These days, many experienced mountain trekkers often bring along two trekking poles. The poles provide support for knees, hips and feet when walking downhill, more power when walking uphill, and extra speed on flatter ground (if you want). With the right technique, they are excellent companions in the mountains. They can also be extremely helpful when fording a stream.
Choosing a trekking pole
Trekking poles come in many varieties and in many price classes. There are also many differing (and sometimes adamant) opinions about whether to use a traditional wooden pole or a pole made from aluminium or carbon fibre. Just as with a lot of other outdoor equipment, in reality there is no right or wrong answer. You should base your choice on how you intend to use the poles and where you intend to trek.
Material and weight
The most common materials used to make the trekking poles you will find in the stores are aluminium and carbon fibre. The primary difference between them is weight; carbon fibre is lighter and therefore also costs more.
Fixed or adjustable length
Some models have a fixed length and others adjustable length. The adjustable poles come in either two or three sections, and one advantage of having a “telescopic” pole is that you can adjust the length if you are going uphill or downhill. (You can also naturally do this with a long wooden pole simply by moving your hand either up or down.)
The more sections to the pool, the smaller it is when it is folded together, which means it can be easily attached to the backpack when not in use. But each extra section slightly decreases the stability and durability.
Advice for those who want it
So which is right for you? In general, if you are going on a strenuous trek off the beaten trail, climbing over stones and fording mountain streams, and you need to prioritise stability over flexibility and low weight, then a traditional wooden pole is probably best. Some people also appreciate the feel of a wooden pole.
But if you are going to stay on the trail and not carry a particularly heavy pack, and perhaps are hoping to take on more hilly routes up the sides of mountains, then the lower weight and flexibility of a telescopic pole is probably a better choice. For Fjällräven Classic, to name one example, a telescopic pole is an excellent aide.
Finding the right length for telescopic poles
Trekking poles can simplify your trek, but you need to have them at the right length. What to do:
• Open the lock mechanism so the length can be adjusted.
• Stand up straight and place one pole next to your body directly under your armpit.
• Adjust the length so that the pole handle is approximately 5-10 cm under your armpits. When you are holding the pole grips, your elbows should be at approximately a 90-degree angle.
• Twist or snap the mechanism into place to lock the length of the pole.
• Measure the first pole to adjust the second pole. This way they will be exactly the same length.
• Put your hand through the wrist band and grab the pole grip. After you have used the poles for a while, they will feel like an extension of your arms.
Walking with trekking poles
For flat terrain or hills that slope gently upward, put the poles down slightly behind your body to propel your steps forward. When you are walking uphill, lean on your poles and draw on the strength of your arms to decrease the pressure on your knees. When walking downhill, put the poles down in front of your body and allow them to absorb part of the impact on your knees and feet. Using the poles on steep downhill slopes also helps you keep your balance and minimise the risk of falling. For maximum balance, put the pole down first and then move your foot on the same side.