Trekking poles are very popular, and many hikers will not consider heading out onto a trail without them. Trekking poles provide better balance, reduce the impact on joints, and help you to navigate tougher terrain. But many new hikers may wonder if they should use one trekking pole or two.
Two trekking poles are better when hiking long distances or on trickier terrain. One trekking pole is fine for shorter walks over flat terrain, but one trekking pole usually won’t provide the same benefits as two trekking poles.
Trekking poles can offer plenty of benefits, particular on longer hikes, inclines and harsher terrain. In this article, we’ll look at how to use your trekking poles effectively and discuss whether two poles are always better than one.
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Is One Trekking Pole Enough?
One trekking pole is enough for shorter and smoother hikes, but two poles will offer far more benefits on steep, uneven or trickier terrain. Using one trekking pole is often a matter of personal preference.
The benefits of using two trekking poles are:
- Offers stability
- Improves balance
- Prevents injury
- Conserves energy
- Improves posture
- Easier navigation on more difficult terrain
- Absorbs shock from impacts, particularly useful for those with knee issues
Using one trekking pole will still provide these benefits, just not to the same degree compared to hiking with a pair of poles. That said, one trekking pole is still better than no pole.
Some hikers find they can’t easily walk with two trekking poles. They find that using two is awkward or cumbersome, and may opt to take only one pole. If you fall into this category, it can be safer to use just one pole on trickier terrain, though you will receive fewer benefits compared to taking two trekking poles.
Situations When You Might Opt For One Trekking Pole
Although using two trekking poles offers full benefits from their use, there are circumstances and reasons hikers may prefer to use just the one pole. We have touched on how some people find two poles cumbersome to hold, and this is partly down to weight.
Two poles is double the weight, and while some hikers may feel an additional lightweight pole is not an issue, for others the extra weight on longer hikes can sap more energy. This may seem like an inconsequential margin, but on long hikes spread over a number of days small margins can add up.
The most common occasion you might opt to take only one trekking pole is when heading out on a fairly short hike over flat terrain, where you feel you won’t need any additional support. On a trail classed as easy, with no real inclines or any water to navigate, you may feel one trekking pole is ample for a little additional support.
Trekking poles absorb shock and provide support when hiking. However, if you have a problem with one leg you could also find a single trekking pole beneficial on easier trails as opposed to no poles at all. Trekking poles are particularly useful shock absorbers on downhill sections.
However, some hikers prefer to use just one pole on uphill sections too, rather than constantly relying on two poles, as it can prevent strain on the back. One pole can also be more convenient if you want to keep a hand free to carry something else, such as a camera or map, or to bring the dog along.
The one thing you may look to do if you prefer one trekking pole is to alternate the pole between hands. Using trekking poles works the shoulder and upper arm muscles, and by alternating between hands you ensure both sides of your body benefit from this workout.
Do You Really Need Two Trekking Poles?
You do not need two trekking poles to enjoy your hike, but with them you will find it easier and safer. They will also help you to maintain a healthier stride and prevent stresses on the joints and muscles.
Although you don’t have to use two trekking poles to have a successful and enjoyable hike, they do offer more benefits than hiking with one pole or no pole at all. Therefore, two trekking poles are not a necessity, but are advantageous in many circumstances, particularly on longer hikes and trails with more challenging terrain.
One of the first points you may notice when using two poles is how much easier it becomes to get into and sustain a rhythm. Using two trekking poles helps to power you along and sustain that pace for longer. However, to be efficient and prevent injuries, you need to be aware of how you are walking.
How You Walk Matters
When trekking with two poles you need to maintain an asymmetric stride, so when your left foot moves forward so should your right hand with its trekking pole. If you swing the same arm and leg, you introduce a less natural walking motion. This can throw the body out of balance and introduce additional stresses.
Balance is a key benefit of using two trekking poles. When the terrain becomes trickier, two poles are like having a couple of extra legs. This includes on uphill and downhill sections of trails, where you may need to adjust the height of the poles to make them more effective. Two trekking poles are also handy when navigating water crossings, as well as helping to determine water depth.
Alleviating Knee Pain
If you start to find your knees ache during hikes, then two trekking poles could help alleviate this issue. Long hikes over uneven terrain can place a good degree of stress through the legs and joints. Trekking poles can absorb up to 25% of the impact shock from the terrain, lessening the load on your knees. You may notice this more on a downhill section of a trail.
A final, practical point is that if you prefer to use two trekking poles and one snaps mid-way through a hike, you still have one left. You may lose their full benefit, but one pole still provides assistance, especially if you depend on them for joint support when hiking. Even if you prefer one trekking pole, collapsible modern poles mean you can still carry a second pole on your backpack.
How To Use One Trekking Pole Effectively
Simply purchasing a set of trekking poles does not automatically mean you will reap all the benefits. You will first need to understand how to use your poles effectively in order to benefit from them fully. However, even before you reach this stage you should consider what type of trekking pole is most suitable for the hiking you intend to do.
The height of the pole is key. You can buy collapsible poles that make adjusting the height quite easy, as well as making folding them for packing easier. If you hike on trails with a lot of ascent and descent, then adjustable poles may be the best option. However, if you prefer a single length pole you want one where the height allows your elbow to be at a 90 degree angle.
Position The Wrist Strap
The importance of the wrist strap can be overlooked when using a trekking pole. With the pole in its correct upright position, you place your hand up and through the wrist strap before tightening according to comfort. If you let go of the pole for any reason it should not become entangled around the wrist.
When the wrist strap is tightened to a comfortable level you should still be able to easily grip the trekking pole. You do not need to grip the pole too hard as the wrist strap should take most of the strain. Having the correct wrist strap position helps prevent strains in the wrist and aching hands. The straps should prevent you dropping the pole while also providing for a lighter grip.
When you are hiking, your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle when holding the pole. You should walk naturally, swinging your arms for momentum. You will then be swinging the trekking pole too, keeping it low to the ground rather than lifting it and placing the pole for every step.
By swinging the pole forward with your arm, you conserve energy. Once the pole is planted in the ground, you can use it for propulsion as you step forward.
As you walk uphill you will be using your pole to help propel you forward and up. Reducing the length of the pole helps maintain a 90-degree bend of the elbow. However, you will be keeping the pole close to your body and positioning it slightly forward as you ascend the incline. Depending on the gradient you may need to lift and plant the pole.
When going downhill you should lengthen the pole in relation to the angle of the descent. On downwards slopes a pole is used to help with stability rather than propulsion. By lengthening the pole, you can place it ahead of you in a way that prevents you having to bend and place too much stress on your back.
How To Use Two Trekking Poles Effectively
The principles around using two trekking poles effectively are very much the same as how to use one pole effectively. The main difference is when using two poles you need to have an asymmetric stride pattern where, as one foot moves forward, the opposite hand and pole moves forward too. This helps prevent a rocking motion, which places unnecessary stresses and strains on your body.
When you are using a single pole to hike this is not such as issue, and swinging the left arm forward in motion with the left leg should pose no problems. But in terms of grip, pole placement and adjusting the pole height for uphill and downhill sections, the same technique applies using two trekking poles as it does with one trekking pole.
Balance And Stability
Two trekking poles bring extra stability to rocky or slippery terrain. Occasionally, you may have to plant both poles ahead to help propel yourself along, especially on rocky uphill sections. Otherwise, a normal asymmetric stride will be fine, but make sure your trekking pole tips don’t get caught between rocks. Having two poles may also give you a better chance of retaining your balance if you do slip.
Maintaining a consistent 90-degree bend of the elbows, while making adjustment in pole height for gradients, will be an effective and efficient way to hike with two trekking poles. This helps reduce the stress on the knees, while more effectively distributing weight through the two poles. Managing efficiency and weight distribution is particularly key when hiking with a heavy backpack.
The following points summarize how to effectively use two trekking poles:
- Maintain 90 degree bend in the elbows
- Keep an asymmetric stride pattern
- Use a light and relaxed grip on the poles
- Adjust the pole height on slopes
- Swing the poles naturally with the arms rather than lifting and planting them back down
When you are hiking on terrain where the trail is constantly switching between uphill climbs and downhill sections, changing the pole height each time can become a bit of a pain. In these instances, you will probably want to find a good compromise height which does not hinder balance and forward propulsion, but does not see you having to stop so frequently to make those adjustments.
The choice between one or two trekking poles is down to personal preference and the terrain you plan to hike. You can have a successful hike with one trekking pole but will gain fewer of the benefits compared to using two trekking poles, particularly on tougher terrain and over longer distances.