Using Trekking Poles Properly

Trekking poles can make a big difference on your hike, however, to gain the most benefit from hiking poles, you need to use them properly. See our post about the pros and cons of using trekking poles for more info.

Many do not know how to use hiking poles to their best advantage. This results in missing much of the benefit of having them. There are some common mistakes in using hiking sticks such as people ineffectually waving their poles around or else gripping them tightly and stabbing the ground, which is a good way to tire your arms and waste the benefits of using poles.

How to use trekking poles properly?

Using straps

The straps should be used to support your hands and take the weight. To use the straps, adjust the size of the loop so that you can put your hand up through the strap from below, then bring it down so the strap runs between the thumb and fingers and over the back of the hand. With the poles held like this, you can flick them back and forth without having to grasp them tightly. Additionally, you can easily reach forward, say down a steep incline, or push back, for example when leaping a stream, and still remain in contact with the pole and supported by the strap.

When using hiking sticks to travel downhill the first thing to do is remove your hands from the straps and make sure you engage the shock system of the pole to lessen the impact if you fall, especially when you're carrying a hiking pack.


Size trekking poles

The hiking poles need to be the right length, i.e. you need to adjust them properly. For hiking on flat and gentle slopes, the poles should be pointing straight down with your elbow bent at a right angle. Adjust the height of the trekking pole again whenever you come to a hill. On steep ascents, a shorter pole is better because it helps to maintain proper posture. Walking uphill is more efficient when you keep your hiking poles close to your body. You want to give yourself a little push up the hill, not a pull, you may want to loosen the straps or take your hands out of them, as they can get too tight with the increased angle.

When descending, your poles should be longer than the usual length because they need to support give you while you’re climbing down a steep slope. You can lengthen the poles by 5 to 10 cm. Try to plant your poles slightly ahead of your body to give a bit of a braking action. If you leave the pole unadjusted, slopes will prevent you from using the 90-degree angle that is the ideal position.



Grasp the handle lightly. Squeezing will result in wasted energy and probably blisters. If you keep your grip relaxed, it will take minimal effort to flick the pole forward and back between your thumb and forefinger with each step. Your hold on the pole should be relaxed, with the pole able to rotate forward. That's all you'll really need. You can close the other fingers loosely. A tight grip on the pole isn't necessary and can tire your hands and wrists. When you hold the grip, your elbow should be at a 90-degree angle and your forearm should be parallel to the ground.

When you put your right foot forward, your left arm swings forward as well. This helps to maintain balance as you move. Each pole goes forward when the opposite leg does. Plant the left pole forward as you step forward with your right foot and vice versa. This pattern maximizes balance and helps you move naturally. Develop a rhythm and put some energy into each “plant”. This way, you can literally push yourself forward with the poles. With a little practice, you can find your rhythm and will experience the benefits of walking with trekking poles, particularly when walking uphill.

Hikers walking with trekking poles

A backpack keeps the load out of the way of your arm movement and does not limit your movement while you are using hiking sticks. Choose a daypack or hiking pack that has enough carrying capacity for your hike. You can read our posts about packing for a day hike and packing for a multi-day hike.

You can keep your walking sticks from sinking into the mud too deeply by making use of snow baskets or mud baskets on your trekking poles when conditions do get muddy and also to provide a little extra stability and balance for you.

If the tip is caught between two rocks and you pull forward, it could break or bend. If this occurs, let the pole go back to the same angle it got caught and pull out straight.


Hiking with trekking poles requires well-adjusted poles and proper technique. Get acquainted with how to adjust the length of your poles. Try different heights until you find a height that suits you for the majority of walking conditions you encounter. Learn how to use hiking poles the right way. Knowing not only their advantages and disadvantages but also the proper technique will allow you to take advantage of all the benefits of using trekking poles.

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