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Features Of The Best Trekking Poles or Walking Poles

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What is the purpose of trekking poles? To be honest, when I started trekking, I never wanted to use one. Funnily, I associated it with a walking stick that old people use. I wanted to look young, tough and rugged and not look like some old guy on the trail.

But everything we use on a trek has a purpose. Experienced trekkers swear by trekking poles or walking poles.

Trekking poles come with numerous benefits.

The most important benefit of trekking poles is that it reduces the accumulated stress on the feet, knees and back by spreading the load more evenly across the whole body. This is especially true when carrying a heavy rucksack.

The Parts of a Trekking Pole

1. Rubber Grips Vs Cork Grips

Grips are what you will hold on the trekking pole so this is the first thing you have to check before buying one.

Some grips come with grooves for your fingers but they may not match the width of your palms so it would be better to avoid this type.

Trekking pole grips are made from different types of material, ranging from rubber, cork, foam and other plastics.

Cork grips are the best type of grips for trekking poles. They are lighter, do not make your palms sweat and will still offer grip if your hands get wet with any moisture. But these tend to be expensive.

Rubber grips are cheaper, more commonly available and might lose some grip if they get wet.

Foam retains most grip when wet but is not durable and will start to break apart.

Cork grip trekking pole zen mountain gear

2. Carbon Fibre Vs Aluminium Trekking Pole Shaft

Most trekking poles or walking poles are either made from aluminium or carbon fibre.

Aluminium poles are slightly heavier than carbon fibre poles but the difference is very marginal per pole.

Carbon fibre poles are better at absorbing shock from the surface, have a springy feel but will shatter or develop weak spots if rocks fall on them if they are not taken care off. While carbon fibre poles shatter, aluminium poles will bend.

3. The Straps

Trekking poles or walking poles come with adjustable straps made from nylon or other similar materials with some padding. The straps help you hold the pole and this prevents you from holding the trekking pole with a death grip. Using the trekking pole with a really tight or death grip is the wrong method of using them and will add more stress to your body.

To use the straps, always put your hand in from below.

trekkng pole strap

4. Trekking Pole Locking Mechanism

The locking mechanism lets you adjust the height of the trekking pole to suit you. 

Trekking poles employ either an twist locking mechanism or an external quick locking mechanism with the former being more commonly available in India.

External locking mechanisms are easier to use, easier to adjust to a particular length and easier to verify if it’s locked correctly.

tightening lock mechanisim trekking pole zen mountain gear

Twist Quick Lock System

Quick Lock System

5. Shock Absorbers

Shock absorbers are pieces of springs that are used in the trekking pole to absorb in the initial impact from when it touches the ground.

Shock absorbers are not a standard offering on the trekking pole and will cost you extra. The verdict for shock absorbers is split with one group saying they make a difference and one group that feels the difference is negligible. 

trekking pole spring system zen mountain gear

6. Baskets

Baskets are small conical or flat discs of plastic that are placed at the end of the trekking pole. Their primary purpose is to prevent the pole from digging in too deeply in wet muddy surfaces and getting lodged in rocky places.

trekking pole basket zen mountain gear

7. Tips

The tip is the part of the trekking pole that touches the ground. The tip is usually made from hardened steel that will bite into even stone surfaces to provide grip.

Like we mentioned earlier, you need to have a soft grip on the trekking pole. The trekking pole trip can damage rocks on the trail and best to be gentle here.

Most trekking poles or walking poles come with replaceable tips that have to be bought separately. Do not buy a trekking pole that doesn’t have a replaceable tip.

8. Rubber Protectors

trekking pole rubber tip zen mountain gear

Most trekking poles also come with rubber protectors for the tip. These can be used to cover the tip when walking on paved or cemented surfaces to prevent damage to the surface and the tip itself.

The rubber tips will also protect your luggage from getting torn by the sharp surface of the tip.

9. Trekking Pole with Compass? Led Light?

Off late you will see trekking poles with led lights and compass. While it might look like a nice addition, these are not practical and bordering gimmicky. Don’t waste your time on these features.

The Benefits of Trekking Poles

1. Upright posture

Trekking poles help promote the correct posture. As you trek continues, the weight of the backpack and the exhaustion tends to make you slouch. A trekking pole, when set to the correct height, will naturally prevent you from slouching when trekking.

Maintaining good posture also opens up your chest and lungs and helps you breathe better.

2. Takes the pressure off the knees

Think of trekking poles as an extra set of feet. During ascents, the weight tends to fall on your knees. Trekking poles, when used correctly, helps redistribute this weight.

The same principle applies during descents.

3. Reduces fatigue

Along with taking the pressure of the knees, the redistribution of weight across four points on the ground rather than just two helps reduce muscle fatigue. Reducing muscle fatigue on a trek cam make you trek faster and longer.

4. Increased Stability

Navigating uneven terrain can be difficult. Trekking poles provide increase stability with two additional points of contact to the ground than just two from your feet.

5. Strengthens Arms

There is no doubt that trekking builds your endurance and leg strength. The movement of the arms when using a trekking pole also aids toning and building the muscles on the arms and shoulder. These muscles are not normally engaged during treks when not using the poles.

Potential Drawbacks of Trekking Poles

1. Ecological Impact

There is some debate on the ecological impact of trekking poles. Damage to rocks and vegetation are some of the worries trekker have when using trekking poles. To minimize this, you could use the pole only on established trails and avoid using it on sensitive vegetation and rocks.

2. Learning Curve

Trekking poles come with a learning curve. It is very rare that you learn to use trekking poles in the correct manner in your first attempt. It usually takes one or two days to get the hang of trekking poles but nothing longer. During this period, you may feel that you made a mistake buying them or may not find them useful enough, but give it a couple of days and understand the long term benefits.

3. Scrambling

On extremely steep sections, trekking poles might come in the way. As an experienced trekker, you should learn when and when not use a trekking pole.

4. Travel

Travelling with your trekking poles might be a concern if you’re taking a flight since they may not fit inside the bag. Learn how to use the rubber tips to protect yours and other people’s bags during travel. Learn to properly secure and stow away your trekking poles while travelling. 

One Pole or two?

We feel this is a debatable topic and it varies with individual preference and experience.

Some trekkers prefer using one trekking pole and keeping the other arm free.

Some prefer using two poles because of the increased stability that four points of contacts provide.

How to adjust the height of a trekking pole for optimal use

trekking poles should be used at 90 degree angle

Trekking poles are usually made of three adjustable sections that from the shaft.

The process to find the appropriate length of the pole will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some poles require that the bottom-most section be lengthened first before increasing the length of the next section. Some require both sections to be adjusted to find the desired height. 

Lock each section securely before moving onto the next section.

Holding the grip of the pole, your elbow should be bent at approximately a 90-degree angle and your forearm perpendicular to the ground. Fine tune the length as needed. Once it’s comfortable, take note of the numbers written on the side of the pole. Knowing them will allow you to quickly adjust the second pole to the same length.

With all the benefits that trekking poles offer, you should definitely try using them to see if it makes your trekking experience better. If you’re hesitant about buying a pair of trekking poles, you could always rent one to practice and then consider investing in a pair.