How to Use Trekking Poles
Trekking poles can prove to be an essential accessory for hikers, trekkers, and backpackers, especially when the trail is long and uneven. Apart from enhancing stability and confidence on a demanding hike, trekking poles make it easier for hikers when they are on the trail.
However, not all hikers use trekking poles. The more conservative adventurers tend to put all their trust in the legs to carry them through the journey.
If you’ve never gone hiking before, you might be wondering whether trekking poles are necessary; and if so, how do you even use them?
Well, trekking poles are extremely crucial to hikers; but you can’t know this if you’ve never used them before. That’s why in this post, we’ll be looking at trekking poles as an essential piece of hiking equipment and how to use them.
Choosing the Right Poles
Trekking poles come in all shapes and sizes; so, before purchasing a set, you need to ensure that it will be the right fit for you.
Consider the kind of hikes that you’ll be taking on, your height, weight, level of fitness, as some of the aspects to help you make an informed decision.
The trekking poles you end up with should simplify your experience on the trail and make you more comfortable during the entire time.
When you ask hiking professionals at the store how to operate the poles, you might get variable information because after all, they are applicable in a number of ways.
Think of the many ways these convenient pieces of gear can benefit your trekking and you might have a different answer yourself.
What is the Right Length for a Trekking Pole?
If the trekking poles are going to keep you stable during the hike, you want them to be at such a height that allows your elbows to be at a right angle when the tip is touching the ground next to your foot.
This offers the best support for the times you want the poles to bear your weight for enhanced stability.
Adjustable poles come calibrated in centimeters to help you adjust the pole to the most comfortable height depending on the terrain you’re hiking on.
You’ll want to shorten the poles on uphill climbs and lengthen them when you’re going downhill.
Most of these poles come in a range that will feet people between 5 and 6 feet tall.
But you can always find longer poles if you’re beyond this height range. Fixed-length poles will only be suitable if the ground you’re hiking on is relatively level.
Adjusting the Pole Length
If you’re using adjustable poles for your hike, it’s crucial to know to make the appropriate height adjustments when needed.
Using wrongly adjusted poles can be a burden to your arms, shoulders, neck, and even back, making the hike an unforgettable experience. The following is how you adjust the pole height depending on the nature of your hike:
For general hiking, you want the pole adjusted to a height that when you hold the grip with the tip next to your foot on the ground, your elbow makes a 90-degree angle.
This is the appropriate length for hiking in flat terrain. If your poles are designed with three sections, it helps to adjust the top to be in the middle of the adjustment range and the bottom adjustment to a height that ensures your arm is at the right angle.
This way, you can only use the top adjustment to fine-tune your pole length when you want to make adjustments during the hike.
For distant uphill hikes, you can lessen the height of each pole by 5-10cm so that you have more leverage and more stable pole plants. The steeper the gradient, the shorter your poles are supposed to be.
The poles will ease the strain and fatigue on your shoulder as you move uphill and your shoulders should remain in a natural position during the whole time.
They shouldn’t be lifted to make you feel like someone is pushing them into your backpack straps. If that’s the posture you’re in, shorten the poles even further.
For long descents downhill, lengthen the height of your poles by 5 to 10 cm from the original height for hiking on flat ground.
This will keep your frame more upright for improved balance.
Finally, if you’re hiking on a long and meandering section, you’ll need to keep on shortening and lengthening the poles relevantly based on the slope you’re on (upward or downward) to keep your comfort and stability at optimal levels.
Adjusting the Wrist Straps on your Poles
A wrist strap is an important feature on your poles that unfortunately, not many people take seriously, and this is even if they know how to use it in the first place. If used correctly, the straps can go a long way to prevent sprained wrists and aching hands.
To adjust the strap length, pull out the tension block and pull the loose end if you want to tighten the strap.
Once you’ve attained the desired tightness, you can push the tension block back in place.
Using the Wrist Straps
Insert your hand through the strap from the bottom so that it rests comfortably around your wrists.
Grasp the grip of the strap with your hand for a tight fit; loose straps are a common mistake among hikers.
A correctly adjusted strap should be tight enough to support the weight of your hand while holding the trekking pole, but not too tight that it suffocates circulation to the hand or restricts removing your hand.
Walking with the Poles
There is no standard right or wrong way of using poles during a hike, as the nature of the terrain keeps on changing. However, various ways make for a more effective application of the poles.
Most hikers use their poles wrongly, by bending their elbows while planting the pole tip slightly in front of their foot for support.
The more effective way would be to maintain your arms at a fairly neutral position (slight bend) and let your shoulders propel you forward.
Gripping the Pole
You should grip the pole in a relaxed way that allows it to rotate back and forth between your thumb and forefinger.
Usually, the handgrips are angled to assist with this.
A relaxed grip ensures that you use minimum effort to flick the pole forward with every step that you take.
To get yourself used to the right grip, try holding the pole between the thumb and forefinger without involving the other fingers. A tighter grip will only tire your fingers and wrist.
Don’t worry about uneven ground and unstable surfaces, your fingers will instinctively tighten the grip on the pole whenever you feel you’re going to slip or losing stability for a moment.
What’s the Right Arm Motion?
Your elbows should be kept close to your side as you use the poles while walking. In every step you make, flick the pole on the opposite side forward using a small upward motion of your forearm or just a simple flick of your wrist.
A loose grip allows for a smooth forward pivot for the pole. Meanwhile, the motion of the opposite leg/arm is also crucial. If you bring the leg on the side of the pole flick forward, you’ll end up with an awkward and swaying gait.
This is something that you’ll need to practice until it comes to you naturally.
Try dragging the poles behind you with a normal gait and you’ll notice that you fall into the opposite leg/arm pattern.
At this point, you can raise the poles to the point where the tips touch the ground with each step. Don’t plant the pole tip firmly on the ground. This will allow your arms to move back and forth naturally as you walk.
Any forced exaggeration of your arm motion will end up in an awkward and unnatural walking gait. Also, remember to adjust the poles to maintain an angled elbow when the poles touch the ground.
Planting the Pole
To maintain your stability, the tip of your pole should be planted lightly. It only needs to remotely touch the ground before you push it forward again with your next step.
But if you want to get a little upper body exercise, you can bear down on it just a little bit.
This will add a bit of thrust on climbs or act as a braking action when going downhill. When using a push technique, ensure that you’re applying pressure back and down.
Sometimes, you may want to plant both poles on the ground at the same time. This will become imminent when you’re going downhill, uphill or negotiating curbs.
You can employ the swing and drop technique whereby you flick both poles forward simultaneously then take a couple of steps forward before planting the poles back on the ground together.
The cycle is repeated and the poles planted when you feel that you could use them for stability.
When you’re going downhill, it would be wise to loosen the straps or just get your hands out of the straps entirely. This is because the straps can get tighter as the slope angle reduces and choke your hands.
Lengthen the poles by 5-10 centimeters and instead of planting the poles next to your feet on each step, plant them slightly ahead for a bit of braking action.
Continue your way down using baby steps while keeping your knees loose and maintain the poles ahead of your body. If the gradient of the climb is too steep, you can try zigzagging back and forth across the trail if it is wide enough to allow.
This will reduce the struggle and take it easy on your spine. For enhanced stability going downhill, plant both trekking poles on the next lower step then step down. Never let your poles get behind you.
When climbing a steep slope, shorten the length of the pole by 5-10cm. You should be using the pole to push off and not help to pull yourself up; as such; avoid planting the tip in front of your lead foot.
If you plant the tip too far ahead, you’ll end up using your energy to push the pole downward as opposed to backward.
Also, remember to maintain the poles reasonably close to your body for better efficiency.
Making a Turn
When negotiating a turn, ensure that your poles remain at the sides instead of crossing them in front of your body. Otherwise, you might end up tripping yourself.
Trekking poles can play an important role when you’re hiking in a trail with many obstacles. For the different obstacle that you may encounter on your trail, this is how you use your trekking poles to overcome them:
Stream Crossings- Trekking poles will enhance your stability when you try to wade through water. Ensure that every time you plant your pole, it is firmly secured on the river bed before making a forward step. Lengthen the height of your poles if the water is too deep.
Puddles- You can simply maneuver your way around puddles if they are small enough or pull a mini Olympic “pole vault” move if you’re too lazy to go around.
Do this by planting the poles on both sides then hopping over to the other side. Take care not to swing too hard to damage the poles.
Large Rocks and Boulders- If you want to get up and over large rocks, use the poles to give yourself a helpful push. Plant both poles on the floor as you step on the rock then push down on them to get the thrust up onto the rock.
Logs- If you want to step over a log, plant the poles for stability to cross over to the other side. If you have to walk along a log to avoid a puddle, use them to enhance your stability by spreading out your arms (the same way tightrope walkers do with a long pole).
Sitting Down or Standing Up
Trekking poles also become helpful when you want to switch your position from sitting to standing or vice versa. Your poles can provide a little assist when you want to stand up.
Plant the pole on the ground in front of you and position your hand on the tip angled backward.
Use this to give yourself a pull as you stand up. In the same way, you can use the poles to get better balance as you sit down. Grip the poles on the shaft with both hands and as you sit, plant them on either side of your body for more stability.
Using the Poles to Enhance your Hiking Pace
If you want to pick up the pace during a slow hike, you can ease your arms and do with a little shoulder action into the poling movement, with the pole tip planted slightly behind you.
By planting the pole slightly behind you with each step, you can get a little extra propulsion forward. It’s similar to the Nordic walking technique.
Using the Poles for your Tent
Trekking poles can be versatile when on a camping trip and even be used for purposes other than hiking. Some lightweight tarps and tents will usually require trekking poles for appropriate pitching.
If you’re camping with one of these, make sure that you have the relevant poles to work not only for you but also for the tent.
In most cases, adjustable poles work best for tents since you can adjust the length for easy installation.
What is the Best Bag to Carry when Using Trekking Poles?
A backpack serves as the ideal luggage bag when you have to carry more than essentials when hiking with trekking poles.
It helps to keep the load out of the way as you swing your poles back and forth.
Find daypacks that have been appropriately designed for commuting and make sure that it has enough capacity for all your supplies.
What are the Benefits of Trekking Poles?
They Make Uphill Climbs Easier
Climbing steep slopes during a hike can be challenging for your legs and uncomfortable for your lungs. Trekking poles help to engage the upper body muscles, relieving some of the stress to your legs.
You exert leverage as you push off with the poles and find your way up the slope more easily.
Using trekking poles to maintain balance on uneven ground, instead of just stabilising your body and legs helps you to save significant energy.
Reduces Stress on your Knees Going Downhill
Your knees feel much better when you’re using trekking poles to descend steep slopes than when you’re doing it using your legs alone.
This is because trekking helps to spread the strain to your arms and upper body rather than your knees taking all the brunt.
You’ll also be able to move faster and more comfortably with much less exhaustion. Remember to plant your poles in front of you when descending to create some braking action and have a more efficient descent.
Manage Slippery Slopes
Stability is crucial when you have to find your way through a slippery trail. Trekking poles help you to take more natural and relaxed strides because they enhance your balance on tricky surfaces. Snowy conditions will need a lot of energy just for you to maintain an upright posture while hiking but with trekking poles, you’ll be eliminating some of this pressure. They play the same role in wet and muddy conditions. Hiking in slippery conditions with trekking poles reduces the likelihood of falls, which may end up in injury and cut short your outdoor adventures.
Trekking poles can also be useful when you want to pick up the pace on the trail. This goes a long way to benefit your lungs by increasing the uptake of oxygen without you spending too much energy. The workload, in this case, is spread across different muscles in the body and not just your legs.
Another benefit of trekking poles is that they’ll improve your posture on the trail, especially if you are carrying a load on your back. They help you to be more conscious of being upright during the hike. Often, there is a natural tendency to slump forward when going uphill, which will shift your center of gravity and make you more prone to stumbling on uneven terrain. With trekking poles, your body posture remains more upright so that you can use your shoulders and arms to propel yourself up the slope without struggling.
Important Features to Consider on Trekking Poles
For you to get the most out of your trekking poles, you must find the right fit when you go to buy a set. There are various aspects of the trekking poles you’ll need to consider if you’re to take home the appropriate gear for the hiking adventure ahead. These will include:
The pole shaft’s construction influences the overall weight of the trekking pole, as well as its durability down the line. In most cases, the two materials used for trekking pole shafts are aluminum and carbon. Aluminum is a cheaper and more durable option. It does not break, rather, it tends to bend or warp under pressure, so repairs are easier. However, it is also the heavier of the two. Carbon, on the other hand, is lighter than aluminum but also the more expensive alternative. It tends to break under high stress, which makes it less durable and more difficult to repair. Depending on the trail you’re hiking on, you might have to choose between these two options.
Pole grips are made with different staffing materials, which affect the kind of grip you get when using the trekking pole on the trail. The common grip materials used are cork, foam, and rubber. Cork is the most practical of the bunch; it wicks moisture from sweaty hands and decreases vibration when walking. Foam absorbs the moisture and has the softest feel. Meanwhile, rubber insulates your hands from the cold, vibration, and shock but it is likely to chafe sweaty hands.
All trekking pole designs, whether adjustable or fixed, come with a locking mechanism to prevent the length from shifting during use. Most poles use one of the following four types of locking mechanisms:
External lever lock
Trekking poles can go a long way to boost your confidence and improve your stability during a hike. They are a practical outdoor accessory that will improve your experience on the trail and take the strain off demanding tracks.
If you’ve never used trekking poles before, the above guide will ensure that you know what to do with your new set and how to use trekking poles your maximum advantage on the trail.