Hiking poles, or trekking poles, are one of the standard pieces of equipment used by many hikers, walkers, backpackers, trekkers, and snowshoers. The reason why is that hiking poles can enhance your stability and provide you support on any type of terrain.
Hiking poles are usually sold and used in pairs. However, there also exist hiking sticks or hiking staff, which consist of a single pole. You can use just one hiking pole if you have a lighter pack and want to give your other hand freedom to move, or you can use two for more benefits or if you have a heavier pack.
Let us break down everything you need to know about hiking poles and what you should consider before buying a single pole or a pair.
Choosing the right footwear for your hike is very important. Wearing the wrong footwear could lead to sore feet and blisters which will prevent you from enjoying your hike to the fullest. Lucky for you, we have a list of the best hiking shoes for men, women, and children all in one article.
Types of Hiking Poles
Let us start by choosing between a single hiking staff or a pair of trekking poles.
Often also called a walking staff or travel staff, it is a single pole that proves to be most effective when used on moderately flat terrain and with little to no load on your back. These hiking poles are adjustable and often include a shock-absorbing feature and a built-in camera mount under the handle, so that it can be utilized as a monopod.
These types of poles are sold and used in tandem. Trekking poles can enhance your stability and reduce pressure on your knees while hiking or backpacking. Most trekking poles are adjustable in length, and some include internal springs that act as shock absorbers to further reduce impact.
Is it better to hike with one pole or two?
It is better to hike with one pole because it allows you to have one free hand on the trail, less weight in your pack, while already providing you with plenty of stability and support. However, if you are hiking with a heavy load and need more support, then hiking with two poles is preferable.
Advantages of using hiking poles
They take the stress off of your joints
This may be the biggest advantage of hiking poles. They can absorb some of the shocks your joints take when you step on ascents and descents. If you ever felt pain in your knees while hiking a steep downhill slope, you can try using hiking poles to take some of that pressure off of your knees and relieve pain.
They give your arms something to do
Because hiking utilizes your legs, hiking poles also exercise your arms. Plus, they can help keep your hands from swelling while you’re getting elevation. Swaying your arms by your sides while ascending can lead to poor blood circulation, which can cause your hands, wrists, and fingers to swell up. On the other hand, keeping your arms elevated and active can promote better circulation and prevent swelling.
Hiking poles can act as another set of legs to give you more stability when tackling terrains. They help you maintain your balance when crossing rivers or creeks, traversing snowfields or icy surfaces, trekking along narrow ridgelines, and going uphill or downhill on loose ground, like sand or dirt. Additionally, hiking poles can help you remain upright while battling high winds.
Help maintain a good pace
Hiking poles help you walk in a smooth rhythm and help you sustain a good hiking pace for longer periods.
Can be used to test water depth and ice strength
It can be hard to assess how deep a water crossing is or how thick the ice on a frozen stream is. Luckily, hiking poles can be used to determine this and help you cross safely.
Some hiking poles can be used as a substitute for tent poles. Some lightweight tents can allow you to leave the tent poles at home and use trekking poles to hold the structure instead.
Help keep wild animals at bay
When hiking in the backcountry, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. Do what you can to avoid surprising wild animals and invading their territory. However, despite our best efforts, sometimes, animal encounters are unavoidable.
If you find yourself too close to a large animal, banging your hiking poles together or against trees or rocks can make harsh sounds that often scare the animal away. You can also wave hiking poles above your head to make yourself appear larger and discourage animals from approaching.
Help you get a hitch into town
Whenever you need to catch a ride from trail to town or vice versa, you can always keep your hiking poles out. They can help signal drivers that you are a hiker who needs to get somewhere and increase the likelihood of a quicker pick-up.
Disadvantages of Using Hiking Poles
Hiking poles can be cumbersome
For some, this may be the biggest drawback of hiking poles as they can be limiting in some situations. On trails where you need to use your hands to climb or to use ropes, it can be bothersome to have to stash your poles on your pack and get them back out after. Furthermore, if you like to take photos, hiking poles tie up your hands and get in the way when you need to grab a quick shot.
Some people like to use their poles only on uphill and downhill slopes, meaning that the poles are stashed on their packs most of the time, which, of course, represents extra weight.
More energy spent
Pumping your arms with hiking poles allows you to spend more energy than walking without them. Although, there haven’t been many studies about this and some hikers disagree with this. But a small extra workout for the arms isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you prefer the stress-reducing benefits of hiking poles, in which case the extra energy spent is totally worth it.
Putting together a good hiking kit can be pretty expensive, and hiking poles are not really that to bring. So, the cost can be hard to justify, especially for beginners who have little to no gear or for hikers on a budget.
The carbide tips on many trekking poles have the power to dig into rocks and other surfaces, which can often leave light to heavy scratches or chips and gouges in rock formations on the trail. This can be aggravating to some, especially when traveling over pretty and old granite formations.
Are hiking sticks necessary?
Hiking poles are not strictly necessary, but a lot of people still choose to have them on their hikes as they provide numerous benefits. If you are hiking longer distances with a heavy pack, you will most likely need hiking poles. However, if you are just hiking for a few miles, then it is not necessary.
Hiking is a recreational activity wherein you take a walk in nature. It is an exercise that promotes physical fitness and it is also widely recommended as a form of physical training for many athletes. Hiking provides many physical and mental health benefits, but is it good to hike every day? Read our article to learn more.
Hiking Poles’ Features
Many hiking poles can be adjusted in length to enhance stability on various terrains. Generally, they can be adjusted from about 24 to 55 inches. Typically, you’ll want them shortened when going uphill and lengthened when tackling downhill slopes.
Some other hiking poles don’t adjust in length. These are fixed-length poles that tend to be lighter than adjustable poles as they operate with just a few parts, making them popular among ultralight hikers. They are great for terrains where you know you only need a certain length.
These foldable trekking poles function like tent poles as they don’t collapse into themselves, like adjustable poles do. Typically, foldable poles are the most packable ones and are often very lightweight and quickly deployed. They are especially popular among ultrarunners, trail runners, and fast hikers.
These poles offer internal springs that can absorb shocks when walking downhill. With most poles, this feature can be turned off, like when you’re walking uphill. The ability to absorb shocks is a nice feature for any hiker, especially if you have unstable knees, hips, or ankles, or have had any injuries to these joints in the past.
Standard hiking poles do not have any shock-absorbing feature. As a result, they are lighter and less expensive. While they don’t absorb as much impact on downhill slopes, they do provide a somewhat similar level of stability and support as shock-absorbing poles.
These poles offer less swing weight, making them quicker and easier to move and pack. This also means less fatigue on long-distance hikes.
Some hiking sticks and trekking poles feature a built-in camera mount under the handle, which enables the pole to be used as a monopod.
How do I choose a hiking stick?
To choose a hiking pole or stick, you should be able to determine if a single pole or a pair of hiking poles is more beneficial to you. Next, find the right length, choose what features and options you need most, and learn what tips are appropriate for your pole and the type of trail you will venture on. To help you, use our guidelines below.
Hiking Poles’ Length
For fixed-length or non-adjustable
Use the chart below and consult the manufacturer’s chart that is specific to the poles you are considering.
|Height||Suggested Pole Length|
|6 ft. and above||130 cm or 51 inches|
|5’8” to 5’11”||120 cm or 47 inches|
|5’1” to 5’7”||110 cm or 43 inches|
|5’1” and below||100 cm or 39 inches|
For adjustable hiking poles/staffs
|Height||Suggested Pole Length|
|Over 6 feet||Max. length of 51 inches|
|Below 6 feet||Shorten the length of the adjustable hiking pole to a size that works for you|
Tips for Adjusting Poles’ Length
- For general hiking, — which means this will be the right length for most of your hiking — simply adjust the length, so that your arm bends at a 90-degree angle when you hold the pole with the tip on the ground and near your foot.
- If your hiking poles have three sections, set the top adjustment in the middle of the adjustment range, and then, set the bottom adjustment to the length that will put your arm at the right angle. Then, if you need to make some adjustments while hiking, you can just use the top adjustment for fine-tuning the length.
- For long uphill terrains, shorten each pole by about 2 to 4 inches to get more leverage and a more secure pole plant. The steeper the slope, the more you should shorten your hiking poles. They should assist you uphill without causing any fatigue or strain to your shoulders. Your shoulders should never feel like they are in an unnatural and lifted position. If so, shorten the poles even more.
- For long downhill terrains, lengthen each pole by about 2 to 4 inches from the length you set it at for general hiking. This will keep your body more upright to offer better balance.
- If you’re on a long traversing slope, shorten the hiking poles on the uphill side and lengthen them on the downhill side as needed. This will improve comfort and stability.
Tips for Using Hiking Poles
Use both poles
Using a single hiking pole can strain one side of the body and compromise balance, especially for longer hikes with a heavy pack.
Hold them correctly
Place your hand up through the bottom of the strap’s loop and then straight down on top of the strap. It should lay smoothly across the back of your hand. Avoid gripping them tightly as doing so can create strain to your arm and neck.
As mentioned above, your arms should bend at 90 degrees when you’re holding the poles. However, this isn’t always best for everyone, so adjust your pole length comfortably.
Adjust the length as you go
Shorten them uphill and lengthen them downhill.
Plant the poles carefully
Position the poles straight up and down as angled poles will most likely slip more easily.
On steep, off-trail terrain, you should use the poles to ease your weight down so that you will not land on uncertain footing.
Make stream crossings safe
Lengthen your poles for deeper water and plant the tips securely on the river bottom.
Keep it natural
Poles are most beneficial if you continue to walk naturally and let your arms dangle normally.
Engage your core
Keep your core involved to take further pressure off of your knees and for an added workout.
What are the best hiking poles?
To give you an idea of what hiking poles to choose, take a look at our top choices for men and women.
Best for Men
The best overall hiking poles for men are the MSR DynaLock Ascent Carbon.
Those are simple, elegant hiking poles that are perfect for most users. They have foam grips and rounded handles that are comfortable to grasp, and their locking mechanism is secure and user-friendly.
A pair comes in at an average weight but swings forward like that of a lighter pole. Each packs down small and is durable enough to make it a great option for all-around use, from the boulder fields to the trails, and even winter backcountry arenas and alpine climbs. We can say these poles can do it all. However, they do come at a price and are heavier than similar options.
Best for Women
Our top choice for the best overall hiking poles for women is the Leki Women’s Micro Vario Carbon.
This pair is best to take on mountaineering trips and alpine climbing as it can be easily collapsed and stowed away. It is very comfortable due to the edgeless Aergon Thermo foam grips, grip extensions, and breathable Skin Straps. It can also be adjusted simply and it is very versatile. The Micro Vario is a great choice for any multi-day hike or trek because the shaft can rapidly be broken-down with just the push of a button. Plus, the stuff sack makes for straightforward storage inside or outside a larger pack. Additionally, its carbon construction gives this pole great durability and shock absorption while keeping the weight low.
Are hiking sticks good for the elderly?
Yes, hiking sticks or poles are good for the elderly as they provide more stabilization. They also absorb shocks to the joints, provide balance, and assist their movements over various terrains.
Some of the best hiking poles for the elderly are the Life & Fit Nordic Walking Sticks. These hiking poles are best for seniors because they have a shock-absorbing mechanism that takes off pressure from the knees.
Most seniors have joint problems, which prevents them from taking a daily walk. But with the built-in anti-shock spring on each of these poles, their knees will be less subject to stress as they have the poles to lean on. In turn, these poles will absorb some of the vibrations from the impact. The Life & Fit Nordic Walking Sticks are made of aviation aluminum alloy, which is among the lightest yet strongest materials for walking sticks.
Using one hiking pole can still give greater benefits than not using any at all. However, using a pair of hiking poles will provide you with more balance, allow you to get a more symmetrical workout, boost your overall speed, and enhance your endurance.
Although hiking poles are almost always used in pairs, you can still use just one, especially if you have a lighter pack and want to give your other hand freedom to move. Or you can use two hiking poles if you want to reap more benefits and have a heavier pack. In the end, your decision should be based on what you’re most comfortable with.