Training: Pole to pole
Are walking poles an essential aid or hindrance?

For some walkers, they are the essential, first packed item. Others avoid them like the plague! Here we take a look at the relative merits of using walking poles.

If we start with the science, there are some clear benefits of using walking or trekking poles, especially on longer walks or when carrying a heavier pack than normal. These include:

  • Spread the load throughout more of the body and thus reducing the pressure on knees and ankles
  • Protection of knees is particularly prevalent when walking down steep hills
  • Increase power when walking up hill
  • Aid balance on uneven terrain
  • Provide extra stability
  • Burn more calories by providing an upper body workout
  • Increase lung capacity
  • Build muscle in arms, shoulders and neck

They also have some less obvious uses; such as testing the depth of water, as an improvised tent pole or to create a washing line. Some have a camera fixing to create a mono-pod and, in dire emergencies, they could even act as a splint or as part of a home made stretcher.

For some of the above, there is an obvious flip-side. By introducing the arms and upper body into walking you are, fundamentally, using more energy. They also add weight, which again adds to the energy you will be using during your walk. Like any piece of equipment, if not used correctly they can become a hazard. And there are environmental considerations including the erosion caused by the metal ends and the click clack sound that drives some fellow walkers to distraction!

Top tips

Get the length right: As a general guide, your elbow should be at a right angle when holding the top of the pole. Naturally this changes depending on the elevation (shorter for uphill and longer for downhill) and the terrain (if the ground is soft they may sink some way into the ground) and some poles have longer handles to account for this. Fundamentally they need to feel comfortable.

Practice: Walking poles are a technical aid which, if not used correctly, can become a hazard to yourself and others. Take the time to adapt to walking with poles before embarking in anything too adventurous.

Build up slowly: When using poles you are making your arms and upper body work much harder than they might be used to. Gently increase the distance and elevation of walks to help your body adjust.

Only use them when you need to: There are times when two hands are more useful than poles! For example to look at a map, climb a stile or on loose ground where it is difficult to find secure pole placements. Make sure you store your poles safely so that they don't present a danger to yourself or anybody else.

There is no little doubt that walking poles are a bit Marmite, attracting enthusiast supporters and detractors. As with anything, the trick is to work out what works best for you.


Please seek medical advice before starting any kind of intensive training or exercise plan.

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