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Are Trekking Poles Worth It? (The Truth)

You may be familiar with the concept of trekking poles, and you may have even considered buying some for your own use. As you never want to carry any extra equipment on a hike that you may not need, you may be wondering if trekking poles are actually worth it.

Trekking poles are worth it for many people. You don’t have to buy the most expensive hiking poles you can find, and they can make a significant difference in both your hiking confidence and the trails you can walk without having to worry about safety or comfort.

But there is more to trekking poles than simply looking at a set and opting to buy them. In the article below, we’ll discuss the ways trekking poles can help you on your hikes, when you should and shouldn’t use them, and how to choose the hiking poles that are right for you.

Are Trekking Poles Necessary?

Trekking poles are not always necessary, but they can be a good thing to have at times on the trail. It may depend on the type of trail you plan to hike, or your own confidence. However, there’s no doubt that trekking poles can offer many advantages, even for the occasional walker.

Trekking poles can help with your balance, and not just on those tricky downward sections, either. Poles help you feel more secure since you have additional points touching the ground. If you also consider how they reduce stress and fatigue on your joints, then just with those three reasons alone, you can see how trekking poles can make a real difference.

Trekking poles aren’t always necessary, but there’s no doubt they are a good additional piece of equipment to have at your disposal, especially if having a little extra balance will make you more confident when you’re out on the trail.

Are Trekking Poles Worth The Money?

Trekking poles are worth the money if they help you enjoy your hike. But you don’t need to fall into the trap of thinking you need to spend a huge sum of money purchasing a set of trekking poles. It’s all a matter of knowing what to buy to fit your needs.

Trekking poles can make things safer for you while hiking. And that doesn’t just mean trails with inclines that you need to tackle, either. Even flat trails with rough underfoot conditions can feel safer and easier when you use trekking poles.

Anything that can improve safety is an item you should consider. There’s no need to purchase the most expensive poles. Sometimes, just having the feeling of that extra bit of support is all that’s required. If they help you get out onto more trails, then they are certainly something you should consider investing in.

Do Trekking Poles Help?

Trekking poles help in the situation they are designed for, which is to provide you with greater stability while hiking. Trekking poles act like an extra limb, or two if you use a pair, that can help you navigate tough terrain or give you a little extra balance on any trail.

Remember that you tend to hike on rough trails. Some are undoubtedly better cared for than others, but in general, underfoot conditions are hardly smooth and completely flat. You have holes and dips to contend with and rubble under your feet that can cause you to lose your balance. These things will have a potentially negative impact on your stability.

Crossing Water

Let’s look at an example of when trekking poles can completely change everything. Crossing water, even a small stream that is not even deep, can pose some difficulties when it comes to underfoot conditions. The rocks can be slippery with algae or sitting in a precarious position where they will shift if you stand on them.

Trekking poles can help you keep your balance as you cross the water and the unknown underfoot conditions beneath. You can also use the pole to test the areas in front of you, so you can see if there are any deep spots or loose rocks that can cause you to slip and fall.

Do You Burn More Calories With Trekking Poles?

You burn more calories with trekking poles than you do hiking without them. Using trekking poles gives you more of a total body workout because of the way you are using your arms while hiking. This added movement leads to you burning more calories than you normally would.

Your arm movements increase the intensity of your aerobic workout. You engage different muscle groups, meaning your body needs to use more energy. But here is another great thing about trekking poles: Even though you burn more calories, you do not feel as if you are using any more energy. This is due to the way trekking poles take stress off different joints.

Also, this increase in calorie burning applies no matter the actual walking technique you use with your trekking poles. Whether it be Nordic style, or the Exerstriding style patented in the US, the increase in calorie burn happens with either and you get a more complete workout.

Advantages Of Trekking Poles

1. They Take Stress Away From Your Joints

All the joints from your hips down can take a real pounding when hiking, but trekking poles are a wonderful way to remove some of that stress. The key is in the way they absorb the shock energy that occurs naturally when walking. Considering you may be hiking for miles at a time, anything that can reduce the impact on your joints is usually worth it.

This will become even more apparent when you’re hiking on a downward slope. The pressure your knees take at this point can lead to some real pain, but these poles can stop all that from occurring. You can use the poles to distribute your weight away from your knees so there won’t be as much pressure on them.

2. Your Arms Get A Workout

Trekking poles give your arms a great workout when hiking, and that’s not always a bad thing. Believe it or not, but if you are climbing to any elevation, then simply having your arms by your sides is bad for you. It can lead to circulation problems, and nobody wants that. Trekking poles get the blood pumping, and your body will only benefit from this.

3. They Help Your Balance

The main advantage of trekking poles is they help you with your balance. It’s like having four legs touching the ground at any given time, and this can prove useful on anything other than a perfectly smooth trail. Trekking poles will help prevent you from taking a tumble on loose underfoot conditions.

4. They Help Your Hiking Rhythm

The final key advantage is the way trekking poles help you find your hiking rhythm. A good hiking rhythm not only makes the hike more enjoyable, but it also leads to less pressure being applied throughout your body. Also, don’t be surprised if you can hike at a slightly higher pace for longer, and it’s all thanks to the trekking poles.

Disadvantages Of Trekking Poles

1. They Can Get In The Way

While they are highly effective, there are moments where trekking poles can become somewhat cumbersome and get in your way. Think about trails that involve some climbing. Some hikers put them in their pack to free their hands, but that means taking them out, putting them back and repeating the process. It can be annoying if this must be done over and over again.

2. You Do Use More Energy

Using trekking poles involves you using more energy, and that’s not always a good thing. However, in the general sense, this is an insignificant disadvantage for most people. But then again, if you plan to conserve energy during your hike, then trekking poles may certainly work against you.

3. Added Weight

While they are not the heaviest items you may use when hiking, trekking poles involve carrying some extra weight. Admittedly, this may not be too much of a problem for most people, but if you are indeed looking to save weight wherever possible, then carrying trekking poles when you don’t plan on using them that much would be pointless.

4. They Can Be Expensive

The cost of trekking poles certainly moves along a sliding scale, but if you want to own a quality pair of trekking poles, then be prepared to pay a reasonable sum for them. To own a decent set of trekking poles, you could be looking at anything from $60 to $200, but there’s certainly no pressure to go anywhere near that higher end.

When Should You Use Trekking Poles?

You should use trekking poles when hiking downhill, crossing water, if you have joint problems, in the winter, and when hiking exceptionally long distances. There are several occasions where you should use trekking poles to make your hike a little easier and more comfortable.

Hiking Downhill

One of the key times to use trekking poles is when you’re hiking downhill. It’s all too easy for momentum to get the better of you and the next thing you know, your speed increases, followed by you hitting the floor. Also, trekking downhill puts a vast amount of stress through your joints, and trekking poles will help with both aspects.

Crossing Water

This was touched upon earlier, but crossing water can be one of the trickiest moments during a hike, so anything that makes it easier and safer should be embraced. Trekking poles simply offer you an additional balance point or two, and that is reassuring when crossing water. At any moment crossing water, it’s all too easy to slip and fall, so anything that can prevent this from happening should be used.

When You Have Joint Problems

Joint problems, and specifically problems with your knees, can have a negative impact on your ability to enjoy a hike. It may even stop you from going, as you know you will suffer for it once you are finished. It would be a shame if you stopped hiking because you can’t find a way to alleviate the pain.

Trekking poles have been shown to reduce the stress on your knees by at least 25%, which is a huge benefit. It’s all because we shift our body weight when we use trekking poles, and we put more force through more points of contact on the ground. That means the load is less on each individual point, and that’s a great thing for your joints.

Hiking In Wintry Conditions

Just as with crossing water, using trekking poles when hiking in wintry conditions can make the entire experience significantly safer. It goes back to the fact that you have additional points in contact with the ground, so it’s harder to lose your balance. By improving your balance, you become more confident even in tougher conditions.

When You Hike Long Distances

If you tend to hike long distances, then trekking poles may make it easier for you to finish your hike without feeling as fatigued as you might otherwise. This is due to reducing the stress going through your joints, so you won’t have the same level of lactic acid in your muscles, which leads to soreness and fatigue.

Trekking poles also give you something to lean on when you need a short rest. You can easily shift some of your body weight onto the poles to get some relief. These short breaks when hiking long distances are important, and it makes a huge difference to your ability to finish the hike.

When Should You Not Use Trekking Poles?

There are also times when trekking poles are not required, so it’s also important to know when this may happen. After all, there’s no point in carrying them around with you on a hike if they are of no use to you. As always, it’s best to carry only what you will need for your hike.

When You’re Hiking Less Than A Mile

Now, we aren’t saying this only applies to people who hike under a mile on the odd occasion, but it gives you an idea of trekking poles being a bad idea for the infrequent hiker. If you only go out for a short walk every now and then, then trekking poles will probably not be worth the investment.

If You Want To Keep Things Ultralight

Even though they are not the heaviest of items, poles still add some weight to your entire gear. So, if you plan on keeping things ultra-light, which some people love to do when hiking, then trekking poles could be an added extra that ruins everything for you.

Of course, the actual weight of trekking poles is something that varies greatly, but even those classed as extra light will still add some weight you may not want. If an ultra-light hike is what you are going after, then these poles may not be a good idea.

If You Want To Keep Things Simple

The final reason not to use trekking poles is if you want to keep things simple. There’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe you feel fine with your balance and confidence when you’re hiking, and trekking poles would just get in the way. Or maybe there will be some climbing and trekking poles would add to the degree of difficulty rather than helping.

Some people simply do not like trekking poles. They aren’t for everyone, and some people choose not to use them. However, there are certainly more instances where they would prove useful compared to those times when they would be in your way.

How To Choose Trekking Poles

Trekking poles come with different tips, lengths, grips, styles, and options. Some are for advanced hiking, while others are made with simple balance in mind. With so many poles available on the market, how do you choose the right trekking poles for your needs?

Your Height

The first thing to think about is your height, as that will help determine the length of trekking pole you need to purchase. Many trekking poles are designed so the length can be adjusted, but there are still some guidelines to follow when it comes to your actual height.

If you are taller than six feet, then you need to look at buying trekking poles with a maximum length of at least 51 inches. If you are under six feet tall, you need to find poles that are a little shorter or adjust the trekking poles to ensure they fit correctly.

Fitting correctly means you should almost have a 90-degree angle at the elbow when you’re walking. You don’t want to feel stooped over when using them, as that will put added strain on your back and joints. But you also don’t want your hands to be as high as your shoulders. Remember, trekking poles are there to help you and not make matters worse.

Single Or Double?

You can buy trekking poles as either a single pole or a double set. Of course, you could just purchase a pair of poles and only use one at a time. However, a single pole may also be referred to as a hiking staff. Some people simply feel more comfortable using a single pole, in the same way some people feel better using a walking stick or cane in day-to-day life.

Adjustability

You want to ensure your trekking poles can be adjusted. Most poles can move between 24 to 55 inches long, and how they are adjusted can also vary. The reason why this is so important is because of how you should be using your trekking poles. You want that 90-degree angle when walking on the flat, but if you’re walking on an incline, you may need to adjust the length to keep the arm angle.

Ease Of Carrying

If you plan on taking trekking poles with you, even though you may not always use them, then knowing how easy they are to carry is important. Some trekking poles can be folded down to half their size, and this would be the best option. You don’t want to own poles where they take up too much space in your pack. It simply doesn’t make sense.

Are They Shock-Absorbing?

A wide range of trekking poles act as shock absorbers, and you should make sure the poles you are interested in purchasing fall into this category. These poles come with internal springs, so they stop so much of that energy from moving up to your arms and affecting the rest of your body. If you suffer from joint issues, then this type of trekking pole is undoubtedly the best for you.

The Shaft Material

You will tend to have two main options regarding shaft material, with one being aluminum and the other being a composite material (another way for companies to say carbon). Out of the two options, aluminum is slightly heavier, with an average weight of anywhere from 18 to 22 ounces per pair. The carbon versions range from 12 to 18 ounces per pair.

At the same time, aluminum poles are less likely to break, whereas breakage can be an issue when carbon poles are put under high levels of stress. However, carbon is better at absorbing the vibrations caused by them hitting the ground, which can help reduce muscle fatigue.

The Grip

You also have a few options regarding the grip, with cork, foam and rubber being the three main options. Cork shapes well to your hands and it’s fantastic at handling vibration. Also, it copes exceptionally well with moisture, so if you tend to sweat a lot, this is the better option. If you only ever hike in warm weather, cork wins hands down.

Rubber is the better option if you tend to use your trekking poles in colder conditions, as it copes better with cold weather and temperatures. It will insulate your hands from not only the cold, but also the shock and vibration. However, in anything outside of cold weather, it will be more likely to cause blisters on your hands.

Finally, there’s foam, which is exceptionally soft to the touch. It copes well with moisture, but it doesn’t do as well with vibration as cork or rubber. All three options have their benefits, but it’s mainly due to the type of hiking weather you tend to experience.

Grips And Tips

Consider if you want a wrist grip included, as not all trekking poles come with them installed. If you tend to take a lot of photographs when hiking, then this will be the perfect solution, as it means you can still have your pole hanging from your wrist without dropping it to the ground.

For the tips, you want either carbide or steel. Both perform well, but consider buying rubber tips to place over the ends of the poles when not in use. It helps protect everything until you are ready to go out hiking again.

Final Thoughts

Trekking poles can be worth it if you are a regular hiker, especially if you like to take on rough trails with big elevation changes. Trekking poles help you keep your balance and help prevent muscle fatigue. You will also get a better workout using poles because you will burn more calories.