To say the use of trekking poles is a controversial issue among hikers is probably an understatement. They’re hiking’s love-hate issue, with passionate arguments emanating from both sides (just check out this entertaining debate over at Slackpacker).
Now, you might think they’re a cumbersome, unnecessary waste of money, or that they make you look silly – and you’d be right!
In fact, most people who give them a try quickly realize they’re worth every penny and every weird (jealous?) look you get (we actually think they make us look pretty cool to be honest, but maybe that’s just us..).
Let’s dive straight into the pros and cons of trekking poles so you can determine if they’re right for you and when it’s best to use them. Then, we’ll talk about proper trekking pole technique and how to choose a decent pair.
Trekking poles can make you a fitter, faster hiker:
Trekking poles also make for incredibly useful tools when you’re out on the trail:
Trekking poles aren’t perfect for everyone or every situation. Some of the downsides include:
You may think using a couple of sticks to walk sounds pretty simple, but there are a few important things to know in order to implement proper trekking pole technique.
First things first, you need to make sure that your trekking poles are at the correct height. Most trekking poles have two points of height adjustment that connect three different parts of the pole.
Adjust the top two parts so that they are even in length and then adjust the bottom part so that the pole is at the desired height. Normally you’ll want the height to be such that your elbows make a ninety degree angle when the tips of the poles are on the ground.
You might want to adjust the height as you hike: shorter poles for uphill sections or sections with a lot of obstacles and longer poles for downhill sections. Use the top adjuster to tweak the height in response to changing terrain.
It’s also important to make sure you’re using your wrist straps properly. Your straps should be tight enough that when you put your hands through them and hold on to the handles, more of your weight is going through your wrists into your straps than through your hands into the grip. This will go a long way toward keeping your hands comfortable and healthy.
So how do you actually walk with the poles? There are a few basic methods:
When advancing a pole simply lift it slightly off the ground, gently flick it forward with your wrist, and gently touch it to the ground again. The goal is to use as little energy as possible. If you’re in more difficult terrain you might need to apply more force to the poles but don’t overdo it!
What should you look for when buying trekking poles? It’s just a couple of sticks right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The main factors you need to think about when shopping for trekking poles are height, weight, and shock absorption.
Just about all modern trekking poles are adjustable but they vary in their maximum height. If you’re over six feet tall then we recommend you buy poles with a maximum height of at least 51 inches. If you’re under six feet tall then most trekking poles should have a setting that will work for you.
The material the trekking poles are made out of determines their weight. Trekking poles are usually made from one of two materials: aluminium or carbon fibre.
Aluminum is slightly cheaper, slightly more durable, but slightly heavier. This means that you’ll spend a bit more energy using them but they are better able to support you in rough terrain. These carbon fibre poles (link to Amazon) are a great option if you’re looking for maximum efficiency and a decent budget option.
Some trekking poles are sold with internal shock absorption which can be great if you suffer from sore joints but it will add a few ounces and raise the price. Here’s a great explainer from REI:
Yes, this whole article has been about trekking POLES, but some hikers prefer to use a single pole often called a hiking staff. It’s really all about personal preference but a hiking staff is most useful when stability is more important than balance and speed, such as on a difficult summit. =ZIP=