Group of trekking sticks on background mountains range in Himalaya

How to Use Walking Poles

If you're partial to a nice weekend walk, you'll have no doubt come across fellow walkers using a pair of walking poles on your adventures. If you're curious about walking poles and want to understand how they work, what they're used for, or whether you should buy a pair to join your existing outdoor equipment, our handy guide will provide you with everything you need to know about walking poles.

What Are Walking Poles?

First thing's first - what exactly are walking poles? They're essentially two (often adjustable) elongated sticks, finished with either a blunt rubber or pointed tip at the base, depending on the type of pole. The rubber-tipped poles are better for pavement use or for craggy surfaces, whereas the pointed tips are more for trail use, allowing the user to dig into turf for extra grip.

In order to save on weight, they're often made of hollow lightweight aluminium or carbon fibre. This helps prevent unnecessary fatigue from carrying them along with you, whilst still maintaining a strong build quality.

What Are Walking Poles Used For?

Walking poles are designed to enhance your stability as you walk and help prevent strain, they do this by taking the load off of your legs and lower back by sharing the weight with your upper body. They're also particularly useful on wet surfaces as the rubberised tips help prevent slipping. Some people are put off by the concept of using walking poles, however those that eventually give them a go usually end up swearing by them.

There are other types of poles such as Nordic walking poles, which are more exercise oriented and used exclusively for the Nordic Walking activity. However, these are designed to propel the user forward and train the upper body, rather than for grip and support like traditional hiking poles.

Walking aside, trekking poles can also serve a double purpose. If you're using two, you'll be able to create a makeshift shelter if you like to carry a tarp with you for your pit stops. Equally, if you're walking through snow or particularly muddy trails, you'll be able to use your poles to gauge how deep the path ahead is.

How To Use Walking Poles

In order to use walking poles, they'll first need to be setup correctly for your height. The optimum position for walking poles is to hold them in your hands with your elbows bent towards a 90 degree angle, which is commonly right by the waist. However, if you're planning on walking an incline trail, you'll want to adjust the poles to be slightly shorter to compensate for the elevation in front of your feet. On the other hand, if you're walking downhill you'll need the poles to be extended slightly longer. Your knees undertake much more pressure when walking on a decline, walking poles really do help alleviate a lot of that pressure when used correctly.

Most walking poles come with a wrist strap, which you can slot your hands through in order to keep control of the pole if you need to let go for a moment, for instance if you needed to cross a shallow stream. As you walk along with your hiking poles in hand, try to walk with your posture upright and use your shoulders when applying weight to your walking poles, rather than your arms whilst maintaining a good (but not tight) grip of the poles. Remember, walking poles are designed to help take some of the weight off of your knees, but that doesn't mean they should cause you any arm ache as a trade-off! Combined with a comfy pair of walking boots, you should be able to hike with relative ease.

Will You Benefit From Using Walking Poles?

Some people just don't get the concept of using trekking poles, however there are plenty of benefits to using them, such as:

  • Reduced knee & lower back strain.
  • Enhanced stability when walking.
  • Easier to walk when carrying a heavy backpack.
  • Less fatigue, allowing you to walk further.
  • Improved posture
  • Strengthen the upper body

Aren't They An Inconvenience?

No. The only real inconvenience with walking poles is carrying them along with you, but that only tends to be an issue if you don't have telescopic style collapsible poles, which is common with carbon fibre models. You'll typically find that aluminium poles can be retracted down to fit into a backpack, which is much more convenient.

We hope you found our guide on how to use walking poles useful. For more great walking related content, check out some of our latest walking guides.

rg_uk-Blog - Author - Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor

Chris covers all things gear and lifestyle related for Destination Outdoors.

Publish Date: 27/02/2024