Walking and Trekking Poles Gear Guide
Walking (or Trekking) Poles have their fans and detractors in seemingly equal numbers - see What you think of Walking and Trekking Poles
On the plus front, there seems some agreement that using poles for walking or trekking can:
- improve your balance - basically by providing more points of contact with the ground
- reduce the stress on your knees by spreading the effects of impact to your upper body; this is of benefit especially when going downhill
- help keep your balance going uphill especially if you have a large load
- help you to establish and maintain a walking rhythm.
In contrast, detractors argue that walking poles:
- are a nuisance on narrow pathways bordered with hedges or scrub when you find your walking rhythm constantly disrupted as you try to extricate them when they've become caught up.
- may be dangerous on very steep, unstable ground especially if you need both your hands to help in maintaining balance.
- are no substitute for an ice axe in icy or snowy conditions.
However, if you've decided that walking poles are for you, then your first decision is whether to use one or two.
Our last 'poll on Poles' did suggest that the majority of those using poles were using two rather than one. Certainly it does seem logical to experience the benefits equally on both sides of your body. Two are certainly helpful if you have a particularly heavy backpack.
1. Material of construction
Pole shaft: The material used in the pole shaft will have the biggest impact on the weight of the pole - and its price. Entry level walking poles will often be made of aluminium and will be the heaviest. Slightly lighter (and therefore slightly more expensive) poles are made of aluminium-titanium alloys. The lightest (and most expensive) poles are made of carbon fibre.
Handles: More expensive poles will feature cork or thick foam materials in the handle. These will be much more comfortable throughout a long day than the plastic often used in cheaper models. A slight angling of the handle will also make for more comfortable use.
Wrist straps: Look for some padding here also rather than just plastic.
2. Shock absorption
Most walkers need a pole that provides some degree of shock absorption, though devotees of ultra light-weight equipment may opt for models which don't include this feature.
Shock absorption in walking poles is usually provided by means of a spring which flexes on impact to reduce some of the stress on your wrist and arms. This is most useful for use when going downhill. In some models, it's possible to turn this off when going uphill when you do not want to waste energy depressing the spring. However, it is debatable how useful this additional complexity is.
3. Tips and Baskets
The tip of a pole should provide good traction over a variety of different terrains. They are usuall replaceable on more expensive models and this obviously helps in extending the useful life of the pole.
Baskets go around the shaft just above the tip and are there to stop the pole sinking. Smaller baskets are good for sand, rock, mud whilst a larger baskets will be necessary for snow.
4. Adjusting the Height
Poles are constructed in several sections - usually two or three. A pole that has three sections will compress down to a shorter length which is more convenient for packing.
Try to keep all sections approximately the same length - don't extend one fully as this will result in any load being spread dis-proportionally along the shaft and ultimately will reduce its longevity.
Make sure you can adjust the length easily with gloved hands.
4a. How to adjust the Height of a Walking or Tekking Pole
On flat ground - the walking or trekking pole is at the correct length if you can hold the pole vertical with the tip on the ground with your lower arm straight, your upper arm vertical and your elbow at 90 degrees.
If you are going downhill for long periods of time - lengthen the pole slightly slightly. If going uphill for long periods - shorten it slightly.
4b. How to adjust the Wrist Straps on a Walking or Tekking Pole
Having the wrist-strap set correctly will ensure you get maximum benefit from using the pole.
First, slip hand through strap from underneath.
Then put your hand around pole handle so that the part of strap that lies between your thumb and index finger is under you palm.
Finally adjust the strap to give a comfortable fit - you should feel strap taking some strain when you put weight on the pole.