Tricks for Using Trekking Poles

You’ve purchased a brand new pair of shiny trekking poles. Now that you have them in hand, how do you get the most value out of them? Start by learning how to use these trekking poles!

How To Use Trekking Poles

Poles have a learning curve and for some users they may feel clumsy and frustrating at first. Expect this and consciously develop a method to use them. Soon, this will become unconscious and the poles will just become part of your hiking experience.

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Master Basic Techniques

  • Start Easy. Stick to level trails your first time out with poles and give your gait time to adjust. Pay attention to where your arms swing as you walk and think about how the poles will affect your movement.
  • Ascend. As you climb, place your pole ahead of each foot and slightly tense your biceps, pectorals, and laterals (side muscles), using the force of these muscles to help lift yourself uphill. You may need to breathe more deeply to compensate.
  • Descend. Carefully place your pole tips before, and lower than, your footsteps, tensing your shoulders slightly as you descend. You should use your upper body to absorb some of the force of your descent.
  • Cruise. As you walk along a flat stretch, swing and place your poles in time to your stride.
  • Rock. As you ascend or traverse a rocky surface, carefully set the tips of your poles into the rock, and experiment with the amount of support they give you. Carbide tips can anchor into rock and provide important stability.
  • Trust Fall. Try a controlled stumble and hold tightly to the grips of your poles. Learn to trust them so you can unconsciously rely on them for unanticipated trips and falls.

Master Advanced Techniques

When you are completely comfortable with your poles, you’re ready to try some slightly more advanced techniques.

  • Vault. For little streams and puddles a bit too wide to step across comfortably, build up a bit of momentum, plant your poles slightly ahead of your stride, and vault the obstacle.
  • Corner. When moving at a high rate of speed around a corner, plant one pole on the inside of the turn and use your momentum to “swing” you around the bend.
  • Accelerate. When moving at a high rate of speed on flat trail, set your pole tips slightly behind your stride and push yourself forward vigorously. You don’t have to be a hiker to appreciate poles; some trail runners in ultras have been known to use trekking poles during races (when the rules allow).

Know When to Quit. Poles actually can slow you down or create hazards in some terrain, like scrambling up rocks, navigating ladders, or bushwhacking through dense vegetation. Figure out when they don’t help, and learn to stow them rapidly.

Think of Alternate Uses. Look at other gear items, like your pack, tent, or tarp. Poles can be used for pack stays, tent poles, tarp supports, camera monopods, and many other things. Alternative uses will give you even more value from your poles, and potentially you can carry less weight.

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