Why Should I Use Trekking Poles?

Improved efficiency, less wear and tear on joints, and increased safety are just a few of the reasons trekking poles almost always find their way onto gear lists like our “Top to Bottom: Gear to Hike the NH 48” roundup. If you’ve been on the fence about adding them to your kit, or you’re wondering why so many hikers you encounter are using them, here are 10 reasons why you should be reaching for your trekking poles as you head out the door.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Increased Stability

The Northeast is home to notoriously harsh terrain. No matter the season, hikers here encounter conditions ranging from snow to mud to bare rock—not to mention wet rocks and roots. Whether you’re heading up, down, or across, trekking poles allow for two additional points of contact with the ground, greatly increasing stability and traction.

2. Reduced Impact on Your Body

The act of repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other in rough terrain while carrying a load (even just a daypack) murders knees, ankles, and feet. Trekking poles shift some of this burden onto a person’s shoulders and arms, reducing the pounding your lower body takes. Furthermore, they can reduce swelling of the hands, a common ailment for many hikers. Incorporating your arms into the activity increases blood flow and reduces fluid pooling in the hands.

3. Give Yourself a Push

Looking to increase your speed? Simply plant your poles and push with your arms. On steep uphills, they’ll take some of the weight off your legs, while on flat terrain, they’ll help propel you along. Even better, use your trekking poles like a metronome for getting your entire body to act in unison for relaxed breathing and a more consistent (and efficient) pace.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4. Safer Stream Crossings

Between snow melt and spring showers, water crossings reach their peak in the spring. Trekking poles are essential for safe crossings on hikes like Owl’s Head, as they allow you to test the water’s depth, get a feel for the strength of the current, and, once you commit, help maintain your balance as you wade or rock hop across. And, if you do slip, those extra points of contact are usually the difference between a wet shoe and total immersion.

5. Test Out Terrain

Much like how you can gauge the depth of a stream crossing with trekking poles, you can also use them to test other types of terrain. From finding out just how deep that snowpack is to how frozen that alpine puddle is or even how deep that muddy section of trail is, trekking poles are perfect for probing into the unknown.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. Clear a Path

Whether you’re dealing with thorns growing into the trail, branches from blow-downs blocking it, or those “super-scary” spider webs hanging across it, trekking poles offer a convenient way to clear annoyances from your path.

7. First Aid Essential

When it comes to situations involving twisted ankles or broken bones, trekking poles are a valuable supplement to your first aid kit. Serving as everything from a crutch to a splint, they come in handy when things go wrong.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Trekking Poles and Shelter

Thanks to the desire of backpackers to lighten their loads, many shelters (like the Black Diamond Mega Light Tarp) and tents now offer a fast pitching option that ditches traditional poles and instead uses your trekking poles to save weight.

9. They’re Collapsible, Too

Most trekking poles are collapsible. So, if you encounter some steep, rocky terrain that requires free hands, just break the poles down, and stow them on the side of your pack. Try the same thing if you’re on terrain that’s conducive to running and that you absolutely want to be done with—for example, the flat section on the way out from The Bonds.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

10. Try Just One

If two is too many, try using just one pole. Switch it from hand to hand while hiking to get the same stability, all with less weight and one fewer tool to manage. We especially like the one-pole trick on outings where we’ll also be carrying an ice axe (like the Lion Head Winter Route); on trail runs that are mostly runnable but have a tricky steep descent (like the descent from South Twin to the Galehead Hut); or in situations where we’ll be transitioning from hiking to climbing and then back (like Henderson Ridge).

Do you have another use for trekking poles that we didn’t list? If so, leave your suggestion in the comments.