This is a key criterion. The more lightweight your pole, the easier it will be to handle and the less energy you'll use. Its weight depends on what it is made of. For occasional and regular hikers, an aluminium pole will be enough. For more intensive hikes or if you prefer a more rigid, lightweight pole, you should opt for carbon.
Number of sections:
The sections are the parts making up the pole. The more sections it has, the more compact it is once collapsed. Generally speaking, you can choose between two or three sections. Choose your pole according to the collapsed length (rather than number of sections) for storage purposes. For hikes with many stretches where you need to secure your poles to your backpack, for example when climbing ladders, you'll prefer 3-section poles.
Indispensable to ensure your pole is adapted to your height and the terrain you are hiking over, this criterion is very important. There are two adjustment system types. Clips are external. They work quickly and easily. They are also very safe since you can easily check whether your pole has been properly secured. Screws are internal, and rather harder to get used to, however they are more lightweight. You may tend to want to screw the poles up really tight to be sure they don't come loose, however you mustn't screw them too tightly, using tools for example, otherwise you may not be able to unscrew them afterwards.
First, take a look at the material used to make the handle. Plastic is a good bargain and is very rigid. It is fine for occasional to regular use, being fairly heavy and affording less than optimum comfort if your hands get sweaty. Foam is softer, as is cork. These are suitable materials if you hike regularly or intensively. These models absorb moisture and ensure a good grip even for those with sweaty hands. You do need to be careful about where you store them. For example, in some areas if you leave your poles in your garage, mice might chew on the foam or cork handles.
Handle shape is another factor that affects your comfort. There are straight, fairly smooth models, and other more ergonomic ones molded to a hand shape to ensure a better grip.
Lastly, you'll see that some poles have been fitted with grips, just beneath the main handle, making it longer. This means you can vary your hand position, which is especially useful on slopes.
Wrist loops serve two purposes. Firstly: they prevent you losing your poles or having to put them down every time you reach for your water bottle or camera. Secondly: they provide dynamic support to help you use your poles properly. This results in less fatigue and relieves your hands. Some models have padded wrist loops, again with improved comfort in mind. As for wrist loop width: the wider the loop, the more support it procures.
Some medium- and top-of-the-range models feature a clipping system to adjust wrist loop size in a jiffy. This is much quicker and easier than standard buckles.
There are two materials on the market for now: steel, for a sturdy entry-level item but which gets worn quickly, and tungsten, which is sturdier and lasts longer. In other words, you need to choose your tip depending on how intensively you'll be hiking and the type of terrain you'll be going over.
The right basket depends on the season. For summer hiking over grass, dirt tracks, rocks and pebbles, you'll need a small one. Come winter, you'll prefer a bigger basket to avoid sinking in soft terrain like fresh snow for example. Baskets are interchangeable, so you can keep the same poles for summer and winter. We do not recommend large baskets in the summer because they can catch in pebbles and cause falls.
While comparing prices, check whether the poles are sold as units or pairs. Lastly, for a full low-down on hiking poles, here are two articles of interest to you: Why walk with poles and Using and adjusting your hiking poles properly.