Hiking poles also referred to as walking or trekking poles, can be a very useful aid when you want to cross a stream or if you are walking on stony and uneven terrain.
They are not designed to offer you any protection if you fall but their main purpose is to shift some of the emphasis and strain away from your legs when you’re out walking and to enable your body weight to take some of the burden and to lessen the strain on leg muscles and joints.
If you go out hiking a lot, hiking poles will dramatically reduce the impact of stress on your joints, hips, lower back and knees which, over a prolonged period, could result in serious long-term damage if you walked regularly without poles.
They also help you to keep your balance which is especially handy for crossing stretches of shallow water or walking over rough and uneven ground. By using two poles instead of one, it brings everything into balance. Therefore, if you’re carrying a rucksack, for example, the weight will be distributed more evenly. This, in turn, makes for easier breathing which will also increase your endurance.
Poles help you ascend steep inclines better and assist with balance when descending. Some people prefer to walk with one pole. Whilst one pole is perfectly acceptable and will provide you with increased stability, two are better as you’ll not only have even better stability but the weight will be better balanced and more evenly distributed, meaning less strain on you which, in turn, will allow you to hike over longer distances.
Choosing the appropriate poles for you will be a combination of your personal preference and comfort coupled with the kind of terrain you are going to be hiking alongside what you can carry with you.
There are collapsible poles which are easier to store when you aren’t using them which make them ideal for backpackers. They can be made out of a variety of materials but lightweight aluminium poles are not only easier to carry but they are less likely to break. Some poles come with shock absorbers within the shafts which helps reduce the impact if you suddenly find your poles get jarred in the ground and some have durable metal tips which increase stability if you’re walking over ice, rocks, snow or deep mud.
For those of you who expect to encounter many different types of terrain en route, a telescopic pole can be extended which is useful for determining things like the depth of water or snow and these can be adjusted as you go to suit the terrain of any given stretch of the hike. For example, poles should be shorter when you are hiking uphill and longer when going down. However, if you require adjustments to your poles during the hike, make sure you adjust both poles each time.
Most poles have wrist straps which can be adjusted and hand grips can be made out of plastic or cork so it’s often about your own comfort and it’s useful to try out a few variations before you buy.
If you’ve never used poles before, it may feel odd at first, but, ultimately, you should choose poles which you feel that, given a little practice, they should simply become an extension of your body when out hiking.
A good outdoor adventure store should be able to offer you advice.