What Is A Hiking Stick Used For?
A hiking stick, which can also be known as walking poles, trekking poles or hiking poles, is used to help balance, provide support, reduce strain and create a rhythm during a hike. They can come in pairs or as a single stick, depending on how you would like to use them. They are particularly useful when going uphill, downhill, over unsteady terrain or during a long hike when your legs may begin to tire.
Find out more in our Walking & Trekking Poles Buying Guide.
What Are The Benefits of Walking Sticks for Hiking?
Not everyone feels the need to use walking sticks for hiking. While they do have a number of benefits, some people also find they have a down side, too. While some find them helpful, others see them as more of a hindrance and get on fine without them.
Here are some of the benefits of using hiking poles:
- Improved balance. When you’re walking on rocky or slippery terrain, they can help you find your balance easier. You can also use them to test the ground stability before setting foot on it or clearing cobwebs and debris out of the way.
- Reduced strain and fatigue. If you find your knees or ankles begin to ache or feel strained during a hike, walking poles could benefit you.
- Easier hill walking. Getting uphill and downhill can be made easier with a hiking stick. They can help prevent slipping and improve stability.
- Better pacing. Some people find that walking poles help them get into a better pace. Others like the fact that they have something to do with their hands and arms when walking or the increased fitness potential they offer.
- Improved posture. When used correctly, they can help you maintain an upright posture rather than over extending forwards.
However, other people sometimes mention these downsides to hiking sticks:
- More energy is needed. If you want to burn more calories, this needn’t be a downside. However, if you find walking tiring, be aware that the arm movements required will need more energy.
- Environmental damage. The spikes on the bottom of the poles can cause damage to the ground or wildlife. Some hiking poles have rubber stoppers on the end to minimise this.
- They must be used correctly. Walking poles have to be used correctly for the benefits to apply. If used wrong, they could actually increase your risk of injury or falling.
Do Walking Sticks Help When Hiking?
Walking sticks can help when hiking if they are used correctly. If not, you can find they get in your way, hang uselessly from your wrists or, at worst, cause you to fall. If you do take a stumble and have your poles attached to your wrists, it could even make your fall worse as your hands aren’t free.
However, when used properly, walking sticks can help when hiking. Your forearm should be parallel to the floor, with your elbow at a 90-degree angle. You should avoid leaning forward over your hiking stick, and maintain a natural upright posture. The straps shouldn’t be so tight as to prevent you from removing your hand easily and your grip should be light and relaxed.
Having appropriate footwear also helps when hiking, so see our hiking boots and hiking shoes if you need to upgrade yours.
What Is The Correct Length For a Walking Stick?
To find the correct height for your hiking stick or poles, bend your arm at 90-degrees in front of you, with your forearm in line with the floor. The pole should reach the palm of your hand. Most hiking sticks should be able to adjust to adapt to your height.
You should continue to adjust the length of your walking poles during your walk. Keep them at this height when on flat ground, but make them a couple of inches shorter when going up hill and extend them slightly when going downhill. You should never feel overstretched or be leaning too far forward or backwards when using your hiking poles.