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How To Use Walking Poles

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1 – How To Use Walking Poles Introduction

How To Use Walking Poles - Uphill using walking poles.

Do you know how to use walking poles? Often when people purchase walking poles or hiking poles, they choose the most stylish, or most fashionable and feature filled ones. For example, they purchase adjustable poles, with a fitted compass, and mount for a camera.

Unfortunately, many people fail to find out how to use walking poles or how to fit them properly to gain the maximum benefit, or even carry them properly. They also don’t find out how to fit the straps and adjust them to the correct length.

As a result the majority of the people get little or no benefit from them except adding a few extra pounds of weight to their backpack and thus more weight on their back.

It is highly advisable to learn how to fit and adjust your walking poles, and also learn the correct techniques to use them.

Only then will you realize that they don’t just add extra weight to your backpack but they help you in many ways.

For further information about the benefits and features of poles see our hiking poles and walking poles guide here.

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Contents On Using Walking Poles Or Hiking Poles

You can use this guide to help you understand how to use your walking poles or hiking backpacks properly:

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2 – Fitting The Wrist Strap Of Your Poles

A crucial aspect of a good walking pole is the wrist strap. First I’ll explain how not to do it, and then I’ll explain the best way to grip your walking poles:

2.1 – How NOT To Grip A Walking Pole

As a way of explaining how to grip your walking poles, explaining how and why you should NOT grip your poles is a good start:

  1. Do NOT put your hand down and through the wrist strap;
  2. Do NOT close your fist tightly around the handle with a “death grip”.

The first point to make is that the straps are not in a position to take your load when you push down onto the walking poles. This is because the straps are above and over the top of your wrists. Instead, the straps should go under your wrists and heels of your hands. Secondly, the only way to place your load on the poles is through a tight “death grip” where your load is transmitted via your fingers. This results in tired, sweaty and uncomfortable hands.

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2 – How To Grip A Walking Pole

It’s important that you let the straps take the load. This means it should be snug and allow a loose, comfortable grip with your fingers there only as a guide for the walking poles, not for taking your load. The straps should be adjusted and used as follows:

  1. Reach your hand, under, up and through the wrist strap;
  2. Next, lightly clench your fist around both sides of the strap and also the handle grip;
  3. Then ensure the outside of the strap fits firmly across the back of your hands to enable a more powerful driving action on inclines.

If your pole straps vary in thickness, the thinnest section should cross the palm of your hand. This will ensure you receive minimal chafing. If your walking poles have variable thickness straps, then one of the pair is left-handed and the other is right-handed.

After you have fitted the straps snugly you will be able to lean the whole of your weight onto the straps, without the uncomfortable “death grip”. Basically, the looser your hold is with your fingers, the more comfortable and less sweaty your hands will be. The greater emphasis you give to transmission of your weight through the straps, the greater will be the benefit the poles will give you.

Fitting Strap From Side

Fitting Strap From Front

Tighten Fitting Strap From Side

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3 – Adjusting The Length Of Your Walking Poles

Firstly, you should adjust your walking poles to suit your height. Some people suggest adjusting the length to suit level, uphill and downhill terrain. Yet other people find adjustments to be burdensome, unnecessary and recommend one length for all terrains. Experiment for yourself and see what’s comfortable:

3.1 – One Length

To obtain a good compromise pole length for both uphill and downhill, adjust your walking poles so that your forearm is level with flat ground and your elbow is at 90 degrees:

  1. Unlock the upper and lower sections of the each pole.
  2. Extend the lower section of each pole to just below the maximum limit and lock them.
  3. 1. Lock Bottom Pole

  4. Extend the upper section of each pole to just below the maximum limit.
  5. 2. Extent Upper Pole

  6. Take one of the poles and stand upright with your shoulders relaxed. Your upper arm should be vertical; your lower arm or forearm should be parallel with the ground; your elbow should be at 90 degrees; and the pole should be vertical. Reduce the length of the upper section to suit this position.
  7. 3. Elbow 90 Degrees

  8. Lock the upper section of that pole in place.
  9. 4. Lock Upper Pole

  10. Use the fully locked pole as a measure of length for your second pole.

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3.2 – Terrain Dependent Lengths

Some people advocate using different lengths for their walking poles to complement the terrain:

  • On The Level – Use the length obtained using the one length method described above.
  • Going Uphill – When going uphill, the ground will be closer to you so a shorter pole may prove to be more suitable.
  • Going Downhill – When going downhill, the ground will be further away from you so a longer pole may be more suitable.
  • Traversing – When traversing a slope, the downhill pole should be longer and the uphill pole should be shorter. Alternatively, with an extended grip, you can hold one pole lower than the other.

Note: You should never adjust the pole length beyond the manufacturer’s recommend limits.

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4 – Walking With Your Poles

The technique to use with walking poles will generally be determined by the type of gradient you are walking or hiking on. The techniques described here may not be the only techniques available and if you discover a technique that works better for you then by all means use it. Note that these techniques are all about using two walking poles but may be adapted for single pole use:

4.1 – Natural Walking With Poles Method On Level Ground & Slight Gradients

Try to allow your hiking poles to swing in a natural rhythm with your arms. In other words, if the left foot is forward so is the right pole, and at the same time the right foot is back with the left pole, and vice versa. As your arm rises forward, you pull the pole forward, with the pole slightly angled backwards.

Using Poles On Flat Ground

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4.2 – Modified Walking With Poles Method On Steep Gradients

Your pole tips and leg are moved in a synchronised motion. That is, your left pole is placed on the ground at the same time as your left foot and vice versa.

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4.3 – Walking With Poles When Traversing A Slope

Using the natural walking method, as you move forward position your pole tips opposite and more or less level with your falling foot. So, as one foot comes forward, you load your opposite pole. As you move forward and whilst your pole is in front of you, you can pull yourself forwards. When your pole moves behind you, you can push yourself forward.

Traversing A Slope Using An Extended Grip Handle

Traversing A Slope Using Different Pole Lengths

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4.4 – Walking With Poles Steeply Uphill

Use the modified walking method and position your pole tips slightly in front of you. Then pull down on your walking poles to load them and take some load off your legs and knees. This motion has the effect of pulling you uphill.

Walking Uphill Using The Natural Method

Walking Uphill Using A Modified Method

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4.5 – Walking With Poles Steeply Downhill

Use the modified walking method and position your pole tips in front of you to help control your foot placement. Also, change your hand grip so that the tops of your walking poles are in the palms of your hands. With your poles in front of you and your hands on the tops of the pole grips, you can load your poles to slow down your forward movement. If the ground is slippery, your natural tendency is to lean backward. However, you should lean slightly forward and have faith in your poles. Your walking poles will help maintain downward force on the feet to prevent them from slipping. On very steep and slippery slopes you may need to use the hand grips in the normal way. Downhill is when poles with shock absorbers add comfort and help you move downhill more quickly.

Walking Downhill Using A Modified Method

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5 – Summary On Using Poles For Walking Or Hiking

Down hill using walking poles.

Sounds logical but the benefits of using walking poles cannot be achieved unless you actually learn how to use walking poles properly.

The first step is to learn how to fit the strap properly so that you are able to use them correctly. Especially, how to grip them and how not to grip them.

Then you should learn how to adust the length of your poles to a suitable length for yourself and how to adjust the poles to different lengths according to the terrain you are crossing: either on the flat; traversing the side of a hill; uphill or downhill.

Last but not least, you need to learn hoe to actually walk with your poles, which can vary with the dirrerent types of terrain you may encounter.

We hope you found this article on using walking poles comprehensive, but more importantly, we hope you found it useful. We trust that we have helped you and you now know how to use walking poles and that this will contribute to you having comfortable, safe and enjoyable outdoor adventure.

For more information on hiking poles see our guide here.

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