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How to Use Hiking Poles Effectively while on the Trail

Updated: May 28

Hiking poles, also known as trekking poles, are valuable tools that can really improve your overall hiking experience by providing stability and reducing strain on your joints. However, to reap these benefits, it's crucial to use them correctly.

 

In this article, we'll discuss how to use hiking poles effectively, including tips on adjusting them to the right height, proper techniques for different terrains, and additional benefits they offer hikers.


Woman climbing a mountain using hiking poles

1. Adjusting the Poles to the Right Height

Proper adjustment of your hiking poles is essential for maximizing their effectiveness. Here's how to set them up correctly for some basic trail conditions:

  • Flat Terrain: Adjust the poles so that your elbows form a 90-degree angle when you hold the grips. This provides a comfortable and efficient height for flat trails.

  • Uphill: Shorten the poles slightly to provide better leverage and reduce fatigue. This adjustment helps maintain balance and propulsion.

  • Downhill: Lengthen the poles to improve stability and reduce impact on your knees. This setting allows you to plant the poles ahead of you for added support.

Most hiking poles have markings to help you remember your preferred settings for different terrains.


2. Mastering the Basic Technique

Using hiking poles effectively involves mastering a basic technique, two key aspects of this are:

  • Alternating Steps: Plant the opposite pole to the foot that's moving forward. For example, when you step forward with your right foot, plant the left pole, and vice versa. This creates a natural rhythm and helps maintain your balance as you move.

  • Grip and Wrist Straps: Use the wrist straps to transfer some of the load from your hands to your wrists. Insert your hands from the bottom of the loops and then grip the poles. This method allows you to push down on the straps, saving energy and providing you with better control over your movements.


3. Techniques for Different Terrains

When using your poles in different types of terrain, here are some of the things you’re going to want to consider:

  • Flat Terrain: Use the basic alternating step technique, keeping a steady rhythm. The poles should lightly touch the ground, providing balance and a slight push-off.

  • Uphill: Shorten your poles and plant them close to your feet. Use the poles to pull yourself upward, reducing strain on your legs. Lean slightly forward and push down on the poles to assist with each step.

  • Downhill: Lengthen the poles and plant them slightly ahead of you. This helps absorb the impact and provides stability. Keep your body upright and use the poles to control your descent.

  • Rocky or Uneven Terrain: Adjust your pole length as needed and use them to test the stability of rocks and uneven surfaces before stepping. Plant your poles firmly into any rock or stable area to maintain balance and prevent slips.


4. Additional Benefits of Using Hiking Poles

There are more benefits to using poles than you might think, these include:

  • Joint Relief: Poles can reduce the impact on your knees and hips, particularly during descents. This can be especially beneficial for hikers with joint issues or those carrying heavy packs over long distances.

  • Enhanced Stability: They provide additional points of contact with the ground, improving balance on slippery or unstable terrain.

  • Increased Endurance: By distributing some of the work to your upper body, hiking poles can help you hike longer distances with less fatigue.

  • Improved Posture: Poles encourage a more upright posture, which can help reduce back strain and improve your breathing, overall creating a much more enjoyable trip.


5. Choosing the Right Poles

When selecting hiking poles, consider the following features:

  • Adjustability: Telescoping or folding poles allow you to adjust the length for different terrains and pack them away easily.

  • Weight: Lighter poles are easier to carry and use, but you should still choose poles which will be sturdy enough to provide support for your weight.

  • Grip Material: Cork, foam, or rubber grips each offer different comfort levels and moisture-wicking properties. Choose based on your preference and the typical conditions you hike in.

  • Shock Absorption: Some poles come with built-in shock absorbers, which can reduce impact on your joints, especially during descents. This may be something which is important to you depending on where and how you hike.


Conclusion

Using hiking poles effectively can significantly improve your hiking experience by providing stability, reducing joint strain, and improving balance. By simply adjusting them correctly and mastering basic techniques for various terrains, you can hike more comfortably and safely next time you’re out on the trail.

 

Whether you're tackling steep inclines, rocky paths, or long-distance trails, hiking poles are a valuable addition to your hiking gear. Choose the right poles, practice your technique, and enjoy the benefits they bring.

 

 

Written by Josh Welch




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