How to Use Hiking Poles


Embarking on a hike through nature’s splendid trails can be invigorated and transformative. However, to navigate these paths with confidence and ease, mastering the use of hiking poles is essential. Whether you’re scaling steep slopes or traversing rugged terrains, hiking poles serve as invaluable companions, enhancing stability and reducing the impact on your joints. In this guide, we’ll explore the art of using hiking poles effectively, ensuring your next hiking adventure is not only enjoyable but also kind to your body. Uncover the secrets to a more balanced and efficient hike with us.

Choosing the Right Hiking Poles

When embarking on a hiking journey, one of the key tools that can enhance your adventure is a reliable pair of hiking poles. Not only do they provide stability and support on rough or slippery terrain, but they also help to distribute your body weight more evenly, taking some strain off your legs and knees. Selecting the right pair requires consideration of several factors: the pole’s weight, adjustability, grip comfort, and the type of terrain you’ll be using them on.

Pole length is crucial for efficiency and comfort. A general rule of thumb is that when the poles are set on the ground, your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle. Most hiking poles are adjustable, allowing you to change the length to suit uphill and downhill sections of your hike. Ensure the locking mechanism of the pole is easy to use and reliable, as you’ll likely adjust the length multiple times during your hike.

Materials also play a significant role in the choice of hiking poles. Aluminum poles are sturdy and more cost-effective but tend to be heavier. Carbon fiber poles are lightweight and absorb shock better, which can be beneficial on uneven terrain, yet they can be more susceptible to breaking if put under too much strain. Lastly, pay attention to the grip material; cork absorbs moisture from sweaty hands and can be more comfortable over long distances, while foam grips are softer and rubber grips offer better shock absorption.

Selecting Your Hiking Poles

When venturing into the selection of hiking poles, it’s crucial to consider a few essential factors that tailor to both your physical requirements and the nature of your hiking adventures. The first step is determining the right fit, which is pivotal for comfort and efficiency. 

A simple rule of thumb is to adjust the poles so that when holding them with tips touching the ground, your elbows form a 90-degree angle. This position ensures your arms and shoulders bear the weight appropriately, which is vital for endurance and stability on varying terrains. Materials and weight play a significant role in your selection. Aluminum poles are praised for their durability and strength, making them ideal for hiking in rugged terrains. 

On the other hand, carbon fiber poles are lighter and absorb shock better, offering an advantage in reducing strain on joints during long treks. However, they are less resistant to impact than their aluminum counterparts and can be more prone to snapping if lodged between rocks or used to bear significant weight. 

Therefore, weighing the pros and cons of each material based on the nature of your hikes and personal preference is necessary. Lastly, the locking mechanism and grip comfort are features that should not be overlooked. Look for poles that offer easy adjustment options and a secure lock to prevent slippage under pressure. Ergonomically designed grips with moisture-wicking properties will enhance comfort and reduce the risk of blisters during extensive use. Some poles come with interchangeable tips and baskets, allowing customization for different terrains, such as mud, snow, or rock, enhancing versatility and safety. 

By considering these aspects, you will find a pair of hiking poles that not only fit your physical needs but also enrich your hiking experience.

Adjusting Pole Length Properly

When embarking on a hike, one of the key aspects of using hiking poles effectively is adjusting their length to suit the terrain and your height. Doing this correctly can enhance your stability, distribute your weight more evenly, and help prevent strain and injury. 

Initially, for flat terrain, your poles should be adjusted so that when you hold them with your arms at a 90-degree angle, your forearms are parallel to the ground. This position allows for efficient use of the poles and helps maintain proper posture. To adjust the length, most poles have a twist-lock or a lever-lock mechanism. 

For the twist-lock, you rotate the sections in opposite directions to loosen or tighten. For the lever-lock, you flip the lever open to adjust the length and then flip it back to secure it. When navigating uphill, shorten each pole slightly to allow for better propulsion and support. Conversely, when descending, lengthen the poles to help absorb impact and provide stability. Adjusting them in increments of about 5-10cm is generally recommended based on the slope’s steepness.

FlatPoles should enable 90-degree elbow bend
UphillShorten poles slightly
DownhillLengthen poles

Remember, the goal is to achieve comfortable support without overextending your arms or bending too much at the waist. Experiment with different lengths to find what works best for you. Additionally, for those with adjustable wrist straps, ensure they are snug but not too tight, as they can assist in reducing hand fatigue. When done correctly, proper adjustment of your hiking poles can significantly enhance your hiking efficiency and enjoyment.

Grip Techniques for Efficiency

Proper grip techniques are vital for maximizing the benefits of hiking poles and ensuring a comfortable hike. The first aspect to consider is the adjustment of the strap. Begin by inserting your hand upward through the loop and then pulling down, grasping both the handle and strap together. This technique, often overlooked, distributes the load evenly across your hand, reducing fatigue and increasing stability.

When it comes to the grip itself, aim for a relaxed, yet controlled hold. Clutching the poles too tightly can lead to premature hand fatigue, while too loose of a grip compromises on control and efficiency. A fundamental tip is to imagine holding a delicate bird: firm enough that it won’t fly away, yet gentle enough not to cause harm. This analogy encourages an optimal grip strength, crucial for long hikes where energy conservation is key.

Variation in grip is also important based on the terrain. On flat surfaces, maintain a straightforward, upright grip. However, when ascending, slightly lean the pole forward and grip lower on the handle for increased push power. Conversely, during descents, adjust your grip higher on the pole. This adjustment provides better leverage, helping to reduce the impact on knees and ankles. Remember, effective use of hiking poles involves adjusting your grip to harmonize with the changing terrain, which enhances efficiency and minimizes exertion.