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How To Use Trekking Poles

I used to think that trekking poles are for cowards, and one day, out of curiosity, I decided to give them a try. At first, I felt like off, but it so happened that the same day I used them I slipped while crossing a stream. I kept thinking throughout the day what could have happened if I didn’t have them since there was a sharp stick just on the place I was about to fall.

That was eight years ago, and I never stopped telling people about how poles are useful for crossing streams. I have since been using trekking poles, and I have come to realize that when using them I hike more miles, I have fewer back aches, and my knees aren’t so rubbery. They are more than poles; they’re an extension of me.

Think of them as two extra legs. This means with them you get extra stability, allowing you to hike faster, safer, and for long distances. A study done in 1999, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine showed that trekking poles are able to reduced pressure on your knees by up to 25 percent. Another study by the Copper Institute indicated not long ago that trekking poles allow you to burn 40 percent extra calories while hiking.

So, to cut a long story short, trekking poles WILL make a huge difference for you. But first, you need to know how to use them properly; otherwise, they won’t do you any good.

Here, I will describe a methodical approach on how to use poles to your advantages, which will make your hiking easier, safe and efficient.

Adjusting the wrist strap

A wrist strap is one of the things people never take seriously and in fact, most people do not even know how to use them. When the wrist strap is correctly used it goes a long way in preventing aching hands and sprained wrists.

  • To adjust the length of the strap, pull the tension block out. Once the block is removed, you may pull the loose end to tighten the strap, or the upper portion to loosen it. Once the desired size is reached, push the tension block back in.

How to use your wrist strap

Put your hand through the appropriate strap from the bottom so it rests snugly around your wrist. Then grasp the grip and top of the strap with your hand. Having your straps too loose is a common mistake. A properly adjusted strap is tight enough to help support the weight of your hand on the pole, but not so tight that it’s difficult to remove or restricts circulation to the hand.

Adjust the pole length

Adjust the poles so your elbow is at a 90 degree angle. When adjusting the height of the poles, make sure the number on the top segment of the pole is the same as the bottom segment.

Tightening your trekking poles

Flip open the clasp, then proceed to make 1/4 turn adjustments to the screw until you get the desired tension. The bolt should be tight enough that when you close the clasp the pole supports your weight without sliding. And remember, when twisting the screw, righty tighty, lefty loosey!

Walking uphill

When hiking uphill it’s better to keep the pole is short enough not to pull yourself up the hill but to help push off. So the tip of the pole should not be in front of the lead foot, rather keep the poles close to the body. 

 Walking downhill

For extended descents or hilly terrains, your pole should be a little longer, in a way that you will be standing upright when you plant the pole in front of you. 

There are times you may need to adjust your poles so that one pole is on the longer side and the other is a bit shorter. For instance, when following a slope that zigzags. Having one short and the other one long helps you alternate them at each turn without any need to adjust every few moments. Make sure you test both pole lengths to make sure they are suitable for the terrain.

Moving the pole forward

This is one of the things that you might not think is important, but I’ve learned these few tricks from my friends who began using trekking poles years before me, and I have found them to be very helpful. For a minute, just think about how you naturally walk. When you step forward with your right foot, your left-hand swings forward. The same thing happens when you step forward with your left foot. What is the basic science behind this? Our body is optimized to move this way to help maintain stability.

Use the same principle on your hiking poles. So;

  • Each trekking pole moves forward when the opposite leg does. Don’t try to alter the pattern by planting the pole on the foot near it.

  • When stepping up (say on a ledge), make both poles move forward at the same time. This is a great technique, and you can use it to minimize leg fatigue.

I have seen some hikers plant the pole after two or three steps, but that kind of movement pattern isn’t good for me. But, that’s not to say it isn’t a style that can be beneficial when you’re free of heavy loads and on smooth terrain.

I’ve come to realize it only takes a short while to develop the right movement patterns. Eventually, the poles will feel like an extension of yourself.

*Be careful when you plant your poles on rocky and hilly terrain. If the pole slips between two rocks, you may fall or snap the pole if you do not pull it back out straight away.

These are just few tips that can really help you use trekking poles to your advantage. As you use them, you may find other ways that work better for you. These are general recommendations that can make your hikes easier and more efficient.

Most importantly, remember to choose the right trekking pole for you, since the kind of pole you use will also have an impact on your hiking experience.

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