Tips in choosing a Hiking pole
I am often asked by our guests whether it’s a good idea to use trekking poles, and whether they should be purchased before hitting the trail.
As a general rule I always recommend using poles for any trek with steep slopes, rough terrain, and/or high altitude. Trekking poles are always helpful for stability on difficult terrain, especially crossing streams, wet rocks, landslides, or steep decents. Most trekkers use poles primarily for this purpose, and a single pole will usually do fine if that’s all it’s used for.
Trekking on steep terrain during course of trek you’ll find that poles can be extremely helpful not only for stability but even more so for the extra lift power they can provide. Unfortunately many trekkers are unfamiliar with how to use poles properly and don’t take full advantage of this extra power that is available. To use trekking poles properly it’s best to use them in much the same way that nordic (cross-country) skiers use their poles. The poles should be thrust and planted as far forward as possible with each step. When stepping with the left foot the right pole should be planted the equivalent of at least two steps in front, while the opposite (left) pole is used to lift. As you step up toward the tip of the right pole and bring your weight directly over the pole (as it become vertical) push down from the shoulder with as much pressure as possible to assist your leg(s) with the lift up. As you finish this stride your other pole should already be finding it’s point two steps ahead where it can be planted and ready. You can almost never plant your poles too far ahead – just think of throwing them forward to be planted in the ground like a spear at a target and then walking up to that spot. If you apply the maximum possible pressure on your pole with each step your shoulders and arms should feel almost as tired as your legs at the end of the day. You can also decide whether to use this extra power to reduce the wear on your legs going at the same pace, or to increase your overall trekking pace.
If you want to have the maximum possible benefit I recommend using two poles, or at least having two available for whenever you might need them. This can increase your climbing power by 25 – 30%. You can use a single pole for less steep terrain, or when crossing streams or other tricky ground. A single pole is also a good choice if you have a small camera that you want to access frequently and don’t want to have to fumble with finding a place for both poles while taking photos. It can also leave a hand free to grab your water bottle.
If you can afford a high quality set of poles they are usually worth the extra cost. Good poles will weigh less, have more efficient, reliable extension mechanisms, and not be liable to break (especially the extensions) during a trek. However, you can get a decent set of trekking poles in India for under 1500 INR that will almost certainly work well for at least one trek and probably several more.
I also have found trekking poles useful for a variety of other tasks, from picking up trash along the trail using as a hanger, as a fire poker (carefully), or even as a potential weapon. Whatever extra uses you might find for this essential trekking tool, the most greatest benefit will be making you feel more powerful and/or rested each day of your trek.