An Introduction to Walking Poles: Essential Guide to Enhancing Your Walks

Walking Poles - Your Essential Guide
walking poles your essential guide

Introduction

Walking poles, often seen as a tool for hikers and trekkers, have gained popularity among all walks of life.  Trekking poles provide stability and support for short walks, day hikers and long-distance mountain treks.

Lightweight poles can be a valuable addition to your routine, whether you are an avid hiker over rough terrain, a casual walker, or someone looking to improve joint health.

This article delves into the history, benefits, types, and practical advice on choosing the right pair of hiking poles.  Plus, we’ll recommend a wide range of the best collapsible poles, including budget poles available for purchase and answer some frequently asked questions.

The History of Walking Poles 

A pair of poles, also known as trekking poles or hiking sticks, have a fascinating and storied history. These invaluable tools trace their origins back to ancient times when they served as essential aids for travellers and shepherds navigating treacherous landscapes and covering vast distances over difficult terrain.

In those early days, these humble sticks were primarily used for support and stability, helping individuals maintain balance and alleviate strain on their bodies during long and arduous journeys. As time passed, the humble walking poles transformed remarkably, evolving into the advanced and sophisticated trekking poles we rely on today.

Modern trekking poles are far from their rudimentary ancestors. Equipped with cutting-edge features and thoughtful engineering, they have become indispensable companions for outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers. These poles now boast innovative technologies such as shock absorbers, which minimize the impact on joints and reduce fatigue. Ergonomic grips have been meticulously designed to maximize comfort and ensure a secure hold, even during the most challenging terrains.

But the evolution doesn’t stop there. Trekking poles have embraced versatility with the inclusion of adjustable lengths. This feature allows users to customize the poles to their unique height and walking style, optimizing their performance and overall comfort.

Additionally, trekking poles often come equipped with baskets, clever attachments that serve multiple purposes. These baskets are perfect for traversing diverse environments, whether muddy trails, snowy landscapes, or soft terrains. They provide added stability, preventing the poles from sinking and allowing for a more confident and enjoyable walking experience.

The journey of walking poles, from simple support sticks to sophisticated and feature-rich tools, reflects our deep-rooted desire to explore, conquer challenges, and connect with nature. As technology and innovation continue to advance, we can expect trekking poles to evolve further, catering to the ever-evolving needs of outdoor enthusiasts.

Whether you’re embarking on a thrilling adventure or enjoying a leisurely stroll, walking poles have proven their worth as indispensable companions. With their rich history and countless benefits, these remarkable tools continue to redefine and elevate the walking experience for all who dare to step off the beaten path.

Benefits of Using Walking Poles

Using walking poles can transform your walking experience.  Here are some of the benefits:

  • Reduced Impact on Joints: Using walking poles, you distribute your weight more evenly across four points rather than two.  This reduces the impact on your knees, hips, and ankles, especially when walking downhill. This is one reason I started using them – after suffering damage to my pelvis during pregnancy. The damage made it hard for me to walk more than 100 meters without extreme pain; however, these sticks are a godsend.
  • Improved Balance and Stability: The poles improve your balance, which is particularly helpful when walking on uneven terrain or crossing streams. They are also great if you have impaired balance due to a damaged pelvis (in my case), vertigo, or inner ear issues.
  • Upper Body Workout: Walking poles engage your arms, shoulders, and back, turning a simple walk into a full-body workout.
  • Increased Walking Speed: The additional support can help you move faster, especially uphill, and cover more ground.
  • Mental Benefits: Using walking poles can give you the confidence to tackle more challenging walks, which can be mentally rewarding.

Types of Hiking Poles

Regarding walking poles, various types are available, each catering to different needs (everything from mountains to various terrains) and walking styles.  Let’s explore the types in more detail, including well-known brands and average costs for each:

1.  Trekking Poles: Trekking poles are versatile and widely used for hiking, trekking, and backpacking over varied terrain.  They offer stability, support, and increased balance on challenging terrains, even for an occasional hiker.

Many trekking poles have features like shock absorption to minimise the impact on joints, provide a smoother walking experience and avoid the risk of injury.

Well-known brands in the trekking pole category include:

  • Black Diamond: Black Diamond is renowned for producing high-quality trekking poles that are durable and reliable.  Their poles often feature innovative designs and ergonomic grips.
  • Gossamer Gear: Gossamer Gear is a trusted brand known for its exceptional craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology.  Their trekking poles offer excellent performance and comfort, with adjustable features and sturdy construction.  They also provide replacement parts which is a rarity in the market.

The average cost of trekking poles can vary depending on the brand, materials used, and additional features.  Prices typically range from £50 to £150, with some premium models exceeding £200.

2.  Nordic Walking Poles: Nordic walking poles are designed to enhance the natural arm swing and rhythm of Nordic walking.  These poles are lighter and shorter than trekking poles, allowing for a more dynamic walking motion.  Nordic walking poles often feature ergonomic grips and adjustable straps to maximise comfort and efficiency.

Well-known brands in the Nordic walking pole category include:

  • Exel: Exel is a leading brand in Nordic walking poles, offering various models suitable for different fitness levels.  Their sticks are known for their lightweight construction and ergonomic designs, perfect for rocky trails.
  • LEKI: LEKI also manufactures Nordic walking poles that combine functionality, durability, and style.  Their poles feature innovative technology and comfortable grips for an optimal walking experience.

The average cost of Nordic walking poles typically ranges from £30 to £80, depending on the brand, materials, and features.

3.  Hiking Staff: A hiking staff is a single pole, often taller than standard walking poles, primarily used for balance and stability during walks, especially on flat terrain.  Hiking staff can provide additional support, especially for individuals prefer single-point contact with the ground.

Well-known brands in the hiking staff category include:

  • Komperdell: Komperdell is recognised for its high-quality hiking staff that offers excellent balance and durability.  They provide adjustable options and comfortable grips.
  • Montem: Montem manufactures reliable hiking staff that are lightweight and easy to use.  Their staffs often feature collapsible designs for convenient storage.

A hiking staff typically costs £20 to £60, depending on the brand, materials, and additional features.

It’s essential to consider your specific needs, walking style, and budget when choosing the type of walking poles that align with your preferences.  Remember to prioritise reputable brands that offer durability, comfort, and reliability.

Our Recommended Best Walking Poles 

Best Nordic Walking Poles - Leki Spin Trekking Pole
384 Reviews
Best Nordic Walking Poles – Leki Spin Trekking Pole
  • Stick material: aluminium.
  • Pole construction: 2-piece, adjustable, twist lock
  • Activity: Nordic walking.
  • Weight per pair: 436g
Best Fixed Length Trekking Poles - Black Diamond ALPINE CARBON Z Z-POLES
128 Reviews
Best Fixed Length Trekking Poles – Black Diamond ALPINE CARBON Z Z-POLES
  • Robust carbon combined with soft cork: The trekking poles convince with effective details such as the natural cork grip and the fully padded hand strap.
  • Functional: The adjustable FlickLock Pro system of the three segments of the telescopic pole allows the practical adjustment to the body size.
  • Innovative: The soft cork grips of the trekking poles allow moisture such as sweat to escape, while the fully padded hand strap provides additional support.
Best Budget Carbon Walking Poles - FitLife Carbon Fibre Trekking Poles
3,785 Reviews
Best Budget Carbon Walking Poles – FitLife Carbon Fibre Trekking Poles
  • Built for your rhythm: Whether walking on flat ground, uphill or downhill, TheFitLife walking poles can help you to establish and maintain a consistent rhythm, increase your average speed, rest your arms and get you further on the trail. Made of shock absorbent, high quality 100% carbon fiber, incredibly sturdy and durable so that they can reduce compressive impact on knees, legs, ankles and feet and absorb any noise.
Best Single Walking Stick - Black Diamond Carbon Folding Adjustable Walking Stick
24 Reviews
Best Single Walking Stick – Black Diamond Carbon Folding Adjustable Walking Stick
  • Lightweight Carbon Fibre, black with subtle diamond pattern
  • Adjusts from 33″ to 37″ but can be cut down further if needed
  • Folds up to 12.5″
  • Comes fitted with a rubber ferrule
  • Free clip and wallet
Best Kids Walking Poles - FitTrek Kids Trekking Poles
80 Reviews
Best Kids Walking Poles – FitTrek Kids Trekking Poles
  • ✅Specially Designed for Kids – Lightweight with bright colors, retractable from 23 inch to 37 inch, Suitable for kids 2’5” to 4’7”.
  • ✅Adjustable Wrist Strap – Easily adjusting strap with safety release, easy to grasp trekking poles and ensure comfort.
  • ✅Patent Twist Lock – Easy to lock and loose for kids, allows kids to Adjust Pole’s Length Quickly and Easily While Firmly Holding its Position.

How to Choose the Right Trekking Poles – Comprehensive Buyers Guide

When choosing suitable walking poles, it’s essential to consider various factors to ensure you find the perfect fit for your needs.  Here is a comprehensive buyer’s guide that goes into detail on each aspect:

1.  Material: Walking poles are commonly made of aluminium or carbon fibre.  Understanding the characteristics of each material can help you make an informed decision:

  • Aluminium Poles: Aluminum poles are known for their durability and strength and are great for everyday hiking.  They can withstand rugged rocky terrains and are less likely to bend or break.  However, they tend to be slightly heavier than carbon fibre poles.
  • Carbon Fiber Poles: Carbon composite fibre poles are lightweight and provide excellent shock absorption, making them ideal for reducing strain on your arms and wrists during long walks.  However, they are less durable than aluminium poles and may be more susceptible to impact damage in the carbon shafts.

2.  Length: The length of your walking poles is crucial in ensuring optimal comfort and efficiency.  To determine the correct length, follow these steps:

  • Stand with your arms comfortably relaxed at your sides.
  • Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
  • Hold the poles with the tips touching the ground.
  • Adjust the length until the handles align with your wrists.

Finding the right length ensures that your arms are comfortable and natural while walking, maximising the benefits of using walking poles.

3.  Grip Type: The grip of your walking poles significantly affects comfort and functionality.  There are three common grip types available:

  • Ergonomic Cork Grips: Comfortable Cork grips are popular because they absorb sweat, providing an excellent grip and comfortable hold.  They conform to your hand’s grip shape over time, offering a personalised grip experience.
  • Rubber Grips: Rubber grips are known for their durability and insulation against cold weather.  They provide a secure grip even in wet conditions.  However, they may not offer the same level of sweat absorption as cork grips.
  • Angled Foam Grips: Angled foam grips are popular for walking poles due to their ergonomic design and benefits.  The angled shape provides comfortable support, reduces wrist strain, and promotes a natural grip.  Foam grips offer shock absorption, minimise joint stress during walks, and provide insulation against temperature variations.  They also absorb moisture, maintaining a secure grip.  However, foam grips may not be as durable as cork or rubber, and regular maintenance is required to prevent dirt buildup.

Consider your preferences and the climate conditions in which you’ll use the poles when choosing between cork and rubber grips.  Also, look for adjustable wrist straps so you don’t lose the poles if you slip.

4.  Choosing Between Packable Design and Fixed-Length Poles:

When selecting walking poles, another important consideration is whether to opt for a packable design with telescopic poles or fixed-length poles, such as Nordic walking poles.  Here’s what you need to know:

Packable Design with Telescopic Poles (Adjustable Poles): Telescopic poles offer the advantage of adjustability, allowing you to customise the length of the poles to suit your walking preferences and terrain conditions.  This feature makes them versatile and suitable for various activities, from hiking and trekking to casual walks.  Some benefits of telescopic poles include the following:

  • Portability: Telescopic poles are designed to collapse into a compact size, making them easy to carry and store when not in use.  This feature is particularly beneficial for travellers and those requiring poles that fit into a backpack or suitcase.
  • Versatility: With adjustable length options, telescopic poles can accommodate different terrains and user preferences.  You can lengthen the poles for uphill climbs or shorten them for downhill descents or flat surfaces.
  • Shared Use: If multiple individuals of different heights use the poles, telescopic poles can be easily adjusted to accommodate each person’s height requirements.

Fixed-Length Poles (Nordic Walking Poles): Fixed-length poles, commonly called Nordic walking poles, are designed with a fixed length that typically corresponds to the user’s height.  These poles are tailored explicitly for Nordic walking, providing a consistent and efficient arm swing.  Consider the following aspects of fixed-length poles:

  • Simplicity: Nordic walking poles have a straightforward design with a fixed length that eliminates the need for adjustments.  This simplicity makes them easy to use and convenient for those who prefer a hassle-free experience.
  • Lightweight: Fixed-length poles are often lighter than telescopic poles since they do not have additional mechanisms for adjusting the length.  This weight reduction can be advantageous for users seeking lightweight options.
  • Focus on Technique: Nordic walking poles emphasise proper technique and arm swing coordination.  They are ideal for individuals who want to engage in Nordic walking as a dedicated fitness activity.

When choosing between packable telescopic poles and fixed-length Nordic walking poles, consider your specific needs, preferences, and the primary purpose of using the poles.  If versatility, portability, and shared use are essential to you, telescopic poles are likely the better option.  On the other hand, if you are focused on Nordic walking and prefer a simple, lightweight design, fixed-length poles may be more suitable.

By understanding the differences between packable design with telescopic poles and fixed-length poles, you can make an informed decision based on your intended use and personal preferences.

5.  Weight: The weight of walking poles can impact your overall walking experience.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • Lighter Poles: Lighter poles reduce arm fatigue, allowing longer walks without strain.  They are particularly beneficial for those who plan to cover more extensive distances or trek steep terrain.  However, lighter poles may sacrifice some durability compared to heavier options.
  • Heavier Poles: Heavier poles provide added stability and durability, making them suitable for challenging terrains and those prioritising durability over weight.  They can handle more rigorous use but may lead to more significant arm fatigue during longer walks.  I would save these for day hikes, personally.

Consider your fitness level, walking duration, and the terrain you’ll be traversing when determining the ideal weight of your walking poles.

6.  Price: Price is essential when purchasing walking poles, and finding the right balance between quality and affordability is crucial to paying a reasonable price.  Consider the following points:

  • Quality: Ensure that the walking poles you choose are well-made and built to withstand the demands of your walking adventures.  Look for reputable brands with positive reviews and a record of producing reliable products.
  • Features: While investing in quality is essential, avoid overpaying for features you won’t use.  Evaluate the parts that align with your needs and choose poles that balance functionality and cost well.

7.  With tips or baskets?  What’s the difference?

Walking poles commonly have rubber tips, metal tips, or baskets, and their presence varies for different types of poles, including both trekking poles and Nordic walking poles.  Here’s an explanation of each:

  1. Rubber Tips: Rubber tips are commonly found on walking poles and are beneficial for various reasons:
  • Surface Grip: Rubber tips provide excellent traction and grip on hard surfaces like pavement or rocky terrain.  They help prevent the poles from slipping, enhancing stability during walks.
  • Noise Reduction: Rubber tips reduce noise when the poles come into contact with hard surfaces.  This can be particularly useful in urban areas or quiet environments.
  • Protection for Indoor Surfaces: Rubber tips are gentle on indoor surfaces, such as wood or tile floors, protecting them from scratches or damage.

Trekking and Nordic walking poles can come with rubber tips, offering practical benefits for various walking conditions.

  1. Metal Tips: Metal tips are typically found on trekking poles and are designed for enhanced durability and stability in rugged outdoor environments:
  • Traction on Soft Ground: Metal tips provide excellent traction on soft surfaces like dirt, gravel, or grass.  They can penetrate the ground more effectively, providing stability during hikes or treks.
  • Durability: Metal tips are highly durable and resistant to wear, making them suitable for demanding terrains and extended outdoor use.

While metal tips are commonly associated with trekking poles, Nordic walking poles may also have removable metal tips available as accessories for use on specific terrains.

  1. Baskets: Baskets are attachments that can be added to the bottom of walking poles, typically found on trekking poles but can also be used with Nordic walking poles:
  • Snow and Mud Protection: Baskets prevent the poles from sinking into snow or mud, providing stability and reducing effort while walking in such conditions.
  • Improved Surface Contact: Baskets increase the surface area in contact with the ground, distributing the weight more evenly and reducing the risk of poles getting stuck or buried in softer terrain.

Baskets are handy during winter hikes or walks in muddy environments.  They are often detachable, allowing you to customise the poles based on the specific terrain you will encounter.

You can confidently select walking poles that align with your preferences, style, and budget by considering the material, length, grip type, weight, and price.

Remember, finding suitable pairs of trekking poles tailored to your needs enhances your walking experience, provides stability, and supports your overall well-being on the trails.

FAQ Section 

  1. What do I need to know about walking poles?
    • Walking poles are tools used for stability and support during walking or hiking.  They come in various types, including trekking poles, Nordic walking poles, and hiking staffs.  They can reduce the impact on joints, improve balance, and provide an upper-body workout.
  2. What are the disadvantages of walking poles?
    • Some disadvantages include the need to carry them, which can be cumbersome, potential over-reliance leading to decreased leg muscle use, and they can sometimes get caught in vegetation or rocks.
  3. What to look for when buying a walking pole?
    • Look for adjustable length, comfortable grip material (cork or rubber), and weight depending on your preference for durability or lightness, and consider shock absorption features.
  4. What is the correct way to use walking poles?
    • Hold the grips and not the shaft, adjust the length so your elbow is at a 90-degree angle when the tip is on the ground, use wrist straps for support, and plant them firmly on the ground as you walk.
  5. Do I need two-section poles or three-section poles?
    • Two-section poles are more durable but longer when collapsed, making them less portable.  Three-section poles are more compact when collapsed but slightly less durable.
  6. What is the correct Nordic pole length?
    • The correct length for Nordic walking poles is 65% of your body height.  Your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle when holding the sticks with tips on the ground.
  7. How do I wear the pole strap?
    • Insert your hand through the bottom of the strap loop and then grasp the grip.  The strap should be between your hand and the pole grip, providing support.

Conclusion

Walking poles are an invaluable tool for enhancing your walking experience.  They offer numerous benefits, including reduced impact on joints, improved balance, and an upper body workout.  Whether you’re an avid hiker or enjoy casual walks, try walking poles and experience the difference they can make.

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Ready to take your walks to the next level?  Check out the recommended walking poles above and embark on enhanced walking experiences.

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About the author
Alexandra is a longtime party planner & event specialist who loves to host fun picnics, parties and events for friends & family.  She now uses her expertise to recommend the best products on the market for you to get out and enjoy life.

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