Are Hiking Poles Worth It? (8 Reasons Why They Are)

Are Hiking Poles Worth It

If you’re new to hiking, you’ve probably noticed other people on the trail with hiking poles, aka trekking poles. These poles are very helpful in supporting you on big slopes both on steep descents and ascents. It all depends on the use of the pole to improve performance.

Whether or not you actually buy them and use them though is a personal decision for each person.

So how do you know if you really need hiking poles? Glad you asked. It all depends on what your needs are, the trail you’re hiking and the type of pole. Let’s dig into each one.


What are Hiking Poles used for?

The function or purpose of hiking poles is to stabilize the walk by relieving the weight of the lower body joints. The poles distribute the weight of the body as well as the weight of the backpack between the legs and arms.

Are Hiking Poles Worth It?

To know why you need to use hiking poles you need to know the benefits of using them.

The advantages of hiking poles are the following:Advantages of Hiking Poles

-Hiking poles help your arms when you push yourself up and forward. A good walking stick will increase your speed, whether you are walking on steep slopes or completely flat ground.

-They minimize the impact on your legs, ankles, knees, and feet, especially when you are going downhill. In 1999 a study was carried out where it was confirmed that hiking poles managed to reduce more than 25% of the comprehension force suffered by the feet.

-They serve as a practical tool against certain obstacles that can be found on the way, such as spider webs, thorny plants, among others.

-They help to exercise the upper trunk of the body in walks, also, due to the constant movement made by the shoulders and arms, and the force that is exercised with them, a more complete physical exercise is achieved.

-They improve the distribution of the weight in the body, since they offer two extra points of support, obtaining a better balance when walking on slippery surfaces, muddy lands, puddles, loose rocks or to cross rivers.

-They can also be used as a tool to reach deep or remote points avoiding the previous risk, such as the depth of a snow layer, quicksand or the depth of a pond.

-Trekking poles work great if the need arises to improvise a quick shelter in combination with an emergency blanket. This will serve as protection against the sun or against the cold in the case of an inconvenience or accident.

-Serve as a personal protection object when protecting yourself against attacks from wild animals.

There are situations where hiking poles can actually become a disadvantage:

-If you do not know how to properly use hiking poles, they can become more of a hindrance instead of a helper. This can lead to physical wear, tripping or even accidentally hitting your hiking partner. Therefore, it is necessary to learn how to use hiking poles so that they can be useful.

-The energy we save in the legs causes a greater energy expenditure in the arms, due to the grip of the walking stick and the force exerted on them.

-The hiking poles prevent you from being able to handle certain things with your hands, such as the GPS, open a map, eat, drink water, among other things; for these actions, it is necessary to let go of the poles.

– In situations where you need to grab rocks or other hand holds, hiking poles can get in the way. The most advisable thing to do in cases like these is to fold the cranes and put them away so that they are not a hindrance.

-On the cobbled roads or heritage trails, these canes could leave tracks or irreparable damage due to their tips, therefore it is not recommended to use them.

-In accidental falls they could cause punctures and blows to our body or the body of a fellow traveler.

-Even though they are very helpful in maintaining balance, prolonged use of the poles can be harmful, because the body’s sense of balance would be diminished, although it is understood that this would occur if the poles are used every day at all times, not just for occasional outings.

How to choose a hiking pole?

Choosing the right hiking pole for your next hike.

There is a very wide variety of trekking or hiking poles that due to their different blocking mechanisms or materials could cause some insecurity or confusion in the choice when buying one. Therefore it is necessary to know the different types of poles that can be found and their characteristics.

Different types of poles:

Poles with sections:

For use in trekking, the poles need to be foldable or telescopic. It is not recommended that single-track poles such as ski poles be used because, as they are not designed for trekking, they are heavier and become a pain in the rear if they need to be stored or carried.

1. Telescopic poles:

Adjustable Telescopic pole.

These are poles in which a tube is inserted into the upper tube when it is picked up. This type of pole can be perfectly adjusted to our preference or height and can be easily graduated.

They are short poles for climbing.

They have a medium length for flat roads.

They are longer when descending.

We recommend that you adjust the length of the sections so that when you change gears, you only have to change the upper one.

2. Folding poles:

These are ultra-light poles which, instead of expanding or folding upon themselves in a telescopic manner, fold up and are dismantled into sections which are held together by different systems, the main one being an internal towline made of different materials.

These poles are lighter than telescopic poles, which add weight and material.

One of the great advantages of this type of baton, apart from the advantage of weight, is that they fold much more than telescopic batons, folding batons occupy little more than 40 centimeters, even less, which is fundamental for carrying them in special backpacks in those sections where they are not needed.

This ability to fold in multiple pieces makes folding poles optimal for going in luggage to take on a plane for hiking destination trips.

3. Hybrid folding poles:

The lightweight poles of the hybrid system are an exception to the impossibility of regulation that folding poles have since their sections are folding except for the first section, which is telescopic. In this way, the greatest lightness is combined with the possibility of height adjustment.

4. Ultra-light poles of only one section:

They are not very versatile, this is due to the difficulty they have to be carried. This is a type of cane that is mainly used in vertical kilometers, where it is known that it will be used during the whole activity; if at any moment it should not be used, there will be a problem of transportation.

Different sizes of poles:

Due to the great growth in the use of folding poles that are not adjustable, the importance of the size of the poles has increased.

How do you know which size to choose?

The size is a personal matter.

A good start would be to choose a pole length that allows you to stand with the poles vertically on the ground and have your elbow at a 90 angle, with your forearm parallel to the ground.

In the ascent it is ideal to shorten them from 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters), depending on the slope, and in the descent also to lengthen them from 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters).

If the pole does not fit, you can follow this general rule to know the size according to your height:

Height Pole Size
Less than 5’1″ (154cm) 100cm
Between 5’1″ & 5’7″ (155cm & 172cm) 110cm
Between 5’8″ & 5’11” (173 & 182cm) 120cm
Above 6’1″ (182cm) 130cm

These are reference figures that must be adapted according to use. In certain cases, you can also find intermediate sizes (115, 125), for those who are close to the ends or for those who prefer to have a cane more oriented to descent or ascent.

Hiking poles in the mud
Hiking poles can come in extra handy when bad weather causes poor trail conditions.

Elements that make up a hiking pole:

1. The handle:

They are ergonomic and different from ski poles, which do not allow the movement of the wrist and hand when walking.

The handles can be made of different materials, but the ones to avoid are the plastic handles.


This type of handle absorbs vibrations in any season and insulates against the cold in winter. However, in summer, due to heat, they can cause blisters on sensitive hands.


They are quite light. They do not change their shape due to sweat and are excellent for heat.


They absorb sweat and are soft to the touch.

2. The rosette:

Its mission is to stop the nailing on the floor of the cane. Two types of rosette can be found:

-Small diameter rosette:

These are for the summer.

-Large diameter rosette:

These are for the winter, as they prevent the stick from being stuck in the snow.

The rosettes are interchangeable, and a great variety of canes include a rosette of each type so that they can be used on every occasion.

3. Straps:

Straps are located at the top of trekking poles and will wrap around your wrist and/or hand in some fashion. There are many different types of strap fits. These straps can help you from losing your poles and can help you not have to grip your pole as tightly and still maintain control. Some hikers don’t like wearing them and if that’s not your thing, that’s okay.

4. Locking mechanism between sections:

The oldest locking mechanism is the internal one, this is tightened by turning one section against the other like a thread, the turn expands an internal “spider”, which locks the baton.

The most used system nowadays is the external locking system. This is the same operation as that of a quick release of a seat post on a bicycle or a wheel.

There is also the button system, in which a single button can unlock all the sections.

5. Tips:

This is the part of the cane that contacts the ground.

The tips, which are made of carbide, are more resistant to wear and the tip is the part of the stick that suffers the most, which is why they are normally interchangeable.

6. Shock absorbing:

The shock-absorbing system in the poles are not included in all poles and usually add a little to the final price tag. Similar to straps, there are some who love shock-absorbers and some who want no part of them. For those that may have arthritis or some other type of shoulder or wrist pain, the extra cushion from a shock-absorber can be a welcomed feeling.

On the flip side, that shock absorbing is literally softening force, which can actually make an ascent slightly harder.

So, Do you Really Need Hiking Poles and how do you know which one to choose?

Everything will depend on the budget and the priorities of each person. As a general rule, if you don’t want to use hiking poles after knowing the pros and cons, you know you don’t want to use hiking poles. If you’re not sure, you’ll probably find out that you’ll really enjoy all the benefits that hiking poles can bring.

Then it’s just a matter of what kind. We have a guide to our favorite trekking poles (coming soon!) and when in doubt, try renting a pair. You can rent a pair of poles from your local outdoor supplier for cheap. Sometimes as little as five or six bucks. Try a pair out and see for yourself.

Poles or no poles, we hope we see you out on the trail soon! Happy hiking!

Ryan H

I love hiking and being outdoors with Jen and our two rescue dogs, Chompers and Mia. I also enjoy a good weekend trail run. I'm also really enjoying sharing some of the knowledge we've learned along the way here on Zenful Hiking!

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