Do I need trekking poles for hiking?
Starting to get sore knees when you're walking? Don’t let it stop you from doing what you love. Studies have shown that walking with trekking poles reduces the pressure strain on the opposite leg by approximately 20%. Think about this in the context of a multi-hour walk or run. Using poles lets hikers lengthen their strides, put less strain on their knees, and generally feel more comfortable. Not only does this impact your immediate comfort on the hike but protects your joints from longer-term injuries, allowing you to enjoy a long and pain-free hiking career.
For those tackling some rougher hikes with obstacles like mud, creek crossings & loose terrain, poles could turn out to be your greatest ally. Curious how deep that murky puddle is? Let your pole do the investigating. Maybe it’s a long slippery traverse across wet snow-grass in New Zealand, your poles have you covered. Think of them like engaging the 4WD mode of your car.
There are plenty of trekking poles on the market in varying styles, shapes and sizes. There are a few ways to choose which one is right for you.
Types of Poles
The two most common varieties of trekking poles are adjustable Telescopic poles and Collapsible folding poles.
Constructed using a series of telescopic pole sections that lock together. These poles offer a great range of height adjustment but still fold down to a fairly compact length. Black Diamond and Komperdell offer a range of top-quality poles that use lightweight and durable materials.
Collapsible poles break down into several shorter sections when they are packed away. They are generally lighter in weight than telescopic poles and can have a smaller packed size in your bag.
The construction of poles varies a lot between manufacturers and models. The two main pole materials used are Aluminium (tougher, heavier and cheaper) and Carbon Fiber (lighter, more expensive). Often a mixture of both materials is used, which can combine the best attributes of both materials. The hand grips are generally formed from foam or cork, which perform equally well. In general the lighter and thinner the pole the more flex it will have. Alternatively, a thicker pole will often be stiffer and more durable, however, this added longevity comes at the cost of weight as they are often heavier than more flexible poles.
Even though it is often stated that you can adjust the pole to suit the terrain, you will find that generally they can be set at the beginning of a journey and left for the duration. Completing the following procedure should result in a pole length that is a good compromise for both ascending and descending. Adjust the length of your poles as follows:
- “Unlock” the upper and lower sections of both poles.
- Extend the lower section of both poles to just less than the maximum limit and “lock”
- The lower sections.
- Stand up straight with shoulders relaxed.
- Place one pole under an arm and adjust the length so that the top of the pole is halfway between your armpit and elbow.
- “Lock” the upper section of that pole in place.
- Use the fully locked pole as a “ruler” to adjust the length of your second pole.
Note: Adjustments to pole length should be made within the limits of the manufacturer’s recommendations and it might also help you in choosing which model, as it is imperative to get one that is long enough for you.
One Pole or Two?
All the above comments are about using a pair of poles. One pole will provide some benefit but not as much as using a pair. One is better than none but two will provide more than twice the benefit.
If you have knee or back problems or are carrying a heavy load it is recommended you use two poles. This is why many manufacturers offer poles as a set.
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