Nov 01, 2022

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For outdoor sports like skiing and snowshoeing, the use of poles is part and parcel of your essential kit and equipment. Giving you better control on slippery surfaces like ice and snow, poles are a fantastic tool to help you maintain your balance, control, and momentum. For many hikers and trekkers, hiking poles provide these same benefits and more, particularly on challenging terrain. Despite the many pros of carrying a hiking or trekking pole (or two), not all hikers carry them or know how to maximise the many advantages that trekking poles offer.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the purpose of hiking sticks, detail how to use a hiking pole, and provide some tips and tricks to help you make the most of your poles. Before you know it, your hiking sticks will be as much a part of your hiking kit as a set of ski poles are to a skier - an essential, non-negotiable addition that makes all the difference to your performance and overall walking experience.

What is the purpose of hiking sticks?

As touched on above, the overarching purpose of hiking sticks is to provide support and give you added control when trekking or hiking. However, there are also many physiological and safety benefits that can make all the difference to your journey. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Propelling yourself forward
  • Maintaining your balance and grip
  • Getting into a steady walking rhythm
  • Redistributing weight and lightening the load on your joints
  • Spot testing surfaces, such as bog or ice

Whether you choose to use one pole or two, think of your hiking sticks as an additional limb, helping you along challenging surfaces such as loose ground, narrow paths, and uneven terrain. For any hiker carrying a heavy load on their back, poles are especially helpful for keeping your weight centred and equally distributed, which can be extremely beneficial for your back, core, and joints.

How to use trekking poles

Much like any aspect of your outdoor kit, the options for walking poles are seemingly endless. But regardless of what brand or style you choose, understanding how to use trekking poles is quite simple. Here are a few things to quickly check before heading out with your poles:

  • Ensure your poles are extended to the correct height (your arms should be in a 90-degree position)
  • Secure your poles in place
  • If your pole comes with different attachments, ensure you have selected the appropriate option for the trek ahead

Now that your poles are adjusted to your height and you’ve selected and secured the right attachment, it’s time to get trekking! Simply place your wrist through the loop (if you have them) and line your palm and fingers up with the grip - most walking poles will have a foam or rubber grip that is designed to fit comfortably in your hand and prevent slipping.

While it may feel a little unusual at first, it should not take long for you to get into a good rhythm with your walking/trekking poles. As you walk, your arms will naturally swing in the opposite direction to your legs, and your walking poles should also follow this pattern.

How do trekking poles help?

In addition to the physical and safety benefits mentioned above, trekking poles are also great for building confidence in both new and experienced hikers. Whether it’s tackling new terrain, difficult trails, or even steep inclines or declines, poles can help you to explore parts of your walk that you may have previously avoided without the added support.

Walking poles also help to engage your upper body, allowing your back, arms and shoulders to support the burden that your lower body typically endures during a trek. Because of this, many hikers also feel that walking poles help to increase their stamina over long walks, allowing them to walk for further distances with fewer breaks.

Having said all this, it is important that you keep the correct form when using trekking poles, particularly when going up and downhill – without this, you may end up tiring your body more than necessary.

Additional walking pole tips

Alongside setting up your poles correctly, there are some additional tips and tricks that can ensure you can maximise the benefits of your walking poles while staying safe. Here are a few things to keep in mind when using your poles:

  • Keep your poles close to your body/feet when going uphill - overextending may cause you to tire quickly. Where possible, propel/push yourself uphill rather than pulling yourself up.
  • On your descent, position your poles slightly wider for added balance, placing your hands over the top of the grip so that the head is central in your palm (sort of like how you might use a cane).
  • Make the most of your poles - these can come in handy for plenty of things including hanging your wet clothes to air out or testing terrain before treading over it (such as ice or deep puddles and bog). Get creative!
  • Bring additional pole attachments with you if you’re anticipating a variety of surfaces and terrains, whether rock, snow or mud.
  • Shop around – finding the right poles for you is important. Look for trusted brands, read reviews, and if possible, try them out in-store to ensure your poles are the correct height and they feel right. You’ll be likely using these for several hours, so this is an important step before committing to a set of poles.
No matter where your trekking adventures take you, the right kit can make all the difference. Walking poles are a great way to explore new areas with added confidence and security and can help you to reach new distances and hit new heights, making them a great addition for any passionate walker or hiker.
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