Have you ever had back or knee pain while hiking? Have you thought about using trekking poles?
Hiking poles are generally telescopic with two or three sections, the size of which can be adjusted with a screw or clip system. They have cork, foam or plastic handles and a strap for the wrist. They end with a steel or tungsten carbide tip surrounded by a basket of varying size – depending on the use. Some have more accessories such as a shockproof system. In the end, there are many different models (and prices) depending on the use – beginner hiker or advanced.
My top 10 benefits of trekking poles
Use walking poles to:
- Reduces impact and load on the joints (knees, ankles, hips, spine, etc.). All the scientific studies carried out agree on this point – although the figures vary. Even by minimizing the weight your joints suffer with each step, the total result is huge given the number of steps you take during a hike. This is especially important if you are carrying a heavy bag and on downhill runs. Reducing the burden on your joints limits the risk of injury in the short term as well as in the long term.
- Strengthens balance, stability and decreases the chances of slipping, falling and therefore getting hurt. On slippery grounds (ice, mud …) or unstable (scree, snow, etc.) four points of support are much more effective than two – a bit like walking on all fours. This is especially true on difficult terrain and with a heavy backpack. In addition, hiking poles give you more control and more confidence – especially in descents where most accidents happen.
- Help to overcome obstacles. Walking poles are very useful to pass over rocks, tree trunks, etc., but also to cross rivers, muddy, snowy, icy passages …
- Reduces lower body muscle fatigue by working the upper body. By using hiking poles, your upper body helps you to move forward, relieving the muscles in your legs. This is particularly noticeable when climbing. Even if your general tiredness is probably the same after a day of walking, your legs are less heavy.
- Regulates the pace of walking and breathing. By having a regular rhythm you are more efficient and less tired.
- Walk faster for the same effort. This is the result of several elements mentioned above. Having a better pace, engaging the upper body and improving your stability help to increase your walking speed.
- Improves walking posture. If the length of the poles is well adjusted – and the elbows are at an angle of about 90 degrees – your body posture is more natural and less painful.
- Reduces swelling of the hands and fingers. Many people have this problem, which can be decreased or eliminated by using trekking poles. By using your hands, you improve your blood circulation.
- Used to test the stability of rocks, the thickness of snow or mud, the depth of water, etc. The sticks are also practical for repelling branches. As usual, you can use your poles as two additional body members. It’s not easy to eat a cereal bar with it, but you understand the idea.
- Has various and varied uses. Walking poles can – among other things – be used to build shelters, to pitch a tent in the snow, to repel animals, to make a splint, to move a person who accompanies you, etc. Basically, they can serve all (or almost), just a little imagination.
One or two walking poles?
You meet people with a hiking pole and others with two. What is the ideal number?
A single pole is easier to use, lighter and cheaper. It is surely ideal for keeping the balance on easy paths, without steep descent and with a light backpack. Try not to use the stick with the same hand to prevent the body from working asymmetrically – and risk hurting you.
Apart from easy hikes with a light bag, I recommend using two. Two poles guarantee more stability than one and further reduce the impact on your joints. Moreover, you benefit even more from all the advantages mentioned above by using two poles.
Few disadvantages of trekking poles
As with everything else, it impossible to have only advantages. Here are some disadvantages:
- Technique. To be eligible for the benefits, you must have acquired a good technique. Proper use of poles requires some practice that can be learned quickly.
- Clutter of the hands. Sometimes you have to remove your poles to be able to use your hands (read a map, nibble, climb …).
- Manipulation. It is necessary to adapt the size of the poles according to the profile of the ground (flat, uphill or descent). In the same way it is necessary sometimes to put them away or to leave them.
- Environmental impact. Using poles can damage vegetation, rocks, soil, etc. – be respectful
- Weight, which is not huge compared to the total weight you wear. Especially that sticks are surely more useful than many things that you have in your bag.
- Price. This is an additional purchase, but I am convinced that having a pair of poles is a good investment compared to appointments with the physio or others.
- Noise during use, which can disturb other hikers.
In my opinion, there are many advantages and little disadvantages to using trekking poles. That’s why, after i did get my hiking poles I always bring them with me while hiking. In fact, I mainly use sticks for long hikes, in long or difficult descents and in climbs on slippery or unstable terrain.
These are personal preferences. Find yours and remember that at first, using poles sounds awkward, unnatural and cumbersome. Do not give up before knowing how to use it. I guarantee you that this will allow you to fully enjoy your hikes now and for a long time.
Be careful, trekking poles are not everything, we must remember that with or without poles, the technique of walking is paramount.
We will see in future articles how to use hiking sticks and how to choose them.