Walking / Trekking Poles
The bits you hold, most of the time. These
come in a variety of materials but usually they will be made from either
plastic, rubber or cork or a combination of these. Plastic is cheap
but not very comfortable, rubber is more comfortable, while a cork handle
is without doubt the most comfortable. There are a variety of grades
of all these materials, so try them out yourself.
The most comfortable handles for mountain activities are near vertical
extensions of the pole, shaped to fit the hand when walking, and possibly
slightly curved like a banana. Poles with horizontal hand grips do not
permit a wrist strap and are not so easy to use on rough terrain, so
they are not ideal for mountain activities. These types of handles are
fine for conventional walking sticks that are only intended to be used
on the flat.
The wrist strap allows you to put more
weight and more force onto the pole without losing a grip. Needs to
be easily adjusted to suit the size of your hands, with or without gloves.
The shafts of trekking poles are usually
(if not always) hollow and they are made from extruded aluminium alloy.
Cheaper poles may have thinner walls which will flex more easily, and
possibly snap or bend. Poles with thicker walled tubing are heavier,
more expensive and less flexible. There's a happy medium between these
Even though there are no set rules for
the ideal pole length, if you are tall then you'll need a longer pole,
but if you want to stow the pole on your rucksack, you'll want one that's
as short as possible.
When trekking over rough terrain, between
boulders, it is not always possible to plant the tip on the ground and
maintain a grip on the handle unless you have really long arms! It is
therefore necessary to
hold the shaft of the trekking pole instead of the handle. To make this
firmer, warmer and generally more comfortable, manufacturers are now
starting to apply rubber grips to the shafts.
Think how easily a stiletto heel sinks
into the ground (or your back), compared with a walking boot. The basket
on a trekking pole increases the size of its footprint, to help prevent
the pole sinking into soft mud, snow or earth.
Most poles come with standard mud baskets, which are of medium size.
In winter a larger basket is better for soft snow. But if you use one
of these in summer, it'll no doubt jam in every crack and snag on undergrowth.
The ultimate is an interchangeable set of baskets for different terrains.
Occasionally, a removable basket will remove itself when you are
trekking, so either carry spares or make sure spares are readily available.
The pointed end which provides the grip
on the ground. Most are made from hard wearing tungsten carbide for
durability, and these can sometimes be replaced once they have worn
down. Lesser poles have plain steel tips that cannot be replaced as
When walking on rocky terrain, a considerable
amount of jarring can occur to the pole and arm each time the pole strikes
the ground. This is uncomfortable over long periods, so some poles are
anti-shock devices. These usually take the form of a spring inside the
pole. Different poles have different degrees of shock absorption, and
the positive effects of these are not always obvious.
The best poles are telescopic, so that
they can be shortened when not in use, and stowed on your rucksack with
ease. All of the poles included in the TrailWalk tests use an internal
expansion bolt design to lock the poles into position. To operate the
device, you twist the shaft. As you will be doing this often, hard wearing
components are essential, so look out for durable well made designs.
Two are better than one
When traversing rough terrain with a heavy
load, two trekking poles are definitely better than one, as you are
able to maintain three points of contact even when you are moving. Two
poles also allow you to create an even rhythm, maintain better balance
and apply greater forward momentum.
By contrast, using only one pole means that you can only have two points
of contact while walking. Also your body movement is not even, as there's
only a pole on one side which puts your whole body out of balance. With
one pole you can't exert as much force and forward momentum as you can
With no poles ... well you can't reap any of the benefits that a pole
can offer! But there are times when poles are either not required or
would be more of a hindrance than an advantage, such as when scrambling