Trekking poles are long poles known by some names. Other names for trekking poles include walking poles, hiking sticks and hiking poles and are a very common accessory for hikers in locations across the planet, from the sedate trails of an Ohio spring where there is seldom much action to the ruthless peaks of the Himalayas, where death at hands of happenstance and the elements are dangerously common. What all hiking trails have in common, be they Buffalo Plateau in Australia or Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, is that many of them are made easier, more comfortable and in some cases safer for the use of hiking poles like these during the long trek from beginning to end and back again.

Intended to provide hikers and walkers with stability and improve rhythm on the trails, trekking poles have since gone on to become an important tool in many dedicated and determined hiker’s arrays. While the traditional trekking pole is fairly uncomplicated, being a simple long wooden walking pole, the technology has advanced rapidly in the past century, thanks to the state of the art breakthroughs in materials science and a focused study of the sport of hiking. With this breakthrough, trekking poles are more advanced than ever, even as they remain as useful and easy to use as their earlier versions from a mere century ago.

Trekking poles closely resemble ski poles, and many hikers who are also skiers will likely find it quite easy to transfer between using both. A trekking pole is a long length of lightweight yet strong metal (usually, though not always, lightweight carbon fiber or aluminum), usually around 135 cm (or 54 inches in the imperial system of measurements), and often constructed in two or three sections so they can be retracted as the user deems necessary and collapsed to store and transport the poles with greater ease. This is particularly useful for international hikers, who will find a retractable hiking pole much easier to store in their luggage when making the trip from their homeland to another part of the planet entirely with the intent to hike. It also makes it quite possible to attach a retractable hiking pole to a backpack.

In addition to these features, hiking poles also generally include a number of features common to skiing poles as well. These include baskets at the bottom, intended to provide a bit of bracing for the user under normal trekking conditions. These devices also generally feature padded rubber handles to lessen the strain of clutching these devices over a long period, say over the course of a long hike. These devices also typically include wrist straps as a matter of helping users hold on to the poles during rough conditions, ranging from rainstorms to heavy snows. Some trekking pole models are built with spring loaded parts that assist the hiker in walking through normal circumstances while reducing wrist strain, but some hikers do find that these devices add excessive weight on the hike while also being too noisy for their tastes.

Snow Basket
Snow Basket

Hiking poles are descended from walking sticks and are used for the same reason as walking sticks were used since the beginning of long distance hiking in the early days of human civilization. These devices add support to the user, making the trip easier and less strenuous, as well as providing an improvement in the rhythm of their journey. This improved pace is quite useful for hikers who need to get somewhere quickly. If the traveler is traveling across a flat, smooth terrain, they are not entirely necessary, though decades (if not more) of scientific research have shown that they improve the exercise a hiker gets out of their trek, as well as increasing their speed, if not quite to superhuman haste. On less stable terrain, such as muddy, snowy or steep ground, these poles tend to provide valuable lateral stability, and can also be useful for handling pain in the knees as the result of a long walk. These poles also provide other miscellaneous uses, such as assisting in the climbing of rocks and boulders, testing the depths of mud or water when it is not clear how safe crossing them is, and they can also be used to assist in a dicey crossing.

The uses of these poles can also become more esoteric, even to dedicated hikers. When traveling across steep slopes for long distances, many hikers find that modifying two poles so that one is noticeably shorter than the other is a good way for the hiker’s body to feel more like the trip is talking place on level ground. Some tents designed for serious backpacking have recently been designed to use trekking poles as tent poles as well, reducing the number of supplies a traveler needs to carry. In establishing a bivouac shelter for a short while, these poles can also be quite useful. Finally, hikers who find themselves needing to use snowshoes in the snowy winter season find that a good set of walking poles can be very helpful in making the journey through the snows less straining and lead to a faster journey from beginning to end.

The benefits of walking on these poles have been studied and confirmed by some scientific studies. Walking with poles is an activity shown to have the worthwhile effect on the heart rate of people at rest, as well as improving blood pressure, maximal oxygen consumption and exercise capacity. In all these ways, this activity is superior to simple brisk walking. Additionally, these poles are useful for reducing strain on the legs by around 20 percent. While it only has a benefit on the leg opposite to the hand carrying the pole, using two poles reduces the pressure on both feet. This is because the use of poles reduces the body weight the legs are carrying by around five kilogram (or 11 pounds) with every step, significantly decreasing the strain on the legs if used over a long period.