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SAIL Blog

How to Choose the Right Hiking Poles

SAIL

May 4, 2022

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Hiking poles for trails

Whether you’re heading out on the trail for a few hours or several days, hiking poles are an essential part of your gear. They offer comfort and stability while activating your upper body muscles, provided you choose the right ones for your needs. Here’s everything you need to know about getting a good pair of hiking poles.

In this article, you will learn about different hiking poles and their features in order to choose the right ones for you.

1. What are the most important elements when choosing hiking poles?
2. What are the advantages of using hiking poles?
3. How to select the right hiking poles?
4. FAQ

Hiking poles

1. What are the most important elements when choosing hiking poles?

There are a number of hiking pole models on the market. Yet, all of them are made up of these basic elements:

Hiking pole parts

  • A pole strap (wrist strap) that keeps the pole attached to your waist even if you set it down to pick up an object or simply drop it altogether. Most are adjustable to fit the length you want. Choose a wrist strap made of a soft, breathable fabric.
  • A straight or ergonomic handle to optimize grip. Different materials can be used to make it, such as rubber (most often the entry-level material), foam or cork (the material that wicks moisture away from the palm of the hand).
  • Various stems, usually three. Pole shafts can be made of aluminum (very strong), or carbon (for more rigidity and lightness).
  • Locks (with clip or screw) that allow you to adjust the height of the poles to suit your height. These poles are then said to be telescoping. Some models are foldable, thanks to a rope inside the stick that you simply pull to unfold.
  • A round basket that allows the pole not to sink into the ground when it is soft (mud or sand). During the summer, you only need a smaller basket, whereas larger ones are required in winter to avoid sinking too deeply into the snow.
  • A very solid carbide tip to resist all types of terrain. Some poles come with tips, also called caps, which add to the grip while protecting your poles when hiking on hard surfaces like asphalt or rock.

2. What are the advantages of using hiking poles?

There are several advantages to using hiking poles.

First and foremost, they balance out your body weight, both up and down, especially when carrying a backpack. Instead of resting on your legs alone, your body tends to shift slightly forward when using poles. Your weight is then distributed over four supporting parts: your two legs and your two poles. This takes the strain off of your back and your shoulders.

Hiking poles also make it easier to get over natural obstacles such as mud puddles, large roots, and rocks. With four supporting points, you are lighter and more agile, and the strain is taken off of your knees.

Finally, the use of walking poles is known to effectively activate the upper body (shoulders, arms, abdominals, etc.). Nordic walking, an accelerated walking activity based on the specific use of poles, provides many benefits such as strengthening the entire muscle chain, improving posture and increasing breathing and heart capacity.

3. How to select the right hiking poles

The major hiking brands (Black Diamond and Leki among others) offer different types of hiking poles.

If you are an occasional hiker and only walk for a few hours, you don’t need to buy elaborate poles. The goal is to familiarize yourself with their use. A basic model with a rubber or PVC handle, aluminum rods and plastic locks may be sufficient.

If you are more of a regular hiker, climbing rocky terrain with a steep incline or going on a multi-day hike with a heavy load on your back, you may want to consider more sophisticated models. It is important to compare the weight of the poles for lightness, as well as the ergonomics of each model for a comfortable grip over several hours. The ease and speed with which they can be folded is also important.

Finally, wicking moisture from the palm of the hand through materials such as cork or foam should not be underestimated in your choice of poles.

4. FAQ

How do I adjust my hiking poles to the right height?

To find out what height is right for you, simply unlock the adjustment system and hold your poles at a 90 degree angle at the elbow. Once locked, you can make a mark on each shaft so you can find the right fit the next time you use them.

How do I transport my hiking poles?

Most poles are foldable or telescoping and can be retracted to about 30 cm. This is very convenient for attaching them to your backpack when not in use or even for storing them in luggage.

If you are traveling by plane, it is important to know that hiking poles are not allowed in the cabin. Because of their size and shape, they can be considered dangerous equipment. It is therefore necessary to carry them in your checked luggage.

Are hiking poles expensive?

The price depends on the quality of the poles. As a rule of thumb, entry-level poles cost less than $50. A good first pair, solid and easily adjustable, costs between 50$ and 150$. Above $150, the lightest, most ergonomic and best performing models are available. Consider this if you fall in love with the use of poles and can’t do without them on your hikes!

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