Walking Poles. Love ‘em or Hate ‘em?

The use of walking poles is a popular topic of discussion for walkers of all persuasions.

If you find that your eyes are starting to glaze over already, then this post is not for you!

Hit the DELETE key now!

For the novice walkers or those considering including this piece of equipment in your hiking kit, then read on…

Before setting out on our first Camino in Spain, we spoke to as many people as possible and received plenty of advice, both good and bad.

I had never completed a long distance walk before and walking poles certainly weren’t on my radar, but I dutifully went out and purchased a pair. One of the rare times I did what I was told!

Ready to start my training, I got my bright and shiny poles out of the cupboard and set out into the bush with them.

Compacted, or non-extended, walking poles

Compacted, or non-extended, poles

Well, if they weren’t the damndest fool things I had ever come across, I don’t know what is!? Being of a slightly uncoordinated disposition, it was easy to get them tangled up with my feet and legs, random sticks or bushes! Tell me again why these pole thingys are so highly recommended??

But I persevered and practiced and trialled some more until I got the hang of them and became used to having these ungainly sticks attached to my arms. You wouldn’t think such a simple thing could feel so awkward, but that was until I became a convert.

I am now at the point where I feel naked without my walking poles when I set out on a long walk. What a complete about face!

Why the change of heart?

  1. The poles are brilliant at helping you scramble up and down steep surfaces. They provide a bit of extra grip or purchase as you try to haul yourself up an incline, or slow yourself coming down a descent.
  2. Poles are equally useful on uneven surfaces especially if there is loose rock. Yes, you need to slow down as you cross this sort of terrain, but poles prevent any sort of trips turning into full-blown falls. This is especially important for people like me with two left feet.
  3. The poles help me remain upright when I am carrying a heavy backpack. Yes, I should try to lighten my load a little, but I can’t seem to get it below 13-15kgs. The poles help me stand tall and keep my centre of balance.
The clip mechanism that locks the walking pole to your desired length

The clip mechanism that locks the pole to your desired length

Buying Walking Poles:

  • Price: Poles can vary from $80 to $+300 per pair. It is totally up to you what you want to invest in this item, but I think it is useful to spend a bit more to get the features you want.
  • Weight: When shopping for poles you will quickly find that some are much lighter than others. You don’t need to carry more weight than is necessary (just ask me!) and it is a balance between weight of the poles and their strength and durability to last the distance.
  • Fastening Mechanism: A pole is a pole is a pole, except they have different mechanism to lock the pole into its extended format. My poles have clips that lock the sections to my desired length/height. Other designs simply screw/twist the sections together. Again, it’s a personal preference.
  • Wrist Straps: I recommend that your buy poles with built-in wrist straps. It helps ensure they stay attached to your arms/hands.
  • Number: Again it is a personal preference, as not everyone buys and uses two poles. Two poles provide maximum balance and stability for me, while other people prefer to use one walking pole only. I guess it is like walking with a traditional ‘staff’.
Wrist straps on walking poles

Wrist straps help to keep these on my arms and away from my two left feet.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Rubber Tips: Make sure your poles have rubber tips or caps on the end. These are vital to avoid the constant ‘click, click, click’ noise they make as they tap on the ground as you walk. Believe me, after 1 000km that constant clicking sound can really do your head in. When they wear out, replacement tips can be purchased at most outdoor stores for $10-15.00 per pair. (You can also buy what are called ‘baskets’ which are like larger disks that attach to the base of the poles. These are handy if you are going to be walking in snow or through thick mud to prevent your pole sinking in too deep).
  • Label Them: If you plan to stay in hostels etc as you walk, make sure you label your poles or make them distinguishable in some way. Not all hostels allow you to take your poles (and boots for that matter) into your room and they must be stored in a communal bin or bucket. If there are 50 people staying in the hostel that is a lot of poles.
  • Airlines: Most airlines will not allow you to carry your walking poles onto the plane. So, unless you want to risk losing them, pack your poles in your checked luggage.
  • 90 degree angle

    Adjust your poles so that your elbow is at a 90 degree angle and the lower part of you arm is parallel to the ground. Photo: Shutterstock

    Set Up: The advice we received was that your poles should be extended to the correct height when you are gripping them so that your elbows are at a neat 90° angle.

Of course all this is a completely personal preference and there is plenty of other advice available on the internet.

Check out what Wild Earth has to say about walking poles and Caro at Lots of Fresh Air also has some handy tips and tricks.

Personally, I am a walking pole convert, and wouldn’t leave home without them.

Yes, I probably need to get out more…

What do you think? Pole or No? Any tips you would like to share?

Walking poles 4

Adjusting the poles to your preferred height/length.

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2 thoughts on “Walking Poles. Love ‘em or Hate ‘em?

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