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Hiking Accessories - Walking Poles

Why use Walking or Trekking Poles?

When I first climbed Ben Nevis back in 1991 I don't recall seeing anybody using walking poles (trekking poles are the same thing, just another name). 
But a few years later, on another trip to the highlands I bought my first pole, and never looked back.  From what I recall initially people only used one pole, but nowadays most use two.  Now I would view walking poles as an essential part of my mountain walking equipment.

What are Walking Poles?

Made from a lightweight material such as aluminum or carbon fibre these poles, similar to ski poles, have developed from the plain old walking stick and serve the same purpose - to makie walking easier and give support to the user.

Using walking poles can help you balance and be more secure on rough ground.  They help support you and spread your weight so there is less strain on your muscles and joints.  One pole will make an amazing difference to how easy you find it to cope with the steep parts of these walks - both going up and coming down.  Two poles are even better. 

Having walked Ben Nevis with no poles, Snowdon with one and Scafell Pike with two, I can really recommend getting a pair!
Using walking poles can relieve the strain on your knees and legs as the poles transfer some of the weight to your arms.  By improving stability you are less likely to stumble and can be more confident about your walking pace.

Going across the boulder field at Scafell Pike is an awful lot easier using walking poles.

When using walking poles your weight should be resting in the strap, and the pole should be gently grasped - if you don't use the strap properly you will find your wrists get tired very quickly.  Each pole goes forward with the opposing leg. 

Some walking poles have inbuilt shock absorbers, but these are not really necessary, can cause a bounce and add to the weight of the pole. 

Disadvantages of Using Walking Poles

Although lightweight poles are something additional to carry.  On boggy terrain they can sink into the ground giving you extra work to pull them out, or they can get stuck in long grass or heather.  If you're walking across rocks they can get wedged down cracks.

Although your legs and knees might feel better for their use, your arms may feel the strain instead.

Although there are disadvantages many people see them as part of their mountain walking equipment, although their use on flatter ground is probably less beneficial (unless you are going to get into Nordic Walking but that's a totally different story!).

Buying Walking Poles

One of the main considerations though if how often you'll use them.  If you think you'll use them a lot, then you'll still get value if you're buying an expensive pair.  But if you're not sure how much you'll use them you can get a decent enough pair for under 20 and can always upgrade later if you wish.

How to Use Walking Poles

Hiking poles have a strap to secure the pole to your wrist, and normally come in 3 sections which makes them easily adjustable to the right height and also easy to store in the side pocket of your rucksack when you are not using them. 

When adjusting the height make sure you observe the markers showing the fullest extent of each part of the pole - if you go beyond these your pole might come apart at a critical moment.  The length of the pole should enable your elbows to have a bend of 90 degrees.  You can have a shorter pole for the ascent, and a longer one for the downward trip.  If you are going across a slope one pole can be made shorter than the other.
See also

Guide for Buying Walking Boots
Good Rucksacks for Walking
Maps, Compasses and Other Useful Items
Wet Weather Wear - Waterproofs
Why should you buy a GPS

Hiking Equipment Reviews

Winter Walking Equipment
Check out Snow and Rock's range of Walking Poles