There are pros and cons to using walking poles / trekking poles / hiking sticks.
Let’s start with the cons and eliminate them immediately. Then, we’ll continue to focus on why you should use them and preferable have 2 at hand.
- you always get aches and other annoying symptoms when you do use them. Problem: you are not using them the right way.
- you want your hands to be ‘free’ (for a drink, your phone or whatever). We can’t argue with your wishes, but you should try the wrist straps.
- you (and others) are very annoyed with the noise they make. Problem: you didn’t use rubber tips.
Why use hiking poles?
- it will reduce the burden on your ankles, knees, hips and back by 30%. The burden is your body weight + your backpack weight + the length of the stretch your walking.
- it will help to keep your balance: not only during a normal walk (minor balance issues but very important to keep your posture right when you’re tired) but also during the occasional crossing of a river or steep hill you’ll welcome the additional balance.
- it will significantly increase your stamina and you will be able to walk longer stretches.
How to buy the right ones
- they should be adjustable in length (in general they all are in usually three parts) so you can adjust them to your size and re-adjust them if you are facing a particularly difficult or long climb/descent. There are speed-lock systems that will make it very easy to use the walking poles the right way.
- they need to have a solid locking system you can rely on. A lot of cheap walking poles don’t have safe locking systems.
- they should be as light-weight as possible while meeting all your other needs.
- the grip should be made of material that will avoid chafing issues but should also match your hand’s size as good as possible. Try to avoid rubber. We can recommend Leki’s cork grips.
- they should have wrist wraps so you can slide into the wrap when you need to free-up your hand (taking a picture, drinking, eating, scratching…).
- anti-shock system: most have it, but check to make sure.
- Buy two of them: if you walk with one 1, especially if you carry weight, it will make your walking pattern unbalanced and you will start to have all kinds of aches and possible injuries.
- get a set of rubber tips (with or without extra studs). This will add extra shock-absorption, but it will also avoid the (VERY) annoying ticking sound while you walk.
- make sure they have a basket attached. Some backpacks have loops to carry your poles. The basket will keep them from falling through.
How to get started
Start of by adjusting the expandable parts of the poles.
The number 1 rule is to simply always aim at keeping a comfortable 90 degree arm angle in your elbow.
When you first try out your poles just stand straight, preferably wearing the shoes or boots you will be using during your walk. Put the poles in front of you, keeping your elbows close to your body and the lower arm in a 90 degree position. Adjust the lengths of the middle and lower part of your poles accordingly until they have the right length.
Tip: take a marker pen and mark this baseline on the hiking poles, it will make it easier the next times you are adjusting them to get started.
You have 4 legs now, so gear up! Your left leg moves with your right pole and your right leg moves with your left pole.
Shortening the poles when you go uphill, and lengthening them when you go downhill, lets you keep the proper arm angle at all times.
Practice your walking pole technique. It just needs time to get used to them, but your body will thank you for it! Don’t be surprised to have some muscle aches in your arms the first time you use them, that’s normal.
Extra uses of walking poles:
- use as a tent pole to create a shelter
- scare off street dogs if they get too close
- point at the magnificent views
- use as a camera stick (there are accessories out there to do this)
- use to move bushes or other things out of your way
Last but not least:
Make your poles uniquely identifiable. A simple mark with a marker can do the trick. There are a lot of poles out there and a lot of them will resemble yours or even be exactly the same ones.
This post is also available in: Dutch