Do I need to use trekking poles?

This is a question we at Walk Fife are often asked by fellow walkers.

Whether to use trekking poles or not is a topic that divides opinion among hill and trail walkers alike. Some people find them to be a hinderance rather than an aide and others swear by their trusty poles and won’t hit the trails without them.

So what are the benefits of using trekking poles?

Trekking poles can provide the walker with greater stability while walking over rough terrain or through challenging weather conditions such as snow and ice or crossing a stream.

When adjusted and used correctly, trekking poles allow for a greater distribution of weight across your arms and legs and can help to lessen pressure on your spine, hips, knees and ankles helping you to avoid any aches and pains from developing on the trail.

Many walkers report that when they use trekking poles they find that their endurance increases and their posture and gait improves as well.

Some more experienced pole users have also found that they breathe more efficiently especially when on very steep trails and many have noted that through using poles, their upper body strength has increased and their range of movement has improved significantly.

Should I use one or two trekking poles?

If you are simply looking for some added stability when walking then one pole would be sufficient but you have to be careful not to twist your body especially when descending steep and uneven terrain as this can cause injuries to back and joints.

If you want to take full advantage of the benefits I have mentioned above then you really need to be using two poles.

There are lots of different types of walking poles available and it can be quite confusing as to which ones would suit you. It is important that the two poles are identical especially in the way that you hold them.

We recommend that instead of buying online, you should instead visit an outdoor store and try a few to see if they suit your body type and walking style. Buying online could lead to you buying poles that are not suited to you and lead to you possibly injuring yourself when using them.

What height should my walking poles be?

The accepted method of gauging what height your poles should be is that they should reach your outreached palm when your arm is at your side and you forearm is outstretched at 90 degrees to your body.

To get the most from your poles they should be easy to adjust when walking as this allows you to adapt them to the terrain you are covering shortening and lengthening them as you tackle each obstacle. Knowing how much you need to adjust your poles comes with practice.

Should I buy shock absorbing poles?

Shock absorbing poles have a sprung internal mechanism that helps to reduce some of the shock from the pole hitting the ground transferring up along the pole and into your body. This helps prevent tiredness and aches setting in across your joints when on a long walk. However, these type of poles are not liked everyone and after a quick survey of the Walk Fife community we found that we had a near even split of those who use them and those who don’t.

If you think these would be better suited to your needs then we recommend that it is often best to avoid the cheap shock absorbing poles found online and instead go for models that have received good reviews from other walkers and have been made by a reputable brand.

Are folding trekking poles a good idea?

Folding trekking poles are designed primarily to save space in or on you pack when not on use. The majority of these poles are lightweight and are aimed at the walker who wants to carry the minimum while on the trail.

Folding trekking poles provide the same level of support as other trekking poles but it is rare to see them with any shock absorbing features so be careful if you decide to purchase poles of this type.

As with shock absorbing poles, we recommend that it is often best to avoid the cheap folding poles found online and instead go for models that have received good reviews from other walkers and have been made by a reputable brand.

Care and maintenance of your trekking poles

In general trekking poles require very little maintenance. We recommend that after use, you ensure the individual poles sections are clean and free of any dirt and grit that may have been picked up along the trail. Do not be tempted to lubricate the locking elements of your poles as they rely on friction in order for them to lock in place.

Make sure that before you store your poles that they are thoroughly dry this is especially important for shock absorber types as they commonly have small steel parts that can corrode over prolonged exposure to moisture.

If you find that your rubber ferrule has worn away or your mud basket (the round cup-like part at the end of your pole) has broken from use, you can easily replace them by buying spares either from the manufacturer or from various online outlets that specialise in trekking pole parts.

Enjoy your trekking poles

Trekking poles are designed to make your life easier and can help many walkers enjoy more of the outdoors allowing them to reach places they previously could not while helping to improve their overall walking fitness.

If you have a suggestion of more benefits that walking with trekking poles brings the walker then please drop us a comment in the box below.

Images courtesy of LEKI © Claudia Ziegler.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Scott Angel

    Very rarely do I see hikers using poles properly. My experience has been not only two of us hiking, but also on many Sierra Club and other group excursions. Usually, hikers just plop them on the ground ahead of themselves and don’t put any pressure on them. They’re ‘just for show’ until perhaps they get to a stream crossing. Properly used on the trail, they should be planted alongside the hiker, and pressure put on them to help propel forward motion and reduce stress in knees. This is especially important for going uphill. I can remember only once seeing a hiker using her poles properly, mostly in the back of herself. I complimented her on it and she told me she had an excellent mentor who had instructed her. . .I go with Black Diamonds, and never ever get on a trail without them.

    • Walk Fife Admin

      Hi Scott
      Yes it is important that walkers learn how to use their poles properly and that is why we run regular workshops on their use. Black Diamond poles are excellent but their price is often out of the reach of the new walker which is a great pity. Good to hear from you!

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