Hiking Poles – Everything You Need to Know

hiking poles guide
If you've been hiking, you've probably bumped into other walkers carrying poles. But what's the point in hiking poles and do you even need them? Let's take a look.


In a Nutshell

The quick Version

What are hiking poles?

Hiking poles (also often referred to as "trekking poles" or "walking poles") are poles designed to help hikers to improve their stability and walking rhythm prticularly on difficult terrain.

Do you need hiking poles?

No, they're not essential. Plenty of walkers head out on lengthy walks across all sorts of terrain without hiking poles. But we'll talk you through some of the pros and cons in this piece,

If you’ve ever been out walking, you’ll have undoubtedly encountered fellow hikers carrying poles. And you instant reaction might be “erm, should I have some of those thingies?”

So we’ve pulled together answers to tonnes of the most common questions about hiking poles in this guide in a bid to help you decide whether or not you even need to bother.

What are hiking poles?

Hiking poles are very simple pieces of equipment. They’re simple poles, sometimes height adjustable and often made of material like aluminium or, at the higher budget range, carbon fibre.

They are intended to help you with balance on walks over rough terrain and some hikers much prefer walking with poles to walking without them.

What’s the point in hiking poles?

There are plenty of benefits to using hiking poles. They include:

  • Balance aid on rough terrains. Consider those times you might be crossing a stream using rocks in the water as stepping stones. Having a couple of poles to help you balance could prevent a slip! It’s a similar story if you’re walking on particularly rough ground. Trekking poles can just act as a bit of a balance for you.
  • They can also help to bring more of your upper body into hiking, which is arguably a better workout overall
  • Many hikers say poles offer them greater rhythm in their walk

Are there any downsides to hiking poles?

Yes, there absolutely are negatives to walking poles too.

  • Those who are inexperienced in using hiking poles may find improper use a bit of a hazard. I’ve personally tripped over a hiking pole on more than one occasion! Getting their use right really does take practice.
  • Having something in one or even both of your hands means you don’t have your hands available to climbing or scrambling, which in itself might actually make particularly tough terrain more difficult.
  • If you’re not using them as poles (i.e. because you want your hands free for a part of the walk) you may find you need to clip them to your bag or something like that which can make them very difficult to carry around

Do I need hiking poles?

At the risk of sitting firmly on the fence, it’s a hard “it depends,” from me. if you’re always on flat terrain and rarely off road then you’ll almost certainly find there’s no real benefit. On the other hand, if your hikes often have you crossing streams or scrambling over particularly hazardous terrain, then hiking poles could help to reduce the risk of a loss of balance and subsequent fall.

On the flip side, hiking poles will mean you have your hands full, which some walkers don’t like. If you’re scrambling over rocks you might prefer to have two free hands over poles. But this very much down to personal preference and many hikers see more benefit in balance provided by the poles than in hands free hiking.


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