In my limited time on the trails of the Adirondacks, Catskills and Kilimanjaro, I’ve come to a rather direct affirmation: trekking poles are essential if you’re looking to increase your hiking capacity or terrain coverage. Even for those in the best physical condition can benefit quite a bit from the use of the trekking pole. On my earlier adventures, I dismissed the use of poles primarily out of sheer naiveté. I’ve since adopted the use of poles as a lifeline and wouldn’t be caught on any hefty trail without them, and here’s why.

1. Load Bearing & Weight Distribution

Hiking can be tough on the joints. Hiking with a pack increases this strain enormously. Factor in a steep incline (or decline) and a day’s worth of adventure and you’re talking about pressure on the ankle, knee, and hip joints in cumulative excess of multiple tons a day. When using poles, you naturally shift weight from one leg to the opposite pole. This effectively reduces pressure on the leg and over the course of a day of the trails, this saves your joints from incredible strain. Try it out and thank me later. 🙂

Backpacking Grand Canyon Hiking Poles

Laurie’s trekking poles kept her and her overpacked pack from toppling over.

2. Increased Stability & Balance

Trekking poles have the added benefit of acting like additional feet. In essence, poles allow you to move through otherwise precarious movements, whether it’s additional stability crossing a narrow stream, climbing up a rock ledge, or sliding down a slippery slope. Plus, pole tips don’t have to remain on the trail the way your feet do, so it’s fine to use them on the surrounding terrain for support.

3. Setting Rhythm & Pace

One of my favorite aspects of the trekking pole is to incorporate the rhythm of their swing with that of my legs. I’ll often put forth a rhythm in my head, counting 1-2-3-4 for the poles and the legs, a march of sorts that helps to keep a steady pace. On my first day hiking Kilimanjaro, I was lauded by my team for my constant, steady pace. I owe this directly to the help of the trekking poles, which helped me fall into a deliberate stride.

Using Hiking Poles to Stabilize on Terrain

Large, slightly loose rocks? No problem.


4. Reducing Injuries

This benefit comes mostly from the load bearing discussed in the first point, but it’s important to note that poles do more than just relieve pressure; they help mitigate risk and allow you to hike safely. Using poles shouldn’t be a substitute for safe route finding; instead they should be a compliment, allowing you to traverse normal terrain in an even easier fashion. Poles are especially useful on descents, where the knees of most hikers (including both me and Laurie) take the most strain.


5. Improved Circulation

By swinging your arms and keeping your elbows at 90 degrees, you’re actually helping your body maintain steady circulation. This keeps blood flowing to all parts of your body and is especially beneficial in cold environments.

6. Terrain Check

In the same way that you can use poles on terrain around the trail to support yourself, you can just as easily use poles to check the conditions of the trail itself. Whether it’s examining some murky water for depth or checking the stability of a rock cropping, having the poles as an extra precautionary measure is hugely valuable.

7. They’re Photogenic 

If the first 6 points don’t sway you, look what sweet photos you can take once you reach the summit safely. 🙂

Trekking Poles

Photo by justonlysteve via Flickr Creative Commons.

Do you use poles on all your hikes? Have a favorite kind?