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Do you need trekking poles? While it is possible to trek without them, you’ll find it very difficult. Trekking poles offer a way of remaining stable and balanced when moving across uneven or rugged terrain. However, to get the most out of them, you need to understand why you’ve got them and how to use them properly.
Why Use Trekking Poles?
There are many reasons why using trekking poles are a good idea. You wouldn’t go skiing without poles and while they’re not absolutely necessary, you would be hard pushed to find a ski instructor that didn’t advise using them. The same can be said for trekking poles.
Reduces the Strain on Your Joints
Trekking is an excellent form of exercise, but as with any other type of workout, you need to make sure that you aren’t putting unnecessary pressure on your joints. The use of trekking poles has been shown to significantly reduce pain in the knees as well as muscle soreness.
When using trekking poles, your weight will be better distributed, which means that there is less strain on your knees and ankles, as well as your feet. This is even more important when walking down hills. Not only is this beneficial to the joints, but it will also reduce your overall muscle soreness which is imperative if you are going to be trekking for several days at a time.
There’s even some suggestion that all of this combined means fewer injuries or pain in the days following a long trek.
But it doesn’t stop there. Trekking poles will absorb much of the impact from every step. Shock is absorbed naturally by the joints thanks to something called synovial fluid, which is there to protect them. However, over time, your body can absorb too much, so it’s essential to have a way of limiting this, and trekking poles are the ideal choice for this activity. That said, walking correctly and making the most of your body’s natural shock-absorbing mechanisms is also incredibly important.
Offers Additional Support & Stability
Trekking is one of the more adventurous types of walking, and you’ll often find yourself heading out over questionable terrain. Walking without poles can be dangerous because you’re having to balance in ways that feel rather unnatural. For example, when walking over rocky ground or on very fine sand.
Your trekking poles will help to keep your footing much more stable, especially over slippery or uneven terrain. As a direct result of this, there is far less chance of slipping and injuring yourself.
Provides a Full-Body Workout
If you have taken up trekking, we would imagine that you are looking for a way to keep fit and healthy. It’s a great choice as trekking certainly comes with a lot of health benefits. One of these, however, can only be gained when using trekking poles.
As opposed to simply walking with the legs, the use of trekking poles allows for a full-body workout. You will be working the upper body, including the arms and back muscles, as well as your shoulders. But even more than this, your treks will provide you with an excellent cardio workout, so your health will likely improve in all aspects.
Allows you to Easily Probe Depth
We have established that trekking comes with the prospect of moving through some very difficult terrain, and you need to be prepared at all costs. For example, sometimes, you may need to make your way through mud, water, snow, and other things.
Not knowing how deep things are can be incredibly dangerous. What you think might be a small puddle could be much deeper, and the last thing you want to do is enter before you know it is safe. While your trekking poles are not designed primarily as a safety accessory, they can aid you.
When approaching mud, water, and the like, you can use your trekking poles to test the depth. This makes your outings much safer and more enjoyable.
You Can Use them to Clear Your Path
Depending on the time of year that you go out trekking, there could be a lot of foliage or growth that gets in your path. Rather than trying to struggle through this, you can use your trekking poles to clear the way. After all, there’s nothing worse than trying to remove nettles, thorns, and other nasties out of the way by hand, especially if you aren’t wearing gloves!
Helps to Reduce Fatigue on Long Hikes
The whole point of trekking is to go on a longer adventure. However, this can put you under a lot of physical strain, and it’s not uncommon to begin feeling very fatigued. But using trekking poles can go a long way in reducing this fatigue and allowing you to go further.
This is largely because the poles help to improve your posture, so as little strain as possible is being put on your legs, back, and joints. Moreover, if there are a lot of inclines on your chosen route, this can be even more tiring, but since your trekking poles will take a lot of the weight, you will find you can tackle these things more easily and for longer.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using Trekking Poles?
Nothing in this world is perfect. While there are a lot of benefits to using trekking poles, there are some things that aren’t as advantageous. It’s worth considering the pros and cons before making a decision as to whether trekking poles are right for you.
More Energy is Exerted
As we mentioned earlier, using trekking poles will give you a full-body workout. This is good in many ways as it’ll keep you fit and healthy. However, this also means that you’ll have to use more energy which could go against the idea that your trekking poles will stop you from feeling as fatigued.
Much of this is because of the way that you pump your arms when using trekking poles. That said, this shouldn’t be too much of a drawback since you have the benefit of being more stable.
Can Cause Environmental Damage
There’s a lot of focus on the environment these days, and that’s a good thing. So, when it comes to deciding whether or not trekking poles are right for you, you might want to think about where you are trekking.
For example, if you’re on a path that is very frequently used by trekkers, then over time, poles will cause damage to the path. They may cause erosion and make the path less stable. Moreover, the poles could interfere with plant life, rocks, and other aspects of nature, including wildlife.
Hand Function is Limited
One of the biggest disadvantages to using trekking poles is that your hands won’t be free. If you need to have a drink or stop to check your map then you’ll have to struggle holding your poles and doing everything else.
If you like to take a lot of photos on your hike, you’ll find it much trickier to do. Usually, you might do these things while moving, but if you have trekking poles in your hands, then you’ll almost always have to stop to do anything else.
Adds Additional Weight
Going on a long trek requires carrying as little equipment as possible, and what you do need to carry should be lightweight. There are, of course, some items that you need to take with you, and since trekking poles aren’t an absolute must, you might want to consider how much weight they’ll add to your load.
You’ll normally find that backpacks have a loop designed to carry your poles when not in use; this can be helpful. But there’s still the additional weight to think about. It is possible to buy lightweight trekking poles, but these might not have the durability of something more heavy-duty.
How to Set Trekking Poles to the Correct Height
One of the most important things about using trekking poles is making sure that you have them set to the correct height. Failing to do this will affect your posture and reduce how comfortably you can use the poles.
The elbows should be kept at a 90º angle. The type of trekking pole you choose will determine how easy this is to do. If you are using adjustable poles, then you’ll be able to change the height and get it pretty spot on. However, a fixed-length pole requires a little more attention at the point of purchase, as you’ll need to make sure you buy the right height.
Generally speaking, if you’re below 5ft1, you’ll need trekking poles with a maximum height of 39 inches. For people up to 5ft7, the poles should be 43 inches, and for those between 5ft8 and 5ft11 will need a larger pole with a maximum height of 47 inches. Finally, people whose height exceeds 6ft will need to go for a trekking pole up to 51 inches.
When you are using adjustable trekking poles, it’s very easy to change the height. They’ll usually have markers to show the height and can be twisted to set them. It’s important to make sure they lock properly so that they do not falter when in use. It’s also important to keep in mind that the length of the poles will need to be altered when going up or down hill.
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll need to reduce the height of the pole by about 5cm to 10cm when going up an incline. This will allow for improved leverage. On the other hand, you’ll need to increase the length of your poles by around the same amount when moving down a hill, as this will ensure your posture remains upright.
How to Use Trekking Poles Correctly
If you want to make the most out of your trekking poles then it is vital that you know how to use them correctly. Not only will this make the trek safer, but you will feel more comfortable.
Holding Trekking Poles the Right Way
Your trekking poles will be kitted out with a wrist strap and a grip for you to hold onto. When holding the pole, your grip should feel natural and comfortable, so start by finding a position that feels right for you.
Once you’re satisfied with how you’ll position your hand, it’s time to slide it through the wrist strap. Take a secure hold of the grip and make sure that the wrist strap sits across the palm of your hand and between your thumb and first finger.
You can now adjust the strap so that it is tight around your hand. It should keep your hand in position without feeling uncomfortable. Now, you’re ready to go!
Using Your Trekking Poles on a Flat Surface
Some people choose not to use their trekking poles when walking across a smooth, even surface. But if the terrain gets a little rocky, then you may need them. It’s important to keep in mind that on flat surfaces, you may need to alter the height of your poles according to the type of terrain.
It’s a good idea to test the height before walking by ensuring that, when holding them, your elbows remain at a 90º angle. You might even choose to mark where you’ve set the pole for different terrain types to make it easier in the future.
Using Your Trekking Poles When Going Uphill
When you are moving uphill, you may notice that your poles just don’t feel right if they’re not properly adjusted. For example, you may find yourself overstretching if the poles are too long and you experience pain in your shoulders.
To avoid this, you must make sure to reduce the height of your pole by anywhere between 5cm and 10cm. How much you need to adjust them will depend on the steepness of the incline.
Using Your Trekking Poles When Going Downhill
Similarly, when moving downhill, keeping your trekking poles at their normal length will make life much more difficult for you. If you find yourself hunching over or feeling uncomfortable, then these are signs that your poles are too short.
For this, you’ll need to adjust their height between 5cm and 10cm. Once again, how much you need to do this will be determined by how steep the slope is. The steeper it is, the more you’ll need to adjust your pole length.
Can You Use One Trekking Pole?
If you want a more traditional trek, then you might opt for a hiking staff. These are typically made from wood, and while they’re nice in theory, they often don’t provide you with the same support and stability that two trekking poles would. That said, if you’re simply walking over smooth ground, this might be the right accessory for you.
However, most people find that using two trekking poles is the most effective way. Compared to using just one pole, the weight distribution is more equal, so you won’t find that the unsupported side of your body becomes tired more quickly. Since trekking is considered a full-body workout, to reap all of the benefits, you’ll need to use two poles to work out both sides of the body equally.
It’s also important to consider how much balance you’ll get from one pole vs two. For example, when tackling water crossings or uneven ground, two poles will provide you with far greater support. They will also absorb more of the impact from each step which is imperative if you suffer from joint pain.
As we have mentioned, using one trekking pole on very easy terrain might be worth considering. A lot of people also find that using a single-pole frees up a hand which makes map reading, taking a drink, using the phone, and other activities much less hassle. Perhaps you’re headed out on a multi-day trek and already have a lot of equipment; using one pole will certainly reduce the amount of weight you have to carry.