One of the most common topics among walkers, especially in the hills and mountains, is whether hiking poles are useful or a hindrance. While once, a walker might pick up a long stick and use this as an aid for hiking, these days, there are numerous styles and types of trekking poles and in a wide range of lengths.
When considering whether to buy walking or trekking poles, you should ask yourself: What adventures do I typically go on? How often, how long and over what terrain? What physical limitations does my body feel? How much support am I looking for?
Questions to consider about walking poles
Will you be hiking with a heavy pack?
If you are hiking with a backpack, especially a heavy pack, a pair of poles will help to support and disperse the weight across your body, rather than being focused only on the legs and back.
Poles also help with balance when carrying a pack. If you are walking on uneven terrain, you will find that poles are a huge bonus for staying on your feet.
Will you be hiking steep uphill or downhill?
Trekking poles can increase your speed uphill by using your arm strength to push down on the poles, in addition to your leg strength. It is far more efficient to have poles for the uphills, because you will use your upper body, as well as your lower body, to propel you forwards.
In addition, using both your arms and legs will give you a full-body workout and also help your body to keep a rhythmic pace that increases speed.
When descending, trekking poles can stabilise your balance by adding two additional anchor points to counter your heavy pack as you descend. Walking poles help to relieve the stress on hip, knee and ankle joints, too.
Using poles can aid endurance over longer distances.
Will you be crossing a river?
Trekking poles can increase safety while crossing a river by allowing you to test if the rocks are slippery or loose before putting your weight on them.
You can also use poles to test how deep water is before you cross a river and to check if there are rocks or logs nearby.
Last, but by no means least, poles help you balance on rocks or the riverbed while crossing so you are less likely to fall in.
Will you be hiking through thick snow or sand?
The additional anchor points trekking poles provide can offer more traction over slippery or loose terrain.
What does your body need?
Do you often experience pain while hiking? Do you have any previous injuries that need extra support? Using trekking may reduce some of the stress hiking puts on your ankles and knees. If you are looking for extra support and comfort while hiking, trekking poles are a worthwhile investment.
If you’re looking for a full-body workout, using trekking poles will also engage your core, arms, and wrists in addition to your legs and hips while hiking.
Are there any other benefits?
What makes gear valuable is the ability to use it for multiple purposes. Trekking poles are great for walking and can also be used to set up a shelter with a tarp, or provide more stability for your tent.
The poles can also be used as anchor points for an emergency shelter in the event of a storm or for constructing a shade shelter.
What’s more, trekking poles are a safety tool for testing the depth of water, ice strength, or the flakiness of a rock.
They can be used to push through thorny thickets to protect your skin from the branches.
Lastly, in the rare event of an animal attack, trekking poles could be used to defend yourself or make your body appear taller.
A few reasons to not use trekking poles
Terrain and length
You probably do not need trekking poles if you hike primarily on paved paths. They are most valuable when hiking over uneven terrain like rocks, snow and sand.
If you only hike once a year, poles are not a necessary piece of gear to get you outside for that rare adventure. Along these same lines, if you typically hike under a mile or two, they are not essential.
Additional weight to carry
If you are looking for the ultra-lightweight experience, poles can easily be left behind to save room and weight as trekking poles can add 8oz of to each hand.
If the poles break on the trail, you must carry that extra weight without the benefit of using them.
Saying all this, carbon fibre poles can be so light that you hardly know you are using or carrying them.
A burden to simplicity
Trekking poles are one extra thing to carry, to remember and to keep track of when enjoying an adventure. There may be times on the trail when you don’t want to use poles, so you have to collapse them and attach them to your backpack.
If you’re indecisive, your whole day could be spent going back and forth attaching and detaching them.
An additional item to consider
If you are looking for more ankle and foot support, consider investing in a pair of comfortable and supportive pair of hiking boots.
What’s more, a knee brace or compression sleeve can help to support your knee joints on long hikes. Pairing this with trekking poles is a fantastic option for any hikers out there with knee problems. One downside to this though is that they can be slightly uncomfortable, however, the extra support is often worth the slight annoyance.
Final thoughts on walking poles
Trekking poles can enhance your hiking or backpacking experience by adding extra balance and stability.
They are a multi-purpose item that can increase your safety when crossing treacherous terrain or protect you from a storm with a makeshift shelter. So overall, trekking poles are an investment in your safety and comfort in the outdoors.
After you have decided whether you need the poles, make sure you know how to choose trekking poles that are right for you.