Today, the best trekking poles are a common sight in the hands of elite walkers, hikers, backpackers and ultra-runners. There are good reasons for this. There are recognised physical benefits to using poles. In fact, poles can take up to 40% of weight off your knees. They also help you to generate rhythm and momentum so you can move more quickly.
Poles can save your hips, ankles and feet by helping to absorb impacts; and they also aid balance on slippery and rocky terrain.
In addition, they can be used as a probe in thick undergrowth or when crossing rivers; they help to stabilise the weight of a heavy pack; and they can even be used instead of tent poles for solo backpacking tents.
It’s important to use trekking poles correctly, however. Conventional wisdom is that your elbow should form a right angle when you’re holding the poles. With your arm held in this position, measure the distance from your elbow to the floor so you know what length you need – though most poles are adjustable. This is important, as you may want to change their length. For example, many people shorten them on long uphill pulls and lengthen them for descents. You’ll soon get used to adjusting them like this, but look for a mechanism that you can operate easily. Poles with clear marks along the shaft will also help you set them to the desired position.
Trekking Poles: What To Look For
Heavy poles can cause fatigue, whether carried in your hands or stashed on your back. Fortunately, modern poles are getting lighter all the time thanks to the use of aluminium and even carbon fibre. A decent, lightweight pair of poles will weigh somewhere between 450 and 550 grams. Carbon fibre poles tend to be lighter and stiffer, but they can crack. They’re also more expensive. Aluminium poles are usually slightly heavier, but also cheaper and more durable.
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You won’t always be using your poles, so consider their packability. How do they fold down, and what is their packed length? Can you carry them easily on or in your hiking backpack? Manufacturers have developed various different systems for shortening poles. Some are telescopic, others fold into sections. These usually break down into two or three pieces, linked by an internal shock cord.
Look for a reliable and easy to use locking mechanism that is easy to adjust if needed. Some poles use a twist lock system, while others use a clamp or lever lock. The latter is the most common as it is generally easiest to use, more straightforward and longer lasting.
Other important design features to consider are the hand grips. Most are made from foam, cork or rubber. Look for ergonomic grips that feel comfortable in the hand, with a good strap or sling.
The round discs at the bottom of the pole are called baskets. They stop the pole from plugging in the ground, and are especially useful in snow. Almost all poles have interchangeable baskets, but often the larger snow baskets have to be bought separately.