller pieces together, and thus, make a two-section pole. A disadvantage of using aluminum is that for a similar weight and/or wall thickness, aluminum is subject to more bending than carbon.

If you do decide to experiment with aluminum, use a shaft having a diameter as close to, but slightly less, than 10mm, so that it slides easily (or fits snugly with the help from a little duct tape wrapped around the shaft) into standard aftermarket pole tips. TA carries poles in 13", 18", and 26" lengths having a shaft diameter of 0.380" (0.026" wall thickness), which provides a good balance between weight, bending, and durability for the ultralight trail hiker who uses poles primarily for balance and pitching shelters.

A resulting set of shafts in a 120 cm length (average size for a 5'7" to 5'9" man) will weigh slightly more than four ounces, not including ferrules. Ferrules can be used to adjoin poles sections to achieve full length, and can be made to fit tightly so the pole sections to not come apart or disassemble with JB Weld, a very strong metal epoxy glue.

Cost for Aluminum Shafts With Epoxied Ferrules: $15-30+

Carbon Shafts

For better stiffness:weight, lighter weight, or a slightly higher "cool" factor, use carbon shafts. Again, we are looking for shafts having a diameter of approximately 10 mm. Unfortunately, there are very few 10-mm diameter carbon shafts on the market that provide the stiffness and strength that are suitable for trekking poles, and the ones that are available are going to set you back a pretty penny - up to $150 per pair.

So, to address the strength issue, we can look to the fishing rod blank manufacturing industry for shafts that taper from a thick butt section to a thin tip section. The result is the ability to spec a shaft with a 9 or 10 mm tip diameter while preserving strength and improving moment during the swing with a thicker butt section. For "cheap" carbon rod blanks, try Batson Enterprises, a major U.S. supplier of graphite rod blanks of all types. Best types of blanks to use for trekking poles are going to be the butt sections of salmon rods. In a 120 cm length (you may have to cut to size), you can expect a set of shafts to weigh in at 4-6 ounces and provide more strength with less bending than aluminum tent poles.

Cost for One-Piece Tapered Carbon Shafts: $40-$80+

Grips

For the lightest possible grips, use EVA "cigar" spin fishing or pistol grip rod handles, in a 4.5" or 6.0" length. Weight of these handles are less than 0.5 oz ea and their cost is less than $10. They provide a comfortable surface for your hand. Their primary disadvantage is that you have to build your own wrist strap, which is simple enough. Simply loop the appropriate length of 1/2" to 1" nylon webbing and secure into the top of your shaft tube with a plug of 2000-pound epoxy glue. To make the trap adjustable (e.g., to accomodate insulating handwear), you can get more creative with a little sewing and a ladderloc buckle. Cork fishing rod handles in a variety of configurations also work well, and are as light as EVA. One favorite and comfortable shape among the do-it-yourselfers consulted for this article is a fly rod handle known as a "Full Wells Grip," which has fluted ends on both top and bottom for resting your hand and pulling the pole with you.

More sophisticated (and of course, heavier) grips can simply be purchased from your local sporting goods or ski supply shop. Ergonomic grips with integrated straps are comfortable and look cool, but they add up to 6 ounces to your trekking pole set. Unless you are building poles for climbing and need optimum ergonomics, we suggest you skip them, or simply go buy a commercially available trekking pole that has them. They aren't worth the added weight for this type of do-it-yourself pole kit.

To attach grips to poles, you may have to add a few to several inches of tape (duct tape works well but a masking tape with good adhesive, i.e., not painter's tape, is lighter) around the shaft to ensure a snug fit when you slide the handle over the pole (this is not usually necessary for EVA foam grips, which can be drilled out smaller than the shaft diameter and slid tightly over the shaft). Then, secure the grip to the shaft with 2000 pound epoxy glue and wipe away the excess. If your shaft remains open (as is the case when using a grip that is drilled through, you can accent the end with a plastic or metal pole end cap (available from Home Depot), or simply a plug of epoxy glue.

Cost for Grips: $10-$30+

Tips and Baskets

The easiest part of the pole assembly is addition of the tip. If your pole shaft tip has a diameter of exactly 10 mm, you can simply slide on an aftermarket pole tip (no epoxy required) that can be purchased under the brand names Leki, Black Diamond, Komperdell, or Gabel. These pole tips include a recess for adding mud or snow baskets, as well as a carbide tip. If your shaft diameter is less than 10 mm, you may have to add a few inches of tape (and some epoxy glue) to firmly secure the tip to the pole (see photo).

Cost for Tips and Baskets: $10-25+

Conclusion

Making trekking poles is a fun and simple project that you can accomplish for less than fifty bucks. Of course, you can get really fancy (and light) and spend hundreds, as well. Your homemade one-piece trekking poles will weigh, most likely, less than half as much as your existing commercial poles and you can walk the trails with the satisfaction of having made your own.

And, how to make a set of four ounce trekking poles? Use simple Spectra cord straps (try AirCore Plus), graphite fly rod blanks, and small and simple EVA foam handles (see photo). And keep your eyes peeled for commercially available sub-4-oz trekking poles using custom rolled continuous diameter carbon fiber tubing from GVP Gear, available by Spring '04.


Citation

"Make Your Own Trekking Poles," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00162.html, 2003-09-29 03:00:00-06.

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