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How To Use Trekking Poles (and Why)

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While hiking the Appalachian Trail one of my most favorite pieces of gear were my trekking poles. Trekking poles, like ski poles, allow your arms to help propel you forward and upward. Whether walking on flat ground or up steep hills, poles can help to increase your average speed.

Trekking Pole Benefits

Which can help you cover more ground with less pain as well, Poles reduce the impact on your legs, knees, ankles, and feet. This is especially true when going downhill. A study in The Journal of Sports Medicine found that trekking poles can reduce compressive force on the knees by up to 25 percent.

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Why Poles Work

Trekking poles are more than just a workout enhancer, though. Many hikers view fitness as an enjoyable side effect of hiking, but not the primary purpose. So how do poles help those who hike for the sake of hiking? Poles provide two extra points of contact with the trail, essentially converting bipedal hikers into four-legged hiking machines. With more points of contact, hikers are less likely to slip in the first place, and slips are less likely to turn into falls.

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Protecting Joints

In addition to preventing falls, studies show that trekking poles also prevent pain and damage associated with repetitive stress injuries. Hiking all day, even without a heavy pack, places extraordinary stress on the ankles, knees and hips. Many hikers can literally feel this force below their knees on steep descents, and above their knees during steep ascents. 

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Poles recruit other muscles to this task and help transfer the weight, reducing the strain that would ordinarily be exclusively absorbed by the joints and muscles in the lower body alone. Less stress on one's body can mean enjoying more years of hiking and backpacking.

Trekking Pole Logistics

Last fall I finished the Appalachian Trail and found myself in Millinocket, Maine with a plane ticket home. Carrying on my mud and sweat encrusted trekking poles with sharp carbide tips was not an option, so I mailed them home. But for destination hikers flying to, and back from, a trail, mailing may not be feasible. It is possible to check trekking poles in baggage or a cardboard poster tube, but additional baggage fees can make this a less attractive option.

Additional Benefits

In addition to stability and fitness, poles have other benefits worth considering. For example, some trekking poles can be converted into monopods for photographers, and some backpackers use trekking poles as tent pole substitutes to pitch shelters.

Follow ambassador Aaron Ibey on Instagram at @aaronibey.

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