trekking poles

Trekking Poles: Do You Need Them?

​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! Just kidding. 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.

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: The Pros

​Trekking poles can make you a fitter, faster hiker:

Trekking poles can make you a fitter, faster hiker:
  • ​According to a recent study, hiking with trekking poles burns 20% more calories than hiking without poles because you’re forced to engage your upper body more.
    According to a recent study, hiking with trekking poles burns 20% more calories than hiking without poles because you’re forced to engage your upper body more.
  • ​Another study found that hiking with trekking poles reduces levels of muscle damage and muscle soreness, so hiking multiple days in a row is no problem.
    Another study found that hiking with trekking poles reduces levels of muscle damage and muscle soreness, so hiking multiple days in a row is no problem.
  • ​Many hikers claim trekking poles reduce knee strain, and a 1999 study backs these claims up, saying trekking poles reduces knee strain by up to 25%. However, not everyone is convinced.
    Many hikers claim trekking poles reduce knee strain, and a 1999 study backs these claims up, saying trekking poles reduces knee strain by up to 25%. However, not everyone is convinced.
  • ​Trekking poles help you get into a rhythm while you’re hiking and allow you to cover ground as much as 10% faster.
    Trekking poles help you get into a rhythm while you’re hiking and allow you to cover ground as much as 10% faster.
  • ​They help support the weight of a heavy pack if you're on a backpacking trip.
    They help support the weight of a heavy pack if you're on a backpacking trip.
 

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​Trekking poles also make for incredibly useful tools when you’re out on the trail:

Trekking poles also make for incredibly useful tools when you’re out on the trail:
  • ​They can be used to push plants and other obstacles out of your way.
    They can be used to push plants and other obstacles out of your way.
  • ​They can be used to determine the depth of puddles or streams and when it’s time to cross a tricky stream, you can use them as supports.
    They can be used to determine the depth of puddles or streams and when it’s time to cross a tricky stream, you can use them as supports.
  • ​If you are on a backpacking trip and want to carry as little weight as possible, you can use trekking poles as tent poles when you make camp at night.
    If you are on a backpacking trip and want to carry as little weight as possible, you can use trekking poles as tent poles when you make camp at night.
  • ​Trekking poles are extremely useful for support and confidence when you’re ascending or descending steep and rocky terrain.
    Trekking poles are extremely useful for support and confidence when you’re ascending or descending steep and rocky terrain.

​Trekking Pole: The Cons

Trekking Pole: The Cons

​Trekking poles aren’t perfect for everyone or every situation. Some of the downsides include:

Trekking poles aren’t perfect for everyone or every situation. Some of the downsides include:
  • ​Using trekking poles burns more calories. Yea, we already listed this as a pro, but it’s also a con if you’re planning on doing a long distance hike without much food.
    Using trekking poles burns more calories. Yea, we already listed this as a pro, but it’s also a con if you’re planning on doing a long distance hike without much food.
  • ​If you use your trekking poles improperly you’ll end up with poor hiking posture and possibly even a sore back, but don’t worry; we’ll give you all the details on proper technique further down.
    If you use your trekking poles improperly you’ll end up with poor hiking posture and possibly even a sore back, but don’t worry; we’ll give you all the details on proper technique further down.
  • ​Trekking poles aren’t cheap. A nice pair of trekking poles can easily cost you $150 so they aren’t within everyone’s hiking budget.
    Trekking poles aren’t cheap. A nice pair of trekking poles can easily cost you $150 so they aren’t within everyone’s hiking budget.
  • ​Carrying trekking poles limits the use of your hands. It’s harder to unzip zippers, eat snacks, or pull out a map if you’re always carrying two long poles.
    Carrying trekking poles limits the use of your hands. It’s harder to unzip zippers, eat snacks, or pull out a map if you’re always carrying two long poles.
  • ​On steep inclines trekking poles can cause you to transfer too much weight to your arms and wear you out quicker.
    On steep inclines trekking poles can cause you to transfer too much weight to your arms and wear you out quicker.
  • ​Trekking poles can also damage trails by poking holes in the dirt, damaging plants, or crushing rocks.
    Trekking poles can also damage trails by poking holes in the dirt, damaging plants, or crushing rocks.

​How to Use Trekking Poles

How to Use Trekking Poles

​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:

So how do you actually walk with the poles? There are a few basic methods:
  • ​Strike the ground with your right pole as your left foot hits the ground and vice versa. This method maximizes balance and rhythm and is closer to your natural walking motion.
    Strike the ground with your right pole as your left foot hits the ground and vice versa. This method maximizes balance and rhythm and is closer to your natural walking motion.
  • ​Strike the ground with your right pole and right foot at the same time and vice versa. This method gives your legs more support and is great when you want a bit of rest.
    Strike the ground with your right pole and right foot at the same time and vice versa. This method gives your legs more support and is great when you want a bit of rest.
  • ​Strike both polls to the ground at the same time and pull yourself forward. This method can help to pull you through difficult or uphill terrain but be careful because it’s tiring.
    Strike both polls to the ground at the same time and pull yourself forward. This method can help to pull you through difficult or uphill terrain but be careful because it’s tiring.

​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!

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!

​How to Choose Trekking Poles

How to Choose Trekking Poles

​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.

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.

Height:

​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.

Weight:

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. Carbon fibre is a great option if you’re looking for maximum efficiency and have a bigger budget.

​Shock Absorption:

Shock Absorption:
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. Carbon fibre is a great option if you’re looking for maximum efficiency and have a bigger budget.

​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:

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:

​Trail End: One Pole Or Two?

Trail End: One Pole Or Two?

​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=

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=

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