Hiking poles: the best tool for long hikes
I haven’t used hiking poles on my hikes ever. I didn’t need them, and I thought they can’t be so useful if you are a little trained, used to hike and fit.
Well I was wrong, and I found out two weeks ago.
When we started our hike at the Rhodope Mountains (close to Plovdiv in Bulgaria) two weeks ago our guide said: “if you don’t have your own hiking pole, you can get one from me.”
My boyfriend and I was like: “oh no, thank you, we don’t need it.”
Irina said: “oh just take one, it will get steep on our way down from the mountains and then it will be very helpful.”
So we took one each. I tied it to my backpack first and my boyfriend used it straight away.
So I didn’t use it the first half of our trip. But when we reached a part where there where a lot of leaves and lose rocks, and it started to become steeper I started to tie the hiking pole of my backpack and used it. And I was surprised. I felt more confident on the lose rocks, I could walk a little quicker, and my knees had less pressure on them when we hiked down.
My partner came to me and said: “these poles are great right?” and I agreed.
One week later I went on another hike, and this time we had very steep bits for a very long time, and normally my right knee (where I had ripped a cruciate ligament rupture in 2007 and needed an operation) get’s tired and a little painful on long downhill passages. But nothing! The poles helped me get pressure off my knee when hiking downhill. I loved it.
We came across some trails with a lot of lose stones and needed to cross a river with very slippery stones, and I felt safe, and could keep a good pace.
So if you would ask me know if I think hiking poles/hiking sticks are useful/helpful I wouldn’t need to think a second, I would say yes straight away!
(Find your favorite hiking pole here!)
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Why use hiking poles?
So why use hiking poles? Hiking poles, or hiking sticks, have a lot of benefits but as always also some cons.
1) Better for your knees
One of the biggest benefit of hiking poles is that it takes great pressure of your knees when you walk downhill or have a heavy backpack with you.
By using poles you are distributing some weight to your arms, chest and shoulders. You can actually help your knees and hips stay more healthy by using a hiking pole now.
2) Very lightweight
Hiking poles you can buy these days are very lightweight. They are mostly a lot lighter than sticks you find in the woods. And they are collapsible, so easy to strap or to put into your backpack if you don’t need them
3) Can prevent injuries
Hiking poles can prevent injuries because they give you extra stability on loose ground, slippy ground or steep trails.
4) Can be used as tent poles
They can also be used as tent poles. And I have even heard about tents that actually are made for using hiking poles instead of tent poles.
5) Helps with a better posture
As we might become tired after a few hours of hiking with a backpack, we tend to lean forwards. This is putting more strain through your back and can cause aching muscles, headaches, or injuries. Hiking with hiking poles can prevent fatigue and helps with a better posture even if you are getting tired.
6)They are useful to fight wild animals.
On our hike in the Rhodope Mountains we met three very friendly wild dogs, but our guide told us there are some wild dogs out there not that friendly, and then the sticks could help to protect yourself.
If you really don’t want to buy hiking sticks, just look out a wooden stick that is sturdy, not too heavy, and long enough to make your own. On some hiking trails you might even find a stick that some other hikers left behind for the next one! But be aware that you can’t rely on finding a good hiking stick on trail. So if you really want to use a stick, I would recommend buying one, or make one out of wood before you go…
Cons of hiking poles:
- Even though they are lightweight, it means a bit more weight to carry.
- Mostly useless on flat ground.
- More energy is required because you move your arms too. Normally your upper body is not moving much, but with the poles, your upper body is moving more. (So pack more energy food;)
- The poles can get caught by trees or bushes while hiking on narrow trails or trails through bushes.
- If you hike in a group, take care that you don’t tip the calves or heels of the one in front of you and take care that nobody trips.
- The steel tips could be potentially damaging to rocks and fragile plants. And the plastic tops can get lost easily. I found a few on trail clean-ups already.
- If you hike on scree fields you should take care to prevent poles from snapping.
- They tie up your hands and you always need to get out of the wrist straps first if you like to drink something or take a photo.
- Some people have been injured because they didn’t knew how to use the poles properly, or they didn’t use the straps properly and fell…
So that’s why it is very important to know how to use them correctly.
Tips how to use hiking poles
The most important part is that the hiking pole need to be adjusted in the right way. This is different from person to person. The most important tips how to use hiking poles are the following:
Adjust the poles to your height:
If your arm is down by your side and your forearm held out in front of you in 90 degrees to your body, then the hiking pole should be the height of the top of your palm. This applies to flat terrain.
Adjust the poles for different terrains:
Like you might want (or need) different boots for different terrains, the same goes for the adjusting for hiking poles. If you walk uphill, make the hiking poles shorter, to get the 90 degrees right, if you walk down hill you need to make them longer for the same reason.
If you hike on softer terrain or unknown terrain you can use baskets on your poles. These will stop the poles from sinking too far into the ground and this will give you better stability and support. Rubber tips are useful when hiking on ground that the hard tips cannot stick into – this will stop the tips from skidding across the surface.
Adjust the strap:
You will find different straps for poles. Some have glove like straps, some just a simple strap around your wrist. Straps shouldnt be too lose, neither too tight.
A lot of walkers/hikers use their hiking poles inefficiently.
This could cause more tension in shoulders/arms and could even cause injuries.
A lot of people are bending their arms at the elbow, just placing the pole tip slightly in front of them to use the pole as support.
More effective is to keep your arm in an almost neutral position only bend your arm very slightly and use your shoulders to propel yourself forwards.
You shouldn’t grip the poles too tightly! This could cause tension. Try and use a relaxed and slightly loose grip on the poles, by using the straps. If you use the straps right, you don’t need to worry about losing the poles while hiking.
One pole is better than no pole, but if you like even better stability and control, try to get used to poles in pairs.
Would I suggest hiking poles?
While for most of us there is no need to use hiking poles on flat terrain, it is definitely a useful tool for up and down hill, on unstable terrain and if you need to cross rivers or snowy areas (I wish we had hiking sticks when we hiked in the snow in Zakopane. You can watch the video if you click here!)
I also love that my knees didn’t hurt after hiking for more than hour down hill on very unstable ground.
If you are hiking with poles, think about getting a Daypack for hiking with straps for hiking poles. This can become a nice to have feature if you hike on trails where you don’t need the poles the whole time.
If you just started with hiking and unsure what else to pack, check my packing list for hiking.
Tell me in the comments: hiking poles or no hiking poles?
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