How to Walk With Hiking Poles

How to Walk With Hiking PolesHiking poles serve a variety of purposes. Snowshoers might use them to perform basic tests of snow stability. Hikers use them for extra support when going up and down hills or on uneven terrain. Backpackers may even use them to produce extra forward thrust with every step, combating the weight of a heavy pack. Some tents allow you to substitute a hiking pole as the tent pole, and a few brave hikers even imagine they might be able to use a pole to fend off an angry animal, although--depending on the animal--that's usually not a recommended use.


Difficulty: Easy

Step 1
Grasp the handle of each pole in each hand. Aim for a firm but relaxed grip; if you grip too loosely, you may drop the poles or let them swing out of control. If you overgrip, you'll tire out your hands, wrists and arms. You might even cut off the circulation to your fingers enough that they'll get extra-cold in chilly weather.
Step 2
Swing the poles forward, one at a time, as you walk. Whether you swing the pole on the same side as the leg that moves on any given step or swing on the opposite side is a matter of personal preference; experiment to see which method you prefer.
Step 3
Plant the tip of each pole firmly before resting any of your weight on it. Some hikers may swing their poles idly while walking on flat ground and only use them for support when going up hills or over obstacles; others might use the poles to thrust the body forward with every step, especially if they're carrying heavy packs.
Step 4
Press with your legs and your arms through the poles to move yourself forward or up. At no point should you be pulling on the poles or trying to push yourself forward with your arms, unless you're pushing with your legs as well. The poles are meant to supplement your leg strength, not replace it.

Tips & Warnings

Telescoping poles are especially useful when going up and down hills. You can lengthen the poles to get adequate support without bending over while going down hills; shorten them while going up hills, so that you can plant them in front of you and still lean down on them when stepping up and forward. For travel on flat ground, the bottom of the pole handle should be even with the bottom of your elbow.
Some hikers swear by poles with wrist straps. However, just because the poles have straps doesn't mean you have to use them--experiment to find out whether you're more comfortable with or without the wrist straps.

Article Written By Marie Mulrooney

Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics and contributes regularly to various online publications. Mulrooney's print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.

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