Use hiking poles for uphills and downhills

Hiking in hilly or mountainous country offers breathtaking vistas but can also be physically demanding. Hiking poles, (also known as trekking poles) become crucial tools for reducing fatigue, enhancing stability, and minimising impact on your joints. However, many hikers don’t utilise them to their full potential, especially on challenging inclines and descents. Let’s explore some hiking pole techniques to transform you into a confident hill hiker.

Why hiking poles rule hills

  • Reduced Impact: Poles distribute weight across your upper body, alleviating stress on knees, ankles, and lower back, especially with a backpack.
  • Enhanced Propulsion: Proper technique leverages poles to propel you forward on climbs and provide stability on descents, preserving valuable energy.
  • Improved Balance & Grip: Consider poles as “extra legs” that improve balance and traction, reducing the risk of slips and falls on uneven terrain.
Mastering the uphill climb
Use hiking poles when hiking uphill

Mastering the uphill climb

  • Optimal Pole Length: Adjust poles for a comfortable 90-degree elbow bend when standing upright.
  • Push, Don’t Drag: Plant poles diagonally behind your opposite foot with each stride, using them to push yourself forward. This technique is more efficient than planting them directly in front.
  • Engage Your Core: Maintain core engagement while pushing off with poles for maximum power transfer.
Hiking poles for the downhill descent
Manage your descent and minimise knee stress

Hiking poles for the downhill descent

  • Extend for Stability: Increase pole length slightly (5-10 cm) for enhanced stability on descents.
  • Plant for Control: Plant your pole opposite your leading foot slightly ahead on the downhill slope. This helps manage your descent and minimises knee stress.
  • Double Down on Steep Sections: On steeper terrain, plant both poles simultaneously in front for extra stability, especially on large steps or uneven ground.
  • Proficiency with poles takes practice. Don’t be discouraged if it feels awkward initially. Find a flat trail to experiment and refine your technique. Soon, you’ll be navigating hills with confidence, leaving you wondering how you ever hiked without them.

Should you use one or two poles?

While this guide focuses on the benefits of two poles on hilly terrain, let’s consider the use of one. Many hikers swear by one pole, particularly for lighter packs, familiar trails, or less technical terrain. This option offers portability, simplicity, and a lower cost (as you often buy hiking poles individually, not in pairs). However, keep in mind that one pole provides less stability, impact reduction, propulsion, and descent control compared to two.

Ultimately, the best choice depends on your individual needs and preferences. If you enjoy hiking in challenging terrain, carry a heavy backpack, or have joint concerns, two poles are generally recommended. Conversely, if you prefer simplicity and familiarity, one pole might suffice. Experiment on different terrains with both options to discover what works best for you.

Remember, even seasoned hikers sometimes use just one pole strategically, leveraging it for balance or specific situations. Additionally, consider hiking staffs as an alternative offering some support without the bulk of two poles. For what’s its worth, I always use two.

No matter your choice, remember that proper technique is key to maximising the benefits of any pole use. Enjoy the learning curve, practice your stride, and hike over those with confidence.

Additional tips

Match Your Poles: Consider terrain, height, and adjustability when choosing poles.

Adapt for Fitness Level: Shorten poles for steeper climbs, lengthen for descents.

Embrace the Learning Curve: Practice makes perfect, so take time to learn the technique that works best for you.

By trying these techniques and using your hiking poles effectively, you’ll become a formidable hill hiker in no time. Check out these extra tips about how and when to use hiking poles.

47 thoughts on “Use hiking poles for uphills and downhills”

  1. Hmm this tone is a bit “thou shalt”….
    I use walking poles when the terrain demands … I actually reckon walking without poles is good for me most of the time.. my balance and core strength are improved by it

  2. Such an array of comments. They are not for everyone, but the outdoor ed teacher at Castlemaine believed that if they had’ve been around in his day, he wouldn’t have had to have knee reconstruction or hip replacements!

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