2023 note: The sale of our trekking poles has moved over to our new brand Diorite Gear.
Trekking and hiking poles are designed to give extra confidence and stability on the trail. Knowing how to use hiking poles can be very helpful. It doesn't matter if you're hiking rough mountain trails or need better stability on a paved sidewalk or street. Using poles can take the stress off your joints, especially when going up or down a hill. Those with osteoarthritis, Parkinson's Disease, or multiple sclerosis, have seen tremendous benefits from using poles to get around.
However, it would be best if you used hiking poles correctly. Learning how to grip the bars, use proper arm and leg movements, and adjust them for both uphill and downhill walking and hiking is essential.
Trekking Poles or Nordic Poles?
The primary benefit of hiking and trekking poles is increased stability. Poles can also relieve your joints, especially when moving up and down hills. They improve balance and reduce muscle activity, helping you hike longer with less muscle fatigue. It's important to distinguish between trekking poles and Nordic walking poles. Nordic walking poles use a technique that is an upper-body workout that burns more calories. Trekking poles are not designed to provide a workout or burn calories. Therefore, trekking poles are more suitable for long walks and hikes because they are less taxing on your muscles and aid with balance.
How to Use Trekking Poles
Using hiking and trekking poles may seem self-explanatory, but there are a few techniques to master. It starts with how you grip the poles. Don't hold them too tight. Release your grip on the poles and let them move back and forth between your thumb and forefinger. If you keep your grip relaxed, moving the pole back and forth with each step will take the least effort. The handles on trekking poles are usually angled, so they are easy to use. There is no need to hold the bar firmly, as it can strain your hands and wrists. For comfort, you can close your other fingers loosely. If you feel the pole slipping or need added stability while walking, tighten your grip.
Use Proper Arm Movement
Keep your elbows tucked tight as you walk and hold the poles. As you walk forward, flick the opposite pole forward with a forearm and wrist motion. If your grip is loose, the bar will swing forward correctly. Opposite arm/leg movement is crucial. If you move the same arm and leg forward at once, your gait will wobble. It may take a bit of practice, but you should be able to walk at a natural pace. To work on it, lightly drag your poles behind you with one in each hand. Your body should naturally start the opposite arm/leg pattern as you walk. From there, pull the stick up so that the tips touch the ground with each step forward.
Planting the Pole
Trekking poles are designed to plant easily into the ground. The tip of the rod rests slightly on top for stability reasons. It just touches the ground until you make the next flick. You can do it if you want to add specific movements and get some upper body work. This provides a little boost when braking uphill or flat, or downhill. If using the planting/pressing technique, apply back and down pressure.
How to Double Pole
You can place both bars in front of you simultaneously when going uphill, downhill, or climbing curbs or stairs. Use the swing and drop technique by flicking both bars forward in a straightforward motion, then taking one to four steps ahead. When you feel you can use their stability, swing the bar forward again. When you feel confident and want to pick up your pace, you can relax your arms and add a little shoulder movement to each pole with the pole's tip slightly behind your body. This is like the Nordic walking technique. When the pole is behind you, you can give yourself some extra push by bringing the pole down a bit with each step.
Moving Uphill and Downhill
When going downhill, you should either loosen the straps or remove the handlebars from the straps, as they can get too tight as the angle increases. You can extend the pole by 5 to 10 centimeters. Instead of planting the bars parallel to your body, plant them slightly forward for a little braking effect. Take small steps down, keeping your knees weak. Hold the stick in front of your body. If you have a wide path on a steep hill, you may need to zigzag three or more steps back and forth on the trail, creating your own little turnaround. You may need to shorten the poles when going uphill. Keep the poles close to your body, not planted in front of you. The aim is to give yourself a little push, not a pull.
Climbing and Descending Stairs
For stability when descending a set of stairs, place both poles on the next step and go down the step. It should plant, step, plant, step. Don't let your poles fall behind you. To stay steady while climbing stairs, push up instead of pulling. Put the two bars at your feet, step on them, and lift the bars to your feet. Push, push, push, push.
A backpack is ideal if you carry more than your essentials while using trekking poles. It keeps the load from affecting your arm movement. For your trekking, choose a backpack or backpack with adequate carrying capacity, especially enough water and layers of clothing.
Adjusting Your Poles
If you're using poles for stability, hold them at a 90-degree angle with your elbows tight at your side. This gives you the best leverage when pushing down the bar for stability. Most adjustable poles are suitable for people between 5 and 6 feet tall. A stick designed for kids might be a good fit for you if you're smaller. If you are taller, look for poles at higher elevations.
A fixed-length pole may be appropriate if you walk primarily on level ground. Adjustable length rods are often marked in centimeters. When going uphill, you can shorten the pole by 5 to 10 centimeters. You can also extend them down 5 to 10 centimeters. Sometimes you're hiking on a steep road long enough that you may want to shorten one pole and lengthen the other. Familiarize yourself with how to adjust the length of the poles. Stand with your elbows bent 90 degrees and adjust the length, so the handle fits your hand at that height. If you frequently need to lift the pole over rocks or grass, you may need to shorten the pole slightly.
If you have a three-section pole, one suggestion is to set the top in the middle and adjust the bottom to the correct length for horizontal walking. Now, if you need to change the length, you can only adjust the top. If your pole has a strap, put your hand through the strap and grab the pole. This will cause the strap to run across the back of your hand (instead of twisting) with your thumb resting on the strap. Adjust the strap length so that the rod stays in that position.
For convenience, some sticks have left, and right marked straps. This type of ring allows you to release the pole in a short amount of time without falling to the ground.