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  • Basecamp Outdoor Gear Team

How to use trekking poles: Do's and don'ts

Updated: Jan 3

As an outdoor gear rental business, we get a lot of questions about trekking poles. If you've never used trekking poles, renting them first to try them out is the way to go! But the truth is, if used incorrectly, hiking sticks can be cumbersome. See below for best practices and common mistakes when using trekking poles. FYI, trekking poles are also referred to interchangeably as hiking sticks, walking sticks, or hiking poles.

Backpacker with trekking poles taking in the view
Backpacker with trekking poles taking in the view

Should I use trekking poles?

This is a common question that we receive from people that plan to hike in the national parks that surround us. The quick answer is, why not? If you're worried about the amount of hiking you have planned, or if you're carrying a heavy load on your back, then yes, you should use trekking poles. When used correctly, trekking poles unload some of the weight from your knees. Moreover, they help propel you forward when walking uphill or on flat surfaces and they help you apply the brakes when walking downhill.


Trails in the Southwest where you should use trekking poles

There are three instances in the American Southwest where you should strongly consider using hiking sticks.

  • Backpacking. You should definitely use trekking poles when backpacking. By default, backpacking means that you're carrying heavy loads on your back, since your backpack is full of camping gear and provisions. It doesn't matter if you go one mile or ten miles, trekking poles will help offload some of this weight from your knees.

  • Day hikes with significant elevation change. If you're day hiking, you should strongly consider using trekking poles when your hike involves a significant elevation change within a short distance. Specific to the Southwest, examples of hikes where you should use trekking poles include Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park and Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.

  • Deep sand. Trekking poles, with basket attachment, also come in very handy in deep sand, as in Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

What is the proper way to use trekking poles?

If you try to use trekking poles without proper technique, your arms will get tired, your back will hurt, and your knees won't be saved. Of course if you've never used trekking poles before, it might be tiring at first because your body has to get used to new movement. But once you get the rhythm of things, it can be very beneficial.

The proper way to use trekking poles is to first adjust them to your height and terrain, then use proper technique when going uphill or downhill.

Watch this great video that explains everything:

Here are a few takeaways for proper trekking poles use:

Do's - Best practices for trekking poles use

  • Begin by adjusting poles to your size on flat surface.

  • Instead of adjusting the length of the pole every minute as the terrain changes, you can simply adjust the positioning of your hand on the pole as needed.

  • If using the strap, always insert your hand through the strap from the bottom.

  • Aside from a few rare instances, trekking poles should always follow the natural rhythm of your arm swings: As left foot goes forward, right arm (with trekking pole) goes forward, and vice versa.

  • For trekking poles with twist-lock mechanism for length adjustments, make sure to only twist until it's finger-tight.

  • When hiking on sandstone slabs in the American Southwest, use a rubber tip to prevent the trekking poles from sliding around. Remove the rubber tip and use the default metal tip of trekking poles on most other surfaces.

Don'ts - common mistakes when using trekking poles

  • DO NOT LEAN ON POLES with your entire body weight!!! We cannot stress this enough. Poles are meant to take off some of the weight from your knees but not all. They will fail with extended improper use. DO NOT use poles like crutches!

  • DO NOT insert your hand through the strap from the top. In case you trip and fall, improper use of the strap can cause you to break a wrist!

  • DO NOT pull poles past the line that says STOP - I can't believe I just had to write that!

  • DO NOT use force on your adjustable trekking poles. Especially for trekking poles with twist-lock mechanism, make sure to only twist until it's finger-tight. DO NOT hand tighten!

  • DO NOT use the metal tip of hiking poles on sandstone slabs in the American Southwest. Not only does it slip and slide on the rock, rendering it useless, it also leaves ugly markings on the rock.

Trekking poles accessories: Rubber tip and basket attachments

By default, trekking poles feature a metal tip. In most situations, you would use a metal tip because it slightly sinks into the earth and helps propel you forward. There are only a couple of situations where you should use rubber tips or basket attachments.


Removable rubber tips

When you buy new trekking poles, they usually come with removable rubber tips. As mentioned above, most of the time you'll be using the metal tip. However, if you're walking on pavement or hard rock, such as the sandstone slabs in the American Southwest, you should use the rubber tip to protect both the metal and the rock. The metal tip on sandstone will not only slip and cause you more trouble than it's worth, but it will also leave ugly marks on the rock. If you need an example of this, check out the markings on Delicate Arch Trail in Arches National Park.

 

Remember to remove the rubber tips when not using them on sandstone, otherwise they will rub away too quickly

 

Basket attachments

Trekking poles usually also come with removable rubber baskets. These slide over and lock about 2 inches above the tip. Mostly designed for winter use, their function is to keep the pole from sinking into snow when you're snowshoeing. However, they are very useful in the American Southwest if you're doing any type of hikes through deep sand. To experience the difference for yourself, try hiking up Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park with and without these basket attachments.

rubber tips and baskets on trekking poles
Trekking poles accessories

Note about our rental trekking poles: We do not automatically include rubber tips and baskets with our rental trekking poles because they are small and easy to lose. In any case, most people that rent from us do not tend to use trekking poles in situations where these accessories are needed. However, if you want them, be sure to let us know and we'll include them in your order free of charge - but please remember to return them.


Click here to rent a pair of trekking poles in Las Vegas from Basecamp Outdoor Gear


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