More and more people are becoming aware that using a pair of walking poles, will benefit your walking, however there are many, both young and old who still view them as an irritant with no potential benefit.

So what do walking poles do?

Simply put, it turns your body into 4 wheel drive! Using poles will reduce the accumulated stress on the feet, legs, knees and back by an estimated 8,877+ kg (31,500+ lb) per mile. It does this by sharing the load, helping with balance, improving posture and always providing three points of contact with terra firma.

Basically if two trekking poles are used effectively it:

  • Increases speed
  • Provides extra stability
  • Reduces fatigue and
  • In turn can increase the distance traveled in a day
  • Provides an upper body work out too
  • Allows you to walk looking up at the view and NOT down at the ground!

Anyone who is not sure about the value of using poles need only borrow a pair, load up a pack and walk for half an hour. Then carry on for another half an hour without using the poles. Your body soon tells you to use poles!

Pole Length

It is worth mentioning that the pole length should be set within the manufacturers guidelines.

There is some debate about what length poles should be set. Some folk say you should adjust the length of your poles according to the terrain, as descending (longer) and ascending (shorter) requires a different length. Some poles have long handles to accommodate you moving your hand up and down the pole rather than changing the length.

However, we generally set the poles at one length and leave them. Our preference is to have the hand section in the grip of your palm when your arm makes a right angle to the ground (Forearm parallel to the ground bent at the elbow) but others advise having the top of the pole 2 to 3 inches below your armpit.

What does become apparent is that you accommodate to the poles if needs be.

Wrist Straps and How to Use Them 

Hold the strap and let the pole dangle beneath it. Then place your hand up through the strap and form a large 'O' with the thumb and forefinger. Then slide it down around the handle of the pole.

When you apply downward pressure to propel yourself forwards, it is transferred not from your tight grip on the pole handle, but from the tension applied between the wrist and strap. Therefore keep in mind you may need to adjust the strap to apply the correct tension.

Thus as you get into a stride, your poles become an extension to your wrist flow, and ark beneath your hands accordingly at approximately 45 degrees making contact with the tips and transferring the energy into forward propulsion. The poles shouldn't become upright at 90 degrees when walking, as you are now effectively 'carrying' the poles, rather than transferring the weight and energy to the contact point with the ground.

When descending you simply slip your hands over the top of the pole for support and stability. The pole now will be gripped between your finger tips as it swing forward to find the next contact point. A slip, or sudden downward pressure will be taken by an upright pole and hopefully, prevent serious injury.

Because you are holding the pole with your wrist through the straps, if you slip and fall at any time, you can let go of the pole and place your out hands in front of you thus not getting finger injury.

In ascents you will probably find it best to grip the handles and use the poles to propel you forward and up. Sometimes when climbing we will push off with both poles like a cross-country skier but generally we walk or run with the poles alternating with the legs. So left pole and right leg forward. The poles should swing through almost as an extension to the arm and it doesn’t take long to feel completely at home with them.

Other nifty uses for trekking poles!

  • They can double as tent or tarp support using either a 14mm link or 16mm tube (saving weight elsewhere)
  • Hanging clothes or shoes to dry (easy with some cord and 2 pegs)
  • Protection from animals
  • Testing the depth of bogs or streams (vital all year round)
  • Photo “mono-pod” as some have a camera attachment 
  • To make sure nothing is hiding under rocks or leaves (like snakes) when you sit or make camp

Personally (like the use of trail shoes) we now feel we are not completely in control of our walking if we hike without poles. In fact we are also now using them when running for an all over workout, fast ascents and much more stable and quicker descents. The saving on knee pressure is noticeable and although we have a few smiles from other runners, they tend to disappear when we leave them standing on the long climbs!