How to use walking poles for hiking

Here’s how to use your walking poles to get the most out of your UK hikes.

Anyone who has hiked over mountains or across hilly terrain will know the strain it puts on your body. Even if you’re in peak physical condition, tackling serious inclines and declines can be challenging. Often, this stress manifests itself in your joints and tendons which is why hikers get sore knees and hips.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem! Walking poles can provide support and stability to your movements. These aren’t solely for hikers with mobility issues – they are a fantastic piece of equipment for just about anyone. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your walking poles when hiking.

Editor’s notes

Walking poles are for everyone. Even if you think you don’t need them – attach a couple to your hiking backpack next time you head out. You’ll be surprised how much they help!

What are walking poles?

Walking poles, hiking poles, and walking sticks are all variations of the same thing – support poles for hikers, trekkers, and hillwalkers. They have a sturdy hand grip, long metal or carbon fibre stem, and a pointed tip for planting on the surface of whatever terrain you’re walking on. 

The best walking poles are adjustable, allowing you to extend them going downhill and shorten them uphill.

Using two poles is standard, holding one in each hand, but a solo pole is also useful. A hand strap is often attached to each rubber grip, which helps you to hold the walking poles loosely and prevents them from being dropped.

The stem of a walking pole is generally made from one of two materials. Carbon fibre is the lighter choice but is more brittle and expensive. Alternatively, aluminium is cheaper and more durable but is slightly heavier.

Benefits of using walking poles for hiking

Walking poles can be hugely beneficial for hikers. When you are hiking uphill, they aid momentum and improve your walking speed. If you’re traversing challenging terrains such as boulder fields, ridgelines, and deadfalls, walking poles can help you maintain your balance. 

Much like a tightrope walker, walking poles focus your centre of gravity and if you stumble, well-planted support will prevent you from falling.

tightrope walker on cliffside

Going downhill, you can use walking poles to take some of the weight off your legs. Displacing this downward momentum into the walking poles will reduce the jarring action from damaging your knees. 

Walking poles can also be used to prop up tents or tarps if you are lightweight backpacking. For example, the Leki Micro Vario Carbon Walking Poles tick all the boxes and have multiple benefits. They are strong, featherlight, and fold up easily to be stored in a backpack.

How to use walking poles

Walking poles may seem fairly self-explanatory but they actually require a bit of getting used to. First, consider the surface you’re hiking on. If it’s predominantly rock, you may wish to use a rubber cap on your walking pole to prevent it from slipping. If you are hiking on mud or grass, use a standard metal tip to provide extra purchase in the ground.

hiker on hilltop with hiking poles

From there, follow these steps to get the most out of your walking poles.

  • Before you move off, slip your walking pole straps onto each wrist. 
  • As you walk, hold the grips securely in each hand. Try to get momentum with the poles and swing them in coordination with your steps to enhance your walking speed.
  • If you cross a technical area place the poles carefully on the ground, testing your weight at each stage. 
  • When crossing snow or a waterway of unknown depth, plant the pole into the ground ahead of you. Keep probing the foreground and use the poles as a depth gauge.
  • To use your poles for balance, turn them horizontally and walk with the handles close to each side of your hip. Point the tips out wide.

How to use a single walking pole

There are some circumstances where you may want to use a single walking pole. If you are a long-distance hiker and want to keep weight down, dropping a walking pole from your kit list is a good decision.

walker with single hiking pole

You may have to alternate which hand you hold the pole in but to start with, hold it in your dominant hand.

Using a single walking pole is generally saved for more experienced hikers. You need to have a nimble grasp and be able to read the terrain with a keen eye. The asymmetry can make you feel unbalanced at times but if you are confident, it will give you added stability.

How to use walking pole straps

Straps are designed to keep the grip of your walking poles close to hand. If you stumble and fall, you can release the grip and open your hands without any risk of losing the poles. It’s surprising how easy it is to drop a pole and watch it clattering away down a ravine or steep hill.

Black Diamond Distance Carbon Flz Trekking Poles

To use the straps, slip them over your hand and turn the strap until the loop goes over the top of your wrist. You can then tighten the buckle. Make sure it’s not too tight to restrict wrist movement but not so loose as to fall off easily.

FAQ: How to use walking poles

Want to get the most out of your walking poles on your next hike? You’re in the right place – check out our FAQ below and we’ll hopefully be able to help with any queries! 

Slip the straps of the walking poles over your wrist and hold the grip. Scan the ground as you walk and get into a rhythm, placing the poles slightly ahead of you with each stride.

Walking poles provide stability and balance for hiking. They reduce the likelihood of injury and prevent excess strain on your legs.

Yes – poles are a lightweight and valuable addition to your kit list. From beginner to experienced hikers, using walking poles for hiking is always useful.

Brands like Berghaus and Black Diamond offer top-of-the-range walking poles. Alternatively, you can find cheaper walking poles in high street outlets such as Decathlon, GoOutdoors, Cotswold Outdoor, Blacks and Millets.

If you’re still looking for the answer to a question – don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re big hikers and love our walking poles!

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