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 an 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.

The Benefits Of Using A Trekking Pole

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 that 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

Using trekking poles greatly improves your balance. Having more points of contact with the ground means you’ll have lesser chances of falling down. 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 wouldn’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 to be used in various 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 fear that you’ll slip and come tumbling down.

Better posture

Using your trekking poles the right way can give you better posture. They keep your back straight and your forearms in 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.

Poking tools

If nothing else, trekking poles 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 them to push away errant vines, spider webs and the like.

Things To Consider When Looking For The Best Trekking Pole

Trekking poles come in all shapes and sizes. The best trekking pole is the one that best suits your needs, so here are a few things to consider when looking for trekking poles:


This is one of the most important factors in choosing a trekking pole. Make sure its length corresponds 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 more than 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 pole. Trekking poles with fixed lengths are used if you’re 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 pole’s material will significantly affect its weight. Trekking poles are traditionally made from aluminum, which is cheap, sturdy and is 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 better suited when used together 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 trekking pole.

How To Use Trekking Poles The Right Way

You can make the most out of your trekking poles by using them the right way. The video above shows how to do just that.

  • First, you have to make sure that your trekking pole is of the right height. Your forearms should hold the handles comfortably at a 90-degree angle.
  • The height of the pole should change with the terrain: shorten them when going uphill, and lengthen them when you’re picking your way downhill.
  • You have to make sure you use the handles right, 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. This also lessens the chances of breaking your thumb if you accidentally fall.
  • 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. Make sure the poles are angled towards the direction you’re headed so they can help propel you better.
  • The only other thing that you should do is get the hang of your trekking poles and enjoy your time outdoors!

Other Uses Of Trekking Poles Aside From Hiking

Aside from upping your hiking game, trekking poles can also be used for various other purposes. They can even save your life in some cases!

Here are other ways to use your trekking pole aside from hiking:


Trekking poles can be used to set up tarp shelters, similar to how you would 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.


You can also use your trekking poles to survey the area around you. Use it to gauge how thick the 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.

Laundry Line

No way to hang your laundry? Use your trekking pole. Stick them on the ground, tie your line between your poles, and you’re done!


Some trekking poles are actually outfitted with camera mounts so you can easily use them as a monopod. It’s a pretty nifty way to take great photos even when you’re on a solo hike. Check out the video above to learn how you can rig a camera to your trekking poles.

First Aid

Trekking poles can also be used as makeshift splints for when you encounter a fracture. They can also be used 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.

Final Thoughts

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 are using 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, trekking poles can help your joints stay healthy and allow you to keep hiking, hopefully until your later years.

If you’re an avid hiker and are not using trekking poles yet, you’re missing out. Get a good pair of trekking poles and experience the difference!