What is a trekking pole?

walking-polesIf you’re someone who enjoys exploring but wants a bit more stability during treks, perhaps it would be wise to look into getting your hands on some quality trekking / hiking / walking poles. But before you do that, it’s important to make yourself aware of the specific techniques and other pertinent information that will allow you to get the most enjoyment out of each adventure. Soon enough you just might discover that you won’t want to trek without them.

How to Use Trekking Poles

In order to get the most out of your trekking poles, learning the correct use of the wrist strap and handle is essential. Simply move your hand up through the bottom of the strap loop and then tug the strap downward by holding the grip. Adjust the length of each strap so that your fingers land precisely on the grip. To maintain a loose grip, resist closing your bottom three fingers, preventing your hands and wrists from tiring too quickly. Remember to keep your arms to your sides, as this puts less stress on the body and keeps the poles on a straight path.

Trekking poles ordinarily work best during general use when the pole height is set in such a way so that your elbow bends at a 90-degree angle when you grip the handle of the pole with the tip placed firmly on the ground. However, a slightly shorter height will help to clear plants, rocks, and similar obstacles with less lifting. Whichever height you choose to use your poles at depends on what works for you personally. Some trekkers choose to maintain a shorter height, while others prefer a longer pole.

When traveling on regular terrain, trekking poles can help to increase both walking pace and stride length. To prevent yourself from tiring out quickly, it’s good practice to flex and extend your poles from the shoulder joint, instead of from your elbows. For best results when traveling on regular terrain, plant each pole at an angle pointing behind you, driving yourself forward with each step. However, if trekking rough, steep, or uneven terrain, use the poles in an upright position, providing a type of handrail that will result in an overall safer descent.

walking-poles-walking-over-stileThere are three movement patterns when it comes to using trekking poles, all of which can be used for specific purposes:

Alternate Legs: Each pole goes forward when the opposite leg does, maximizing balance.

Parallel Legs: Each pole goes forward when the leg on the same side does, minimizing leg fatigue and overall stress on the body.

Double (or Simultaneous) Pole: Both poles move forward simultaneously, making it easier to step up or down.

If you’re still in the research process or merely considering getting involved with trekking poles, perhaps you would consider starting out with some of the more inexpensive but sturdy poles, such as the anti-shock poles manufactured by IMAGE and Sportsrain. However, if you are someone looking to dive right in or perhaps an experienced hiker who has been on the lookout for a new pair of walking poles, maybe you’d be interested in the quality poles manufactured by York Nordic, BAFX Products, or Black Diamond. The trekking poles put out by each of these companies are all highly recommended. Depending on the particular configuration, walking poles tend to be sold in pairs (two poles included). Although some trekkers choose to use only one pole when walking through regular terrain with no load, two poles allows its user to reap the full benefits. Two poles are particularly useful when traveling on varied terrain or carrying a load, thanks to the support and stability they provide.

Now that you’re a bit more familiar with how to use hiking poles, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of using poles such as these.

walking-poles-2What Are Trekking Poles For?

Trekking poles provide users with a number of unique benefits. For instance, using these poles while hiking essentially provides you with a mobile handrail, offering up extra support and balance on a variety of terrain. A sense of security can be achieved when trekking among even the most difficult terrain. Trekking poles also reduce effort, keeping you moving for a longer period of time while minimizing stress on joints, muscles, and ligaments. By seamlessly spreading the burden of whatever loads you carry during your trek, poles aid in maintaining good posture and improve breathing. Lastly, the propulsion provided by trekking poles allows you to propel yourself from the ground, increasing forward motion for a simple but effective workout.

Some less obvious benefits of having a pair of trekking poles on hand include having something to:

  • Poke around in brush to check to animals and other creatures

  • Move poisonous plants (oak / ivy) without making direct contact

  • Defend yourself in an attack

  • Pole a tarp or tarp tent

  • Mark a trail for temporary use

  • Probe trail obstacles in darkness

  • Probe depth of water and mud

Despite the many benefits of hiking poles, it’s true that they are not for everyone. Some people take much more quickly to poles than others – some never get used to them. However, walking poles are especially useful for those who walk distance on rough terrain with steep ascents / descents. People who carry heavy backpacks, as well as those who have ankle, knee, and hip trouble will benefit greatly from using poles during their walks.

walking-poles-3Trekking Poles Techniques

The last important thing to learn about trekking poles is the various techniques – there are three basic techniques that are absolutely essential for the serious hiker to commit to memory:

Gas (Technique #1): When desiring to propel yourself forward, plant the pole’s tip at the rear of or behind your foot. Note that in order to maintain the 90-degree elbow bend, it’s important to lengthen your poles on long ascents.

Brake (Technique #2): When desiring to slow down, plant the pole’s tip in front of your foot. Maintain a 90-degree elbow bend by lengthening your poles on long descents. For this technique, an alternate hold can be used in which you rest your palms on top of the grips.

Coast (Technique #3): When either of the two techniques above isn’t required and you simply want an upper body break, you coast. Plant the tip of the pole but do not load. If desired, swing the poles, one per hand, holding at their center of gravity. For hands-free hiking, simply tuck the poles under one arm or attach them to your backpack.

Although there are a handful of more involved techniques that hikers can utilize for a number of unique situations, these three are the most basic and the ones that will likely be most used. Now that you’ve learned the essentials of trekking poles, go outside and explore. Happy trekking!