Why I Changed My Mind About Hiking Poles

Has the time come to accept my fate? Is 30 the turning point where your knees give up? Or are we looking at hiking poles the completely wrong way??

Why is it that in Australia, we view hiking poles as a weakness? Something only the elderly need. However, in Europe and even North America, hiking poles are a staple item…

Maybe we are the ones that have this notion wrong. Maybe we are the fools.

While I write this, Dylan is sitting next to me making all the old jokes his simple mind can muster. 

But I rented a pair of trekking poles for our last hiking adventure up Hannels Spur, the highest ascent hike in Australia, and by god did they make a difference! I couldn’t believe how much. My stamina was doubled and my knees were as happy as if I were 10 years old again… Ok, maybe 29.

It was with such luck that Outfitted Store reached out to us right after this and asked us to test their new hiking poles. I jumped on the opportunity and will never look back. For those gruelling and steep mountains, my hiking poles will be with me every step of the way. 

But the question is, are hiking poles right for you??

Let’s find out together, shall we?

Here are all the positives and negatives related to hiking poles as well as a few extra helpful tips thrown in for good measure.

Walking through the dense tree ferns of Weldborough Pass in north east Tasmania with my hiking poles

The Pro’s Of Hiking Poles

The list of pro’s for hiking poles is kind of subjective. Each body is different and we are all tackling our own unique adventures.

However, these are the reasons why I chose to stick with trekking poles after my first experience.

Your Knees Will Love You – Ok, let’s start with the obvious one. Our knees take on the majority of impact when we hike. Downhill is even worse than uphill, which is super unfair as it’s meant to be the fun part! 

Using hiking poles encourages a whole body workout and forces your arms to take on some of the weight and impact. 

You Can Avoid Those Pesky Spiders – I always avoid walking first when we set off on a morning hike, leaving Dylan to cop all the spider webs in his face. Yes, I know this is mean, but who cares, better him than me! 

Having a handy hiking pole to swipe away at the sticky mess of webs is a huge positive for me, and so much easier than having to find the perfect web catching stick during the hike. 

Hiking Poles Improve Balance – For those accident-prone kids like me – who seem to trip over anything and everything – hiking poles are a godsend. Having an extra point of contact to the ground makes you as sturdy as a rock and assists with navigating uneven terrain. 

They can even be used to check the wobble status on a rock you’re about to stand on.

using hiking poles to cross a heavy flowing river while hiking in Australia

Crossing Rivers Becomes A Whole Lot Easier – I hate crossing rivers with my pack, the high centre of gravity leaves you in an extremely vulnerable position as the gushing water smashes your thighs. And the thought of having a wet nights sleep is less than ideal.

But using hiking poles to help cross gives you so much extra balance, as you have the ability to lean on all four limbs. It’s almost necessary to carry them just for this reason!

As you can tell from the photo above, I would have been fish food if it wasn’t for the poles… and the extra help! Ok, crossing rivers may not be my forte…

Hiking Poles Encourage You To Walk At A Steady Pace – Having to concentrate on moving your arms and legs in unison helps to keep you aware of how fast you’re walking. I find using walking poles increases my speed but also ensures I stay at a steady pace the entire time. 

They Provide A Whole Body Workout – I find your arms sometimes lose out on the experience when hiking, rather than feeling used they just feel sore. Hiking with poles actually made my shoulders hurt less as they were constantly moving and building muscle.

Also, giving my arms something to do caused my snacking to almost halve. I guess the pro to this is I now don’t need to bring as many snacks…

Walking on the edge of Mt Murchison using hiking poles for stability

The Con’s Of Hiking Poles

You Can’t Snack As Easily – Picking up where we left off, here is the con that coincides with the above pro… It’s not as easy to snack while walking because your hands are already full! 

This was quite an upsetting discovery for me, who loves snacking almost as much as the view. 

Hiking Poles Produce Extra Weight – You don’t need to use trekking poles for every step of your hike, and some sections are too difficult to manoeuvre with them. So they do produce more weight for you to carry when you’re not using them…

This could be a deciding factor for some ultra-light hikers.

They’re Expensive – There’s no avoiding it, if you want good hiking poles that are going to live longer than one hike, you’re going to have to fork out a chunk of money. The cheapest good quality walking poles come in just under $100 but you could spend upward of $200 for lightweight carbon poles. 

Hiking Poles Can Get In The Way – Sometimes when you’re climbing over rocks and trees the poles become more of a hindrance than a help. Snagging on any and everything within the vicinity can pull you off the trail and, in the worst-case scenario, catapult you onto your face.

Even storing them in your pack can lead to becoming stuck in low lying tree branches.

Not ideal on those skinny overgrown tracks!

Forcing through the thick trail of Hannels Spur with hiking poles in the Kosciuszko National Park

Do I Need Hiking Poles?

Not all circumstances call for the use of hiking poles. If you’re young and choosing trails with small inclines, they’re not quite necessary. 

However, if you have bad knees – which is so common due to many team sports – they are so important to increase your hiking longevity.

I have certainly waited too long to start hiking with poles and as a result, my knees start to hurt on even the smallest of descents. This could have been avoided if I took better care of myself at an earlier age. 

If you crave the huge ascents and the long multi-day hikes, I would suggest giving hiking poles a crack. They may just open your eyes to a new love for adventure.

See if a friend can lend you some and find out if they make a difference for yourself before investing in your own.

Hiking up Mt Murchison past one of many rock cairns showing why hiking poles are great for balance

How Do Hiking Poles Help?

We’ve gone through the long winded version, so let’s simplify it.

How do Hiking Poles actually help?

Hiking Poles provide an extra two points of contact to the ground. This enables you to gain extra stability and diverts the pressure off your hip, knee and ankle joints that would otherwise be trying to hold you steady. 

They can also distribute your weight more evenly as you climb steep trails, forcing your arms to join in on the action and increasing your stamina.

Trudging through the thick blanket leaves lying across the Hannels Spur Hiking Track with trekking poles

How To Use Hiking Poles Correctly

It can take a little while to get used to hiking with poles. It certainly took me a few goes to get into the rhythm of left pole – right foot, right pole – left foot. I might be spilling too much on how clumsy and bad at my left and rights I am, but I’ve said it now… It can feel weird! 

In any case, you want to use the opposite pole with the opposite foot. This provides you with the highest amount of balance and efficiency. 

The poles should be set so that your elbow is at a 90-degree angle on all terrain. This means changing the height depending on whether you’re going up, down or walking on flat ground. 

While walking uphill, a shorter trekking pole is needed to keep those elbows at a 90-degree angle on the sloping ground. And as you could probably guess, when going down a steep hill the poles need to be longer to avoid feeling the urge to bend forward.

So utilising adjustable hiking poles is almost essential for success.

Walking through the thick green forest while climbing up Hannels Spur on our hike to Mt Kosciuszko

When To Use Hiking Poles

It really is up to you when you choose to use hiking poles. They can be great in many circumstances. But the most common instances are steep ascents and descents or uneven terrain.

I like to use them when I’m starting to feel fatigued also, the extra support sure does help the aching back!

What Size Hiking Pole Do I Need?

Most hiking poles are adjustable, meaning they’re pretty much a one size fits all. For the smaller folk, pretty much any hiking pole will be able to adjust down far enough. It is a little trickier for the tall kids however, you need to make sure the pole will adjust high enough for your height. 

I’ve added a little sizing chart below for those that are a little unsure.

hiking pole height chart

What Are The Best Hiking Poles?

Again, this question is highly subjective. I could compile a list of the best brands and tell you which ones to buy. But the reality is there are positives and negatives to every pole.

Choosing what you believe is important for your own style is the main thing you need to think about.

So instead, here is a list of features that seperate the hiking poles and you can choose which works for you! 

Carbon Fibre, Composite or Alloy – It’s no surprise that carbon fibre has taken the world by storm. A material that stands up to the strength of alloy with half the weight? Yes, please! But of course, that comes with a price…

If your main concern is weight, carbon fibre is your go to.

If you just want a good sturdy set of poles, alloy is your best choice.

And if you just want a set of poles that will help keep you steady without planning any crazy hikes, the cheapest option of composite will be sufficient enough.

Adjustable or Fixed – Personally, I would always go adjustable as the terrain is never the same and long poles while ascending frustrate the hell out of me!

But if you’re planning massive expeditions where you need compact and strong, fixed may be your best option.

Using hiking poles to show the direction of the trail on Mt Murchison

Twist Lock of Flick Lock – I have tried both of these options and my personal preference is the flick-lock. The reason being, the twist-lock seemed to jiggle itself loose easier than the flick-lock. And if it wasn’t jiggling itself loose, it was screwing itself ridiculously tight!

You could dive deep into the politics of every type of locking system but in the end, as long as the hiking poles feel sturdy and easy to use you’ve nailed it!

I know I haven’t given you a definitive answer here, but how can I? Hiking poles are the bee’s knee’s for some (yes, pun intended) and others can’t stand them. But I hope I have at least given you some insight into why you could learn to love them…

And as always, if you have any questions about hiking poles or just anything hiking don’t hesitate to get in contact! 

Happy Hiking 🙂

A stunning view of Mt Exmouth surrounded by cloud in the distance in the Warrumbungles National Park