What to Buy
Although one-piece poles last longer and will not slip to a closed position, adjustable models are more adaptable to terrain and can be stored more easily in a day pack or backpack. Most poles have wrist straps, as well as hand-fitted handles padded with rubber. Shock-absorber-equipped poles can save percussion on your wrists. Materials of choice for their construction are lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber, although traditionalists can find a wealth of wooden hiking sticks commercially available. And free sticks can be found in many hiking environments; all they need is a little trimming.
Hiking poles take some of the work off your legs, giving you lift and helping you balance, thereby lengthening the time you can hike without rests. You will need to adjust the poles shorter for going uphill.
You can greatly reduce the beating taken by your knees and hips by using hiking poles, which you can elongate to fit a particular slope. Most poles can be adjusted to about 54 inches.
Switchback Trails, Side-hilling
Depending on a slope's steepness, it's often more comfortable and useful to keep the uphill pole adjusted to a shorter length than the downhill pole in order to simulate flat ground. Simply exchange the poles when you change direction.
At a comfortable length, hiking poles add support on flat surfaces, allowing you to maintain a consistent walking pace.
Uneven Ground, Rock, Stream Crossing
When your route is uneven or shifting, hiking poles provide balance and climbing power. They are often essential in dangerous water crossings.
Snow, Mud, Other Soft Surfaces
Attachable baskets prevent your poles from sinking into mud, snow or other soft surfaces. Without the baskets, poles can actually make hiking more difficult in these conditions.
Tarp-style backpacking tents often need hiking sticks for tent poles, and lean-tos can be supported by poles. You also can use sticks for protection against dogs or snakes, and they are handy in clearing the trail of spider webs. You can lean on your poles when resting, and many have threaded tops to accommodate cameras.