Recently I’ve been considering buying Trekking (Hiking) poles. I’ve been weighing up the pros and cons of them and I have decided that they are definitely a good investment.
In this post I wanted to take a look at the top 5 reasons why I have come to this conclusion and why I think they’re a great addition to your hiking kit.
Pictured below are my current favorite trekking poles, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles.
My Use of Trekking Poles
First off, I thought I’d start by explaining my history with using trekking poles. I have never actually owned a pair but I have used them on occasion and I will be getting myself a set in the not too distant future.
Every time I did use them I found them to be very handy and useful. Listed below are the top 5 advantages I found with using them.
Great on Steep Downhill
When you’re out on the trail, at some point you will have to negotiate a steep downhill. Even if this is on a well-worn trail, it can still be tricky to descend, especially if you have to do it several times in a row on a day hike. That is, a lot of steep uphill followed by steep downhill.
Where this is even more relevant is when you’re hiking down over open mountain, where there is little or no marked trail.
This is where hiking poles can be really beneficial. A key thing to look for when getting hiking poles is that they’re extendable and retractable. That is, you can make them longer or shorter. This should be standard with most good modern hiking poles.
When you’re on a steep downhill it can be a great help to extend your hiking poles that little bit longer. That gives you that little bit more stability as you hike downwards.
On a personal note, on hard hikes, I have found my knees can get a little sore and wobbly after lots of steep descent. Using hiking poles helps counter this as it enables me to spread the pressure into my arms as well as my legs and so alleviating the load my knees have to take.
Overall, trekking poles ease the weight on your joints and spread it more efficiently making you less tired. Definitely a plus!
Great on the Uphill
As with steep downhill, the same principle applies for steep uphill, albeit somewhat reversed. When you’re heading up very steep uphill, it can be useful to make your poles a little shorter. You can then use them as a kind of pivot to help pull yourself up the trail.
Now I don’t want to give the impression that you drag yourself up a mountain, it’s not that extreme. On the uphill it’s more like an extra bit of stability that can again take a bit of pressure off your legs. It all helps!
Even on gradual uphill with your hiking poles at their normal extension, they will still add a bit of extra support as you ascend. This all goes towards taking pressure off your legs which should keep them from getting too tired too soon.
Stability on Tricky Spots
Hiking poles really come in useful when you need to cross a tricky spot on the trail. For example, say you need to cross some stepping stones to get across a river. Being able to extend your hiking poles and stick them into the water to get a bit more stability is really useful.
Now, I want to add a caveat to that last statement. I am referring to crossing over stones on a very small river. As a general rule, try and avoid crossing rivers but if the river is shallow, say up to the tops of your feet or just below your ankles, you should be fine to cross it.
Any higher, I advise that you don’t cross it. Rivers can be very hard to judge with currents and so on. You can easily be taken off your feet with a relatively small amount of water and get swept downstream into faster currents. Good judgment and experience is crucial!
Some other tricky spots where a hiking pole can be useful is hiking in snow or where there are patches of ice. Again, they can come in very handy for a little bit of extra stability when you come to a tricky spot.
Finally, if you’re fond of trekking into the wilderness for a few days camping, hiking poles can really be a great addition to your kit. With a fully loaded backpack on your back, you are of course less stable.
A wrong movement or minor slip and you can very easily lose your balance and topple over.
Hiking poles again can provide that bit of stability if you have a slight slip. This also applies on a day hike with a small daypack. If you slip or walk over a tricky part of terrain, the poles are there to enable you to steady yourself.
Walking over bush and heather is one I regularly experience. The odd time you can easily step into a deeper hole.
As its not visible you can’t see it to avoid it and you also won’t know how deep it is. Most importantly you won’t be expecting it!
Having a hiking pole handy to lean on to steady yourself can be really good for situations like that.
Hiking poles also have carry loops, see the picture to the right, so even if you lose your balance and your hand comes off the handle, they will stay attached to your arm so you can easily get them back into your hands to use them to get yourself back on your feet.
Lightweight and Easy to Carry
Next thing worth mentioning is that hiking poles are designed to be lightweight. Also, most good backpacks have the loops to hold them while they’re not in use.
I also recommend you look for retractable trekking poles too. This means they can be retracted up into a smaller pole which can be more easily put away in your pack when not in use.
For example, walking through the forest with two big poles sticking out of your pack will be a pain for sure as they will catch and get tangled in things. So, look for good retractable length for storage purposes.
The overall point in this being that if you don’t want to use them or need them on a particular stretch of trail, you can easily attach them onto your pack and they won’t add a lot of weight or cause you any bother.
This is more a bit of fun here but I have seen hiking poles being used very creatively before, especially on longer multi-day treks. I’ve seen them used as an extra tent support pole, where one was missing.
My favorite was as a way to fashion a clothes line to dry gear in the sun after it got wet. Two poles on two ends with, what I think was, some tent cord between them. Very clever I thought and it worked well.
Also, you can get poles that also act as a camera mount, that is you can attach your camera to the top of the pole handle. Very handy to have if you want to get that all important group photo at the summit, with everyone in it, after a long day’s hike!
Finally, it’s worth adding that you don’t always need to have two hiking poles. I know many folks who only ever use the one and you can buy them individually in some cases.
As mentioned at the start of this, in all my years of hiking, for some reason I never thought to buy a set of trekking poles. No real reason I can identify as to why.
I used them on occasion and I always found them useful when I did so I’m not 100% sure why it has taken me so long to finally get around to buying a set of my own lol 🙂
I have started my research and I will be sure to add up onto the site some good options that I find, including the ones I actually end up purchasing.
I’ll add a short guide on what to look for when buying hiking poles soon too but if you’re in the market for a pair today, I suggest looking for a pair that are lightweight, durable and extendable / retractable.
There will be a bit more in the buying guide but they’re the fundamentals I am currently looking for myself.
In this post I wanted to review the top 5 reasons as to why I think adding trekking poles to your hiking kit is a really good idea. I hope you found it useful.
Finally, if you do use hiking poles, please always be conscious of other hikers and watch where you point them!
So that’s it for today. Do you use trekking poles on your hikes? Are you a fan of them? Do you find them useful?
Hey Colm, I find the use of trekking poles great when out for a hill walk. I also have found that they come in handy when fly fishing in a rocky river as they are lightweight, telescopic and can be easily stored when not in use and now made in composite materials so rusting is not common.
While working in a tackle shop we sold them for both activities as the wading staffs currently on the market were much more expensive then the trekking poles available. A cheap way to get into deep river wading fly fishing.
That’s cool to know about using them for wading in water for fishing. I would never have thought of using them for that purpose.
It’s interesting as one of the general rules I have, for hiking, is that when it comes to a river, don’t try and cross it by walking through the water if it is up above your ankles. Now that is of course very much dependent on the strength of the river current as even it it’s only at ankle height, a fast current with a heavy pack can still take you off your feet. It can be hard to judge, especially if you’re not experienced at doing it so generally I recommend the avoidance strategy i.e. find a bridge or easy stepping stones.
I’m just thinking that as a seasoned fisherman you must be very good at judging current speeds and so on when looking at a river. I imagine that would also have a big impact on where is best to fish, where they congregate and so on. If you need to go out wading up to waist height to get a good cast out you would need to be sure you make the right call on where to position yourself. The wrong spot and I imagine, in waist height water, you could get taken off your feet very easily. Again, it must take a lot of experience to learn good judgement on that as a fisherman.
Wading is a a skill that takes time to learn. I would recommend that any new angler keeps close to the banking when starting out then as you get used to the way the water pushes you from behind you can go a little deeper.
Its actually better to go deeper than your knees when in faster currents as the way water pushes behind your knee can cause them to flex and make you tumble. Even a few inches over or below the knee is better for safety, amazing but true.
If deep wading I would always use a wading staff so I can test where my next step is going as a deep hole can make you stumble or wobble very easily. Also if going into deep water always go with a partner its not worth the risk when out on your own unless you know the fishing beat like the back of your hand but even then its risky. Safety at all times is my motto.
That’s really interesting Mark, especially your comment about going a few inches above or below the knees. As a hiker, as a general rule, I keep away from water as much as I can. If I need to cross a river I look for a suitable crossing point, ideally a bridge or some stepping stones. I’ve heard a few hairy stories over the years about hikers having unlucky accidents even in, what looks like, relatively tame water.
With that in mind, I can appreciate how it must really take time to learn how to wade properly and safely without putting yourself in danger. A wading staff sounds a very good idea, a necessity by the sounds of it. Having someone with you is also a sensible and good recommendation. I generally think the same for hiking, better to be with one or more than on your own. In saying that though hiking solo has it’s own special joy too.
I can’t agree enough on what you say about safety. Whether fishing, hiking or with any outdoor activity, it should always be number one on the list to ensure you have a fun and safe day out.
By the way, just checked out your piece on water craft in your best fly fishing techniques post. Gives a nice feel for the art of reading the river to get the best fishing spot.