Fixed Trekking Poles: A Buyer’s Guide
Trekking poles have been available to hikers and walkers for quite a while, but they’ve become increasingly popular over the last several years. This surge in popularity has occurred, in part, because manufacturers have begun incorporating space-age materials and clever features to make modern trekking poles even more helpful than they’ve ever been. For example, many modern trekking poles are designed to collapse or fold up when not in use. This helps make them easier to pack and transport.
And while many people prefer the convenience folding or telescoping poles provide, there are still plenty of walkers and hikers who prefer the older, fixed-length style. Below, we’ll explain some of the benefits trekking poles provide, break down some of the reasons some people prefer fixed-length poles and detail the things you’ll want to consider when selecting the best poles for your needs.
The Benefits of Trekking Poles
Trekking poles – whether fixed-length or collapsible trekking poles – provide a wealth of benefits to hikers and walkers. Some of the most important benefits provided include:
1. Trekking Poles Take Some of the Stress Off Your Knees
Because they absorb some of the impact involved in walking, trekking poles help to keep your knees – and, to a lesser extent, your ankles and hips – feeling fresher. This will not only allow you to cover more ground, but you’ll feel better the next day too.
2. Trekking Poles Improve Your Balance
Trekking poles and Nordic walking poles can help you keep your balance while traveling across uneven ground or rugged terrain. They can also help improve your balance, and therefore your safety, when crossing streams, scampering over logs or traversing areas with poor footing.
3. Trekking Poles Make It Easier to Hike on Hills
Even beginners intuitively know that it is difficult to hike or walk up hills, but many are surprised to find out that it is also hard to walk downhill. But, a set of trekking poles helps you adopt a more comfortable posture and enjoy some additional support when traveling in either direction.
4. Trekking Poles Make It Easier to Take a Quick Break
You don’t always want to stop and take off your daypack to take a break; sometimes, you just want to take a quick breather before you start hiking again. Trekking poles make it very easy to do so, as you can simply put the poles in front of you and lean forward so that the weight of your pack is supported by the poles. Do this for a minute or two, and you’ll be ready to hit the trail with renewed vigor.
5. Trekking Poles Help You Burn More Calories
Trekking poles require you to use your arms when walking, which raises your heart rate and causes you to burn more calories than you would without the poles. And, because of the additional support the poles provide, you’ll be able to travel farther than you otherwise could. This means trekking poles help you improve your fitness level in two different ways.
6. Trekking Poles Can Help You Fend Off Aggressive Wildlife
And although negative encounters with wildlife are not as common as many hikers believe, you’ll certainly be glad you have a couple of trekking poles on hand, if you find yourself staring down an aggressive critter. Begin by just swinging the poles over your head to make yourself appear larger, but, if need be, you can use them to physically fend off a bear, coyote or some other angry animal.
7. Trekking Poles Can Serve as Emergency Tent Poles
Trekking poles can be used to support a tent in a pinch. You’ll have to experiment a bit with placement to get it to work properly, and trekking poles certainly won’t work as well as tent poles will. But, they will help keep your tent functional for a night or two in an emergency.
Why Choose Fixed-Length Trekking Poles?
Many walkers and hikers may wonder why anyone would select fixed-length poles when telescoping and folding options are so readily available. Those who prefer fixed-length poles will usually explain their preference by citing some combination of the following four factors:
Many hikers and walkers prefer simplicity whenever possible, and fixed-length poles clearly have a simpler design than folding or telescoping poles do. There are no adjustments to make or assembly needed – you can just grab a pair of fixed-length poles and hit the trail.
Fewer Parts to Break
The more parts (especially moving parts) any piece of gear has, the more likely it is to break. And while nobody wants their trekking poles to break, durability and dependability are especially important for those heading into remote areas or tackling long trails. Fixed-poles typically have fewer parts than telescoping or folding poles, and they have no moving parts at all.
Because they have fewer parts, fixed-length poles typically weigh less than collapsible poles do. Having lightweight hiking items such as a lightweight blanket is most important for ultralight hikers and campers, but even casual walkers may enjoy shaving a few ounces whenever possible.
Although there are exceptions, most collapsible and telescoping trekking poles are more expensive than comparable fixed-length models are. This difference in price is sometimes rather modest, but everyone has a budget and it may make more sense to opt for the lower-priced option in some situations.
Features to Seek in a Fixed Trekking Pole
If you’ve decided that a fixed-length trekking pole is the best option for you, you’ll want to start comparing the features provided to help narrow down your choice.
Make Sure the Poles Have Comfortable Grips
Pick a set of trekking poles with comfortable grips and you’ll enjoy your poles and take them with you on every hike. But, if you select poles with poor-quality grips, you’ll find them hard to grasp and uncomfortable to hold.
Select Poles Made from the Best Materials for Your Needs
Most modern trekking poles are either made of aluminum or carbon fiber. Neither material is inherently better than the other; they both excel in different ways. Select aluminum trekking poles if you value durability and affordability but go with carbon fiber poles if you want the lightest poles possible.
Avoid Poles That Lack Adjustable Tips
You’ll want to adjust the tips of your poles to suit the type of terrain you’re hiking. For example, you’ll want rubber tips (or metal tips with rubber caps) when using the poles on cement or other hard surfaces, but you’ll want to use the pointed metal tips when hiking on dirt or mulch trails. It’s also important to select poles that come with baskets so that you’ll be ready to tackle loose sands, scree and snow.
Trekking Pole Sizing Guidelines
It is always important to select trekking poles of the proper size, but it is especially important to do so when selecting a fixed-length trekking pole, as they can’t be adjusted.
Different hikers will prefer slightly different length trekking poles, but you’ll usually want your elbows to rest at a 90-degree angle when the pole is sticking straight up and down, and your hands are on the grips. Some hikers prefer slightly shorter poles than this and try to select poles with grips that rise to waist level.
You’ll want to break out the tape measure and determine the proper length for your body, but most people will find the following pole lengths to be a good starting point:
- Hikers between 4’ 11” and 5’ 1” will usually find trekking poles between 39 and 40 inches long will suit their body.
- Hikers between 5’ 1” and 5’ 8” will usually find trekking poles between 43 and 44 inches long are ideal.
- Hikers between 5’ 8” and 6’ 0” will usually find trekking poles between 46 and 48 inches long fit their body.
- Hikers over 6’ will usually find trekking poles at least 51 to 52 inches long are necessary.
Using Your Trekking Poles: Tips and Tricks for Maximum Benefits
Once you get your new set of trekking poles, you’ll want to make sure that you use them in the most effective manner possible. This will take some experimentation and a bit of practice, but you can get started on the right foot by employing the tips listed below:
Use the Wrist Straps Properly
When used properly, you’ll apply most of the force to your trekking poles via the wrist strap, rather than the grips. This will reduce the chances that your hands will develop blisters and help transmit the forces applied more effectively to your skeleton. It’ll also make it easier to swing the poles forward while walking. It’s easy to use the wrist straps properly, just follow the steps outlined below:
- Star by holding the pole in the vertical position and pulling the strap out perpendicularly to the pole.
- Slip your hand under and through the wrist strap (your hand should be pointing to the sky).
- Spread your thumb and fingers apart.
- Lift your elbow, which will cause your hand to swing forward (your hand should be pointing forward).
- Let the wrist strap rest against your palm and then grab the grip.
- When you pull your hand down, you should feel most of the pressure via the strap, rather than the grip.
Now, each time you advance one of the poles, you’ll be able to release your grip and use the strap to swing the pole forward. Once the pole has contacted the ground, you can immediately use the strap to pull down and drive yourself forward.
Try to Keep the Poles by Your Sides
The closer you keep the poles to your side, the more force you can impart to them and the more control you’ll have of them. If you let your arms stray too far from your sides, you’ll end up putting unnecessary strain on your shoulders and you won’t be able to maintain your balance as easily.
One good way to check your technique is by hiking across a soft area (snow or semi-soft soil will work best) and then looking back to inspect the tracks you’ve left. You want to see four parallel rows of tracks – one for each foot, and one for each pole. Ideally, the pole tracks should be very close to the footprints.
Obviously, you don’t want to go overboard with this technique. You don’t want to cause friction between your arms and sides – this could lead to irritation and blisters.
Learn to Use Different Walking Techniques
Different types of walking techniques will work best in different circumstances, so you’ll want to be sure to practice using your poles in several different ways. When walking or hiking normally, you’ll usually want to use an alternating arm and leg pattern. This means that when your left leg is swinging forward, you should also be swinging your right arm and pole forward. This type of stride most closely mimics a natural walking stride, and it’ll be the technique you use most often.
However, it can occasionally make sense to swing both arms forward with each step, such as when you need your arms to supply some extra power to help drive you up a hill. In other cases, it may even be helpful to swing your arms and legs together in sync, so that your left leg and left arm are swinging forward simultaneously. With experience, you’ll learn to use these various strides and mix and match techniques as the circumstances dictate. Just be sure to practice various techniques, so that you’ll be ready to use them when the need arises.
Fixed-length poles may not seem as fancy as some of the other trekking poles on the market, but they offer several key benefits that telescoping and folding poles don’t. Don’t hesitate to select a set of fixed-length poles if you think they better suit your needs. Just be sure that you compare the various fixed-length poles available and pick the ones that seem like the best fit for you.