Trekking poles can be a great investment, especially if you are not the coordinated type (like yours truly). They save your knees, give you an extra point or two of contact on the ground and provide a safety measure for river crossings. The benefits of using trekking poles are huge.
They aren’t just for oldies after all.
Trekking poles are used primarily for endurance, building upper body strength, and reducing injury, but they serve many other functions:
- Moving poison oak/ivy, nettles, and other things you don’t want to touch out of the way
- Holding up your ultralight shelter
- Making noise to avoid bears, lion, and other unwelcome encounters. If you happen to be hiking in area where such creatures live
- Bluffing off an animal attack
- Defending yourself in an actual attack
- Temporarily marking a trail
- Resting and stretching while standing
- Checking the depth of water and mud
- Probing trail obstacles in the dark
- Stabilizing a camera
- Poking companions, as needed (this is always fun)
- Pointing out sights in the distance
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When is a good time to use trekking poles?
You won’t need to use your trekking poles for an entire hike if you don’t need to. There are only some cases where I use my trekking pole as I don’t want to become too reliant on them.
Good times to use trekking poles:
- When you have a heavier backpack on. Trekking poles can keep you stable when you have a heavy pack on your back. Especially on a steep incline or decline.
- If your hike requires river crossings, hiking poles are great. Having one or two poles to anchor your way across a series of slippery rocks is much safer. They can also check the depth of the creek or river for you.
- Snowy winter conditions are ideal to take along a trekking pole or two. They give you more balance on a slippery and snowy trail.
- If you hike in an area with poison ivy, poison oak, nettles, or any other plant you want to avoid, trekking poles provide an easy way to gently push them to side and hike by.
- If you have a steep downhill, trekking poles can provide good anchor points to balance against as you hike down. They have literally saved my ass on more than one occasion
- If you’re on a steep upslope, you can use poles to dig in and pull yourself up. Some might call it cheating. I call it making smart use of your tools.
- If you want to make your hike more of a full body workout
- If your hands swell when hiking, using trekking poles will keep the hands closer to the level of the heart, improving blood return to your heart.
- You can use trekking poles as supports for an ultralight shelter. This will save you some weight in your pack. Even if you’re just day hiking, having a ultralight shelter in your pack (and hiking poles to support it) is a great way to be prepared for a survival emergency as part of the ten essentials.
Why use trekking poles?
It has been shown that using walking poles will reduce stress on the feet, legs, knees and back by sharing the load more evenly across the whole body. This is especially true when carrying a heavy pack on your back. Found this out first hand when hiking the Waikaremoana Great Walk after losing my trekking pole and having to hike 4 days with a heavy pack and no pole. It wasn’t pretty, let’s just leave it at that.
Trekking poles can also:
- Protect knees, especially when walking down steep hills
- Improve your power and endurance when walking uphill
- Aid balance on uneven trails
- Improve posture, making walkers more upright as they walk and in turn, this can help breathing
- Increase speed, especially going downhill
- Provide extra stability
- Reduce fatigue and improve endurance
- Burn more calories by providing an upper body work out as well as a legs workout
- Strengthen muscles that support the spine.
- Build muscles in arms, shoulders and neck.
Read More: How to use your trekking poles properly
Trekking poles make it easier to hike at a uniform pace
When you hike at a steady, uniform pace, you can cover more terrain in less time. Trekking poles can give you an extra support point or two which helps get into a nice rhythm. Soon you’ll be away zooming along the terrain, almost like the flash but smellier.
Less stress, more balance
There is less stress on your knees and muscles as you can pull yourself up with your poles on an ascent and lean on them when walking downhills. Trekking poles are also handy at helping you keep your balance, especially on uneven terrain. This, in turn, reduces the risk of stumbling and tripping. Huzzah!
Hiking poles are useful when hiking on slippery terrain and give you more grip. They can save your bacon when stumbling and all sorts of other handy fall reducing tricks.
You can whizz uphill faster
Going uphill is stressful on your legs. Hiking poles distribute the weight between your legs and arms which in turn makes it easier to get up the hill (unfortunately, it doesn’t magically teleport you up the hill. Sigh).
You can also use them to pull yourself up particularly steep inclines or tree root steps.
Save your knees downhill
Long descents are hard on your knees and sometimes, even your ankles. If this you are a regular hiker, the effort over time can do some serious damage to your knees and legs. Poles can take some of the impact of the descent which will help keep your knees happy. How nice!
Trekking poles also give you an extra point or two of contact with the ground which makes it easier to tread a bit lighter on your feet which will help your knees out.
Testing terrain before stepping
A lot of the time you won’t be hiking on a nice, even surface. There will be loose rocks, mud, dips, tree roots and other obstacles to make your way around. Your hiking pole makes a great ‘prodder’. You can check to see if the ground is stable before finding out with your feet.
You can also use them for river crossings to check how deep the water is flowing or if the river bed is stable.
Recommended Trekking Poles
- YOURJOY children’s trekking poles: For the tiny hiker in your life, grab a pair of these super cute trekking poles. These come in 2 sizes and 3 colours. Coz kids like hiking too. Read More: Tips for hiking with children
- BAFX trekking poles: A nice, basic, affordable pair of trekking poles perfect for the beginner hiker.
- Hiker Hunger lightweight trekking poles: For the more advanced or regular hiker, these lightweight, carbon trekking poles are perfect with lots of bells and whistles (not literally, though unfortunately)
Trekking poles are a great investment. As you can see, the benefits are immense and your body will thank you in the long term.
So what are you waiting for?
Go grab yourself a pair,
PS do you have a favourite pair? Leave them in the comments (insert thumbs up here)
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