Use hiking poles, even on shorter hikes. None of the most experienced and hard-core hikers and backpackers I know ever hike without poles, period. Trekking poles significantly reduce the impact and cumulative fatigue on leg muscles and joints and your lower back, whether going up or down, especially when you’re carrying a load on your back. Poles also reduce your risk of tripping and falling – four legs are better than two.
By the way, many hikers I see don’t use poles properly to maximize their benefits. Here’s how:
- When going uphill or on flat terrain, adjust your poles’ length so that your elbows are bent at 90 degrees when holding the poles upright with their tips touching the ground. With each stride forward, plant the pole in the opposite hand beside or behind your trailing foot, with the pole at an angle, so that you’re pushing off slightly each time you plant a pole. Planting the pole in front of you-as many people do-doesn’t help propel you forward. Over the course of several miles, you’ll notice the difference.
- On sustained downhill stretches, lengthen the poles by five to 10 centimeters, depending on the trail’s steepness, and plant each pole out in front of you (right-hand pole when stepping left foot forward and vice versa) so that the poles take some of your body weight when stepping down. For big steps off ledges and rocks, plant both poles first and lean on them as you step down.