Expert Advice: Hiking, Trekking or Walking Poles – How To Choose?

If you’re going to be doing any sort of walking in the countryside, you need to get yourself a set of Hiking, Trekking or Walking Poles.  The benefits of walking through the countryside with a set of walking poles are endless.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re walking through the snow, up a mountain or up a hill, they reduce impact on your knees and help you to maintain your balance.  

It’s a few years old now, but in a 1999 study in The Journal of Sports Medicine found that trekking poles can reduce force on the knees by up to 25 percent, especially when going downhill.The other key benefit, Trekking poles can be used to move out of the way countryside nuisances such as thorny blackberries, check out puddles that you think might be shallower than they actually are and defend against attacks on wildlife.

Consider The Following

Of course every person has different needs and these needs are covered by the different types of trekking poles and hiking staffs available on the market. Some for example absorb shock betters than others. Others come with built in cameras. When choosing which one is right for you, you should consider the following;

  • Do you need one hiking staff or a pair of trekking poles? You shouldn’t only base your decision on your walking ability, but where you will be walking.
  • Do you have the appropriate length of pole or staff? Experts recommend that your elbow should at a 90 degree angle when you are gripping the pole on flat terrain.
  • Do you have all the features you need for the type of walking you are aiming to participate in. These features can include adjustability of length and shock absorption.
  • Do you have the right grip? Choosing the right grip can be more of a personal choice, but remember some grips are better in warmer conditions and others are better in colder conditions.
  • Is your pole the right weight. If it’s too light it may not provide you with enough support. If it’s too heavy, you’ll be exhausted before you are even halfway to your destination. You can buy poles that are both light and foldable, allowing you to put it away in your bag when you don’t need it.

Trekking Poles Vs. Walking Poles

In the UK there are two key types of hiking poles however whilst the design is very different, the names are totally interchangeable. Generally the two designs are;

  • Trekking or Hiking Poles – These are typically sold in pair’s meaning that you have a pole in either hand.  The idea is that you use a walking pole in each hand to support yourself as you walk in the countryside.  In the UK, this is the most common walking pole.  Typically this type is either made in light-weight Aluminium or carbon-fibre, comes in range of designs and lengths, and in some of the top of the range of models, even comes with internal springs to absorb shocks.
  • Hiking Staff or Travel Staff – These are typically slightly larger both in length and width and typically are used as an individual pole.  It’s really personal choice to which design you use.

Pole Material

Trekking poles typically come in two different materials being Aluminium or Carbon Fibre. The difference between the two comes down to price and weight.

  • Aluminium – Personally I would highly recommend that you buy a pair of Aluminium trekking poles. Yes they’re heavier, but I’ve had a pair of carbon trekking poles in the past. I say had, because on about the fifth time I used them, I fell over and sat on my carbon pole which broke and I’m back to using aluminium poles which if you sit on simply bend, allowing you to bend them back. On a more serious note, Aluminium poles are substantially cheaper, and typically weigh from 0.4 to 0.6kg.
  • Carbon Fiber – are either made entirely from carbon or can be in the form of a hybrid design. They are substantially lighter, weighing around 300 grams, however they’re substantially more expensive with a decent pair cost upwards of 300. As mentioned above, the key disadvantage with carbon trekking poles, they offer very little flexibility and will snap.

Length

The most important feature to get right when choosing trekking poles, is the length of the pole. A properly sized pole will stop problems associated to your arms, shoulders, back and neck. The general rule, your poles need to be at a 90-degree bend when you hold the poles with tips on the ground near your feet. From here you can adjust them as suited with your own personal preferences.

The manufacturer should have a size chart on their site, but as a quick guide, experts generally recommend that a person under 5 foot one should purchase a pole 100 cm in length, 110cm for someone between 5 foot one and five foot, 120cm for someone between five-eight and five-eleven and for those over six feet tall, they should purchase poles that are over 130cm. You can bypass these lengths, however, by purchasing an adjustable pole.

For long uphill sections you might want to shorten each pole by around 10cm. This will help you to get more leverage as you climb uphill. For long downhill sections, you need to lengthen your poles by around the same length as this will help support your body whilst keeping you upright.

Choosing the Appropriate Grip

Grips aren’t just a matter of preference. Depending on the type of hike you going on, and the type of weather you are hiking in, they are an important consideration. With their ability to absorb moisture both cork and foam grips are perfect for hikes in hot weather.

Cork is usually the more expensive option, and for many, the more preferable option. Due to it hardness, it is easier to grip. However some people prefer the softness of foam. They feel it is more comfortable to hold and less wearing on the hands.

In colder weather, we would recommend you purchase a pole or a staff with a rubber grip because they tend to act as an insulation against the cold. We would not, however, recommend you use a rubber grip in warm weather as the grip will soon become damp and eventually uncomfortable, if not difficult, to hold.

Pole Features

  • The most popular features for hiking poles include adjustable poles, non-adjustable poles, foldable poles, shock-absorbing poles, standard poles, ultra-light poles and camera poles.
  • While experts recommend that your elbow is a 90 angle when gripping your pole on flat ground, it it preferable your elbow is at a lesser angle when walking up steep terrain and a greater angle when walking down. This is only possible with an adjustable pole. Their only disadvantage is their weight.
  • Non-adjustable trekking poles are much lighter, and preferable if you know you will be walking on mostly flat terrain. Even lighter are the foldable poles that you can put away in your bag when you need to move at a faster pace. Though in general, experienced hikers tend to use these as a resting tool.
  • Those with any injuries or joint problems should look at poles with a shock absorption feature. The best thing about this feature is that you can turn the shock absorption on and off as and when needed.
  • Anyone going on a long hike should choose an ultralight pole. While most standard poles are made from aluminium and weigh 18-22 ounces, ultralight poles are made from carbon and weigh only 12 – 18 ounces. Their only disadvantage is that they are not as strong as aluminium poles and can break under extreme stress.
  • Monopads are becoming increasingly popular. Located at the top of your pole, you can mount a camera on it to capture any stunning scenery you see and any interesting moments you encounter.

Follow Up

People hike the outdoors for various reasons whether it be to keep fit and healthy whilst filling their lungs with fresh air, or even to escape the mental constraints of their nine to five life. Hiking can be as relaxing or as challenging as you would like it to be and for this reason, walking poles and/or staffs are an excellent accompaniment to embrace your freedom on your venture. They can not only help you maintain the balance that you need, but ease tension on your calves and knees helping to prevent injury, and also fatigue.

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