Hiking Poles 

No matter what your level of expertise, using hiking poles will make your way along the trail a whole lot easier, whether or not you like to stay on—or get off—the beaten track!

BUYING

Whether you’re someone who is just out for a nice long Sunday walk or a seasoned hiker, you’ll find using hiking poles only to your advantage.

Since they foster more even weight distribution, poles improve hikers’ balance on rugged terrain and step up the workout of the upper body, which results in burning more calories. Plus, poles help hikers use their energy more efficiently on climbs and alleviate stress on their knees and hips on descents, as well as give their back a bit of relief, not to mention enabling them to get over fords and slippery areas more easily.

Overall, it is estimated that the use of hiking poles can reduce muscle fatigue and joint impact by up to 30%, not a small matter, especially if there’s a heavy load on your back. In fact, the heavier the backpack, the more it’s advisable to equip yourself with a good set of hiking poles.

Today, most poles are telescopic in style, featuring two or three sections. You can therefore adjust them to suit the particular type of terrain you’re on (flat, uphill, downhill, dirt trails, snow, etc.), lend them to someone who is shorter or taller, or probe the depth of a stretch of water. That being said, however, the more sections a pole has, the more prone it is to deterioration.

Hiking pole tubes are often made of aluminum (sometimes anodized), a strong, lightweight material that doesn’t rust, or an aluminum alloy. Even lighter and sturdier, but more brittle, carbon poles are increasingly popular, while the practically indestructible—although expensive—kevlar is also used in some top-of-the-line models.

Among the other components whose soundness should be checked is the interlocking mechanism, which should be easy to handle and keep the various tube sections together, whether it is of the self-locking type or has an expander or a clip latch. Before choosing your poles, adjust them to the desired height and press down with all your weight on their grips: if the pole sections tend to slide, an injury could result when you’re out on the trail.

Speaking of grips, they can be made of cork, not the hardest-wearing material, but which does wick away sweat efficiently; rubber, tougher but less comfortable; or foam, for optimum ergonomics and comfort, although more limited durability. Ideally, grips should be slightly tilted to minimize pressure on the wrists and, most importantly, of a shape that fits to the hiker’s hands as closely as possible in order to avoid the formation of blisters.

Pole baskets, sometimes called rings, really fulfil their purpose on soft or snowy ground, and are sometimes interchangeable in order to adapt to any kind of relief.

At the end of the pole, tips made of carbide (a carbon and steel alloy) or tungsten are stronger than those made only of steel.

Finally, some models feature “shock absorbers” designed to reduce vibrations and wear on the joints.

USE

On an uphill climb, poles help stabilize the body and provide support in getting to the top. In this case, you should slightly reduce their length.

When going downhill, on the other hand, using poles proves invaluable in lightening the load on knees, maintaining balance and reducing the speed of your descent. It’s then better, however, to remove the wrist straps in order to avoid injury should you fall, particularly if you’re negotiating very uneven terrain.


MAINTENANCE

Take your poles apart after a trip, especially if you’ve been on dusty ground. It will make drying their sections out much easier.

Then, should they need it, take advantage of this to clean the various parts of your poles. To scrub out the insides of their tubes, take a clean cloth and push it through using a thin stick or straightened-out wire coat hanger.

Make sure you remove any whitish deposits (the result of oxidation) on aluminum sections by using a metal brush. Such deposits can cause pole sections to slide when you’re out on a hike.