It used to be that if you wanted a walking pole while hiking, you foraged about until you found a relatively straight stick of a length and diameter suitable for holding and using to steady yourself in uneven terrain. In recent years, the availability of sophisticated manufactured poles has increased dramatically, making them an attractive and even economical option for enhancing hiking experiences.
Manufactured walking poles are generally lightweight poles designed to help walkers and hikers. Alpine or cross-country ski poles can be pressed into duty if desired, although the former may be somewhat short and the latter too long for this purpose. Poles designed specifically for walking and hiking usually are made of a metal, such as aluminum or a carbon-fiber composite, to keep them light and often involve several telescoping sections that extend from a collapsed size of about 2 feet (about 60 cm) to about 4 1/2 feet (about 140 cm) depending on the pole. The sections typically are secured with twist- or lever-locking mechanisms. They often have a wrist loop typically made of a synthetic material, such as nylon, a hand grip of a wide variety of designs and materials, and a protective cap on the other end often made of metal or rubber.
Walking poles at a minimum increase stability especially when carrying a shoulder bag or backpack, providing up to four bracing points when used in conjunction with your legs. Wear on the knees can be reduced, especially when descending an incline. Supporting the upper torso with poles transfers at least some of the weight on the legs to the arms. Rubber-tipped poles can reduce the chance of slipping on icy surfaces. Metal-tipped poles can provide traction in muddy or wet conditions.
Using walking poles increases overall energy consumption by using all the limbs in the walking process, can result in sore arms and specifically wrists, and restricts use of the hands for other purposes. In unstable conditions, walking sticks can be potentially dangerous, increasing instability if they become wedged or stuck and, at worst, a device upon which a walker could become impaled.
Article Written By Gary Olson
Gary Olson is a freelance writer, editor, photographer and designer with 34 years of experience. His work has appeared in such publications as Sailing, Northwest Living, 5280, The Arizona Republic, The Denver Post and many other newspapers and magazines. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.