Walking Poles: Why you should invest in some!

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Walking poles are the accessory of the seasoned hiker. At first glance, it may seem like a strange thing to do if you are a regular walker but investing in walking poles can benefit you in a number of ways, especially if you are out in the hills on a regular basis.

We touched on a technique called Nordic Walking in this recent blog post and the Scandinavian style is a great way to make walking a full body workout. Buying walking poles is the first step on your journey towards becoming a seasoned Nordic Walker. In this article, we will uncover the main benefits of using walking poles and why you should invest in some.

The Three Main Benefits

Balance

The first, most obvious, and possibly the most important reason why you might want to invest in walking poles is to aid balance. This is especially important when you are walking on uneven ground, especially at height. High peaks such as Scafell Pike are rocky and a challenge to your balance. Having walking poles is one way to combat that challenge and make sure you feel steady on your feet.

Having good balance can also become more of a challenge if you are carrying a heavy rucksack over rough terrain. In turn, this can reduce fatigue and the strain placed on your body as you head out on your walk.

Covering New Ground

If you are unsure of your footing, you can also use your walking pole to ensure that your next steps are on firm ground that won’t give way when you step forward. This is especially useful when you are out walking in poor weather or covering new ground.

If the ground underfoot is slippy or obscured by ice or fallen snow, you can use your walking poles to break the ice or seek out any dangers that might be lurking beyond your sight.

Clearing the Way

The last obvious benefit of using walking poles is that you can clear any litter or debris from your route. Done well, this can make finding your footing that bit easier. When the going is tough, being able to clear an even path can be invaluable.  You can also hold back any thorny branches or any other unwanted objects that obscure your path which may be otherwise difficult to handle.

Walking Poles

Considerations

Affordability

We know what you are thinking. This is all great, but money is tight. The good news is that walking poles come in all shapes and sizes and at a wide range of prices. Go Outdoors and Millets currently have walking poles for sale from £10-£165. Of course, the cheaper walking poles may not come with the added luxuries of their more expensive equivalents such as the ability to fold away or the added straps, but they do a job and are a good starting point if you are on a budget.

Practicalities

Yes, walking poles are great and you should invest in them but that doesn’t make them a great addition to every walk.

Walking poles can get in the way if you find that the route you have chosen isn’t actually that difficult meaning that your walking poles aren’t required. In this respect, you should consider where you can put your walking poles if you find that they are surplus to requirements. Some walking poles do fold away, and this is something that you could consider at the buying stage to prevent against the uncomfortable reality of having to carry poles around awkwardly when you don’t need them but still have a long way to go.

Poles that fold away are great. Poles that don’t extend securely, not so much. It is essential to take a look at the way your poles lock into place and consider the durability of the locking mechanism. This might seem trivial, but the last thing you need when out on a hike is a pole that won’t fix into place, rendering it insecure and useless.

No two people are the same, for this reason we also recommend making sure that your poles can adjust to your preferred height so that they are comfortable to use. Another small, but significant, way to make sure that your poles are comfortable is to use ones with a strap that you can wrap around your hand, making the poles more secure and comfortable as you use them for propulsion. They are also great if you need to give your hands a break and want to hang your poles from your wrists for a minute or two.

Knowing your body

Understanding how your body will react to having walking poles is something else which you should consider. Whilst walking poles do take some of the strain away from your knees, using them gives you a full body workout. If you have a pre-existing injury, then we’d recommend checking with a physician as to whether using walking poles would be to your benefit or disadvantage when it comes to any injuries you may have.

The Drawbacks

Using walking poles is not quite as easy as it might seem. There is a technique to it and failing to use the right technique can result in walking poles becoming a hazard rather than a help. If you don’t find the right rhythm with your walking poles, you can inadvertently find yourself off-balance rather than feeling more secure. We would therefore recommend going on short walks to get used to the way walking poles feel and how you can best use them to propel yourself along, or balance on tricky downhills.

As we’ve noted in the practicalities of using walking poles, they can become a hindrance if they do not easily fold away, or if you don’t have anywhere to put them. This can mean that you aren’t as able to check your route, take on fuel or reach round into your backpack. The opposite is also true. You could end up dropping them in a tight spot but the risk of that should be fairly remote as long as you are careful.

Hikers should also be focused on the path ahead, not the pole. Walking poles can easily become a trip hazard and an unnecessary distraction. It is vitally important to make sure that you are using walking poles with good technique and placement. If your poles are getting in your way, it might be better to leave them behind or give your technique some thought. The last thing that you want is for your walking aid to become the reason why you need first aid.

Whilst many walking poles are now affordable, if you only plan on going out on a difficult hiking route once or twice a year, the extra expenditure may not be worth the benefit that they provide. The walking community is full of generous, kind souls, many of whom would be willing to lend you their poles to try for a day, especially if it’s your first time.

Walking poles can be a great addition to your inventory and, used well, they are a valuable asset. Yet, they aren’t a cure all and we’d strongly advise you to give consideration to the types of routes you take and how often you’d benefit from using them.

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