Hiking gear has changed considerably, especially in the last decade. Apart from the gradual move toward lighter equipment, one of the most evident changes is the rapidly increasing use of trekking poles. That is true for both long-distance hikers and day hikers.
What Are Trekking Poles?
A trekking pole (also called a hiking stick, hiking pole or walking pole) is a commonly used hiking accessory that helps walkers by providing stability and balance on rough terrain and improving their rhythm.
On a cursory glance, trekking poles may look similar to ski poles, which often leads to questions like, “Isn’t June a little early for skiing?” But, in fact, trekking poles are quite different from standard ski poles in a few important ways. For starters, textured trekking pole handles are ergonomic, while trekking poles themselves are quite strong and rigid.
On the other hand, ski poles are quite flexible. In most cases, the tips of trekking poles are hardened carbide steel. That provides them the important capability to get “set” into soil and rocks to offer traction.
The maximum length of a trekking pole is about 54 inches (or 135 cm).Unlike a ski pole, however, it usually has two or more sections. That allows a trekking pole to be retracted and extended as needed during use and it can collapse for easy transport or storage. When withdrawn, you can attach trekking poles to a backpack.
A few models of trekking poles feature spring-loaded sections which can ease walking under standard conditions; they also help lower wrist strain. However, the downside to these devices is that they tend to add unnecessary noise and weight to trekking poles. Carbon fiber and lightweight aluminum are the most popular materials used for trekking poles.
The Uses For Trekking Poles
Descendant of the famous and convenient walking sticks, a trekking pole is often used by walkers and hikers for very similar reasons — to lend more rhythm and balance to their walking tempo and pace and to provide extra support.
Although on a smooth and even terrain trekking poles are not necessary, using these poles could improve the speed of hikers and increase the amount of exercise they get from a trip. On the other hand, on flat or smooth terrain, or extremely steep slopes, trekking poles can offer useful lateral stability. Similarly, many hikers use them to alleviate knee pain.
Moreover, you can also use them as useful aids while climbing boulders or rocks for probing or gauging the depth of water or mud to facilitate a crossing.
Also, while traversing steep slopes or uneven terrain for longer distances, a lot of hikers often make one trekking pole shorter compared to the other. That helps make these hiking trips feel a little more stable, similar to those on level or even ground.
A lot of backpacking tents components are similar to trekking poles -like tent poles. Similarly, you can use trekking poles to set up the Bivouac shelter easily. Moreover, hikers who prefer taking snowshoes during the winter months usually find these poles quite useful. You can also use trekking poles for Nordic walking in both urban and rural environments.
Here are some other essential uses of trekking poles:
Provide Upward Thrust
Like ski poles, trekking poles allow the arms to push you in an upward and forward direction. That is why whether you are scaling steep hills or walking on level ground, trekking poles could help improve your average speed.
Moreover, walking with trekking poles could help hikers set and maintain a relatively balanced and consistent rhythm. That can, in turn, further raise their speed. That could be particularly beneficial on both non-technical and flat terrain.
Trekking poles can lower the impact on a hiker's knees, legs, feet, and ankles. You will find these poles especially helpful when going downhill. Several research studies have revealed that trekking poles could cut down compressive force on your knees by as much as 25 percent.
Also, you can use trekking poles to deflect various backcountry nuisances. For example, these poles could swipe away those irritating spider webs and even push away dangerously thorny blackberries. That could lead to a better and more comfortable hiking experience.
Improve Traction And Balance
The two additional points of contact can considerably improve the traction, especially on slippery surfaces such as snow, mud as well as loose rock.
Trekking poles could also help hikers maintain better balance in harsh terrain like on root-strewn trails, during river crossings, and on slippery or muddy bog bridges. That is important as staying balanced can help them move more swiftly with more ease.
Moreover, trekking poles could act as probes and provide you with more information than what you may get with your eyes. For example, you can use them to learn about melting snow bridges, dangerous puddles or quicksand.
Defend Yourself Against Dangerous Wildlife
In case you have hiked in a desert through low brush, it is likely that you will be familiar with the dread of wondering if those bushes are concealing a scorpion, snake, or some other pest that is waiting to strike. That is where trekking poles could be handy as you could use them to fend off attacks from various animals such as bears, dogs, and other creatures.
Moreover, to defend yourself against an animal attack, you can swing the trekking poles around. You can use the component as a weapon to fend off a bear attack or a pesky critter.
You can also use the poles as a tool for fishing or throwing, like a spear, to defend yourself from a wild boar and whatnot.
Support For Pitching Your Tarp
Keep in mind that even after you have made it to your camp and taken off the boots, these poles could still be quite useful. For instance, having sturdy and lightweight trekking poles could help with a variety of different camping tasks such as keeping your camping bag off the ground, hanging different items to dry or just pitching a tarp.
Similarly, when you are not planning on spending the night out, trekking poles could come in very handy in case you have to set up a temporary or emergency shelter.
Emergency Splint Construction
If you are a seasoned climber or hiker, you will know that there are a variety of emergency situations where you could benefit from having a lightweight and straight brace. For example, you can use trekking poles to support broken bones, or splint sprained or strained joints.
Even in situations where you do not end up injuring yourself severely, these poles could work as great makeshift crutches in case you hurt your knee or roll your ankle. In these instances, trekking poles can take off some weight and make your hiking experience much more comfortable.
Types Of Trekking Poles
About ten to twelve years back trekking poles were hardly used. In contrast, nowadays you are likely to find more people using these poles. You will see them in the hands of day trekkers who are out for just a few hours as well as hikers who tend to go on hiking trips that last several months.
That is mainly because these poles can help enhance your balance, especially on shaky or jagged terrain; moreover, they can also save considerable energy when you go up and down sharp or steep trails.
Some studies have indicated that these poles could lower impact force on your knees by nearly forty percent, particularly on a long downhill. That is why hikers of various age groups tend to appreciate trekking poles.
There are various types of trekking poles available in the market, and each class has its unique advantages and disadvantages. We will discuss these models in the following paragraphs.
Two Section Telescoping
Trekking poles with two section telescoping are usually the stiffest and most durable when it comes to overall design. That is why these trekking poles are better for various activities such as snowshoeing and skiing; they are also ideal for people who tend to go hard on their trekking poles.
As two sectional poles are specially designed keeping in mind these benefits, you will find that there is often some pole overlap which makes them much stronger compared to other types of trekking poles.
However, they have their specific downsides. For example, two-section trekking poles usually do not pack down a great deal even if you shrink them down as much as possible.
And yet though they have just two sections, these trekking poles are usually a little more cumbersome compared to other pole designs. Despite this drawback, a lot of people tend to prefer these trekking poles.
Three Section Telescoping
Trekking poles with three section telescoping are the most widely used trekking poles. Regarding design, they are considerably more compact compared to most two-section trekking poles. Also, you can strap all the three local options to your backpack or fit them comfortably inside a standard sized suitcase.
Besides, a majority of three section designs are usually lighter compared to two section trekking poles, while others have about the same weight as two section poles. Three telescoping section poles are conventional, and a majority of people use them for activities such as trekking, hiking, backpacking, climbing, and mountaineering.
However, they have some downsides. They are not as strong as their two section counterparts but provide enough strength to take care of heavy duty or even rugged mountaineering and backpacking.
Tent Pole Or Folding Style
The latest "tent pole" or folding style poles hit the market just a couple of years ago. These folding or tent poles designs were quickly renowned as the most compact and lightest models in the market. However, when compared to two section or three section trekking poles, they are not as durable as you would like them to be.
However, they are sturdy enough to meet the needs of most hikers and climbers heading out for backpacking trips; they are also suitable for cross-country travel. Folding trekking poles are also perfect for climbers as they are portable. That allows users to pack them up small, which makes carrying them very easy.
On average, a majority of tentpole style trekking poles are about seven to ten inches shorter compared to telescoping poles. Besides, they are about ten to fifteen ounces lighter than telescoping poles.
However, it is essential to bear in mind that many folding style trekking poles do not have removable baskets. The main reason for this is to make the trekking pole lighter. Another reason is that a majority of folding poles are not strong enough for this purpose.
In the recent past, many new models of folding trekking poles have hit the market, which has also had one or two sections of a telescoping trekking pole. This hybrid design makes it possible for users to adjust the length of the trekking poles used.
We contend that this is one of the most significant additions to the tent pole design because it allows the pole to be way more versatile. That makes it very appealing to a lot of hikers. Although they are not as flexible as full three sectional telescoping poles, for a majority of users they are quite adjustable and versatile.
Types Of Trekking Pole Materials
A majority of trekking poles are either aluminum or carbon fiber. At times, they contain a combination of these two materials (such as when a three-section trekking pole has two aluminum top pieces, while a carbon lower).In most cases, high-end poles are usually carbon. That is because carbon is stiffer and lighter.
However, carbon is also more brittle and expensive. That is why when a carbon trekking pole breaks it is rendered useless. On the other hand, aluminum may only bend or dent due to heavy use and remain usable. However, the tendency of carbon to snap because of more stress or pressure can be offset, to a certain extent, by using a thicker construction.
Overall durability and price are the two primary reasons why a lot of hikers choose aluminum trekking poles. Also, keep in mind that there is an increasing move toward hybrid construction. Ultimately, most casual hikers or people who are hard on their hiking gear would still be happier choosing an aluminum trekking pole or one with hybrid construction.
On the other hand, a full-carbon build will be the best choice for gear enthusiasts as well as weight-focused hikers or backpackers.
Apart from an extremely light folding pole, it is likely that you would like a trekking pole that has some locking mechanism. However, keep in mind these trekking poles are often haunted by subpar or inconsistent performance.
That is usually because most hikers tend to over tighten them, or twist them too loose. That also causes constant problems when it comes to collapsing. Pointless to mention, the twist lock mechanism has become obsolete. That is why we would recommend that you avoid the twist lock.
The lever lock, on the other hand, uses an external clamp for opening or closing the pole sections. That makes the system quite easy to use. Moreover, the risk of slipping, when the pole is in the locked position, is significantly reduced, which provides more confidence to the users.
How To Measure Yourself For The Right Trekking Poles?
There are several benefits of using trekking poles, from covering more ground much quicker and helping hikers and climbers establish a rhythm to offering more support primarily on the unstable or uneven ground and lowering the strain on the knees and ankles. Measuring yourself correctly for the right trekking pole will help you get the best results from your trekking poles.
The most suitable height for trekking poles will vary from one user to another and often depends on personal preferences. It is essential to make sure that you have adjusted the height of your trekking poles to suit your needs carefully.
In general, trekking poles should have the height that is equal to the length measured from your palms, with the forearm held out at ninety degrees, to your body.
So, ensure that the handle of the trekking pole is at hip or waist level, while the elbow is at ninety degrees. You should shorten your trekking poles by at least a couple of inches while traveling uphill. That will help increase your load-bearing pressure.
On the other hand, while traveling downhill, it is advisable to extend the length of your trekking poles. That will help take some of the pressure off your knees.
Moreover, increasing the length of your trekking pole will also ensure that you aren't stretching too much. That will, in turn, improve your overall balance. You may have to increase the length of your trekking poles by up to ten inches depending on the steepness of the terrain.
How To Use Trekking Poles?
We will discuss a practical and methodical approach to how you can use trekking poles to get the most benefit out of them. That will help make hiking trips safer, easier and more efficient.
Adjust The Wrist Straps
A majority of people do not take the wrist straps seriously, while others do not know how the wrist straps work. Keep in mind that if you use the wrist straps correctly, they will help prevent sprained wrists and aching hands.
You can change the length of your wrist straps by pulling out the tension block. When the tension block is out, you can yank the loose end and tighten your belt, or loosen it by pulling the upper portion.
Using The Wrist Straps
Slide your hands through the relevant straps from underneath so that they rest comfortably around the wrists. Then firmly hold the upper portion of your belts and the grip with your hands. Do not leave the straps too loose; this is a widespread mistake.
An adequately adjusted strap will be sufficiently tight to support the weight exerted by the hands on the trekking poles, but not excessively tight to limit movement or prevent circulation in your hands.
Adjusting The Length Of Your Trekking Poles
Carefully align your trekking poles to ensure that your elbows are at an angle of ninety degrees. While changing the length of your trekking poles, it is critical to ensure that the number on its upper half matches the number on the bottom half.
When you hike uphill, it is advisable that you keep the length of your trekking pole short. That improves balance by providing more stability.
While moving downhill, it is better to extend the length of your trekking poles. That will help take some of the pressure off your knees. Moreover, increasing the length of your trekking pole will also ensure that you aren’t stretching too much.
We have discussed what trekking poles are and how you can use them to make your outdoor trips safer, more comfortable and efficient. We have talked a variety of different uses of trekking poles.
Some activities include Nordic walking, hiking, backpacking and fending off animal attacks. We have also looked at the various benefits of using trekking poles such as more comfort, balance, and safety.
We have highlighted the different types of trekking poles such as two and three section telescoping trekking poles and folding or tent pole style. We have also covered the combination type which is a hybrid model.
We have looked at the conventional materials used in trekking poles which are carbon fiber and aluminum and discussed the benefits and drawbacks of these elements. We have provided instructions on how you can measure yourself for the right trekking poles.
We have also provided some instructions on using trekking poles. Our buying guide will discuss the different features that you should consider when buying trekking poles along with some recommendations.