Are you the kind of hiker who feels naked without their trekking poles?
It’s surprising to think that only 10 or 15 years ago, trekking poles were a rarity among hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. They were mostly used by older individuals who needed additional support while being out on the trail.
Today, the tables have turned: recent years have shown a rapid increase in people who use trekking poles. Trekking poles have now become a necessity…so much so that many hikers might even say they’d feel naked without their trekking poles!
Like ’em or love them, trekking poles have become an indispensable part of every hiker’s gear.
If you’re a trekking pole newbie and are just planning to get a pair, here’s everything you need to know about trekking poles and how you can benefit from them:
What Are Trekking Poles and How Are They Different from a Walking Stick?
People have been using walking sticks for centuries, but modern trekking poles didn’t make their appearance until the 70s.
Compared to the common walking stick, trekking poles are made of special materials and are specifically designed for various terrain. They come in pairs, so they support your back and knees better, especially when you’re carrying a heavy pack. They also help with your balance, whether you’re going uphill, downhill, or across small bodies of water.
Walking sticks or hiking staffs, on the other hand, are single poles. They don’t offer the same support and balance as a pair of trekking poles, but they’re sufficient if you’re traversing through flat terrain with little to no additional weight on your back.
Why Use Trekking Poles?
What makes trekking poles so special, and how do they help you achieve a better time outdoors? Here are some of their benefits:
Trekking poles offer stability and support
They’re like an extra pair of legs! It might sound absurd, but having more points of contact besides your own two feet means you can distribute your weight better. This is especially helpful when you’re carrying a heavy pack while traversing through challenging terrain.
It’s all about the balance
When you use trekking poles, you can really improve your balance. Having more points of contact with the ground means you’ll have lesser chances of falling. Ever had to cross a creek or stream? Trekking poles help you stay upright against the force of running water, so they’re a must for every hike.
They save your knees and back from strain and damage
Trekking poles lessen the pressure and strain on your back and on your weight-bearing joints by taking the brunt of your weight. You won’t need to exert so much force on your knees with every step. This leads to lower levels of fatigue. Less fatigue means more energy, and more energy means you can enjoy your hike longer.
Trekking poles help you move faster
They help you propel yourself forward. They’re also designed for all kinds of terrain, so they offer support whether you’re climbing uphill or are picking your way downhill. You can make your way faster without scrambling up on your hands or fearing you’ll slip and come tumbling down.
If you use trekking poles the right way, they’ll improve your posture. They keep your back straight and your forearms at a right angle. This small improvement in posture actually helps expand your lungs so your body can take in more oxygen. More oxygen means more energy, and more energy means longer stamina and lesser fatigue.
If nothing else, your poles can help you pick your way around rocky areas or bushes with heavy vegetation. You can use them to poke around rocks to check for snakes or scorpions. You can also use trekking poles to push away errant vines, spider webs, and the like.
Things to Consider When Looking for the Best Trekking Poles
Trekking poles come in all shapes and sizes. The best trekking poles will suit your needs most, so here are a few things to consider when looking for trekking poles:
This is one of the most important factors in choosing trekking poles. Their length should correspond to your height since anything too long or short will put unnecessary strain on your upper body. Most trekking poles extend up to 54 inches at the maximum. This max length usually works for people over 6 feet tall, while the lower limit (around 40 inches), is ideal for people around 5 feet and below.
Fixed or Adjustable
In addition to the overall length, these features play an important part in choosing your trekking poles. Trekking poles with fixed lengths are used for hiking on even terrain and elevation. Most trekking poles, however, are adjustable, allowing you to change their length depending on your needs. Adjustable poles are further classified into telescoping and folding trekking poles.
Telescoping poles tend to be more rigid and are great for tough terrains. Folding trekking poles fold into themselves, usually in two or three sections.
Material and Weight
Your trekking poles’ material will significantly affect their weight. Trekking poles are traditionally made from aluminum, which is cheap, sturdy, and more likely to bend than break. A lighter but more expensive alternative material is carbon fiber. Newer trekking poles are usually made from this material. They’re great for ultralight hikers but don’t yield much, so they’re more likely to splinter or even break under pressure.
Trekking pole handles are usually made from three different materials: rubber, cork, and foam.
Cork handles are great for warmer hikes. They’re not as soft as foam grips, but they do conform to the shape of your hand well. They also don’t absorb as much moisture as foam would.
Rubber is usually used in colder climates as they have excellent insulating properties and are best used with gloves. They can chafe your palms and cause blisters when used in warmer areas, though.
Locks and Other Features
Trekking poles usually utilize either twist locks or lever locks. Other features to consider include shock absorption, as well as the tips and baskets that come with the poles.
How to Use Trekking Poles the Right Way
Use trekking poles the right way to make the most out of them. The video above shows how to do just that, but here’s a summary:
- First, make sure your trekking poles are the right height. Your forearms should hold the handles comfortably at a 90-degree angle.
- The height of your poles should change with the terrain: shorten them when going uphill, and lengthen them when you’re picking your way downhill.
- Use the handles properly, too. Put your hand up from underneath the handle loop for a more relaxed, ergonomic grip. This way, the pole falls perpendicular to your hand in case you drop it. If you accidentally fall, this also lessens the chances of breaking your thumb.
- Once everything’s ready, move your poles alternate to your feet. When your right foot steps forward, your left pole should move forward with it at the same time, and vice versa. The poles should be angled towards the direction you’re headed so they can help propel you better.
- The only other thing you should do is get the hang of your poles and enjoy your time outdoors!
Other Ways to Use Trekking Poles
Aside from upping your hiking game, you can also use trekking poles for other purposes. They can even save your life in some situations!
Here are other ways to use trekking poles:
You can use trekking poles to set up tarp shelters, similar to how you’d set a tent up with tent poles. This is especially useful when there aren’t any trees to tie your guy lines to. Tarp shelters using this configuration tend to be pretty resilient against tough weather. All you’ll need is a tarp, some pegs, and of course, your trekking poles.
Another way to use trekking poles is by surveying the area around you. They help you gauge how thick snow is, how deep a creek is before crossing, or how bad the mud situation is. Use it to poke around rocks to see if any dangerous critters are hiding in the crevices, swat away vines, spiderwebs, brush…you get the idea.
No way to hang your laundry? Stick your trekking poles on the ground, tie your line between the poles, and you’re done!
Some trekking poles are actually outfitted with camera mounts, meaning you can easily use them as a monopod. It’s a pretty nifty way to take great photos while on a solo hike. Check out the video above to learn how to rig a camera to your trekking poles.
If you or someone in your party gets fractured, you can use trekking poles as makeshift splints. Your poles can also serve as frames for emergency stretchers if needed.
Signaling for Help
Another great thing about trekking poles is that you can use them to signal for help. They can make you more visible from a distance. Cross them and form an overhead X to tell people not to go further down the path. You can also use them to write or spell out SOS signals on the ground.
People used to think that trekking poles were nothing more than fancy accessories, but that’s clearly a thing of the past. Today, more and more people use trekking poles to have a safer and more enjoyable hike.
Trekking poles help you immensely by improving your balance, weight distribution, and posture. They also take the pressure off your knees and back. In the long run, these poles help your joints stay healthy and allow you to keep hiking, hopefully until your later years.
If you’re an avid hiker and aren’t using trekking poles yet, you’re missing out. Get a good pair and experience the difference! Check out our review of the best trekking poles for our recommendations.