Are trekking poles worth it? Heck yeah!
Well, chances are you might be using those trekking poles wrong because even science agrees they’re pretty dope. Here are some tips and tricks on how to use trekking poles to their full advantage:
Getting to Know Your Trekking Poles
Before we do a deep dive into trekking pole tips, it’s best to know what you’re dealing with. Here’s a quick look at your standard trekking poles:
Material and Design
Trekking poles are usually made of lightweight but durable materials like aluminum or carbon fiber. Aluminum is cheaper and more likely to bend than break, while carbon fiber poles are pricier but are much lighter.
Almost all of the poles you’ll find in the market have collapsible designs for easy storage and packability. There are fixed-length poles available, and while they’re pretty durable, they don’t pack as light or as compact.
That being said, some poles can be packed down by folding (otherwise known as Z-poles), while others collapse from each joint like a telescope.
Trekking poles that fold into two sections are far sturdier than their three-fold counterparts, but they’re also significantly bulkier. If you wanna go ultralight, we suggest going for a 3-folding trekking pole.
Length and Locking Mechanisms
Many poles also come with adjustable lengths to suit the user’s height and terrain. You should adjust the length depending on whether you’re going uphill, downhill, or traversing between slopes, but we’ll talk more about that later.
For now, let’s take a look at your poles’ locking mechanisms. Since most trekking poles fold unto themselves, keeping their joints secure is important. Trekking pole locking mechanisms can be classified into three, namely:
- Twist locks – An internal locking mechanism found in most older models. Twisting the lock allows a plastic expander inside the poles to keep the joints in place. Many poles with twist locks are rather prone to damage and are quite difficult to adjust, especially if you’re wearing gloves.
- Lever locks – An external locking mechanism that uses clamp-like levers to secure parts of your trekking pole. Lever locks are easier to adjust than twist locks and are sturdier. The screws that keep the lever locks in place can loosen over time, but it’s nothing a screwdriver (or even a long fingernail) can’t fix.
- Push-button locks – A push from a spring-loaded button engages the locks along the length of the pole. It’s pretty convenient, although more moving parts mean a higher risk for damage.
Many poles also have a combination of any of these three locking mechanisms for ease of use and durability. These locking mechanisms are aptly called combination locks.
Handles or grips play a huge part in the overall performance of your trekking pole. They have to be comfortable, ergonomic, and secure. As far as the handle materials go, you’ve got three options:
- Cork – The go-to material for summertime hikes. Cork molds well to the shape of your hand and doesn’t absorb moisture. It’s relatively heavier and pricier, though.
- Rubber – Rubber is cheaper than cork, but is still quite comfy in the hand. It’s also durable and can provide insulation, especially during the colder months. Rubber handles absorb moisture like nobody’s business though, so they might not be the best if you’ve got sweaty hands or are hiking in the summer.
- Foam – Foam is nice, soft, and can wick moisture away from your skin. It’s not as sturdy as the first two materials, though.
Now that you’re acquainted with the parts of your trekking pole, it’s time to take these bad boys out for a spin…the right way. Here are some tips on how to use trekking poles to their full advantage:
Trekking Pole Tips and Tricks
Using Your Wrist Straps Right
Your wrist straps may not look that important at first glance, but don’t be fooled—they actually play a huge part in keeping you safe and secure during your hike.
Your straps ensure you have a better grip on your trekking poles and that you avoid putting too much strain on your wrists. Straps also help you avoid losing your poles if you accidentally drop them, especially when you’re traversing over tricky terrain.
Wearing your trekking pole straps right means having a comfortable time outdoors. Wearing them wrong, on the other hand, can possibly lead to a broken thumb if you take a bad fall.
So, how do you wear your trekking pole straps right? Here are some pointers from the video above:
- First, make sure the strap isn’t twisted around and is flat against the top of the handle.
- The loop of the strap should fit your hands comfortably. If it’s too loose, your hand will flop around. If it’s too tight, you’ll pinch your hands and wrists.
- From the bottom, bring your hand up through the loop and then grip the handles. The straps should be snug but not uncomfortable. You shouldn’t be holding the handles in a death grip.
- When you let go of the handle, the pole should drop straight down, but you should still be able to grasp it back quickly.
Trekking Pole Baskets and Tips
Trekking poles come with various tips and baskets to cater to different types of terrain. The video above shows how to attach and remove these baskets. Below, you’ll find a quick guide on which tips and baskets to use when out hiking:
How to Use Your Trekking Poles on Flat Terrain
Walking with trekking poles on flat terrain is easy as pie, but you gotta employ the right technique. Here are the basic steps on how to do this:
- Use the right pole for your specific hand. Check out the straps—you’ll often see labels for your right and left hand on the trekking poles’ straps or handles.
- When using your trekking pole, let your elbow rest at a comfy 90-degree angle. Anywhere too high or too low can cause arm strain and discomfort, so adjust the length of your poles accordingly.
- Lead with the poles alternate to your feet. For example, if you step with your right foot, use your left trekking pole, and so on. This technique gives you better balance and stability. Plus, it makes walking with your poles coordinated and natural.
- Use your poles at an angle to help propel you forward.
If it’s your first time using trekking poles, it helps to practice these tips in your backyard or neighborhood before going on a hike.
How to Walk Uphill
Climbing uphill slopes can be punishing to your back and knees. Trekking poles help prevent back and knee pain by maximizing the energy from your lower limbs and core. During particularly steep ascents, you can use them to balance and stop you from falling backward or sliding sideways.
To use your poles when ascending, shorten their length. Put them in front of you and angle the handles forward so that they can help propel you up the slope.
Keep a steady pace and make secure steps when you climb. Always step with your heel first, followed by your sole, and finally, your toes.
How to Walk Downhill
One of the biggest threats when walking downhill is stepping on a loose rock or soil. Extend your trekking poles when going downhill and lead with them. You want to keep steady and gain control over your descent. Use the poles to check the stability of your next step, too.
As you descend, use your trekking pole straps to keep the weight off of your knees. Maintain a light grip on the handles and channel your weight onto your wrists instead. Move your trekking poles alternately and use them as support as you make your way down.
Another descending technique you can use is planting both trekking poles firmly ahead of you before making your way down and stopping where the poles are planted. Repeat the process until you finish the descent.
Fording Streams and Rivers
Fording streams and rivers can be risky business if you don’t know how to do it properly. You can easily slip, fall into cold water, and possibly get carried away by the current. A pair of trekking poles provide the balance and stability needed to complete a crossing safely.
Before attempting to cross a stream or river, assess the area thoroughly. Scout for alternate routes or dry crossings like fallen tree bridges, boulders, or even log jams. Assess the size, speed, and depth of the river or stream, too. If you can’t see the bottom in some parts, or if the water flows faster than you can walk, you might want to rethink that crossing.
The video above outlines everything you need to prepare for a river crossing.
When you’re ready to cross, here’s what you do:
- Face upstream and make your way across the river at a 45-degree angle downstream. This position helps you keep your balance better. Going at a slight angle downstream also means you won’t have to fight the current as much and risk losing your footing.
- Walk slowly, making sure that each step is secure.
- Using trekking poles gives you stability by providing an additional point of contact on the river floor. Put ’em in front of you as you shuffle your feet sideways across the river. You can also use them to check for unstable rocks or to hold steady against the current.
Using Trekking Poles for Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is a great way to explore the outdoors during the winter. Using trekking poles while you’re snowshoeing helps you improve your balance and maximize your upper body strength, especially when you’re walking over fine powder.
Snowflake trekking pole baskets work pretty much like snowshoes. They prevent your poles from sinking deep into the snow, so attach them before setting out.
Snowshoeing or going on winter hikes with trekking poles isn’t that different from using them during the warmer months. Shorten the poles when going uphill, and lengthen them when you move downhill.
When you’re traversing a snowy slope, make sure the pole on the uphill side is shorter while the one on your downhill side is lengthened.
Fixing Trekking Poles With Internal Locks
Having a busted internal locking mechanism can be a pain in the ass. Good thing there’s an easy fix for that problem. Sometimes, all it takes is taking the pole apart and tweaking the mechanisms inside. Thoroughly cleaning it can help, too.
Check out the video above to learn how to repair a malfunctioning twist lock on your pole.
Cleaning Your Trekking Poles
You know you’ve had a good hike when you return with a pair of dirty, muddy poles.
But that doesn’t mean you can just leave them that way. Moisture can oxidize aluminum poles, and debris can cause your locking mechanisms to jam.
Before stowing your poles away, clean them thoroughly by taking each pole apart, brushing them down, and wiping them dry with a cloth or paper towel. Check out the video above for the full tutorial.
Other things to remember when maintaining your trekking poles:
- Use WD-40 rust remover to get rid of corrosion and oxidation. Wipe it off afterward.
- After cleaning your external locking poles, keep your lever locks “open” to prevent them from getting stuck.
- When cleaning the inside of your poles, use a coat-hanger wire to insert a clean, damp rag. Avoid using lubes when cleaning these interior parts. You can use lubricants to loosen stuck push-button locks, though.
Even the best trekking poles out there would be pretty useless if you don’t use them correctly, so make sure to practice these tips and tricks.
When you use your trekking poles the proper way, they’ll transform from two unwieldy pieces of gear into a couple of essentials you can’t hike without.
The right pair of poles—coupled with the right techniques—can save your muscles from strain, give you much-needed stability, and can ultimately improve your outdoor experience.
Which of these techniques are you most eager to try out? Let us know in the comments below!