How to Use Your Walking Poles
By William Armstrong
Walking poles are now an essential part of our walking gear and should be packed along with walking boots on all our independent or guided walking trips and holidays. But if we don't use them correctly, then their effectiveness is greatly reduced and they can even become a hinderance. Before we look at how you should use your trekking poles, here are a few good reasons to use them:
They help you to retain balance on uneven, unstable and rocky terrain, they help to reduce tiredness in your legs (see our article on keeping going on ascents), they provide additional power which in turn increases the speed of your walk, and they reduce the strain and shock on your body (blisters on feet) and joints, especially the knees. The weight of the poles themselves are negligible compared to these benefits.
Telescopic 3-piece walking or trekking poles can be purchased from most outdoor retailers. Prices range from about £30 for a pair up to well over £100. Make sure they are telescopic so they can be reduced in length and strapped to your rucksack when they are not needed or when difficult ground means that it is safer to have your hands free for direct purchase on the rocks.
Some trekking poles have shock absorbers which can help reduce the shock on your arms when the tips hit the ground. However this is not essential and is not to everyones liking as the poles tend to bounce off rocky terrain. Soft grips that are properly designed to fit your hand and have some give will be easier to use for a long period of time. Grips that are hard can get wet with sweat and be uncomfortable to hold.
Two is better than one
Most outdoor experts advise using two walking poles rather than one. This is also backed up by research. Two poles provide additional stability and protection for your joints as you are able to reduce your own weight to a maximum. Used correctly they also allow you to increase the power supplied to each step.
Everyone should find the style that works best for them. However, a number of basic principles will help to ensure that you make best use of your trekking poles.
Walking Pole length
Set the pole length so that your arms are bent at 90 degrees when the tips are on the ground and your hands are on the grips. This is a good setting for flat, or shallow ascents and descents. For extended or steep uphill sections shorten the poles a bit so that you can get better leverage to help you up the ascent when you plant the pole. For extended or steep descents, you should extend the length of the poles so you’re more upright as you plant the poles in front of you. Make sure you correctly set the poles at equal length using the locking mechanisms. Ensure that they are fully tightened so as not to give way under your own weight, as this could cause a fall on rocky or uneven ground. If you are traversing a slope, shorten the uphill pole and lengthen the pole used on the downhill side as needed to support both sides of your body equally.
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