The other day I was packing for a long day hike and I wondered if it was really necessary to take along two trekking poles.
My pack was heavy and frankly, I’ve recently had my doubts about two trekking poles being better than one. Aside from being one less thing to carry, are there any benefits to just using one pole?
What’s better, one trekking pole or two?
Science has proven that two poles are better than one. Improved balance, minimizing joint impact, and quicker recovery are just a couple of the benefits of using two trekking poles. Using one pole is like cutting the measurable benefits in half. Two trekking poles are the way to go.
To appreciate why using two trekking poles is better, it’s a good idea to understand why we use them in the first place.
I’ve come to find out, there are quite a few good reasons. But you have to know how to use the trekking poles appropriately to get the most benefit from them.
Why Use Trekking Poles
Science has proven that by using trekking poles, the hiker reduces overall muscle damage.
You also experience a quicker recovery time post-hike.
Knees, ankles, and hips are also protected because the proper use of trekking poles reduces the stress on these joints by up to 25%.
Other obvious benefits are increased stability and balance (four legs are better than two, right?) and increased stamina for multi-day treks.
Basically, trekking poles help your body hold up to the wear and tear of hiking.
What Makes a Good Trekking Pole?
To some people it just doesn’t make sense to invest in trekking poles when a good old hiking stick picked up on the trail can do.
And it’s true – if you have nothing, a nice hiking stick picked up in the woods will work.
The thing about hiking sticks is that they can be heavy and awkward. And if you plan on using two, then it can be really hard to find two sticks that weigh the exact same.
This can throw you off balance pretty easily.
Trekking poles, on the other hand, have been reinvented through constant innovation to give you a pole that is lightweight, packable and multiuse.
A good trekking pole should be lightweight, collapsible, easy to adjust and have wrist bands.
Depending on your hiking style (if you prefer mountainous backcountry or are hiking less intense terrain) and budget, you can find really great trekking poles to meet your needs.
Telescoping or collapsible poles made out of aluminum or super lightweight carbon fiber with foam or cork grips are all pretty standard options.
Related Post: What Are Nordic Walking Sticks?
How Tall Should my Trekking Poles Be?
For trekking poles to be effective, they need to be adjusted to the right height.
This is easy enough. Stand straight and put your arms down to your side and bend them at the elbow to a 90-degree angle.
Where your hand is, is how tall your pole should be. Adjust your pole accordingly!
It’s pretty simple!
One thing to keep in mind is that when you are going uphill or downhill you should adjust the height to allow you to use the poles correctly.
- UPHILL: Adjust your poles to be 2 – 4 inches (5 – 10 cm) shorter.
A LOT of people misuse their poles when hiking uphill, actually causing more muscle strain!
You don’t want to overstretch to plant your too-long poles.
A lot of people also tend to slouch into their poles and “pull” themselves up. Make sure to stand upright and carry your load centered and on your legs.
Don’t unconsciously transfer your weight to your arms and the trekking poles.
- DOWNHILL: Adjust your poles to be 2 – 4 inches (5 – 10 cm) longer.
Trekking poles really make their benefits known when hiking downhill!
Make sure to plant your poles not too far ahead of yourself and keep a natural stride. You will really notice your improved balance (especially on uneven ground) and your knees will thank you later!
Are there any Downfalls to Using Trekking Poles?
While sports science has ruled in favor of trekking poles, there are still those die-hard hikers who insist that they are not completely necessary and can be downright dangerous.
Some of the biggest safety issues associated with trekking pole use are:
- The possibility of injury if the pole catches or snaps, causing you to lose your balance suddenly,
- The possibility of hand and wrist injury from having your wrist tied up in the wrist strap,
- Using more energy and tiring faster on the trail,
- Causing back pain and strain from depending too much on the poles and carrying your backpack inappropriately as a result,
- Accidentally catching the poles on trees and shrubs causing the hiker to trip and fall.
These pitfalls are real and should be taken seriously when considering whether you should hike with trekking poles.
If you are new to using trekking poles, make sure to take a few hikes with wide, open, non-technical trails to give yourself time to get used to them.
It’s always a good idea to develop a safe hiking technique to minimize the chance of injury on an uneven or technical trail.
Why Use Just One Pole?
Some hikers swear that one pole is enough.
In the end, it really does boil down to personal choice and preference. Using just one trekking pole allows you to switch the pole back and forth as needed to free up the other hand for other purposes – like grabbing onto a rock wall, carrying your water bottle or taking a picture.
Lots of hikers find two poles just plain cumbersome and uncomfortable.
Using one pole also prevents the tendency to over-rely on the trekking poles during uphill climbs. This can prevent strain on the back.
One pole also means less weight, an important detail for a lot of backpackers.
So I guess it can pretty definitively be answered that two trekking poles are better than one.
It can also be argued that one pole is better than nothing.
In the end, you really need to consider what your hiking goals are so you can make a good decision.
And the most important thing to remember is to stick with what makes you comfortable.
Should I take trekking poles on a day hike?
If your hike is going to be on flat terrain with a minimum of uphill and downhill hiking, you could probably get away with not taking the trekking poles and not suffering for it.
If the hike is easy, level grounded and short you most likely won’t experience the muscle strain and joint pain that the trekking poles help save you from on longer hikes.
That being said, if your “day-hike” is a quick summit on a low peak and you are expecting to do some relatively intense elevation change, it is probably a good idea to take your poles along.
If you can prevent muscle strain and have a quicker recovery time, then why not?
What should I do if my trekking pole breaks on the trail?
So let’s say you’ve been convinced to get a set of poles and are out on the trail on rough terrain and one of your poles snaps.
That’s a bummer.
But don’t let it ruin your trek.
Make do with the one you have left, and if you feel out of balance, stash it and go without.
Chances are that one hike without your trekking poles will not do you a lot of damage.
Trekking poles do have immediate advantages, but really what you are doing is saving your knees and joints from long term wear and tear.
A pole-less hike every now and then, even over technical terrain, is most likely not going to do you any long term damage.