Trekking poles are handy gears for the first-time trekkers because let’s admit it, that first time can be really daunting and scary. But with these poles by your sides, you get added stability and support. This, in turn, helps you move faster without burning out every couple of steps you take, will reduce stress on your joints by 25% and help you burn additional fat.
But to enjoy those benefits, you have got to use those poles right. While that is not too hard to learn, when you’re out in the wild, even the slightest of mistakes can prove costly or worse, fatal. So in this guide, we are going to teach you how to use a trekking pole in the right way.
Step 1: Knowing the right height
The first and foremost thing you have to adjust is the height of the pole. The ideal height would be a position where your elbows are at a 90-degree angle while the tip is in contact with the ground.
When going uphill
If you do not want to be lifting too much, I’d suggest leaving it 5-6 cm shorter. This is particularly helpful while going uphill because it increases the load bearing and you need not stretch too far in order to place the poles in the right spot.
When Coming downhill
While going downhill extending it by 5-6 cm can be helpful especially if you have weak knees as it lowers strain on the joints and neither do you need to bend too much to plant the poles
Note: Standard trekking poles are suited for people of 5-6 feet. If you’re shorter, you’ll most likely find your trekking poles in the kid’s section.
Step 2: Adjusting the height of the poles
Most adjustable poles can be adjusted at 3 different sections (the top, the middle and the bottom) anywhere between 24-inches to 55-inches. You can also find markings so you know the exact measurement for a quick-fire setup the next time you need the poles. In case your pole does not have the markings, you might want to make them with a marker.
When making the adjustment always start with the lower portion and then move to the mid and upper parts (if need be).
This is because if the poles need adjustment on the go, it’s easier to adjust the middle and upper section. Do not forget to tighten the screws but don’t tighten them so hard that they get jammed (trust me, that happens).
Step 3: Use the hand strap
A strap will help secure the poles to your hand so even if you do lose your grip the pole remains intact. The hand strap should be loose enough so putting in and taking your hands out is comfortable but yet, not too tight that it hurts or loose enough to slip out.
Step 4: Grip it right
Once you have the straps adjusted, grip the pole using just your thumb and the forefinger while keeping the other fingers closed but relaxed. Death gripping the handle means you will need to put in a lot more effort moving forward.
Plus, you are most likely to end up with aching and tired wrists. And in case you are ever about to slip, your hands will automatically tighten their grip on the poles (just how the human brain works).
Step 5: How to Walk with a Trekking Pole
- The Alternate Method
In this method, walking with a pole isn’t very different to normal walking. Here too your hands and legs move alternatively except this time you’re holding the poles. This technique is ideal if you’re trekking on a straight and smoother trails and provides added stability. But what if you have to go uphill or downhill?
- The Parallel Method
When you’re going uphill the pole and the leg moves together. For example, if you move your right leg forward so will your right hand. This method reduces the stress on your joints so you won’t end up with tired and aching legs by the end of your trek.
- Double poling
To help you negotiate a stair, curb etc. better, we suggest the double poling method. Here you firstly, move both the polls forward at the same time and then the legs. This may not be easy at first so you would want to practice this a couple of times.
Using the poles to move faster
If you’re treading smoother trails and feel confident enough to move faster your trekking poles can act as thrusters too rather than just stabilizer. For this, you will need to bring into play your shoulders and plant the tip slightly behind your body.
Need more stability? Try this
If you’re looking for added stability while going downhill or on staircases try using the poles without the hand straps. That’s because due to the change in angle, the straps can get too tight at times. You can also plant the poles a little further than the body so they act as brakes. And lastly, go easy on your knees and take smaller steps if need be.
For stability, while going uphill, we would suggest you do not pull yourself up using the poles but rather push yourself forward by planting the poles closer to your body. This technique also works well while climbing stairs except that, in this case, you use both the poles at the same time.
Few other tips to keep in mind
- During turns, you would want the poles at your sides in order to avoid falling over.
- When using trekking poles, a backpack can be helpful as it adds to the stability. Plus, the best backpacks also come with hooks for placing your poles when they are not in use.
- Do not neglect the hand straps
- Remember to check each lock before beginning your trek after adjusting the height
- Avoid cheap poles as they can break, slip etc. (everything you do not want)
- Avoid planting the poles in between rocks (keep your eyes peeled)
Few tips on Choosing the right Trekking Pole
Adjustable vs Non-Adjustable Poles: Always opt for adjustable poles and if your budget allows a foldable one would be ideal as they are easy to put away when not in use.
Locking Mechanism: External lever locks are ideal to secure the pole length as they can be adjusted even with your gloves on.
Grip Material: Cork is the most ideal grip material as it resists moisture, lowers vibration and changes shape as per your hands ensuring you a comfortable grip. Rubber grips are more suited for cold weather but can cause blisters during humid and warm conditions.
Wrist Straps: Like the length of the pole, even the wrist straps should be adjustable.
Benefits of using Trekking Poles
You already know how trekking poles provide you excellent stability and support but there is more to them than just that.
- They can help check water levels when crossing streams
- Help move poisonous or thorny plants out of the way
- Act as a pole for your tent
- Help fight off threats like a snake
- It can be used as a stabilizer for a camera (I’d be really careful with that one though)
- It helps reduce strain on your muscles and joints
- Helps maintain the right posture
- For probing rocks and crevices on the trail
- They help burn 40-45 percent more calories by engaging other muscles
You may think you do not need a trekking pole, but as you can see these are handier than you would have thought and pretty easy to use. Plus, they won’t cost you a fortune either but slipping on a rough, rocky terrain can. Better careful, than sorry, right? And now that you know how to use the polls in each situation, why take the risk at all?