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How to Properly Use Hiking Poles

If you have bad knees, hiking poles are an absolute life saver when descending trails.

Poles are also there for you if you trip, and can help you save your balance and avoid a fall.

Hiking poles are made so they are easy to grip, easy to adjust and light and are handy when hiking, walking, backpacking and snowshoeing.

Advantages of Using Hiking Poles

  • Provide balance and stability on uneven trails
  • Take pressure off your knees when going downhill
  • Help absorb and lessen stress to your joints
  • Handy for crossing rivers and streams
  • Assist in creating a strong rhythm and maintaining a fast, steady pace

Tips on Selecting Poles

Hiking poles generally are made of one of the following:

  • Aluminum
  • Composite


Aluminum poles tend to be more economical and durable, but are heavier than composite poles. Average weight is between 18 and 22 ounces per pair, depending on the gauge of the pole (12 to 16 mm).


  • Still work when bent (mildly useable)
  • More economical
  • Usually work better in colder temperatures
  • Can last a very long time


  • Pretty heavy – especially for longer trips
  • Aluminum isn't as thick as carbon, making aluminum poles more prone to vibrations 
  • Depending on the brand/aluminum alloy used, they can be weak


Composite poles are made entirely or partially from carbon. Average weight is between 12 and 18 ounces per pair. They are a lighter and more expensive option than aluminum.


  • Very little vibrations
  • Lighter


  • When a pole breaks, it breaks catastrophically - snapping and shattering rather than bending
  • Shorter life span. Most probable because of the problem above.
  • Pole is weakened in colder temperatures unless it is made using a cold resilient resin that is designed to be used in cold temperatures

Hiking Pole Features

If you are looking for hiking poles, it is important to determine what you will be using them for and what features are most important to you. For hiking on flat trails, adjusting pole length may not be as important as their overall weight. When scrambling or hiking and doing lots of ups and downs, adjustability becomes even more important, as well as shock absorption.

Common features available on hiking poles include:

  • Height adjustability
  • Foldability
  • If you plan to take overseas trips on airplanes, you may be better suited to a pair that fold as much as possible as they are the most packable
  • Shock absorption to reduce impact
  • Weight
  • Hiking poles shaft material, generally aluminum or composite, will be the largest factor when it comes to the pole’s overall weight.
  • Locking mechanism
  • Pole grips
  • Wrist straps
  • Baskets
  • Pole tips

Tips For Using Hiking Poles

  1. Height to set them at

  • Set them at a height so that when you have your arms extended, there is a 90 degree bend at your elbow when the poles are touching the ground.

  • When ascending long uphill sections, according to REI, “you can shorten each pole by about 5–10cm to get more leverage and more secure pole plants. The steeper the slope, the more you shorten your poles. Your trekking poles should assist you in moving uphill without causing strain or fatigue to your shoulders and your shoulders should never feel as if they are in an unnatural, lifted position or as if they are being pushed up into your backpack straps. If so, you need to shorten your poles even more.”

  • When descending, it is generally recommended to lengthen each pole by about 5-10 cm from the length you set them at for general hiking. The benefit of doing this is that it will aid with balance by keeping your body more upright.

  1. Alternate your pole and leg placement

    • Plant your right pole and left foot and then your right foot and left foot and so on.

  2. Double planting of poles

    • This technique is handy when climbing or descending steep sections. Plant both poles, take two steps, plant both poles, take two steps.

  3. To aid forward movement, plant your pole and push off of them

  4. Negotiating obstacles

    • Jumping over puddles: When you need to get over obstacles use the pole vault technique. Plant both poles on the obstacle you want to get over and hop over.

    • Large rocks: When you need to lift yourself onto a large rock, plant both poles on the ground and as you step up on the large rock, push on your poles to get you all of the way onto the rock.

    • Hopping across rocks on a stream crossing: When hopping across rocks, firmly plant your pole in the water and make sure you are stable before moving from rock to rock when crossing streams.

    • River crossing: Before attempting to cross rivers, lengthen your poles beforehand to the necessary height. Make sure your pole is planted securely on the river bottom before making your way carefully across the river.

If you’re interested in learning more about the types of hiking poles available and what may work best for you and your needs, feel free to contact us at the store, or come in to see us.


Mac's Adventure, The Benefits of Hiking Poles, The Benefits of Walking Poles

REI, How to Choose and Use Trekking Poles and Hiking Staffs