How To Use Trekking Poles

Trekking poles: some buy them, your kids probably find them on the trail, and others forgo all together.

If you've considered purchasing a pair of poles, you've likely asked the following questions: 

  • Are they really helpful beyond a few isolated situations?
  • How are they used?
  • Can they be a nuisance?
  • What are the differences between them?

Select the Right Poles

The variety of trekking poles is extensive, so check out the different types before purchasing. Consider what kind of hikes you expect to take, your fitness level, your height and weight and your tolerance for having to lock and unlock the poles for changes in terrain. Your trekking poles should make your experience more enjoyable and not become a nuisance.

When asking any hiking professional how to use trekking poles, you'll likely get a variety of answers because they're valuable in a number of ways. Consider the many ways these can benefit your treking experiences and you may have a different answer as well.

More: Hiking Gear Checklist

Improve Your Hike

Make Hills Easier

Hiking uphill can be challenging for your legs and lungs. Poles help you to engage the upper body muscles and relieve some of the stress from the legs. It's all about exerting leverage when you push off with the poles and move up a slope more efficiently.

You should become accustomed to using the poles as part of your natural stride. As you step with one foot, plant the pole on the opposite side of your body and push as you move ahead.

Using the poles to maintain your balance on uneven ground, rather than just stabilizing your body with just your legs, will save significant energy, as well. Be sure your hands are through the straps when you grip the pole for added leverage.

More: Hiking Checklist: What to Pack for the Trail

Save Your Knees on the Downhill

Your knees will thank you for bringing trekking poles along on your next hiking, especially if a steep descent is involved. By absorbing the shock with your arms and upper body rather than your knees, you're able to move more quickly and comfortably with much less fatigue. When descending, it's helpful to plant your poles ahead of your opposite foot to make the descent more efficient.

Manage Slippery Slopes

Stability is key when negotiating slippery terrain. You can take a more natural, relaxed stride when you use poles to help maintain balance. Snowy and icy conditions require significant energy just to stay upright and trekking poles take away some of the pressure. They serve the same purpose in wet and muddy conditions.

Not to mention, a bad fall can end your expedition prematurely or result in a trip to the emergency room. The bottom line: When you know how to use trekking poles, challenging and scenic trails are more accessible and safe to explore.

More: Safe Backcountry Hiking

About the Author

Will Kuhlmann is an avid distance runner who serves on the board of the Columbus Roadrunners Club. He also enjoys skiing, hiking, swimming and kayaking.

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