Learning how to use trekking poles the correct way offers numerous health and safety benefits. Studies have shown that trekking poles enhance your stability and can reduce force on your knees while hiking and backpacking. Trekking poles are designed to give you extra confidence and stability while hiking. They can be used on difficult mountainous terrain, or on sidewalks and park trails, but regardless of where you use them, these poles can be very helpful.
Trekking poles can not only provide extra support and help you maintain your balance, but they can also help alleviate stress on your joints when going up or downhill, particularly if you’re overweight or have osteoarthritis.
People with Parkinson’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis also experience improved stability when walking with these poles.
That said, you’ll be able to better reap the benefits of trekking poles if you understand how to use them properly. In this article, we’ll explain exactly how to use your trekking poles so you feel more confident using them.
How To Use Trekking Poles For Hiking and Exploring
Step 1: Adjust Your Poles
First of all, you need to ensure your poles are suitable for your height. When using poles for stability, they should be a length at which you can hold them with your elbow at 90 degrees when the tip is on the ground next to your foot. When going uphill, you may find it beneficial to shorten your poles by 2″-4″ (5-10 centimeters).
Likewise, when going downhill, you may want to increase their length by 2″-4″ (5-10 centimeters). You may also find yourself on a slanted trail for long enough that you have to shorten one pole and lengthen the other.
When you first get your trekking poles, you should get acquainted with how to adjust their length. Bend your elbows 90 degrees and adjust the length so the grip fits into your hands at that level. If you frequently have to lift the poles over rocks or grass, you may want to shorten the poles a little.
If you have 3-section poles, it’s a good idea to set the top section at the midway point and then adjust the bottom section to the right length. This allows you to easily adjust the top section whenever necessary.
Step 2: Gripping the Poles
When using the poles, your grip should be relaxed, and the pole should be able to rotate forward and back between your thumb and forefinger. The hand grips are usually angled to make them ergonomic and easy to hold.
By keeping your grip relaxed, flicking the pole forward with each step will require minimal effort. It may take some getting used to, but you should hold the pole between your thumb and forefinger without using the other fingers. You can close the other fingers loosely.
Some poles have a strap, and these allow you to place your hand through the strap and grip the pole. As a result, the strap is over the back of your hand with your thumb over the strap. The length of the strap can be adjusted to allow a more secure grip.
By using the strap on your poles, you’ll be able to release your grip briefly without worrying that the poles will fall to the ground.
Step 3: Arm Motion
When using the poles, you should keep your elbows close to your sides, and, with each step, flick the opposite side’s pole forward using a small upward motion of the forearm or a slight flick of the wrist. By using a loose grip, the pole should pivot forward.
It’s important to use an opposite arm/leg motion, as if you bring the same arm and leg forward, you’ll end up with a swaying gait. This may take a bit of practice and will feel unnatural at first.
Start by walking and dragging the poles behind you with a natural gait, and you should fall into the opposite arm/leg pattern. Now you can position the poles so that the tips touch the ground with each step.
Move your arms forward and backward naturally as you walk – there’s no need for any forced or exaggerated arm motion. The length of your poles should be adjusted so you maintain an angled elbow as your poles touch the ground.
Step 4: Planting the Pole
The tip of your pole should plant very lightly as it touches the ground before you flick it forward again with the next step. To provide a little upper body workout, you can bear down on the poles a bit; this will add a thrust when going uphill or when walking on level ground or will provide extra traction when going downhill.
Step 5: Double Poling
When moving uphill, downhill, or negotiating curbs or stairs, you may want to place both poles in front of you at the same time for additional support.
You can use the swing and drop technique by flicking both poles forward with an easy motion, then walking one to four steps forward. Simply swing the poles forward again and repeat for however many steps you require the extra stability for.
Step 6: Going Downhill
When going downhill, you can lengthen the poles by 5-10 centimeters which will allow you to plant the poles slightly ahead of you to give a bit of braking action. Use small steps and keep your knees soft, keeping the poles ahead of your body.
For stability going down stairs, keep your poles in front of you. Place both poles on the next lower step and step down, then repeat this motion until you’ve completed the steps.
Step 7: Going Uphill
For going uphill, you may want to shorten your poles. You should also keep the poles close to your body and avoid planting them ahead of you.
For stability going up stairs, you will be pushing yourself up rather than pulling. To do this, plant both poles next to your feet, step up, bring the poles up to meet your feet, and repeat this motion for however long is needed.
Trekking poles can make a big difference – whether you’re using them for stability, speed, traction, or to reduce pressure on your joints. By learning how to use trekking poles correctly, you’ll experience the most benefits, and we recommend spending some time getting acquainted with your poles before you venture outdoors.