Love to hike but not sure how to use trekking poles? Whether you’re a longtime hiking enthusiast or an occasional backpacker, trekking poles help you navigate any kind of terrain with more ease. When you’re just starting out with them, they might be tricky to get comfortable using, but the basic techniques are simple.
Tightening Poles for Weight Support
To tighten poles, flip the clasp open and twist the screw in quarter turns until you get to the tightness level you want. If you close the clasp and the poles don’t slide when supporting your weight, the screw is tight enough.
Adjusting Pole Length
If you are not walking on level ground, it’s a good idea to adjust your trekking poles throughout your hike. If you’re going uphill for a long stretch, decreasing the length of your poles by 5-10cm may give you an easier time. The steeper the slope, the more you’d want to shorten the poles. Similarly, lengthen your poles by 5-10cm when going downhill. Poles that allow for easy adjustment on the go are ideal in these situations.
Using the Straps and Gripping the Poles
To use the straps, put your hand through it from the bottom so the strap is over the back of your hand and your thumb is over the strap. Tighten the strap a bit to secure it.
To grip a trekking pole, hold it between your thumb and your forefinger, but not too tightly. Wrap your other fingers around it. You should be able to rotate the pole.
Mastering the Walking Rhythm
The pole points should touch the ground simultaneously with your opposite foot. For example, the point of the pole in your right hand should land as your left foot does.
When you hold the trekking poles, angle them backwards and place the pole points parallel with your body. As you push your foot off the ground, put pressure backwards and downwards. While walking, have your elbows near your sides and use your wrist to flick the pole forward on the opposite side of the foot you’re stepping with. If you move the same side leg and arm, you will end up swaying and possibly falling.
Then all you do is repeat. Practice makes perfect. Cross-country skiers use this opposite-limb motion as well and it helps distribute impact stress across your body.
On uphill or downhill terrain, you may want to place both poles in front of you at the same time for better stability. Flick them forward, walk several steps, and repeat.
Side Uses of Trekking Poles
In addition to walking, trekking roles have other beneficial uses for your hiking experience:
Assessing the Terrain
You can put the points of your trekking poles into snow, water, or mud to test how deep it is
If you get tired during your hike, your trekking poles can help you sit and get back on your feet if you have a heavy backpack on
Pushing off your trekking poles into a leap is one reliable way to cross bodies of water like streams
Clearing a Path
If your path is blocked by foliage or debris, you can use your trekking poles to push it out of your way so you can more easily continue on
Erecting a Tent
Trekking poles can make for a decent shelter when combined with a tarp
Why Use Trekking Poles?
They are an essential asset to walking on uneven or unsealed terrain, such as upward sloping paths and jagged mountain trails. Weight and impact stress can wear down any hiker’s body, but with the poles, as much as 20% of your weight is transferred to your arms for every step when walking downward. This gives your knees a bit of a break. With their lightweight and often collapsible design, you don’t have to worry about trekking poles adding any burden to your hike if you’re carrying them in-between terrain types.
Finding the Right Trekking Poles for You
Single or Double?
When looking for the best ultralight trekking poles, you have the option of one or two poles. One pole is useful on technical rocky paths where having one hand free would help you better navigate. On most other terrain types, the weight distribution benefit only two poles fully provide is worth the investment.
Length of Poles
The trekking poles you buy must be a good fit for you and your specific needs. Length is the most important. The general rule of thumb is to find poles long enough so that when you hold one with the tip near your foot on the ground, your arm makes a right angle bend at your elbow.
Most trekking poles are adjustable with a length range designed for people between 5 feet and 6 feet tall. Shorter hikers might look into poles for kids and taller hikers can find poles for the higher height range.
Trekking Poles vs. Nordic Walking Poles
Nordic walking poles look similar to trekking poles. They both have carbide tips and are length adjustable, but they diverge in several ways:
Nordic walking poles are suited for short fitness activities on pavement. Trekking poles, intended for longer excursions, lack rubber feet, making them less-than-ideal for roads and other sealed paths.
Nordic walking poles always come with straps and they are heavily used while walking. Sometimes trekking poles have straps, but they are more for briefly carrying the poles without occupying your hands than for regular usage. For that reason, the straps may feel uncomfortable, but wearing bike gloves helps.
Nordic walking poles have slimmer grips while trekking poles have wider ones
How to Use Trekking Poles: Conclusion
Now that you know how to use trekking poles, you’ll be able to walk challenging terrain more comfortably and with greater stability without injuring yourself. Expand your hiking horizons with this extra pair of legs.
Written by Elisa Sung