How to use walking poles. A mid-shot of someone walking with walking poles. Photo by Colby Winfield on Unsplash

How to Use Walking Poles for Better Hiking in 2024

People either love hiking poles or detest them. For those who know how to use walking poles, they are an essential piece of kit that can make all the difference to your walking adventure.

I never used to use them, but for one trip last year, I decided to give them a go. And they completely changed how I view walking especially if you’re doing a long hike. If you think they could benefit your hiking, why not read on to learn how to master using them?

You’ll also learn how to optimise your poles for endurance hikes, accessorise them for different terrains and conditions, and care for them to prolong their lifespan.

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Key Takeaways

  • Choose the right walking poles made from durable materials like aluminium or carbon fibre, and ensure they’re adjustable to maximise comfort and stability across varied terrains.

  • Adapt the pole length for different hiking scenarios to improve balance and reduce knee stress, using the proper grip and arm motion to maintain rhythm and endurance during hikes.

  • Regular maintenance and using the correct accessories like rubber tips and baskets tailored for specific terrains are essential for the longevity and performance of your walking poles.

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How to Use Walking Poles: Mastering the Basics

Person hiking with walking poles on uneven terrain with the mountains in front of them. Photo by Jan-Niclas Aberle on Unsplash

Walking poles can transform your hiking experience, providing support, balance, and a full-body workout. However, to enjoy these advantages, you should pick suitable walking poles and learn their correct usage.

The material of your poles is essential. Look for durable and lightweight materials like aluminium or carbon fibre that can withstand varied terrain and weather conditions. Another essential feature is the adjustable length, which allows you to customise the pole length to suit your height, ensuring ultimate comfort and stability on every step of your journey.

But that’s not all! Proper adjustment of your pole length can greatly boost your balance and steadiness, particularly when ascending or traversing irregular terrains. By securely locking your poles in place at the right length, you can conquer any terrain with confidence, avoid discomfort, and reduce your risk of injuries.

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Choosing the Correct Length for Your Poles

Selecting a suitable pole length is something to consider for a pleasant and effective hiking adventure. When gripping your pole, your elbow should comfortably bend at a 90-degree angle. This position enhances your stability and support while walking, and it’s the key to maximising your walking experience and using trekking poles correctly.

Walking poles come in different sizes, so whether you’re tall, short, or somewhere in between, there’s a pole out there for you. Many walking poles are adjustable, making it easy to find the perfect fit for your needs.

When adjusting the length of your walking poles, remember not to extend them past the marked STOP indicator. This will prevent any damage to the poles or personal injury, helping you stay safe and ready when travelling over uneven ground.

Adjusting Pole Length for Terrain Variability

Just as hiking isn’t a one-size-fits-all activity, the same applies to the length of your walking pole! I learned this the hard way when I tried walking poles out for the first time.

Adjusting your pole length according to the terrain will give you the best stability especially when walking downhill. When you’re descending, lengthen the poles by five to 10cm and plant them slightly ahead of your body. This technique provides braking action, improves balance, and reduces impact stress on your knees.

On steep, icy, or muddy descents, a top technique is to walk sideways, firmly planting the pole tips into the ground and positioning your foot close to the opposite pole for superior stability. When it’s time to power through the ascent, adjust your poles by shortening them five to 10cm to handle forward forces more comfortably.

For side slopes or zig-zag paths, adjust one pole shorter than the other longer, swapping them at each turn, helping you to maintain support.

How to Use Walking Poles: The Right Way to Hold and Move Them

A group of hikers using walking poles. Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

When it comes to using walking poles, the way you hold and move them can significantly impact their effectiveness.

A strong and comfortable grip, coupled with the right arm motion, can help you maintain balance and establish a natural walking rhythm.

But remember, the right grip isn’t about holding on for dear life! Avoid a tight grip on the pole handle and you’ll prevent unnecessary fatigue. This way you allow the strap to provide the support you need, enabling you to maintain a light grip for optimal performance.

Establishing a Secure Yet Relaxed Grip

In terms of holding your poles, prioritise both comfort and safety. Here’s how:

  1. Start by sliding your hand through the loop from underneath and gripping the handle at wrist level.

  2. Make sure the strap allows for a secure grip without being too tight or loose.

  3. The strap should bear the weight, allowing you to focus on your adventure without gripping it too tightly.

The length should be set so the pole feels secure in your grip, with the strap lying over the back of your hand and the thumb positioned over it. The strap on your walking poles ensures a secure grip and maintains contact with the pole, preventing it from falling to the ground even if you release your grip momentarily.

For the best performance in your upper body exercises, consider incorporating an upper body workout that uses a relaxed grip, allowing for a natural swinging action, minimising hand fatigue, and enabling better movement.

Coordinating Arm Motion with Steps

Synchronising your arm movement with your strides is essential for the effective use of your walking poles. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Maintain a natural gait while planting the pole with the opposite leg;

  • Let your arms swing naturally in opposition to your legs;

  • Keep your elbows slightly bent; and

  • Stand up straight with elbows at a 90° angle.

By coordinating your arm motion with your steps, you can experience the following benefits:

  • Better stability;

  • Improved mobility and posture;

  • Stabilised gait;

  • Stronger core muscles; and

  • Enhanced coordination.

When planting your walking poles, make sure they are roughly level with your foot, a little ahead of your step. This placement allows for a natural walking rhythm and gives you the best effectiveness of your poles.

How to Use Walking Poles: Advanced Techniques for Pole Planting

Hikers walking through a forest using walking poles. Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Pole Planting on Varied Surfaces

Navigating different surfaces can be challenging, but having the right pole planting techniques in your arsenal can make all the difference.

When it comes to rocky surfaces, start by planting your poles perpendicular to the slope and traversing with confidence. For slippery surfaces, plant your poles more upright, push through the pole, and keep the pole tips at a 90-degree angle to the surface for better grip.

When tackling steep inclines, direct your pole planting towards the downhill side, and in icy or muddy conditions, try walking down sideways while firmly planting the pole tip into the ground for better grip and stability.

Using Poles for Extra Stability and Support

Walking poles, often used in Nordic walking, can significantly change the game when dealing with demanding terrains, such as walking uphill. By learning to use walking poles, you can increase your stability and balance on uneven terrain, offloading about 25% of the pressure on the hips and knees, and aiding balance on uneven trails.

When I learnt how to use walking poles last year, I found my legs shook a lot less than when I didn’t use my poles. I found they gave me extra support and stability to keep me steady and confident, especially when covering rough terrain or needing additional support.

So, how can you use your poles for that extra stability? Start by planting the poles close to your feet for extra propulsion power uphill and offloading stress from your legs and knees during steep descents. For enhanced grip on slippery terrain, consider using rubber tips on the poles.

How to Use Walking Poles: Optimising Walking Poles for Endurance Hikes

A hiker in misty conditions using walking poles to cross icy terrain. Photo by Stéphane Fellay on Unsplash

Are you prepared to tackle those lengthy, strenuous trails? Learning how to use walking poles and fine-tuning them for endurance hikes can be a game-changer. Choosing lighter poles and using high-quality ones can significantly improve your efficiency on endurance hikes.

Also, consider increasing the pole length to enhance your balance and overall hiking experience.

Maintaining Comfort and Efficiency

Maintaining comfort and efficiency is key during extended hikes. Achieving this requires the correct pole length and grip. When adjusting pole length, increased stability, prevention of muscle strains, and decreased discomfort all come into play, ultimately enhancing your overall hiking experience.

Maintaining a comfortable grip on your walking poles during long hikes is also crucial. Wrist straps can help keep the poles secure and act as shock absorbers, allowing for a relaxed grip and facilitating a natural swinging action. By effectively using your walking poles, you can:

  • Enjoy added stability;

  • Reduce strain on joints;

  • Maintain balance on uneven trails;

  • Provide power and endurance uphill; and

  • Protect your knees on steep descents.

Balancing Load and Enhancing Posture

Effectively distributing load and improving posture are important elements of a successful hiking expedition. Knowing how to use walking poles can help in maintaining good posture as they reduce stress on your joints and encourage a more upright stance.

To boost your posture with walking poles, keep those elbows close to your sides, always keep the poles vertical, and stand up tall with a perfect 90° angle at the elbows. Walking poles provide stability, prevent slips and falls, and assist in maintaining balance, especially when carrying heavy loads.

How to Use Walking Poles: Accessorising Your Walking Poles

A yellow tent in the snow with walking poles resting against a tree. Photo by Chaewul Kim on Unsplash

Adding accessories to your walking poles can notably improve their performance. From the type of pole tip to the size of the basket and the use of straps, every accessory has an important job in optimising your poles for different terrains and conditions.

Selecting the Right Pole Tip for the Job

The pole tip extends beyond just being the sharp end of your walking pole; it’s your secret weapon to mastering all terrains. Here are some tips on which type of pole tip to use for different surfaces:

  • Rubber tips are great for absorbing shock and vibrations on paved terrain.

  • Carbide tips provide superior traction on soft surfaces such as mud, dirt, and roots.

  • Steel tips are also good for traction on soft surfaces, but they are more durable and long-lasting.

When learning how to use walking poles, you’ll find that rubber tips are perfect for unimproved trails, slippery surfaces like wet rocks or icy trails, or areas where you don’t want to damage the soft ground, as they minimise impact and noise. Carbide pole tips are excellent on a variety of challenging surfaces, such as ice, pebbles, dirt, and rocky terrain, thanks to their excellent traction and durability.

Steel tips, on the other hand, are versatile and can handle various conditions, but they may wear down faster on rocky paths or roads and can cause scars on rocks, indicating a need for careful consideration of their durability and environmental impact.

Understanding the Use of Baskets and Straps

Baskets and straps aren’t merely accessories; they are indispensable tools for enhancing your hiking journey. Using baskets on your poles can prevent them from sinking too far into the ground and provide far greater stability and support, especially in softer or unknown terrain.

There’s a variety of baskets for walking poles, such as mud baskets, snow baskets, and powder baskets, each tailored for specific terrains and conditions like mud, snow, or powder.

To attach the baskets to your walking poles, simply screw them clockwise along the threading on the bottom of the poles, approximately three inches up from the bottom. For snowy conditions, adding snow baskets to your trekking poles can further elevate your experience.

How to Use Walking Poles: Care and Maintenance

Walking poles leaning against each other standing up in a grassy field. Photo by Field Forest and Fire on Unsplash

Appropriate upkeep and maintenance are fundamental to extending the longevity of your walking poles. Regular maintenance, proper storage, and cleaning can prevent damage and wear, ultimately extending their lifespan.

Routine Cleaning and Storage

Frequent cleaning is crucial to maintain the prime condition of your walking poles. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Use a mild soap solution or warm soapy water for regular cleaning.

  2. For a more thorough clean, use a light amount of WD-40.

  3. After cleaning, dry your walking poles thoroughly to prevent rust from forming.

Storing your walking poles:

  • Keep them in a dry place to protect them from corrosion and damage;

  • Slide them into their sleeves when hiking; and

  • Position them at the bottom of your backpack to maintain their shape and functionality.

This will help keep most walking poles, including your Nordic walking poles, in top condition for your next adventure.

Replacing Worn Parts

Changing worn out parts is key to upholding the efficiency of your walking poles. Regularly check your poles for signs of wear, loss of traction, and material damage such as bending, cracking, or serious dents.

When it’s time to replace worn tips on your walking poles, follow these steps:

  1. Heat the old tip by submerging it in boiling water.

  2. Carefully remove the old tip using a stick.

  3. Clean off any dust or debris from the pole.

  4. Attach the new tip.

  5. If the tip is glued on, soaking it in acetone overnight may help to loosen the glue.

When moving from small, three-season hiking baskets to larger snow baskets for winter hiking, replacing the baskets of your walking pole can significantly improve your hiking experience.

Final Thoughts

Walking poles are more than just an accessory; they’re a hiker’s best friend. From choosing the right length and adjusting it based on terrain variability to mastering the proper grip and arm motion, every detail matters.

Advanced techniques for pole planting can significantly boost your hiking experience on varied surfaces and provide the extra stability and support you might need. Accessorising your poles with the right tip, baskets, and straps can help for different terrains and conditions. And with proper care and maintenance, your poles can serve you well for many hiking adventures to come.

Hopefully, what you’ve read will have shown you how to use walking poles and will get you thinking about using them, if you haven’t before. So, strap up, grab your poles, and hit the trails with confidence! You may find you use them on all your hiking adventures after trying them out.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the proper way to walk with poles?

To walk properly with poles, keep your centre of gravity low, use your shoulders to apply weight to the poles, and adjust the length of the poles for uphill and downhill terrain. This will help reduce stress on your knees and propel you forward effectively.

How can I determine the correct length for my walking poles?

To determine the correct length for your walking poles, make sure your elbows can comfortably bend at a 90-degree angle when gripping the poles, and the length should match the distance from the top of your palm to the ground when your arm is extended in front of you.

What are some advanced techniques for pole planting?

Try adjusting the pole planting angle based on the terrain, planting poles more upright on slippery surfaces, and directing pole planting more towards the downhill side on steep inclines to improve your technique.

What are the different types of pole tips and when should I use them?

Choose rubber tips for paved terrain to absorb shock and vibrations, and opt for carbide or steel tips for better traction on soft surfaces like mud, dirt, and roots. Select the appropriate tip based on the type of terrain you’ll encounter.

How can I properly care for and maintain my walking poles?

Proper care for your walking poles involves regular cleaning with mild soap, thorough drying, and proper storage in a dry place. Additionally, regularly check for signs of wear and replace worn parts as needed. This will help extend their lifespan and ensure optimal performance.

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