I’m a huge fan of trekking poles and believe they are an essential piece of equipment. I rarely go hiking without them. They are growing in popularity; however, there is still a large number of people who have never used them. If that is you, then here are 17 benefits of hiking with trekking poles, that may convince you to give them a go.
1. Provides Stability & Balance
You’ve probably experienced those moments when you slide along a muddy ground with one leg up in the air. The embarrassment of falling over is something we all would like to avoid. And injuring yourself by taking a tumble is certainly undesired. Trekking poles allow you to have two points of contact with the ground at all times. Having them by your side will mean you’re able to control those slips and won’t end up flat on the floor.
2. Reduces Leg Fatigue
It’s no secret that hiking tests your leg strength and endurance, especially when going long distances. It’s nice to be able to spread the physical requirements throughout your whole body. That’s what trekking poles do. Your torso and upper body will now help to push you along. This, in turn, stops your legs from tiring so fast and will allow you to hike for longer.
3. Lowers Impact Stress on Joints
Before I started using poles, I would quite often feel aches and pains in my knees and ankles on long descents. Trekking poles help alleviate the pressure and impact stress that occurs during hikes. They transfer the energy, which generally would be going from your foot and up your legs, to the poles and your arms.
4. Helps You Hike Faster
It’s surprising how much rhythm you develop when walking with hiking poles. They ensure your arms and legs sync up and give you that extra push to propel you forward and lengthen your stride. This helps you keep a steady, uniform pace. For anyone who likes to get lots of miles in or is on a tight schedule, this is hugely beneficial!
5. Helps Maintain a Good Posture
Tiring during a hike tends to cause you to start leaning forwards and hunching. Walking with poles forces you to keep your body upright and maintain a good posture. Not only does this reduce the risk of back pains and injuries, but it also allows you to breathe better and more fluently. This has enormous benefits during aerobic exercise.
6. Improves Traction
No matter what terrain you are in, trekking poles will always provide traction. Whether you’re hiking in the snow, on ice, or summiting a muddy peak, the grip they provide is invaluable. This applies even more so when you are going up or down a mountain. You can climb a lot easier and descend much safer.
7. Use to Clear Pathways
While hiking through the backcountry, you’ll inevitably come across overgrown sections. This can be areas with thorns, and who knows…possibly even poison ivy! Well, guess what, you’ve got a nice handy pole in your hand which you can use to move it all out of the way while you hike on through.
8. Use to Probe the Ground
Ever found yourself hiking in thick mud and wondering if it’s safe to take your next step? With poles, you can probe the ground and check if it’s okay to carry onwards. This applies to plenty of terrains. Check the depth of snow, puddles of water, or even if the next dodgy-looking rock you step on is secure.
9. Cross Tricky Terrain Easier
Hikes can quite often entail crossing streams and even rivers. One wrong step, and you might fall in. Having poles to anchor your weight as you cross slippery rocks is an enormous help. It’s certainly better than the risk of getting soaked or even washed downstream!
10. Can Scare Off Animals
There may be times when you spot or sense an animal around your proximity, and you do not want it coming any closer (bears). Hitting your poles together will make an unnatural sound, which can echo around you. You can also make yourself look a lot bigger by swinging them overhead. These are both great ways to scare off any animals that you fear may endanger your life.
11. Can Fend Off Animals
This is something I can say I have never used them for, and I hope you never need to either. But, if you ever get in a situation where you need to defend yourself, poles can be an excellent go-to weapon.
12. You Can Rest on Them
Taking a short break, but don’t want to sit down or take your backpack off? Transfer weight from your back by planting trekking poles in the ground and resting the top of your chest on them. This method gives your body a good time to recover and allows you to carry on your hike in a matter of seconds.
13. Use to Pitch a Tent or Tarp
Like other pieces of hiking equipment, trekking poles have multiple functions and uses. You can use them to pitch a tent, tarp, or set up an emergency shelter. This allows you to leave dedicated tent poles behind and cut down on the weight you carry. Trekking poles are also stronger than tent poles and can perform better when creating a safe shelter.
14. Gives you a Full Body Workout
If you’re anything like me, one of the main reasons you go on hikes is to get a good outdoor workout. Using trekking poles gets your whole body working. Instead of just being a leg conditioning activity, the rest of your body can now reap the physical rewards.
15. Useful if you get Injured
God forbid you ever need them for this, but hiking poles may be more of a lifesaver than you first might imagine. Spraining or breaking an ankle while out in the wilderness can be a huge problem. Especially if you are out of reach from contact. Use hiking poles to take the weight off an injured leg and act as temporary crutches. Or, in more severe cases, they can be a splint for broken bones.
16. Reduces Hand Swelling
Hand swelling can be a regular occurrence among hikers. It is usually the result of wearing a backpack and standing for long durations. Trekking poles help prevent this. They improve the blood circulation in your hands by keeping them mobilized and closer to the level of your heart.
17. Transforms Into a Selfie Stick
This one is relatively new but is taking off quite rapidly. And I have seen several people out on trails taking selfies with their trekking poles. There are more and more adapters coming on the market which allow you to turn your pole into a selfie stick. Snap a great pic of you and your friends out on a hike without carrying around any extra gear.
Now, I did say I rarely go hiking without trekking poles, but they do come with some drawbacks. There are times when they just stay in my backpack, or I leave them at home. Here are the negatives:
1. Can Cause Additional Erosion
I am conscious of some trails that have become severely eroded over the years. Poles add two extra points off contact to the ground, which can take its toll on a path. As trekking poles become more popular, this issue isn’t going to become any better. So, I like to take the time beforehand to consider the area I am going to hike and whether I really need poles.
2. Can Get In The Way
There are times on hikes where the nature on the route is exceptionally wild. In these moments, I tend to hold the poles up in the air and out of the way for long periods or just pack them away. If I know I’m going on a trek where I will encounter a lot of these situations, I prefer not to bring them with me.
3. Occupies Your Hands
Most hiking poles come with wrist straps. But, there are occasions when you need your hands completely free and nothing dangling off them. For instance, if you like to go on very steep climbs (where hands can be required), there is no use having poles by your side. You won’t be able to use them at all. They become more of a hindrance rather than an advantage.
4. Adds Weight to Your Backpack
If you do find yourself not needing your poles along a trek, they will add weight to your overall backpack carry. Although the majority of trekking poles are lightweight, it all adds up. Especially if you are going on a multi-day backpacking trip and want to keep your carry weight to a minimum.
As you can see, the benefits of trekking poles far outweigh the negatives. But I like to mix it up and sometimes I prefer not to use them. It also doesn’t mean that they are right for you. But I hope it might inspire you to give them a go and see if they improve your hiking experience.