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How to Use Trekking Poles Correctly?

Trekking Poles

When you think about hiking - what’s the first thing to come to your mind? 

It’s probably walking in picturesque scenery and sitting by a campfire or at a small local cafe in some remote and beautiful place...

Let us take a closer look on how it all can be done in a comfortable and effort-saving manner. Walking long distances with comfort is not something an average person these days is prepared or properly equipped for. When preparing for a hike, you should think not on a scale of hours, but rather days or even weeks of walking. This will create the right mindset about what kind of equipment you might want with you. 

One such is the trekking poles. If you’re a seasoned hiker, you could just skip this 101 we’ve prepared and go check at best trekking poles and other equipment for the ultimate hiking experience.

But in case you still think you should use them, let us give you some pros and cons...

Aren’t trekking poles just fancy walking sticks?

Essentially, “Yes”. They are a product of modern technology, combined with the experience from some 10,000 years of non-stop usage by humanity all over the globe.

What types of trekking poles exist?

There are effectively 2 kinds of poles on sales today: telescopic poles and the Z-poles.

Most people prefer telescopic, for obvious reasons:

  • They are height adjustable
  • They are strong and can be used for all manner of things

Foldable Z-poles are usually not adjustable to user’s height (and should be bought based on it from the get-go), but they can take up significantly less space, be placed in backpacks and are lighter. For some people these features are crucial, hence these exist.

Poles come with a number of replaceable end-baskets. But most trekkers either stick to the original 3-season ones (that are quite sufficient for most cases) or remove the baskets totally. Oh, and the rubber point might be a good idea in case you plan on travelling on the paved road for most of the time.

So why use them?

Typical modern townsfolk are not used to walking in excess of a couple of miles per day (in total). Walking with 2 long (even if carbon-fiber light) sticks in a crowded paved street, getting into and out of transport and buildings with those is a pretty cumbersome experience and is totally an overkill.

Hiking is different to that in lots of ways: you cover great distances on foot. The roads can be neither paved nor flat as you move on, and you usually walk with a substantial back-pack of useful stuff.

This is where hiking poles start to play really well.

  1. An extra leg
    When you walk with a fully packed backpack - it's always your legs that take on most of the load. Even if you distribute the load in the most effective manner, so that your back takes least stran possible, you still gonna use it a lot to simply keep up straight on uneven terrain over many hours of travel. And what about your arms? With no hiking poles all the do (except for keeping your balance of course) is really just add weight to your back and the legs! 

    Hiking poles are the means to have your arms take off a part of that load. 

    With the poles they go from being an extra burden to actively relieving the other parts of your locomotor system from a few lbs of weight with every step you make. Although this may not seem much at the beginning of your hike - this little aid adds up over many hours. So that by day 3 of your journey you would really feel the difference of having them with you. 

  2. An extra grip to the ground
    But the poles are not just about better load distribution. Remember that it will not always be a paved or flat road you’ll be going up:

    • Scaling uphill and downhill, 
    • Crossing wild grass hills 
    • Streams with wet slippery sones
    • Moving up gravel and rocky ridges
    • Walking autumn-leaves cover forest

    Those are environments that a seasoned hiker is quite familiar with. And having your nice rigid and light trekking poles with you gives you both a good gripp to the ground below (better than your boots might provide you with) and essentially two extra fulcrums in case you lose your balance. And we didn’t mention traversing all of the above with a heavy backpack that shifts the center of mass your body has gotten used to. And doing that after the recent rain that got all the grass and stones and mud wet and slippery… Well, you got the idea. Two extra fulcrums are great when you need them!

    It not happen to you over many years, but you never know when a strong, rigid and light stick might come handy. Perhaps you really want that might-be-poisonous snake out of your camp (better to wait for it to get bored and leave, of course, but sometimes you might be in a desperate hurry). Or you want to build a quick tent and need two poles to hold it up. Or you are all nice and comfy sitting by the campfire, and just can’t be asked do get up and walk those 3 feet towards your back-pack. Well, lucky you! Humanity's easily one of top-10 inventions of all times (a stick) in its top-engineered form is at your disposal!

How to use trekking poles in the correct manner?

We’re not saying it's’ “as easy as walking”, but close enough. At the beginning of your journey make sure that your poles are of equal length and are extended to such a length that when you stand up straight and hold them by the handles - your elbows are at 90 degrees angle. As simple as this. Unless you plan on trekking long distance downhill today - you do not want the poles too long, as every move will take a little extra effort. Similarly, unless you plan going uphill most of the day - you do not want them too short, cause you’ll miss out on some of that leverage. 

Another important point is straps. If not put on correctly they can be a potential hazard to your wrist if you happen to fall on it. The sure safe way to wear these straps - is run your hand up from the center of the pole, and let it slip into the strap naturally before gripping on pole’s grip.

There is really no correct or wrong way to use the properly adjusted trekking poles. Just start walking the way you normally would, and in short time your body will instinctively adjust and start using the poles you’ve kindly provided it with in a most efficient and weight-relieving manner. This happens almost automatically, same as walking itself.

Trekking Poles

And remember: if our arguments leave you with some doubts of whether to buy these excellent devices for your next trekk - you could always rent a couple and see for yourself if they will make your journey better and more relaxed. In any case - happy trails!

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