Hiking and Trekking Poles: Faithful Companions in the Mountains

More and more people use hiking poles when hiking, trail running and going on longer trekking tours. Poles do not only support you on your way up and down but are also a great help in between to overcome obstacles and difficult spots. You are also thinking about getting hiking poles, but you are not sure if you really need them? In this post, you will learn about the advantages and disadvantages of hiking poles and also what you should pay attention to when buying some.

 

Hiking Poles – yes or no?  


Basically, it is always useful and recommended to have poles with you when you are hiking. However, it is also important that you do not use them consistently. Find out why by reading the following advantages and disadvantages:

 

Support for your body

When going uphill, the physical strain is better distributed between legs and arms. You can push yourself up on the poles, which trains your upper body as well. In turn, the leg muscles are relieved a bit, are not getting tired as quickly as usual and you have a better endurance. Also with heavy luggage on the back, poles help to reduce the strain on your shoulders, torso, and hips. In addition, the constant movement of the arms prevents shoulder pain. When going downhill, your knees are supported – the momentum is absorbed by the poles and the joints have to absorb significantly less weight.

To make sure that your body is actually relieved, it is important to adjust the pole length correctly. When walking on flat terrain, there should be approximately an angle of 90 degrees between your upper and lower arms. For steeper passages, you have to shorten the poles accordingly so that your arms are not overstretched. During the descent, you have to lengthen the poles – if the poles are set up too early on the ground, additional strain is put on the shoulders. 

 

Better balance and more safety

Especially when you are passing difficult spots such as river crossings, exposed slopes and narrow paths, hiking poles support your balance and ensure greater safety. Also on wet, slippery surfaces or boulders, they are quite helpful. Possible falls and slips can also be prevented with poles in most cases. That is why they often provide hikers and trail runners with additional psychological security.

 

Do not overuse poles

If you constantly use poles, the muscles and you abilities that are supported decrease at the same time. Your balance and surefootedness decrease because your stabilizing muscles are trained less and your body relies more and more on the poles. Without the poles, you are suddenly much more insecure than before. That’s why you should leave your poles at home every now and then or strap them to your backpack during parts of the hike. Especially inexperienced hikers or mountaineers should avoid poles at the beginning in order to get a better feeling for the terrain. 

 

Things you should keep in mind when you are buying hiking poles


Now that you know the advantages and disadvantages of trekking poles, you should know for what different characteristics you have to pay attention to before you buy them:

 

Material

The majority of hiking and trekking poles are made of sturdy aluminium. Since it can bend a bit under resistance – and can be bent out again – it is very difficult to break. This is different with the more expensive carbon poles. Although they are much lighter than aluminium poles, they are very stiff and therefore easy to break. If you get stuck with the poles in stones or roots, micro-cracks can quickly occur, which sooner or later will cause the pole to break. For this reason, in addition to poles made of pure aluminium or carbon, there are also poles made of both materials. Carbon is used in the upper part of the pole to guarantee lightness, while the lower part is made of aluminium, making the pole more resistant. 

 

 

Handle

Depending on the price, there are also differences when it comes to the handles of the poles. Poles from the cheapest price segment are usually equipped with handles made of plastic, rubber or imitation cork. In the medium price segment more foam is used because it is softer and also more breathable. High-priced poles usually have cork handles, as these are the most comfortable to hold. In addition, some handles are slightly tilted forward to allow a more neutral hand position.  Many poles also have an extended handle. This allows you to quickly change your hand position on different terrain without having to adjust the height of the pole every time. 

 

 

System

Basically, two different systems can be distinguished, which will make it possible to adjust the height of the pole: Telescopic and foldable poles. Telescopic poles can be further divided in poles having a speedlock system and those having a screw system. However, the speedlock system, with which the height can be easily and safely adjusted by clamps, is used more frequently. With this system, the poles are much more stable than with the outdated screw system, which is hardly in use anymore. Here the individual parts of the stick are fixed by turning. This system is not only more complex but also more difficult to operate and more prone to defects.

Foldable poles are very light and therefore usually have a high portion of carbon. As they have no clamps or screw system, additional weight can be saved. Because of the low weight foldable poles are particularly popular among trail runners – also because they have a smaller pack size and can easily be stored in trail running backpacks. 

 

Find out more how Trailrunner use poles

 

Fotos: Leki ©Claudia Ziegler