Many people new to hiking and backpacking question whether or not they should use trekking poles. There is a misconception that trekking poles are for older walkers and you don’t need them if you are young. The reality is that trekking poles benefit people of all ages. They might take a bit of getting used to but it’s well worth taking the time to get the hang of it for the benefits listed below.
The potential benefits of trekking poles have been explored by numerous research projects. Areas they have focussed on include the impact of going downhill, carrying a load when backpacking and average walking speed. We have distilled the key elements of this research to list some of the reasons to try them for yourself –
1. Reduction in impact on joints especially when going downhill
The University of Utah found that use of trekking poles reduces the impact on the lower extremities – your hips and knees. The higher your pack weight the greater the benefit.
Around 20% of your weight is taken by your arms when using trekking poles. That means a huge reduction in the stresses on your leg joints. Over a mile that’s the equivalent to the weight of 5 elephants for an average man! Add in a loaded rucksack and it’s even more.
A UK university study showed that after climbing and descending Snowdon, those who used trekking poles reported less muscle soreness and faster recovery than those without.
2. Improved posture
Trekking poles encourage better posture with a more upright stance and a straight back. This also aids breathing due to your being chest lifted and with arms raised this boosts lung capacity.
3. Improved balance
Just like a tight-rope walker using a pole, trekking poles can be used to aid balance. Also by improving posture and walking more upright, this in turn puts your centre of gravity over your feet which aids balance.
4. Greater stability
Trekking poles give 2 additional points of contact with the ground so you will have fewer slips and falls. This is of benefit when walking on loose or slippery surfaces and uneven ground especially when descending.
Stream and river crossings become more assured and safer (you can even use them to vault narrower obstacles). Mind you don’t drop your pole in though (I speak from experience and a chase downstream).
5. All round work out
Using trekking poles transfers some of the workload to the upper body so as well as reducing loads on the legs it also provides exercise for the upper body. It has been shown that you burn more calories but feel less tired.
6. Cover ground faster
Research has shown that when carrying a backpack, trekking poles result in a faster walking speed. It’s probably due to getting in a rhythm plus the added confidence and stability they offer.
7. Hold up your shelter
Items having dual uses is great to keep the weight down. With trekking pole tents there is no need to carry additional tent poles so they are lighter.
8. In case of Injury
Poles can make a huge difference in your ability to keep walking after suffering an injury. It could be the difference between hobbling off the hill and calling mountain rescue! Having injured a knee in Knoydart, it would have been almost impossible to get back to civilisation without my poles. Combined with no phone signal the consequences could have been serious but the trekking poles saved the day.
9. Testing the ground
You get to a stretch of snow, a pool or bog and just aren’t sure whether it will hold your weight or how deep it might be. Rather than jumping straight in, a trekking pole makes a great depth gauge or indicator of how firm the ground might be.
10. Camera monopod
When trekking solo it’s hard to get decent pictures of yourself in the landscape. By combining your trekking pole with something like a Pedco Ultrapod which straps the camera to the pole, you can turn it into a monopod. No need to carry an additional mono- or tripod. Now you can be in your pictures of the trek.