If you’ve ever hiked long distances or carried a heavy pack in the backcountry, then you might know about the tremendous benefits of hiking sticks or trekking poles.
Our gear list includes trekking poles as a required item for all but experienced hikers.
We recommend that everyone, whether experienced or not, use trekking poles while climbing Kilimanjaro. Over the course of a long expedition, those who use trekking poles gain a big advantages over those who do not.
The pros of using trekking poles are:
- Trekking poles save energy.
- Trekking poles provide balance and stability.
- Trekking poles reduce the impact on your joints and feet.
Trekking Poles Save Energy
The biggest benefit of using trekking poles is that they save energy. How? They transfer some of the load off of your legs and into your arms. Just by making contact with the ground with the tips of the poles, and even more so by pushing down on them, you lessen the weight on your feet. Furthermore, you could propel yourself forward using your arm strength. In short, using poles involves your upper body more so that it shares some of the workload. This in turn reduces the output required of your lower body, thus increasing endurance.
Though poles help on even ground, their usefulness is most apparent when going uphill and downhill. You will be glad you have them!
Trekking Poles Provide Balance and Stability
Trekking poles provide two extra points of contact with the trail. This helps you keep your balance while walking. Though the routes on Kilimanjaro are exceptionally well kept, there are parts where there is mud, rocks and scree (loose gravel) to navigate. Trekking poles provide added stability on uneven and slippery surfaces.
Trekking Poles Save Your Joints
Hiking all day places extraordinary stress on the ankles, knees, and hips. As mentioned above, trekking poles take some of the weight from your legs to your arms and shoulders. Some say that using poles reduces the impact on your knees by 25%. Also, studies have shown that using trekking poles can reduce the weight on your knees by 11 pounds while walking on level surfaces and as much as 17 pounds on inclines. This is a significant amount of weight transfer especially when you consider the several hours of hiking each day and the climb as a whole.
When going downhill, the poles to soften the impact of each step, thereby reducing the strain that would ordinarily be absorbed by the joints and leg muscles. Most people who get injured on a hike fall during the downhill sections, when their bodies are already tired from making the summit. Trekking poles provide some measure of safety by reducing the wear and tear on your body while also providing a way to catch your fall should you stumble.
How Do You Use Trekking Poles?
Now that you know why you should use them. Now you should know how to use them. Watch the video below to see the correct way to use trekking poles. It will cover not only how to use them, but how to set them up correctly, and how to properly hold them.
Trekking Pole Length
Generally, the height of the trekking poles should be set to match the height of your elbow. So when you are holding the handle of the pole and standing on even ground, your arm should be bent at a 90 degree angle.
If you’re ascending a steep slope, shorten the length of your poles by a few inches. This is so you don’t drag the pole on the ground when moving it forward. A shorter pole will make it anatomically easier to gain more leverage throughout your arms. Conversely, when traveling downhill, lengthen your poles a few inches so that you can touch the tip to the ground without reaching down or bending at the waist and knees to do so.
If you encounter parts of the trail, such as the Barranco Wall, where you may need to use your hands to hold on to boulders to ascend, it is best to put your poles away.
How to Use the Wrist Strap
Most people do not properly use the wrist strap on a trekking pole. The strap is not designed only so that it dangles on your wrist when you let go of the handle. It is made to decrease the fatigue on your hand and forearm.
Take a look at the diagram below and practice a few times. The most crucial step is the first one, where you slide your hand in the loop from the bottom of the strap. Then, grab the handle and the top of the strap. Adjust the strap so it fits snugly around the wrist, but isn’t too tight to remove quickly. You should able to put weight on to the trekking pole from this position while using minimal grip strength as the weight is borne by the strap and wrist, not by your hand.
How to Select Trekking Poles
Modern day trekking poles are made of aluminum or composite. Aluminum is strong, durable, and lightweight. Composite versions, which consist primarily of carbon fiber, are lighter than aluminum but more expensive. We believe that aluminum poles work well on Kilimanjaro and for most hiking circumstances.
You definitely want an adjustable, collapsible pole versus a fixed length pole. There are two common types of locking mechanisms: twist lock and lever lock. Twist locks used to be very common but nowadays lever lock systems are the primary feature. Lever locks use external clips on the outside of the poles that fold in to secure the pole segments.
We recommend that our clients rent trekking poles for their climb versus trying to pack and carry theirs on the airplane. Our rental trekking poles are lightweight aluminum telescopic poles of various brands. You can pick them up at the trip briefing.