Walking poles make a difference to any walk as they essentially function as extra legs, and can therefore reduce the stress placed on joints, ligaments and muscles. As you climb over rocks or walk down steep declines, most of the load falls on these joints, but trekking poles help to distribute the stress evenly throughout your arms, back and shoulders.
Using walking poles on your walk can reduce the pressure on areas such as feet, legs, knees and back by an estimated 8,877 kg per mile, which over the course of a day’s trek adds up to a significant amount. Specially designed trekking poles with shock absorbing springs further reduce the stress on your body, so look out for this when purchasing.
One study that examined two groups both climbing Mount Snowdon, one that had walking poles and one that didn't, demonstrated that those who used trekking poles had significantly less muscle soreness than those who made the climb unaided.
Other benefits of trekking poles include:
Balance: Poles help you maintain balance in tricky terrain such as river crossings and rocky surfaces. The additional two points of contact also significantly increase your traction on slippery surfaces like mud, snow, and loose rock.
Endurance: Using the poles properly on uphill terrain significantly improves your endurance. Effectively you’re using more muscles to do the same work, with your arms and torso helping to propel you up the hills, and giving you more power to last longer.
Speed: "Walking with poles can help you to establish and maintain a consistent rhythm, which can increase your speed," says Max Neale, review editor for OutdoorGearLab.com. "This is especially true on flatter, non-technical terrain."
Posture improvement: This is especially important if you are carrying a load, as there is a tendency to slump forward, most often whilst going uphill. Poles facilitate a more upright posture, improving breathing and strengthening the muscles used to support the spine.
How to use walking poles:
- Firstly, set the poles to the correct height - the Mountain Warehouse website has a helpful guide to show you how to do this.
- Make sure you keep your arm in a relaxed position, with a very slight bend, and use your shoulders to propel yourself forwards, rather than bending too much at the elbow.
- Use the straps correctly – open the strap and adjust the size of the loop so that you can just get your hand up through it. Pass your hand up through the loop, open your hand, and then grip over the strap and handle together. This way they can work together to provide the best combination of support and versatility.
- Keep a relaxed and loose handle on the poles and don’t grip them too tightly – by using the straps as described above you will maintain good contact with the pole, and you will easily be able to reach forward or push back according to the terrain.
If you'd like to find out more about walking, you can read our posts on what you should be eating on your walk, tips for staying motivated and the physical and mental health benefits of walking. Don’t forget you can also follow us on Twitter and on Facebook for more tips on health and wellbeing.