Trekking poles, also called walking poles, or walking sticks, are an often overlooked piece of camping gear that can make your hiking or camping trip more enjoyable.
The most obvious reason for using trekking poles is to help you balance when navigating rough terrains. As well as giving you more traction and stability when climbing hills, and reducing the stress on your joints.
They aren’t just for people recovering from injuries or the older generation either, so throw those assumptions aside.
Anyone can benefit from using walking poles, and for a lot of people once they start using them and they find a smooth groove they won’t leave home without their poles.
Why Use Trekking Poles?
There is a stigma around using trekking poles for younger people. You want to prove that you don’t need help, you think they slow you down, it’s extra baggage… but the benefits to using poles far outweigh any stigma or drawbacks.
Pros and Benefits of Using Trekking Poles
They reduce strain and stress on your joints when ascending or descending. They are particularly good for helping you descend hills while reducing injury.
They help spread some of the weight you’re carrying. If you have a heavy backpack leaning on poles as you walk or even while taking breaks makes a difference over a long day of trekking.
They can be used to prod or probe instead of using your hand. With a pole in your hand, you can poke or prod into bushes, check the depth of puddles, the stability of the ground and more without risking your hand.
They help you develop a good walking rhythm. This helps you walk further, faster, and helps establish good walking form.
They help you maintain good balance. This is useful when you have a heavy load on your back, or trekking across tricky terrains and so on.
What Are the Drawbacks of Using Trekking Poles?
Obviously, you shouldn’t be using trekking poles if you’re not getting anything from them. Here are some reasons why they might not be for you:
They require more energy if you’re just hiking on flat, easy terrains. You wouldn’t use poles to take a walk to the shops, right?
They are something else to carry around. Most hikers are trying to shed items to reduce weight, poles are not the easiest to carry around, even if they collapse down. It’s something to factor in.
How Long Should Trekking Poles Be?
Most trekking poles are adjustable, and they need to be. Having the correct length poles is incredibly important to enjoy all the benefits of using walking poles as described above.
Here is a guide to help you choose the length of pole based on your height:
|Your Height||Pole Length
|5'0'' and below||100 cm / 39''
|5'1'' - 5'6''||110 cm / 43''
|5'7'' - 6'0''||120 cm / 47''
|6'1'' and above||130 cm / 51''
Check this review of the Black Diamond Z Z-Poles for one of the best lightweight trekking poles in the market that not only adjust in length, they are available in several lengths to meet all height requirements.
Ideal Walking Pole Length for Flat Terrains
When walking on flat terrains and using the poles for stability, rhythm, and pace, the ideal length is when the handle rests a few inches above the waistline.
When resting on the poles your arms should be at a 90-degree angle. This means you can dig them into the ground as you walk without having to extend your arms any more than you would be walking without the walking sticks.
Ideal Walking Pole Length for Descending Hills
This is where adjustable poles really come good. You will need to extend the poles a little when going downhill so you don’t lose your footing, probably around 5-10cm.
Adding some extra length to the poles allows you to dig to poles into the ground ahead of where you’re stepping to take some of the weight, add stability, and support.
Ideal Walking Pole Length for Ascending Hills
If you have to extend poles to go downhill, it makes sense that you have to shorten the poles to help you climb uphill, again I’d suggest trying between 5-10cm.
Take some length off the poles so when you’re hiking uphill you can dig the poles into the ground without leaning forward any more than you would be walking uphill.
It’s on hills that poles really prove their worth. Reducing the risk of injury, taking some strain off your leg muscles and tendons, it all pays off over the duration of your camping trip.
What to Look for When Buying Trekking Poles
There are four main features to look for when choosing the best trekking poles for you. These are:
Construction/materials of the Poles
There are typically two different types of materials used to make poles; aluminum or composite.
Aluminum – This is the heavier material of the two and you can expect to pay less for aluminum poles.
They are incredibly durable but may bend over time with heavy usage. I’d choose aluminum for heavy use across all weather conditions.
Check this review of the Kelty Range Trekking Poles for one of the best examples of poles that are made with a strong aluminum.
Composite – This is a lightweight carbon material that costs a little more than aluminum but is noticeably lighter and easier to use.
They are prone to breaking rather than just bending. But they do have a long life expectancy and represent good value for money.
Grips and Straps
The grip is a lot more important that you’ve probably given it thought. You’re going to be holding the poles for hours a time, they need to be comfortable and not slip out of your hands.
Some poles come with straps, I always recommend having straps as they add some additional support and it’s optional if you use them anyway.
Check out this review of the Black Diamond Alpine Ergo Trekking Poles if you’re after a highly rated pole with comfortable hand grips and straps.
Adjustable and Locking Mechanisms
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, being able to adjust the length of poles is vital to make sure you can find the right height to give you the best possible support.
There are a few different designs manufacturers use to achieve this. Push and lock tend to be more reliable than twist and lock, and external lever locking mechanisms work well too.
Using the table above just double check that the poles you’re looking at cover the recommended height by at least 10-15cm either way to give yourself enough leeway to climb steep hills.
While the poles are in your hands they are like your best friends, helping you navigate obstacles and safely chaperoning you down hills.
When it comes to traveling with them though tucking a couple of feet of poles away can be a nightmare.
Some poles fold up nice and tight which is great. Make sure they have a good locking mechanism as the more times they fold the more weak points that will have on their shafts.
Tips When First Using Trekking Poles
Some tips if you’re new to using walking poles:
Work on Your Rhythm
It’s going to feel like an unnatural walking rhythm at first. But much like riding a bike, it doesn’t take long to get into the rhythm and once you do it becomes second nature.
Use the poles on flat ground first to get used to them. Test out different heights and make little adjustments until it feels right.
Test Them Before Using Outdoors
Just a safety tip for any outdoor gear. Make sure you know how to extend the poles and lock them into position before using them outdoors.
As far as camping gear goes, poles are pretty simple. It’s about being prepared that ensures you’re not surprised by anything when you need to use them.
Look After Your Poles
Trekking poles are doing all the things you don’t want to do with your hands. Then are getting stuck in mud, testing puddle depth, prodding bushes, so the least you can do is look after them.
If you have metal shafts don’t store them when they are wet. Clean mud off after use, especially on the handles and tips, and check for any signs of damage before every use.
Video – How to Use Trekking Poles