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The Basics of Using Hiking Poles: How and When to Use Them?

January 02, 2020 3 Comments

The Basics of Using Hiking Poles: How and When to Use Them?

Hiking poles might not be the first item on your hiking or backpacking checklist, but they are a highly essential item to have mainly because of the fact that they do provide stability and give you the confidence to move forward. Most beginner and pro hikers alike sometimes do not like using walking sticks because not many know how to use them properly.

Let us discuss in detail the basics of hiking poles and how to use them effectively.

Hiking Poles

Hiking or walking poles are often neglected by many hikers due to lack of knowledge on how to use them. These poles help assist hikers by providing support and stability to your knee while going uphill, downhill and also when walking through tough terrain conditions. However, all of these benefits can be achieved only if you know how to use them properly.

Some hikers think that hiking poles simply add weight and have no real purpose. As a matter of fact, many individuals think that hiking poles are for older hikers or those with disability, a complete misnomer. Hikers who are overweight or have knee related problems should certainly use hiking poles because they can be of great help in relieving pain. Start using hiking poles and you will appreciate your hiking adventures more.


Check out this blog post to find out the best hiking poles of 2019.

Check out this blog post to find out the best trekking poles of 2019.

Pole Setup

There are many different types of trekking poles, which differ in grips, tips, baskets, etc. In order to achieve best results, you need to setup your hiking poles depending on your height and other features. From the outset, the gear might look simple but it requires proper setup.

  • Pole tips – Tips should be determined based on the kind of hiking trail you are going to endeavor. For instance, if you are planning on hiking in snow, then a broad rubber tip which does not sink in easily would be perfect. Similarly, when trekking harsh grounds and tough terrain conditions, a sharp carbide tip would be perfect.
  • Wrist strap – Wrist strap helps prevent tiring wrists and hands in general. Tightening or loosening a wrist strap according to your requirement will help prevent the occurrence of sprained wrists, aching hands, etc. Remove the tension block to adjust the grip and tighten the block once it reaches your desired grip. Keeping a lighter grip will always help you ease through the trek.
  • Pole length – Every hiking pole comes in adjustable heights so it should not be a problem at all to change the height of the pole as per your requirement. The general rule is that, your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle.
  • Pole gloves – Certain types of hiking poles, such as Nordic walking poles, come with gloves. This will help ease out pain when going uphill and downhill. Even if your pole does not have a glove, it is recommended to use a bike glove in order to stay comfortable during your hike.
  • Grips – Trekking pole grips are crucial to keep a hold of the pole while hiking. These are generally larger and designed anatomically.

Paired Poles

It is always better to use trekking poles as a pair rather than a single one because two gives you enhanced stability and control compared to a single unit. Trekking poles are usually sold as a pair, but many users try not to use them at the same time. When used as a pair, you could easily climb uphill or descend without putting much strain on your joints. Never use hiking poles as mere walking sticks, but use both for added stability.

Shoulder Movement

One common mistake committed by beginners is the way they move uphill or downhill using a hiking pole. Using elbows to propel uphill or downhill would be the straightforward choice, but that would work only for a short period of time. Using elbows will put strain on your shoulders, which in turn can lead to serious issues. The use of shoulders to climb uphill is the correct way since it will not tire you during long hikes and will also prevent you from committing mistakes, especially in the case of trekking pole placements.


When climbing uphill, trekking poles provide that extra stability and center of gravity that you need. The poles need to be shortened and should be used to propel you to the top and not to pull you up, which is one of the most common mistakes done by amateurs. The mantra for climbing uphill using trekking poles is to never place the pole ahead of your lead foot. The poles should be placed closer to your body for enhanced efficiency and to reduce strain on your joints.


When descending downhill, you need to do the opposite of what you did when climbing uphill.  Length of the pole should be long enough, so that when you place the pole down, you will be able to stand upright. The poles should be placed in front while descending. If your poles have shock systems, then enable them to reduce the impact of a fall. If you are carrying a backpack, then you must reduce the stride length in order to reduce the stress on joints. If the hiking trail downhill run is steep, then you can walk down sideways. The same technique can be used even while hiking down snow, ice and muddy conditions.

In certain downhill conditions, using poles of varying lengths would be suitable but make sure to test the terrain before implementing such an option. Physical energy required to descend down a hiking trail is greater when compared to ascending the same. Some of you might opt for hiking boots rather than poles, but remember that that doesn’t work in all conditions.

Crossing Streams

The reason why many hikers choose hiking poles is past experience of tripping or falling while wading through streams and rivers. Hiking and trekking across trails that pass through rivers and streams will certainly be aa challenging experience but to pass through these obstacles safely should be your prime motive. When you are wading through water, plant the pole in a secure spot before moving forward. Length of the pole must be adjusted based on the depth of the river you are crossing. Hiking poles give you added stability when passing through water. Poles are effective even when crossing a puddle. Rivers and streams are often filled with logs and rocks, so it is important to use poles for a stable movement.

Crossing Snow

Snow, muddy terrain and sand are challenging even for an expert hiker. Hiking poles that have large and wider pegs should be used to setup anchors when passing through snow. Pegs or baskets are a must for tackling snow and icy conditions, so don’t forget to pack them up. Although most lightweight trekking poles come with baskets, they might not be wide enough, so buy a wider basket if required.

Health Issues / Better Support

As mentioned earlier, people who are suffering from certain medical conditions should definitely make use of a reliable pair of hiking poles. Better support and stability can be achieved using poles. Hiking poles assist a person in running fast right through the trail. Ankles, knees, and elbows come under a lot of stress while hiking. The only way you could reduce stress on these joints is by using a proper hiking pole.

Another important benefit of hiking poles is that they allow the hiker to stand upright at all times. An upright body position at higher altitudes is a must for good breathing. Hiking poles help maintain a proper walking rhythm. Center of gravity should be increased during a hike, which is exactly what you’d get when using poles.

Check out this article about “Health and Safety while Trekking” to learn more about hiking/trekking related health issues.


We have discussed in detail the basics of hiking poles and how to use them effectively. So, before heading out on your next hiking trip, a good reliable pair of hiking poles is something to consider.

3 Responses

Linda Kenan
Linda Kenan

April 25, 2024

Would be nice to know which “tip” is best for the terrain! Four sets came with my poles but I don’t know what each is designed for??

Donna Van Horn
Donna Van Horn

December 25, 2022

For a beginner it would be helpful to know what part to use on the bottom and when….for instance basic hike, or which one to use in some ice, which on say medium trails no hills etc.

Chelsea Hunt
Chelsea Hunt

January 16, 2022

A video showing the proper technique for ascending and descending would be a great addition to this page.

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