Why use Walking Poles?
Posted by Neil | March 25, 2011
Anyone who's been out of the hill regularly over the past few years will have noticed the increasing amounts of Walking Poles (or Trekking Poles if you prefer), and they've been popular on the continent since the 1970s, but have only really gained a following in the UK over the past 10-15 years...but why use them and what's the differences?
Why Use Walking Poles?
Far from being just another fad, and piece of gear to carry around, walking poles have a three massive benefits, and these alone should pique your interest, but let me just say that the following info is based on poles being used as a pair. You can of course just use one if you prefer, but you won't experience the full benefit! (Yes, I feel slightly silly swinging two around but you get used to it!)
>> Stability & Safety.
Need to step down from a thigh high rock? Place your poles on the ground and use them to guide yourself down.
Using a pair of poles effectively gives you more points of contact with the ground and thus on up- or down-hill sections, allows you to use them for balance and stability. This makes it safer and reduces the risk of over-balancing and toppling forwards off the hill!
Obviously for scrambles or short sections of steep terrain you'll want your hands free, so just about all poles fold or telescope up small, and most daysacks now have loops for storage.
>> Reduce strain on ankles, knees, hips and back.
You all know that feeling after a long day of ascents and descents, especially on rocky and uneven ground? The one where it feels like your knees have swollen and locked up? If you don't then you're lucky!
Walking poles can help reduce these impact forces by a huge amount. The extra points of contact allow you to gently lower yourself down bigger steps. so it's far less strenuous on the ankles and knees, and therefore the back as well.
You can do an experiment at home to show you the theory. (But I accept no liability should you injure yourself or your property!)
>> Stand on the second or third step from the floor
>> Step to the floor and just fell the impact sensation which travels up your leg. Now imagine the fun your knees have doing this for hours on a hill-walk with the extra weight of a rucksack.
>>Repeat but instead of simply stepping down, lightly rest your hands on the banister and use it to guide your weight down...you should immediately notice the difference in impact.
Most outdoor shops will let you test this out with real poles if you visit them.
>> Improve stamina
The last major benefit of walking poles is also a big one, they improve your stamina!
When we've been walking for a period (especially with a pack on), most people will start to lean forwards. This causes the lungs and diaphragm to be compressed and they're unable to operate at their optimum, in turn leading to your breathing becoming less effective, and muscles not receiving as much oxygen as they'd like (not to mention waste products not being removed from muscles as fast as normal.) Eventually this leads to fatigue, and a sore back from lumbar muscles doing more work than they really should.
A pair of correctly set up poles help you to keep your back and shoulders upright, and lungs can work efficiently, plus your lower back doesn't need to hold your upper body up so much.
To be honest, any of these benefits is justification for a set of poles, but when combined it's easy to see why the generally active countries of Europe have loved them for such a long time.
How to adjust your poles
>> Loosen the poles and then tighten the bottom section roughly at roughly halfway, or consult the chart for a better estimate.
>> Adjust the top section so it's at its highest, but don't tighten.
>> Stand with your back straight, poles in hand, then move your hands down (sliding the poles as you go) until your elbows are against your body at right angles so your hands are in front of you.
>> Tighten top pole section. (You may wish to mark the poles for future adjustments, although once you've done it once it's simple!)
Hopefully the bottom and middle pole sections should be tightened around the middle of each. If not then adjust the bottom poles section up or down a bit and repeat. Ideally you don't want one section fully extended and one compressed.
On up- or down-hill sections of walks you may wish to adjust the top poles slightly. Make it longer for downhill, and shorter for uphill (trying to keep elbows at right angles)
Some poles have a foam section down the top section to allow you to simply move your hands up and down the poles, rather than having to keep making adjustments.
For more information, including the anatomy of poles, and the differences between their primary features visit our extensive guide.
To see our range of poles, including Leki and Grivel, click here.