Trekking Poles: Technique

The use of trekking poles in the trail and ultra world is more common in Europe than the United States but it is becoming more popular.  There are some great pros to using trekking poles, especially in steep and rugged terrain and ultra distance racing.

There are ways that you can use them more efficiently but there is no definitive right or wrong.  

I’d dare say that most people use their poles inefficiently, bending their arms too much at the elbow and placing the pole tip slightly in front as it’s planted to use the it as support.  A more effective way is to plant the pole only slightly in front of you, not too far away from your body. Bend the elbows only slightly and use the shoulders to propel yourself forwards. Over extending the poles in front of you can put too much stress on the lower back.  

One way to ensure that you are planting your poles at the right angle is to make sure that you have the correct size poles for your height.  A general rule of thumb is to make sure they just about it your armpits when held up against you. Most reputable running stores have knowledgeable staff to help you choose the correct size.

Use a relaxed and loose grip on the poles and don’t grip them too tightly.  Always keep the straps around your wrist by inserting the hand down into the loop from above as opposed to bringing them up and through the loops before gripping the poles.  

Use baskets on your poles when traversing softer or unknown terrain as this will stop the poles from sinking too far into the ground and give you far greater stability and support. Rubber ferrules are useful when traversing ground that the metal tips cannot bite into – this will stop the tips from skidding across the surface.  Most poles come with both of these attachments and options.

There are a lot of good trekking poles on the market and when traveling long distance, the lighter the better.  Carbon fiber poles are the most expensive but best option if within your budget. I also like poles that are both collapsible to fit into my pack when not in use and have height adjustment options when going uphill and down.  My pole of choice is Black Diamond but I have also heard great things about Leki as well.

Coach K