Why and How to use Trekking Poles
LIFE IS ALL ABOUT BALANCE AND SUPPORT.
We often begin our days on the trail by offering guests to borrow trekking poles. Why would you want poles, you ask? You’ve been hiking for longer than you remember, and you never needed them before. Why start now?
As an early guide in the Canadian Rockies, my mentor looked directly into my awestruck eyes and shared this pearl of wisdom, “If you want to hike for the rest of your life, then you need to take poles with you every single day.” This meant a lot coming from him. He’s an incredible mountain guide, still pushing it hard when many his age have hung up their boots and retired to lawn-bowling.
I wasn’t a hard sell. After already a decade spent hiking all over the world, I realized the importance of added stability and support. Hiking staffs or trekking poles are easily accessible pieces of equipment to help ease our joints through-out a long day.
THINK ABOUT YOUR NORMAL DAY
The majority of people typically walk on flat, engineered surfaces, like sidewalks. They’re not used to their ankle changing direction. What is your normal day? Do you walk uphill? Do you ever walk downhill? Do you walk through grass? Or over roots and rocks? Think about all this terrain with different textures to explore.
Tracy Laval, a master Osteopath, says, “Walking is often called controlled falling. Our head falls forward and our body rushes to catch up. It is basically keeping our body up against gravity and a lot of muscles are used in that.” If you are using all of these muscles while hiking for a long day out on the trail, that can be really exhausting. A hiking stick can ease our pain by 30%!
Tracy also goes onto explain that there are 26 joints in our foot. That is a lot of movement potential! Like anything, we should be training our feet, but often our busy lives or the places we live don’t allow proper preparation and a pole really helps with stabilization. Yet, many hikers wear stiff shoes to compensate for all this foot movement. In my opinion, way too stiff of a shoe, which leads to heaviness, being uncomfortable and blisters. (Yuck!)
THINGS YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS
The other major system in our body we need to think about is our spine. We have this natural built in system for shock absorption including our discs, vertebrae and spinal segments. This fantastic mechanism for shock absorption may work wonderfully, UNTIL we add a backpack to it! Extra weight means added compression. Trekking poles will help to re-distribute some of those extra pounds when our spine becomes tired.
I am not a believer in suffering, and I don’t like watching guests suffer unnecessarily. If you have bad vision or suffer from a concussion, please consider poles. You're making things hard for yourself if you don’t use them.
"Everything that you see as life, everything that you see as yourself, is beautiful only when it is in balance"
- Someone Famous
Types of Poles:
If you're new to using a pole, all the different types may seem overwhelming – so let’s narrow it down.
Materials – Metal or composite is the biggest choice here and quite a simple one. Buy one you can afford, and which is not too heavy. The less weight you're swinging around many times a day, the better. (Or if you kick it old school and cool - you can always find a sturdy tree branch.)
An adjustable pole for hiking is fantastic. It will mean you have more options as we move through different terrain.
I’m a big fan of a quick lock system as opposed to one that screws tight or loose. The quick lock system is more field manageable and seems to have less problems.
Foldable and Collapsible options are out there. Make sure you can pack it in your suitcase and bring it to the Canadian Rockies!
MORE USEFUL INFORMATION
How to Fit Your Poles
Wrap your palm around the handgrip and make sure it's comfortable. You want your arm to be at a 90 degree angle so adjust the shaft up or down as needed. As we move through the mountains, your guide may suggest shortening your poles about 10 degrees as we go uphill, or lengthening them as we go downhill.
Take a look at these suggested Pole Sizes:
How to Use Poles
Take a look at the wrist strap and then put your hand up through the bottom of the strap. The strap should support your wrist and hand so you can have a relaxed grip.
Adjust the strap so it allows you to let go of the grip when you need to take that incredible photo of the Canadian Rockies, write down that Loon sighting or eat a granola bar.
As you walk, alternate your poles and legs. Left pole with right leg. Right pole with left leg step. This rhythm should begin to feel natural.
Sometimes on uphills, we will move with a Double Plant which means planting both poles in front and then step up to them.
Two Poles or One?
Bring two poles - then experiment with your body.
Two poles will help with balance and symmetry. You've now become a four legged animal! Although, I totally understand if you like to take pictures or write down all your bird sightings, two poles may feel clumsy before you're used to them. But I promise, it won’t take too many hikes down the trail until grabbing your sticks is second nature.
Your guide will help you tailor your poles to your individual body and needs. Guides are great at helping you feel good and customizing the experience.
ASK YOUR GUIDE
When should you keep the baskets on your poles or take them off?