June 11, 2024
How to Use Trekking Poles

Trekking poles, once considered an accessory exclusive to the most serious hikers and mountaineers, have become a staple in the backpacks of outdoor enthusiasts worldwide. The benefits of using trekking poles are manifold: they enhance stability on uneven terrain, reduce the impact on knees during descents, and improve power and endurance on ascents. But perhaps the most transformative effect of trekking poles is how they bring rhythm and balance to the art of walking, turning each hike into a more efficient and enjoyable journey. “There’s a certain dance to using trekking poles, and once you’ve found your rhythm, the trail feels less like an obstacle and more like a partner in your outdoor adventure,” a sentiment I’ve often found to be true in my own experiences with these invaluable tools.

Choosing the Right Trekking Poles

Selecting the perfect trekking poles can seem daunting at first, given the variety available on the market. However, focusing on a few key features can help simplify the process.

  • Types of Trekking Poles:
    • Telescopic Poles: These poles adjust in length using a locking mechanism and are ideal for hikers who value versatility and adjustability.
    • Folding Poles: Known for their compactness when not in use, folding poles are perfect for travelers and those with limited storage space.
    • Fixed-Length Poles: Offering the best in durability and strength, fixed-length poles are favored by ultralight enthusiasts and those who prioritize simplicity.
  • Material Matters:
    • Aluminum: Durable and more affordable, aluminum poles are suited to rugged terrain but are heavier than their counterparts.
    • Carbon Fiber: Lightweight and shock-absorbent, carbon fiber poles are great for reducing strain on joints but can be more susceptible to breaking if bent.
  • Grip Types:
    • Cork Grips: Best for absorbing sweat and conforming to the shape of your hands over time, making them comfortable for long hikes.
    • Foam Grips: Soft and lightweight, foam grips excel in cold conditions and for those who prefer a softer touch.
    • Rubber Grips: Ideal for hikes in warm climates, rubber grips insulate hands from cold and are durable, but can lead to sweaty hands in hot conditions.

Choosing the right trekking poles is akin to finding the right hiking boots—it’s all about the fit, comfort, and suitability for your intended use. Whether you’re navigating the rocky passes of the Rockies or the rolling hills of the Appalachian Trail, the right poles can make all the difference in your adventure.

Adjusting Your Trekking Poles

Getting the most out of your trekking poles means adjusting them properly to suit the terrain and your height. This not only maximizes comfort but also efficiency and safety on the trail.

  • Finding the Right Length: For flat terrain, adjust the poles so that your elbows form a 90-degree angle when holding the poles with tips on the ground beside your feet. This position should feel natural and support your body’s natural posture. When tackling uphill sections, shorten the poles slightly to maintain stability and leverage. Conversely, for downhill sections, lengthening the poles can help maintain balance and reduce the impact on your knees. A good rule of thumb is to adjust the length by about 5-10 centimeters for steep inclines or declines.
  • Strap Adjustment: The wrist straps on your trekking poles aren’t just for show—they play a crucial role in reducing strain on your hands and wrists. To use them correctly, insert your hand up through the bottom of the strap and grip the handle, allowing the strap to rest against your wrist. This method distributes the force more evenly across your wrist and arm, reducing fatigue and giving you a secure grip without having to clutch the handle tightly.

Techniques for Using Trekking Poles

Mastering the use of trekking poles can transform your hiking experience, turning challenging trails into manageable journeys. Here are some techniques to get you started:

  • Basic Pole Techniques: Start by planting the pole opposite your forward foot (left pole with right foot and vice versa) to create a natural rhythm. This alternating pattern mimics the natural movement of walking and helps maintain balance and propulsion. Keep the poles close to your body to avoid overreaching, which can lead to inefficiency and fatigue.
  • Advanced Techniques: For steep ascents, use the poles to pull yourself up, planting them ahead and pulling your body forward. This reduces the effort required from your legs alone. On steep descents, plant the poles in front of you to form a stable “quadruped” stance, which can help control your speed and reduce the jarring impact on your legs. In tricky terrain, such as crossing streams or navigating snowfields, use the poles for extra points of contact with the ground, increasing your stability and confidence.
  • Pacing and Rhythm: Finding your pacing and rhythm with trekking poles comes with practice. Aim for a steady, rhythmic pattern that complements your walking pace. This consistency helps in conserving energy over long distances and makes navigating varied terrain smoother and more enjoyable.

By adjusting your trekking poles correctly and mastering these techniques, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle any trail with increased confidence, efficiency, and enjoyment.

Maintenance and Care

To ensure your trekking poles last many adventures, regular maintenance and care are essential. Here’s how to keep your poles in top condition:

  • Cleaning and Storage: After each hike, especially if you’ve trekked through mud, sand, or saltwater, dismantle your poles (if possible) and clean them with fresh water. Allow them to dry fully before reassembling to prevent rust and corrosion. When storing, keep them in a cool, dry place and avoid leaving them compressed for extended periods to prolong the life of the internal springs and locking mechanisms.
  • Replacing Tips and Parts: Trekking pole tips wear down with use, affecting grip and stability. Inspect them regularly and replace them when they show significant wear. Additionally, keep an eye on other parts like the locking mechanism and the baskets, replacing them as needed. Many manufacturers offer replacement parts, ensuring your poles can serve you well for years to come.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Even with the best equipment, a few common mistakes can hinder your trekking pole experience:

  • Over-reliance on Poles: Relying too heavily on your trekking poles can lead to a false sense of security. Use them as aids, not crutches, to support your natural movement. Developing core strength and balance through training can enhance your hiking efficiency and safety.
  • Incorrect Length Adjustment: Using poles that are too long or too short can strain your body and reduce effectiveness. Regularly adjust your pole length to match the terrain, ensuring optimal comfort and support.
  • Improper Grip: Gripping your poles too tightly or incorrectly can lead to hand fatigue and discomfort. Use the wrist straps as designed to distribute the load, and keep a relaxed grip to allow for a fluid movement with each step.


Trekking poles are more than just walking sticks; they’re tools that, when used correctly, can transform your hiking experience. From providing stability and reducing strain on your body to helping you navigate challenging terrain, the benefits of trekking poles are undeniable. By choosing the right poles, adjusting them properly, mastering various techniques, and taking care of them, you’ll be well-prepared to face any trail with confidence. Remember, the journey with trekking poles is a personal one—experiment with adjustments and techniques to find what works best for you. As you become more adept at using your trekking poles, you’ll discover that they’re not just aids for the journey but integral partners in your adventure. “With each step, the poles dance along, turning the rugged trails into a rhythm of discovery and endurance,” a reminder of the joy and freedom that awaits in the great outdoors.