How To Use Trekking Poles

how to use trekking poles

Some years ago, you rarely saw a hiker using trekking poles. If you did it was reason enough to stop, take notice and maybe ask some questions. Today, the use of trekking poles is common. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates that trekking pole wielding hikers vary from ninety percent for thru hikers to ten to fifteen percent among day hikers. It’s not uncommon to see trekking poles in suburban shopping centers. For some seniors, trekking poles are a hip alternative to a walking cane.

Trekking Pole History

Trekking poles are a fairly recent addition to the outdoor scene. In the early 20th Century, trekking poles were adapted from cross country ski poles by cross country skiers for conditioning during the summer months. In 1984, American cross country ski coach Tom Rutlin improved on the design. In 1997. a Finnish ski pole company developed the first official trekking poles for what was known as “Nordic Walking.”

Related Article: Some of the Best Trekking Poles for Backpacking

How To Use Trekking Poles

Whether or not trekking poles make you a more efficient hiker may depend on how you’re using them. The benefits of trekking poles are not not so much that they “save” your joints but that they allow you to supplement the muscles in your legs by distributing some of the strength requirements to you arms.

Remove the rubber caps
Take the rubber caps off the poles

Adjust the Poles to the Proper Length
Adjust the poles so that when you’re gripping the handles on level ground your forearms are at a 90-degree angle to the  ground.

Grip the Handle Correctly
Grip the handle correctly. Run your hand UP through the wrist loop and wrap your thumb around the grip. You thumb goes over the strap. You don’t have to have a death grip on the pole one hundred percent of the time. If you let go of the handle the pole should drop directly under under your wrist. If you insert your hand DOWN through the wrist strap there’s always the danger that if you fell you could sprain or even break your thumb.

Distribute Your Weight
You are distributing the weight of you body into the ground by four points instead of two.

Walk Isometrically
Walk isometrically with your left foot up, right hand up, right foot up left hand up. That’s the way your body will move naturally.

Place Poles at a 70% Angle
On flat ground the poles will give you forward propulsion. Use the poles at about a seventy degree angle to the ground with the handle of the pole facing in the forward position.

Walking Uphill
Adjust the poles a little shorter if you are walking a prolonged uphill grade. Adjust them a little longer if you are walking an extended downhill grade.

Walking Downhill
Walking downhill the poles take a significant amount of your weight and your pack’s weight off your legs. Place your hands over the tops of the poles when walking downhill

Ubiquitous Trekking Poles Have a Multitude of Uses

Use Trekking Pole as a Tent Pole
Some lightweight tents are designed to be assembled using trekking poles instead of tent poles. Or weight may be saved by substituting trekking poles for tent poles. A good example of a high quality tent designed to be set up with trekking poles used as tent poles is the Zpacks Duplex Ultralight Two Person Tent included in the Savage Camper article “Tents with Bathtub Floors.”

Shape Your Tent or Tarp
Shape the roof of a tent or tarp with one or more trekking poles to prevent rain from pooling.

Communications Device
Outdoors man Eric Larsen writing for the MSR Summit Register says that on polar expeditions where strong winds and cold temperatures sometimes make verbal communications difficult, he and his companions use trekking poles as a communications device like the Semaphore Flag System.

Two poles held out horizontally means “all ok”, he writes. Two poles held in an x above your head means “break time”. Two poles held straight above your head and waved back and forth means “help”.

Testing Ice Thickness
Another use Eric Larsen puts trekking poles to is testing ice thickness. Three hard jabs with a trekking pole and the ice doesn’t break, he considers it safe.

Maintain Balance in Difficult Terrain
Steady yourself during river crossings or on slippery log bridges.

Medical Emergencies
A trekking pole can double as a splint in the case of a broken bone.

Ward Off Dogs and Wild Animals
Defend yourself against dogs. Wave poles overhead to make yourself appear bigger and more menacing to a bear.

Using trekking poles properly conserves energy, makes you a more efficient hiker, and may enable you to continue enjoying the sport into your 60s, 70s, and 80s. Marlyn Doan said, “I dream of hiking into my old age.” A pair of trekking poles properly used may help you do that.

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