Trekking poles: how to best use them?

I still remember when I bought my first trekking poles: in the mountains, at least in my area, there were very few people to use them, mostly they were Germans or Austrians. Italian white flies. Instead, there were many people who always asked me the same question: but where are the skis?

Someone intrigued, holding the classic wooden stick in his hand, looked at me warily, others giggled under his mustache, others still seemed visibly amazed. In short, all this to say that it was almost embarrassing to go around the mountains holding those things!

Yet since the first time I got to try them I immediately had the feeling that walking in the mountains with the support of trekking poles was quite another thing, that doing it without. At the beginning, perhaps to justify their use in my eyes and above all to those of others, I took them with me only when I had a heavy backpack on my shoulders, then after a few months I found more and more taste, and soon these tools are become an irreplaceable companion for my every excursion, regardless of what I carry inside my backpack.

Telescopic trekking poles are made of very light materials, usually aluminum or carbon, the latter lighter and more expensive than the former but more subject to breakage in the event of a collision. They are adjustable in height according to their height and according to the type of terrain to be tackled (ascent or descent). They can be used in the mountains on any terrain, outside the strictly mountaineering terrain, both uphill and downhill and, if necessary, easily and quickly stored in the backpack. The most innovative models are even foldable, with an elastic core. Fold them in three and you can put them in your backpack, without popping out!

For the few who are still skeptical about their use I specifically wanted to analyze the pros and cons.

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Trekking poles: all you need to know

The advantages of using them along mountain paths are summarized as:

Better walking balance. It is beyond dispute that four points of support are better than two. Using the poles you have a better balance during the walk and much more stability during the descent especially in the case of a heavy backpack. The incidence of accidental falls, sprained ankles is much lower if sticks are used correctly.
Discharge of part of the weight on the arms. Part of your weight and that of your backpack (indicatively up to a maximum of 30%) is discharged onto your arms thus relieving the joints of the knees and ankles. This is not a factor to be underestimated especially during the long descents when fatigue is felt and it is easier to get hurt.
Improves breathing. Their use during walking favors the opening of the rib cage allowing you to breathe deeply. All this leads to better blood oxygenation and consequently less fatigue and more efficiency.
Your arms will strengthen. In addition to the legs also the arms and in particular the triceps have an active role during the walk. This occurs mainly uphill during the pushing phase.
More fluid walk. If used correctly, alternately moving arms and legs at the same time, you get a more fluid and flowing walk that also positively influences the pleasantness of the excursion.
The disadvantages, on the other hand, are easily limited by paying attention in some circumstances, and using them correctly.

They are a hindrance in all situations where we have to have our hands free. On particularly rough terrain or in the case of short passages on rocks, perhaps slightly exposed, the poles can get in the way if not even dangerous. If the passage is very short and not particularly insidious for our abilities, we can hold the poles on the wrist without holding them by passing the hand through the strap so as not to lose them, dragging them behind. In this way we will have our hands free. In this case, be careful to move slowly and precisely, given the real possibility of tripping on the sticks themselves. If instead the stretch where we need to have hands free should be particularly difficult or long the best thing is to close the sticks and put them back in the backpack, always vertically and never horizontally.

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Less control in the event of a fall or slip. If it is true that the correct use of trekking poles also greatly limits the possibility of slipping or falling, it is equally true that in the case of unbalancing they can be dangerous: having the hands occupied by the sticks will be less the possibility of cushioning the fall using hands .

Precisely for this reason, I highly recommend using them normally without passing your hand through the strap, especially when going downhill. This way you will have the chance, by opening your hand, to let them go faster. If we are with other people it is always better to keep a safe distance. Especially uphill, when pushing, the stick could also accidentally injure those who follow us.
I would like to underline a point, which I do not know if it has general value but which I have certainly experienced personally. In the long run, getting used to the use of sticks is unaccustomed to the “natural” balance; or rather, get used to a new balance that is the use of four supporting limbs. It could therefore also happen that if sticks are often used when they will be dispensed with, there will be less sense of balance. Alternating between walking and walking without sticks even taking into account the weight of the backpack and the type of terrain is perhaps the best solution.

Adjustment of trekking poles

To get the most out of their use, you need to know how to adjust their length based on your height, and based on the type of terrain (flat, up or down) you will encounter.

In general it must be said that on flat ground the height of the sticks should be adjusted so that by gripping the stick in a perfectly upright position, the angle between your arm and your forearm is 90 °. This is the starting position and the most used one.

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trekking poles

Then, if the route has particularly long climbs or descents, you will have to lower or raise the height of the pole respectively according to the slope of the slope. Along the traverses on steeply sloping meadows the best thing is to lower the length of the pole upstream so as to take full advantage of its support.

How to use trekking poles

trekking poles First of all, it must be said that they should always be used in pairs. You walk moving alternately legs and arms: right leg and left stick, left leg and right stick. On flat terrain or uphill, the sticks should be kept slightly inclined forward in order to maximize their thrust. In descent instead in order to best unload part of one’s own weight on the arms and to fully enjoy their support the points must always be kept in front of the body at every step. Like all things, it also takes practice and training to use the sticks well. With time and experience, the gestures will become more and more automatic and fluid because all in all walking with sticks is quite natural for everyone.

Maintenance of trekking poles

The telescopic poles must be dried and cleaned at the end of each excursion. Perfectly remove all traces of dust or mud, paying particular attention to the joints, which have always been the weak point of these tools.

And you use the trekking poles during your excursions?

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