Any avid hiker is aware of and probably owns a pair of trekking poles. You may not be used to trekking poles, maybe they aren’t as necessary where you live and hike. While trekking in the Alps we highly recommend taking a pair, and here is why:
Trekking poles are extremely beneficial for stability as well as for taking pressure off of your knees, some have said that using trekking poles is like having an extra pair of “limbs” for navigating the trail. Much of the strain on your knees comes from the descent when hiking because downhill walking puts pressure equal to 7 to 8.5 times your body weight on your knees. This is due to the force being exerted on you by gravity.
Many hikers experience what is called “hikers’ knee,” which is pain under the knee cap that comes from over-exerting your knees. This happens for a number of reasons such as dehydration (the fluid from your knees is used first, to fuel your body when you’re dehydrated), large amounts of downhill, and weak quads. Although your trekking poles can’t do all of the work for you, they can reduce the impact on your knees. A study in “The Journal of Sports Sciences,” found that using hiking poles on a 25 degree downhill ramp decreased the force on knees by 12 to 25 percent. The Alps are full of diverse terrain, you may be passing over a boulder field and the next thing you know you’re next to a steep cliff, you just never know what you’ll run into.
The great thing about trekking poles is they are light and most hiking backpacks have a spot on the side specifically for storing poles if you don’t end up using them. You’ve got nothing to lose, take a pair just in case, you won’t regret it.
How to Use Trekking Poles
You’ll encounter all kinds of terrain in the Alps, so here’s how you use your poles on the ups and downs:
1. Most trekking poles are collapsible. To begin, look at the measurements on the poles and unclamp and release the bottom half of the pole. Adjust both poles to the same height, a height tall enough so that your arms make a ninety-degree angle while holding them. (remember what measurement you adjusted your poles to for quick access in the future)
2. Put your hands through the loops and grip onto the handles. Make sure they feel secure, especially when in tricky areas on your hike.
3. Keep your arms in a neutral position, bent slightly as you propel yourself forwards, gripping your poles and bringing them with you.
4. Use in this way while hiking on flat terrain or with a little more force when ascending.
1. Although you can put your hands through the loops on the descent, many recommend you don’t, but have a light grip on the top (or ball) of the trekking pole.
2. With this grip, push the poles in front of you with force to keep you from going forward too quickly.
3. If your knees start to hurt, put more force on the trekking poles as you walk slowly down your descent.
We always include trekking poles on our packing lists, so don’t come to the Alps with them!
- Alpine Trail Markers - November 26, 2020
- Why You Should Have Trekking Poles and How to Use Them - November 12, 2020
- The Alps’ Haute Route: A Brief History - September 3, 2020
2 Replies to “Why You Should Have Trekking Poles and How to Use Them”
Jamie, I was always taught that to go downhill, your pole length should be longer. This was not mentioned.
That’s a great comment. Extending the length of your pole does improve your pole utility on the downhill. There’s a couple reasons we don’t mention it–first, many hikes we do undulate frequently and changing your pole length each time isn’t worth the hassle and second, many of our guests and guides use a fixed-length pole. If you have the option and you are headed down a steep extended descent, we recommend extending your poles. 🙂