You find yourself out on a hike and see someone walking towards you with what appear to be ski poles in their hands.
- Why in the world would anyone use ski poles when they are clearly not on the slopes of a snow-covered mountain, careening down a steep hill?
- Has this person lost their mind or is there a reason why they are using these contraptions?
Trekking poles have been used ever since the dawn of time, although they have changed their form and various other designs. The first trekking poles were actually just walking sticks. Similar to the case with other common accessories, they have evolved, and humans have made them more adaptable and pleasant to use.
If you’re wondering what is a trekking pole–a.k.a walking pole, we use the terms interchangeably here–then you should read on.
We will answer that question and many others, including what is the best way to use them, which features do they sport, and talk about their health benefits.
What Is a Trekking Pole?
Trekking poles are basically just metal poles that are used to support you when walking or professionally hiking. They are usually made in three or two sections so that they can be extended when needed. This is especially useful if you’re planning on traversing different types of tricky terrain, like deserts and rocky cliffs.
In the modern day, they have many features to make the experience of using them more comfortable and worthy. Such are the baskets at the bottom that can amortize the impact of them hitting the ground. They also utilize wrist straps to help you tighten them better to your arms, and improve the overall handling.
Additionally, they tend to sport handles made of rubber that are often ergonomically designed and will make you feel less uncomfortable than you would while handling any other object for prolonged periods.
Short History of Trekking Poles
Even our most ancient ancestors used some sort of help when they were forced to walk long distances to gather food, water, and similar resources. This practice has continued through years, and eventually, these walking sticks became trekking poles.
Somewhere around the fifth century, people in some countries and members of specific civilizations decided to manufacture metal walking sticks that were able to withstand more extended periods of usage. Through the ages, this practice was further enhanced.
Different metals and combinations of which were used and tested by the rough terrains of mountains, deserts, and forests. Finally, the human race settled on creating trekking poles using carbon fiber and sometimes aluminum.
Along with that, various other features have become standardized. Today, you can’t find a trekking pole that doesn’t sport an ergonomic handlebar or a pair of wrist straps.
Walking poles are known by many names:
- walking poles
- trekking poles
- hiking staffs
- Nordic walking poles
All virtually identical to their cousins used on ski slopes with a few notable differences.
How Are Trekking Poles Most Commonly Used?
On the most basic level, trekking poles are used by hikers and other people who enjoy walking for the same reason, and that is to get assistance and better cadence to their walking paces. They aren’t quite as needed when the terrain is entirely smooth, but they can provide an increase in speed and the amount of exercise you get from merely walking.
However, when you start traversing more explicit terrain that is harder to handle, trekking poles become extremely useful, and you can feel the amount of support they provide. Whether you’re climbing cliffs and stones, going through sand, mud, or even water, you will feel safer and will be in an exponentially lesser amount of danger.
Benefits of Using Trekking Poles
You can use trekking poles to implement the techniques of Nordic walking when you’re out hiking. These will significantly benefit your lung capacity, blood pressure, and resting heart rate.
As you already know, many people have these issues, especially as they get older and more susceptible to illness. For this reason, they tend to start exercising using different forms of walking; all the while using trekking poles as a form of support.
The Shock Absorbing System
Walking poles will typically utilize a shock-absorbing system, which vary by model, but are designed to lessen the shock of impact with the ground on the joints, in the hands, and the arms.
Some utilize rubber pads designed to also grip the terrain more proficiently while others employ metal studs with springs inside of an assembly.
What to Look For in the Best Trekking Pole Grips:
The best walking poles have hand grips that have been engineered to eliminate stress on the user’s joints.
Some of these feature special materials known for their ability to absorb sweat.
Materials typically utilized include:
Most of these grips will be accompanied by an attached strap that fastens around your forearm and helps keep the pole on your arm if you lose your grip.
However, these grips are ergonomically designed to make this event unlikely.
Pole Add-ons & Accessories:
Several brands of trekking poles offer various gadgets attached to the hand grip.
These can include but are not limited to:
- a compass,
- a thermometer, a flashlight, or
- even a mount for a camera.
What’s the Best Walking Stick Material?
Trekking poles are fabricated from various materials.
Aluminum and carbon fiber are just two of the possible materials used.
Virtually every manufacturer is concerned with making a lightweight product that is user friendly.
Some trekking poles are sturdier than others depending on their composition. The price differences between products are generally associated with the types of materials used.
They can be as cheap as twenty dollars or as expensive as three hundred dollars.
How to Use Trekking Poles Like a Pro
A Collapsible Trekking Pole or a Non-Collapsible Trekking Pole, That is the Question
You have options as to whether you would like collapsible poles or non-collapsible poles.
Non-collapsible poles are simply straight poles, and it is highly unlikely that they will collapse when in weight-bearing situations. At most they will bend.
There is the possibility that when you use collapsible poles they will collapse when you do not want them to. However, for those who are space-conscious and would prefer to have a trekking pole that can be easily transported, a collapsible pole may be exactly what you need.
Besides, who wants to run around, or travel the world, with a long hiking pole poking out of their bag. Thus, in our opinion, collapsible poles are the best.
The designs of these collapsible poles vary greatly, and it is up to you to decide what system you prefer. Another benefit of collapsible poles is that their length can be adjusted to suit the terrain.
Why Are Walking Poles Used?
Now that you know a little bit about what walking poles are, it is time to talk about why they are used.
Balance and Stability
Much in the same way that ski poles help a skier maintain their balance on uneven terrain, trekking poles assist a hiker or walker with maintaining their balance and stability.
Depending on the type of terrain being traversed this can be a critical feature. Of particular significance are situations that call for a downhill descent. Slipping on loose dirt or gravel is common, and a hiking pole can help keep you steady and upright.
According to medical professionals, walking poles force you to engage your upper body in exercise that it would otherwise not participate in if you were simply walking without them.
The use of walking poles turns your walk or hike into an entire body exercise, so that while you are exercising and toning your legs you are also exercising and toning your upper body.
Defense and Protection
Trekking poles can be used as a defensive weapon in times of crisis.
This may sound a bit outlandish, but if you are placed in a situation where you must defend yourself a metal pole might do the trick.
Many people hike alone and without any means of defending themselves.
Predatory animals tend to stalk and attack people who are alone and avoid those in groups.
However, a metal pole might offer enough discouragement to the animal to keep you out of harm’s way.
Walking poles help take pressure off of your legs and joints by distributing part of your weight to your upper body.
This weight distribution will help you avoid joint degradation in your ankles, knees, hips, and lower back.
In particularly steep terrain this could become critical for those who suffer from any kind of arthritis.
Even on a day hike, trekking poles can make the difference between an enjoyable mountain trek or an arduous and unpleasant outdoor journey.
Perhaps it is time for you to go out and purchase some walking poles with all of this information in mind. Your body will thank you, and your level of fitness will improve with just one little change.
Nordic Walking vs Trekking Poles – What’s the Difference?
Some organizations and individuals are complaining that trekking poles are leaving too much of an impact on the hiking trail, as well as damaging the vegetation that is growing out there. Likewise, they can make marks on the boulders and rocks when used for climbing; these seem to be an issue since people claim it makes the wilderness experience less real.
There are multiple solutions to avoiding these problems. One of the easiest ones is making sure you don’t use your trekking poles on weak terrain and wherever you believe it can leave a mark. However, this is not possible for the majority of people who need support for health reasons.
Other than that, you can use rubber endings on the ends of your trekking poles. This way, you will minimize the physical impact they make and not leave any marks on the stones you climb on.
There are almost no negative sides to using this useful supporting accessory. Some environmental issues can be quickly resolved by just being more careful. If you have health issues, especially those involving your heart, you should consider getting a trekking pole and practicing hiking.