Trekking Poles – and how I use them

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I have been using trekking poles for almost a year now and can vouch for their benefits. Many younger hikers eschew them in the belief that they are for the elderly, or persons with, or recovering from leg injuries. But, they offer many benefits to their users, providing they are used correctly.

I have mentioned on more than a few occasions in these posts that it has been a long hot summer in Hong Kong, and as a result of this I have spent more time than I would like sitting on my bottom at home, lamenting that fact that I can’t get out and hike. The resulting decline in fitness levels became apparent, when a walk that I could previously do in ten minutes started taking fifteen minutes with at least two stops to catch my breath.

In the past few weeks, with the cooler weather, I have taken every opportunity to get out and walk, mostly along cycle tracks or foot paths. Occasionally I would venture off onto country paths but was put off by short uphill sections, due to my weak and unsteady ankles. Then I started using my trekking poles, that had been gathering dust in the corner of the room, and with their aid my confidence returned, and I am no longer intimidated by uneven ground.

I am frequently asked, ‘Why on earth are you using trekking poles to walk along a perfectly level concrete footpath?’

My answer is simple. The trekking poles force me to pace myself! They provide support when my ankles start getting wobbly, and I can walk longer distances without becoming fatigued and having to stop for a rest.

Past Lessons

I have seen many hikers setting off with one pole. I recall the first time I used one was when I did the hike from Fan Ling to Lam Tsuen in the company of my son, James and my friend, David.

Inexperienced as I was, I only brought a single pole but, even then the obvious benefits of using trekking poles became apparent, and I cursed myself for not bringing both of them. It was the last time I made such an error. Following is my comment from the post I made on that hike:

…Sturdy hiking shoes are a must and I could not have done without my hiking pole. In fact, if I’d had more experience with hiking poles I would have brought both of them and now rarely do a hike without them unless I know it will be an easy trail. (Actually, now I never leave home without them).

There are numerous YouTube presentations on the best way to use trekking poles and, while many of them expound the same ideas they are all worth checking out. I thought it was time to give my thoughts on the issue.

There are various types of poles on the market, most of them being telescopic. This means that each pole can be extended prior to use while being reduced for easy carrying or storage prior to and following the hike. The major difference in the poles is how the sections are fixed in place.

The most common is the twist lock type. The pole is expended to the correct length for the user and then locked in place by a twisting action. I had one experience of a pole collapsing under my weight due not being locked sufficiently. I only made that mistake once but, it is an issue to consider.

Some poles use the twist lock system for the lower section and what is called a spin lock for the upper. The spin lock is easier to use and more secure as it can be adjusted to ensure that it is firmly locked.

The pictures above show the typical twist lock and the spin lock in the locked and open positions

I now use poles that utilise spin locks on both upper and lower sections. They are easier to set up and collapse and have the added, and important benefit, of being more secure.

Setting up your poles to suit you

Very often you will see people hike with poles that are extended to their full length. This is great if you are going down an uneven, steep path, but, of very little benefit on flat even ground.

Some experts suggest that you use three different settings, one for walking on level ground, slightly reduced poles for going uphill and longer poles when going downhill.

I set my poles to one setting and have found it to be good enough for all requirements. However, there is no ‘one rule’ for everyone and you should experiment to see what suits you. The important thing is setting the poles to the best height for yourself, making absolutely sure that the sections are locked in place.

The standard suggestion is as follows:

Extend the lower section to around the 45/115 mark and lock it in place. Open the spin or twist lock on the upper section and extend it all the way. Stand up straight and place the pole in front of your foot, then gently tap the pole so that it comes down until you can hold it with your arm at a 90 degree angle, your elbow being next to your body. Lock the pole in place and you should have the correct height for your own use.

The wrist straps and their real purpose

You would be forgiven for thinking that the sole purpose of the wrist strap is to prevent you from dropping the poles. In fact that have a more useful purpose.

Take a few moments to adjust the wrist strap to suit you. When using the trekking poles it is natural for people to grip the handle. However, the purpose of the wrist strap is so that you take your weight on the bottom of your hand and not your hands and wrists. To be honest, I often find myself holding my poles in a death grip and have to remind myself to relax my grip and take my weight on the straps.

Walking on level ground

It doesn’t take long to get this right. The correct method is to use the poles and place your feet ‘asymmetrically’. That is to say, when you step forward with your left foot, move the right pole forward. Once you get into a rhythm you won’t even notice that you are doing it. Place the pole at an angle of around 70 degree and push off with a slight pressure.

Remember, you are not paddling a canoe!

A lot of people ask, what is the point of using just a slight pressure. It’s a case of every little bit helps, and you will feel it at the end of the day by a dull ache in your shoulders. Just remember, that ache in your shoulders is an indication of just how much pressure you have taken off your knees and legs!

Going uphill

If you know that you will be walking up hill for some time then it is suggested that you shorten your poles slightly. The method is the same as walking on the level in that you walk asymmetrically – left foot, right pole, right foot, left pole. Once again, you will soon get into a rhythm.

The benefit of using the poles when you are going uphill is that you take a lot of the pressure off your knees and onto your arms and shoulders without realising it.

Going downhill

If like me, you have problems with your knees and ankles then this is when the trekking poles really earn their keep!

The technique up until now, walking on the level and going up hill has been much the same. However, when you are going down hill take your wrists out of the straps and place your hands on the tops of the poles

‘Watch where you are going!’

Place the poles carefully so as to ensure that they will not slip out from underneath you before stepping down using the same asymmetrical method.

All trekking poles come with a hard rubber tip covering a hard point, usually tungsten. If you know you will be walking on earthen foot paths it’s a good idea to remove the rubber protectors. Be sure not to lose them and replace them once you get back onto a concrete footpath.

I hope you found this useful and informative. As mentioned earlier there are numerous YouTube presentations on the different types of trekking poles and their usage. I wouldn’t take any one presentation as gospel as they all contain useful tips and advice on how you can use your poles.

I know that many of my readers use trekking poles so would be grateful for any comments and suggestions on how you set up and use your poles. If I could offer one last piece of advice it is this. Don’t wait until you need trekking poles to start using them. Buy a set and start using them now!

Thank you for visiting stewartgoeswalkies. I hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to leave a comment and if you would like to submit a story about a past experience it will be greatly appreciated. You can contact me at stewartgoeswalkies

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Published by stewartgoeswalkies

Happily married man to a wonderful lady. Living in Hong Kong. In my younger days I enjoyed hiking, camping and rock climbing. I've trekked in the Himalayas and climbed Mt. Kinabalu in East Malaysia.

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