Walking poles (also referred to as trekking poles, hiking poles, or hiking stick) are a common hiking accessory that assist walkers on long journeys and rough terrain.

Despite the sticks splitting the opinion of the rambling community, a large number of people are using walking poles and enjoying many benefits. Scientific reveals supports the case for using trekking poles. Therefore, if you are on a walking holiday and plan to travel long distances daily across steep inclines and rough ground, walking poles are definitely worth considering.

Benefits of using walking poles

Research suggests that using walking poles will reduce the accumulated stress on your body by sharing the load more evenly. This is especially true when carrying a heavy pack on your back or journeying uphill.

11 Benefits of Walking Poles

  1. Protect your knees, especially when walking on steep hills.
  2. Aid balance on uneven or rocky trails.
  3. Improve posture, making walkers more upright as they walk and in turn this can help breathing.
  4. Provides extra stability to hikers a hiking stick
  5. Develop the muscles in your arms, shoulders and neck.
  6. Improve your power and endurance when walking uphill.
  7. Reduce fatigue and improve endurance.
  8. Burn more calories with an upper body work out as well as a lower body exercise.
  9. Strengthen muscles that support the spine.
  10. Enhanced fall prevention.
  11. Increase speed when walking downhill.
Trekking Pole in the forest

Trekking Pole in the forest

Evidence of the benefit of trekking poles

There are a number of research papers that can be used as evidence for using trekking sticks that support the benefits listed above:

  • Using poles reduces lower limb muscle activity and increases upper limb muscle activity (Knight 2000, Pellegrini 2018, Pellegrini 2015, Sugiyama 2013).
  • Stride length increases (and therefore stride rate decreases) meaning that at the same speed and grade conditions you are taking slower, longer steps using hiking stick compared to without (Grainer 2017, Knight 2000, Perrey 2008, Willson 2001).
  • Compared to regular walking, Nordic walking (using poles) involves applying force to the poles with each stride. Nordic walkers use more of their entire body (with greater intensity) and receive fitness building stimulation not present in normal walking for the chest, triceps, biceps, shoulder, abdominals, spinal and other core muscles that may result in significant increases in heart rate at a given pace.

How to use Walking Poles

  • Pole use should be built up gradually. While initial comfort is vital, your muscles may need to adjust to the use and movement of the poles. Some ramblers find that when they first use trekking poles, their upper body becomes tired.
  • Be aware of your posture. Plant the pole a little ahead of your step and follow naturally with your feet and body.
  • Walk naturally except try to engage your arms and shoulders far more. Keep it neat, relaxed and flowing.
  • The pole should be set to a length that allows your hand to lightly grip the handle while your arm is at a right angle to the ground
  • Walking poles are set longer for descending and shorter for ascending
  • Move your hands up and down the handle according to the terrain
  • Use the wrist straps provided
How to Use Walking Poles

How to Use Walking Poles

Why you should use the trekking stick wrist straps

The straps are an addition to the poles which allow you to walk with a looser grip and a more relaxed style. Place your hand up through the strap and form a large O-shape with your thumb and forefinger. Then slide it down around the handle of the pole. This means that when you apply downward pressure to propel yourself forwards, it is transferred not from your tight grip on the pole handle but from the tension applied between the wrist and strap. So as you stride along your poles become an extension to the flow of your wrist, arms and whole body movement.

How to use walking pole straps

How to use walking pole straps

Should you use one trekking pole or two?

You should almost always use two trekking poles. However, if you’d prefer to use just one stick, maybe try purchasing a hiking staff (also known as a hiking stick). Using a pair of poles, gives symmetrical support to your body to ensure you’re getting all the benefits.

Hiking Stick

A hiking stick is a singular walking pole that is used more like a staff. The accessory offers the same stability and support to the rambler, however it is advised to use two devices. Hiking sticks are a more traditional way that walkers use to aid them on their venture. Therefore, the hiking sticks are usually made of wood and have leather straps to assist the user’s exercise.

Negatives of using Walking Poles

There are some negatives to using trekking sticks such as:

  1. When used incorrectly, walking poles can be hazardous as people can trip over them
  2. Can cause damage to the environment with improper use.
  3. Carrying walking poles can be tiring as you’re using more muscles.
  4. They can prevent the use of your hands if you need to climb and can be a nuisance to carry

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