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Benefits of walking poles

Written by Fiona

July 30 2018

More and more people are waking up to the benefits of walking poles. They are useful for hiking and running and especially where thee are plenty of hill climbs.

Why use walking poles?

It has been shown that using walking poles will reduce the accumulated stress on the feet, legs, knees and back by sharing the load more evenly across the whole body. This is especially true when carrying a pack on your back.

Trekking poles can also:

  • Protect knees, especially when walking down steep hills
  • Improve your power and endurance when walking uphill
  • Aid balance on uneven trails
  • Improve posture, making walkers and runners more upright as they ascend, which in turn this helps breathing
  • Increase speed, especially going downhill
  • Provide extra stability
  • Reduce fatigue and improve endurance
  • Burn more calories by providing an upper body work out as well as a legs workout
  • Strengthen muscles that support the spine.
  • Build muscles in arms, shoulders and neck.

Hill climbing is aided by poles.

Evidence of the benefit of poles

My husband G is a walking pole user while for many years I was not. He likes the poles because it helps to keep some of the weight of a sore knee and hip. He also tells me that the walking poles aid his balance and offer extra power when walking uphill.

When he walks downhill with the poles, he is usually far faster and more efficient than me.

I have now become a fan of poles, too. I have sued them for both running and hiking and although I sometimes find them a bit of a hassle I do think they offer greater support for my body and stop me from becoming fatigued too quickly.

G also tells me of something he read about expedition leaders who regularly used walking poles being able to work for many years longer than non-walking pole peers. The use of the poles reduced the wear and tear of walking and as the leaders became older hey could still carry on walking.

Get the pole length right

Most walking pole manufacturers offer guidelines as to the right length for your height. Some walkers say that poles should be adjusted according to the terrain. So, poles are set longer for descending and shorter for ascending.

Some poles have long handle grippers so walkers can move their hands up and down the handle according to the terrain.

As a general rule, the pole should be set to a length that allows your hand to lightly grip the handle while your arm is at a right angle to the ground. That is, your forearm is parallel to the ground and bent at the elbow.

Leki glove attachment.

Do I need walking pole wrist straps?

The straps make a useful addition to the poles because they allow you to walk with a looser grip and a more relaxed style.

To make best use of the straps place your hand up through the strap and form a large O-shape with your thumb and forefinger. Then slide it down around the handle of the pole.

This means that when you apply downward pressure to propel yourself forwards, it is transferred not from your tight grip on the pole handle but from the tension applied between the wrist and strap.

As you stride out, your poles become an extension to the flow of your wrist, arms and whole body movement.

Some poles have a glove-like attachment, such as Leki poles, which I really like.

What to look for when buying poles

The price range of poles will suit all budgets. You can buy a pair of poles for as little as £10 or pay more than £200. But the most important aspects are comfort (especially the handle) and durability.

The lighter the poles the more expensive they will be because of the material used to make them, such as carbon.

Some poles fold up into three parts, others have a telescopic system for packing them away and others are remain as a  set length. If you know you will be carrying the poles in your pack it’s worth thinking about the length they fold down to.

Travelling with your walking poles

If you plan to walk abroad or need to use public transport to get to a walk make sure the poles can be shortened or folded up while travelling. If you can fit the poles into a travel bag or attach them to the outside of a rucksack in a shortened form they are easier to travel with.

Suzanne Russell, of poles manufacturer Leki, says: “Most good quality poles, including the majority of Leki poles, can be folded down to 60-70cm when not in use and some models go down to as little as 33cm so it shouldn’t be a problem taking them on public transport.

“When it comes to planes, you need to check with each airline but most won’t allow poles to be taken into the cabin as they are. You should therefore fold the poles small enough to fit into a suitcase.”

Other uses of walking poles

  • A useful extra (or substitute) pole for a tent or tarp shelter.
  • To test the depth of streams or snow.
  • Photo “mono-pod” (like a tripod). Some poles a camera attachment.

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