Why Use Trekking Poles

Trekking poles can be a significant asset to a great hiking experience. They help you keep your balance, act as shock absorbers, help save your knees, act as a probe for potential hazards, and are even viable as substitute tent poles for an ultralight shelter. On the other hand, trekking poles can also be a nuisance if you end up deeming them unnecessary gear.

This article presents the various benefits that trekking poles can give you and some cons to using them. We also provide some of the most common factors hikers consider when choosing their own hiking poles, which can further enhance your hiking experience.  In the end, it will be up to you to decide if trekking poles are gear genuinely worth having.

Pros

Trekking poles act as shock absorbers for your joints.

Walking uphill or downhill can be difficult at times, especially when the terrain is rocky or steep. If you’re not careful with your steps, you may experience sudden impacts on your knees, legs, ankles, feet, and other joints that can cause distress and pain.

Trekking poles can reduce the amount of force caused by these impacts and help save your knees and other parts of your legs needless pain. You can rely on the poles to bear your weight, whether you ascend or descend a sloping trail or whether you’re on uneven terrain so that you don’t have to expose yourself to any unnecessary risk.

Trekking poles can help give you a workout.

Hiking in itself is already an activity that can be considered a rigorous exercise that builds leg muscles. But while walking uses your legs the most, you don’t get the same amount of activity with your arms.

Trekking poles help even out the amount of exercise between your upper and lower body. Not only do you build muscles in your arms, but your shoulder and neck muscles are also engaged. You can also build the muscles that support your back.

Also, hiking poles helps improve circulation in your extremities and prevent swelling, which becomes more significant as you go more uphill.

man sitting on cliffhanger looking at mountain under gloomy clouds

You can use trekking poles to help you keep your balance.

Hiking in places you haven’t been to before can be challenging to navigate because of the unfamiliar environment. Uneven terrain, loose soil, slippery, and steep terrain can cause you to lose your balance. Also, crossing rivers or plains covered in snow or ice can cause you to lose balance too. Even well-worn hiking trails experience changes over time, making navigation not as smooth as before.

Trekking poles provide extra points of contact with the ground, provide stability, ease the pressure off your knees, and help you keep your footing no matter where you are. Not only do these poles help maintain balance while walking, but they also provide more mobility and safer traveling.

Trekking poles help distribute the weight you carry.

When you go hiking, more often than not, you are carrying gear necessary for outdoor activities. These items can sometimes be a bit heavy, especially when you plan to camp out for a day or more.

Trekking poles can assist you a bit with this concern. Because the sticks also act as secondary legs, they help distribute the weight of your pack and help make it feel much lighter.

Trekking poles help you maintain proper posture.

When you go out hiking, sometimes it is unavoidable to pass over terrain that causes you to bend over, especially sloped ones. The weight of the gear in your backpack can also cause you to hunch your back, resulting in a not-so-good posture.

Trekking poles help to straighten your back and retain you in a proper posture while you walk. You can adjust your sticks to the appropriate length to match your height. Hiking poles not only keep you upright but, as a result, also help you breathe better because your chest is more out.

You can use trekking poles to maintain a consistent walking rhythm.

You might want to keep a consistent pace while you’re hiking so that you get to your campsite on time. Trekking poles can help you do so by getting you into a good walking rhythm.

When you use hiking poles, you push out with one foot, and then push down the stick held in the opposite hand, and then your other foot and arm, respectively; these repetitive motions get you into a definite walking pace in no time at all. Getting into a rhythm also helps with walking longer distances while making you feel less tired. You even walk at a faster pace as a result.

You can use trekking poles to probe for potentially risky terrain.

There are times when crossing rivers or frozen streams is unavoidable when you’re out hiking, which is why it is essential for you to properly gauge the depth of the water or the solidness of the ice so that you can cross either safely. Trekking poles are a great asset to have in such situations.

Trekking poles are extensive enough for you to use to probe the depth of a river or seemingly shallow muddy puddles and can be used to test the hardness of iced-over terrain. Trekking poles help provide a safer hiking experience.

Trekking poles help clear a path for a smoother hiking experience.

Any hiking trail has its nuisances that get in the way of a smooth walking experience, some of which are overgrown plants, long leafy branches of closely spaced trees, and thorny bushes. Trekking poles can help you in creating a more unobstructed pathway.

Hiking poles have a decent length, so you can take advantage of that to keep away hindrances such as mentioned above away from you. You can also use these poles to move away debris, such as fallen branches, without having to bend over and remove them by hand.

You can use trekking poles to hold up an ultralight shelter.

When you plan to camp out in a tent, you will most likely want to lighten your pack as much as possible so that your hiking experience won’t be too burdensome. One way you can do this is by replacing your tent poles which can be heavy depending on the material – this is most applicable for ultralight tents. Believe it or not, trekking poles can be used as a replacement for said tent poles.

Trekking poles are tall and sturdy enough to hold up an ultralight shelter while still being lightweight. Hiking poles are also relatively stronger than tent poles which makes them better-supporting equipment.

You can use trekking poles to keep away wild animals on the trail.

It is not uncommon for hikers to encounter wild animals while outdoors. Some animals are small and harmless, but some animals might be aggressive and could potentially cause harm. You can use trekking poles to keep such animals at bay.

Trekking poles have good length and can be used to shoo away smaller animals. For larger ones, such as bears, you can use your hiking poles to make yourself larger by waving them above your head or bang them on a tree trunk or rock to scare them away. You can also use your trekking poles to keep away any aggressive dogs of other fellow hikers.

Trekking poles can help you hitchhike more successfully.

When you want to get into a town or at the start of a hiking trail, hitching a ride is a quick, cheap way to get there. You can wave your trekking poles to get the attention of drivers. Hiking poles are much easier to notice from afar and are a statement that should catch the attention of even the busiest drivers’ minds.

Also, trekking poles tell drivers who you are – that you are a hiker and not just a random person – which can help ease their minds and give a better impression, increasing the likelihood that they will stop for you.

man in green jacket and blue denim jeans standing on brown wooden ladder during daytime

Cons

Trekking poles can be a nuisance in doing some activities.

There are instances where trekking poles don’t provide much help and might instead get in your way. An example is when climbing over a boulder. This particular situation will require you to use both of your hands, so you’ll have to put away your hiking poles until you can use them again. You might have to climb over several boulders, so repeatedly stashing and taking out your trekking poles can end up becoming a hassle.

Not having trekking poles can take out such hassles and gives your hands more freedom to do things, such as taking quick photos at any time.

Trekking poles may contribute unnecessary weight to your pack.

You may not need to use your trekking poles at all times during your hiking. For instance, walking over long stretches of flat terrain won’t require hiking poles to help you maintain balance. Also, climbing over several boulders means you will be using both hands instead of your rods.

In either of the activities mentioned, your trekking poles will be in your backpack a lot of the time and could end up being excess baggage to carry around. If you find that you won’t need to use hiking poles that much on your trail, you can leave your rods at home instead to save weight.

Trekking poles can use up more of your energy than usual.

Using poles gives you a fuller workout while hiking, involving your upper body in addition to your lower body, resulting in more energy expenditure. While some hikers appreciate the added activity hiking poles provide, others may not want to undergo such a taxing activity and prefer a more leisurely hiking experience.

If you don’t like getting tired quicker and want to save your energy instead, trekking poles may not be the gear for you. Using poles on short hikes should be fine but could be taxing for much longer trails.

Trekking poles may be an unnecessary expense.

Trekking poles are accessory pieces of equipment with multiple functions and are helpful in a hiking trip but generally aren’t necessary. What’s more, hiking poles can cost quite a bit and, if not used regularly, will only result in a wasted purchase.

Before buying a pair of trekking poles, determine first if you positively need them. What exactly do you plan to use them for? Are they going to be used regularly? Will they indeed contribute to a better hiking experience? If most of your answers to such questions are a “no,” then maybe you don’t require trekking poles.

Trekking poles can cause discomfort if not used properly.

Knowing how to use your trekking poles properly will help maximize the benefits that they provide. Conversely, not knowing how to use the rods reduces their benefits and can even cause some discomfort. Also, if not used properly or adequately taken care of, a trekking pole can snap or break and lead to an injury.

If you want to make the most out of your trekking poles, it is best to research them first. Look up their proper usages, including how to adjust them to an appropriate height and the proper holding technique. Another concern is the use of the pole’s straps if present. If you use them the wrong way, instead of support, leaning your weight on them can cause you to fall instead and result in injury.

You should also research their proper maintenance so you can use your trekking poles for a much longer time.

Trekking poles may cause damage to hiking trails.

While trekking poles can be handy to you, they might not be beneficial for hiking trails and paths; this is primarily due to the tips of the poles digging into the ground, which loosens the soil that can contribute to further erosion when it rains. Also, trekking poles can leave scratches or gouges on otherwise beautiful rock features.

To avoid damaging trails, make sure to be mindful of your surroundings. Watch out for rock features so that you don’t unintentionally chip them. Also, avoid dragging your poles on the ground if you’re not using them and instead stash them away.

Trekking poles can make you feel disconnected from nature.

When you go out hiking, you would generally want to experience the nature around you fully. Trekking poles keep you at length from your surroundings and prevent you from having direct contact with the environment, something you might not want to happen.

While trekking poles have their uses, if they take away from your hiking experience, then it is better not to bring them with you. You can ditch your trekking poles at home and instead feel everything around you with your own two hands.

people hiking towards mountain ranges

Buying Guide

Trekking poles aren’t all the same but come in different types and can include various features that help contribute to a better hiking experience. We present some of the most common factors hikers consider when buying a pair of trekking poles.

Pole Design/Type

Different pole types cater to different individual needs, so depending on your preferences, your trekking poles’ design is something you’ll want to think about.

Telescoping poles

Telescoping poles are the most common and adjustable type of trekking poles. Because these poles come in either two or three sections, you can more easily determine what length you prefer.

Two-sectioned poles are the more durable type, but they also weigh more. This type is also suitable as substitute tent poles because of their sturdiness.

Three-sectioned poles, albeit not as durable as two-sectioned ones, are more adjustable and lightweight. This type is also the more commonly used one.

Foldable poles

Foldable poles are generally the most lightweight type of trekking poles. These poles are held together by an internal tension cord, which allows them to fold down up to more than three parts and makes them very packable and easy to carry around. Foldable trekking poles are also generally designed to have a fixed height.

Fixed poles

As the name implies, fixed poles are trekking poles with a predetermined height, meaning you can’t adjust their length to your preference. On the other hand, you won’t have to worry about any locking mechanisms malfunctioning, as in telescoping poles or internal tension cords breaking, as in foldable poles.

Mixed type

There are available trekking pole designs that are a combination of the folding and telescoping types. This type makes it easier for you to adjust the height of and easily store your trekking poles.

Pole Material

The composition of your trekking poles is another essential consideration as you’ll want to have the best material that feels the most comfortable for you when put in use.

Carbon fiber

Carbon fiber is a lightweight material for poles that is easy to use and comfortable to carry in your pack when not in use. A downside to carbon fiber is that it is not very strong compared to aluminum and more easily breaks or snaps. On the other hand, it is the more affordable option.

Aluminum

Aluminum is much more durable than carbon fiber, so you can lean your weight more on poles made of it. If aluminum poles fail, they bend instead of breaking, making them still usable – unlike carbon-fiber rods. A downside to aluminum material is that it is heavier and more expensive compared to carbon fiber.

Pole Length

Having the proper length for your trekking poles is essential for having a comfortable hiking experience. If your rods are too long, you’ll end up bending backward more, which will strain your back and shoulders. On the other hand, if your poles are too short, you’ll find yourself having to bend forward instead, which also puts strain on your back.

The proper height for trekking poles keeps your forearms parallel to the ground and your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Because different hikers have different statures, it is recommended that you look for adjustable trekking poles instead of searching for fixed types that match your height.

Grip Material

Having the right kind of grip can significantly impact your trekking pole experience, as grips are made to make your handling of your poles as comfortable as possible during your hiking trip.

Cork

Cork is a comfortable type of grip material as it takes the shape of your hands. Cork is also porous and wicks away sweat, keeping your hands drier and helps prevent blistering. Additionally, cork absorbs ground impacts, minimizing the shock felt by your joints, and can help save your knees, for example. A downside to cork material is that it is relatively more expensive than other grip materials.

Foam

Foam is also a comfortable grip material because of its softness and is very lightweight. It also absorbs sweat well, which helps prevent blistering, although it could smell over time. A downside to foam is that it is not as durable as other grip materials and breaks down more quickly. On the upside, foam is a relatively cheaper option.

Rubber

Rubber is durable, water-resistant, and has the best insulation compared to cork and foam, making it most suitable for colder weather conditions. Conversely, rubber is not recommended for use in summer conditions as it does not absorb sweat and can result in blistering. Also, rubber is heavier compared to other grip materials.

Other Trekking Pole Considerations

Pole tips

Different pole tips are suitable for various terrain. The most common pole ends in use are carbide or steel tips, which provide excellent traction and grip on multiple surfaces. Rubber tips, which are generally used to cover pole ends when trekking poles are not in use, are also great alternatives for when you want to minimize shock from impacts of your feet on more solid terrain.

Baskets

Baskets are attached to each pole endpoint and, like for ski poles, keep your trekking poles from sinking into the snow, sand, and other soft terrains. Larger baskets are more suitable for such terrain, while smaller baskets would do fine for more solid ground.

Wrist straps

Wrist straps allow you to relax your hold on your hiking poles instead of constantly maintaining a firm grip. You can also rest your wrists on these straps, which can support and relieve strain on your wrists. Wrist straps can be beneficial, especially for longer hiking trips.

Shock absorbers

Shock absorbers reduce the impact on your joints, such as your knees when your poles hit the ground and can help save your knees, ankles, legs, hips, and other joints. There are available trekking poles with shock absorbers, some of which can be turned off when not needed.

man standing on rocking mountain

FAQs

Should I get hiking poles?

It will depend on what your needs are. For example, if you have a problem with your knees, hiking sticks can help save them from shocks due to the impacts of your feet on the ground, especially when walking uphill or downhill. Or if you’d like to have a workout on not just your lower body but also your upper body while hiking, trekking poles are great gear that serves this purpose well.

On the other hand, if you think that hiking sticks will not be helpful to you but would instead get in the way of your hiking, you have your answer. It all depends on the individual’s needs whether one should get hiking poles or not.

How do you use a hiking stick?

First off, you should make sure that the heights of your poles suit your stature. For your hiking poles to be effective, they should be at a height that lets your elbows be at a 90-degree angle.

When you begin walking, push forward with one foot while holding out the pole adjacent to it. For example, if you move forward with your right foot, the rod in your left hand should be the one striking the ground. If you proceed with your left foot, your right pole should be hitting the ground. You will know you can successfully use your trekking poles when you can get into a constant walking rhythm.

Is it better to hike with one pole or two?

Hiking with one pole should be fine on shorter treks. Two trekking poles are recommended, though, for longer distances, as you would be using up more energy, especially when walking uphill or downhill; relying on two sticks will be better than relying on a single rod.

Additionally, an advantage of using a pair of poles is that you can get into a constant walking rhythm, allowing you to travel faster than if you used only a single rod. Two poles also help you maintain balance better.

Do walking sticks help with balance?

Walking sticks can help you maintain balance, especially on uneven and slippery terrain and steep slopes, walking uphill or downhill, or on plains covered with snow or ice. Each pole acts as an extra leg, providing you much more stability and eases the pressure off your knees. And in the event you lose your balance, you can lean your weight on your hiking poles and save yourself from falling straight to the ground.

Conclusion

Trekking poles come with many benefits to using them, which can significantly enhance your hiking experience. On the other hand, they do also come with their downsides. Still, we believe that the pros outweigh the cons and that trekking poles are a great asset to have when you go hiking in the great outdoors.

Opinions may vary, though, from hiker to hiker, and in the end, only you can determine if trekking poles are pieces of gear you’d like to have supporting you. What is important is that you know your own needs and wants. If it turns out that trekking poles do fit said needs and wants, we hope our buying guide serves you well in choosing the best hiking poles for you.