Trekking poles are an essential tool for hiking and mountaineering. In this article we will give you reasons to use trekking poles and discuss how to overcome their limitations.
Most obviously, poles reduce the impact of hiking on knee joints and leg muscles. Arm and shoulder muscles support and relieve the leg muscles. With the basic “hands above the heart” position necessitated by the poles, circulation is improved and heart rate is reduced. The “rhythm” created by walking with poles leads to relaxed, more regular breathing and increased stamina.
A landmark study published by Dr. G. Neureuther in 1981 proved that use of “ski poles” while walking reduces the pressure strain on the opposite leg by approximately 20%. Furthermore, while walking on level ground, poles reduce the body weight carried by the legs by approximately 5 kilograms every step. Move to an incline, and that reduction increases to 8 kilograms. This translates into tons of weight — yes, tons — for even a two hour hike.
Michael Smith, editor-in-chief of a popular hiking magazine, weighs in with additional health benefits: “An advantage that I found once I started using poles is that my hands no longer swell up when it is hot. Keeping your arms moving so the blood doesn’t pool in the hands is a lot safer than keeping hands high on pack straps and risking a smashed face if you trip.”
Finally, hiking poles help many people with balance issues. We all have different comfort levels when balancing along puncheons, crossing streams, etc.; for some hikers, trekking poles are worth their weight in gold. They can certainly aid when crossing soft ground, and can be indispensible for tasks like river crossings, and scree running.
The following are some benefits of using hiking poles, also known as trekking poles:
- Trekking poles allow your arms to help propel you forward, backward and upward. Whether walking on flat ground or up or down steep hills, poles can help to increase your average speed.
- Trekking poles can be used to sway things away. They can push away thorny things and swipe away spider webs or other bugs that may cross your trail.
- Poles reduce the impact on your legs, knees, ankles, and feet. This is especially true when going downhill. A 1999 study in The Journal of Sports Medicine found that trekking poles can reduce compressive force on the knees by up to 25 percent.
- The extra two points of contact significantly increase your traction on slippery surfaces like mud, snow, and loose rock.
- Walking with poles can help you establish and maintain a consistent rhythm, which can increase your speed.
- Poles can act as a probe to give you more information than you can get with you eyes. Use them to learn more about puddles, melting snow bridges, and quicksand.
- Poles help you maintain balance in difficult terrain which helps you move more quickly and more easily.
- Hiking poles can help to defend against attacks from bears and other crazy wildlife. You can even use them as a spear if necessary!
- Trekking poles help to alleviate some of the weight you carry. For example, if you have a heavy pack on, and you take a short break, leaning on the poles will make you more comfortable.
- Trekking poles can be used for things other than trekking. The can be used to pitch a shelter and can also double as a medical splint and can serve as ultralight packrafting paddles.
- Backpacking blisters no more! – reduce lots of stress on your feet when carrying a heavy load. Let those arms carry some the weight instead of your delicate knees – especially when going downhill
- You can add several miles a day within the same time frame when using trekking poles.
- Using trekking poles can take 15 – 25 pounds off the effective backpack weight stressing your body. Better than any ultra-light gear can accomplish.
- Balance #1- the secret crutch. Ever fall and bust your tail and ego when rock-hopping a creek? Poles make that soaking scenario a problem of the past. Ever slip, slide and groan on scree while hiking downhill? Trekking poles make that seat-ripping scenario a problem of the past.
Negatives to trekking poles include increased energy expenditure as you are using your arms more. Some trekking and hiking pros complain about elbow pain from using them too much. These minor drawbacks can be mitigated or are negligible. The increased energy expenditure is offset by your increased speed and decreased leg stress. Many hikers prefer trekking poles without the wrist strap because you can quickly transfer both poles to one arm for eating or picture taking, and can drop them quickly in case you fall or need to use your hands for something.
See the best trekking poles in our Trekking Pole Reviews summary and helpful tips for selecting the best poles in our Trekking Poles Shopping Guide.
I didn’t realize that trekking poles can help increase your average speed when hiking. My wife and I like to go on hikes a couples times during the week in the evenings. We haven’t thought about increasing doing the hikes faster, but I’ll have to mention this to her should she ever want to go faster.