How to Use Hiking Poles: A Step-by-Step Guide

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A lot of the time you’ll observe other hikers making use of poles on their expeditions. If you’ve ever wondered why that is or questioned whether you too should be using hiking poles then you’ll want to keep reading and learn how to use hiking poles.

In the grand scheme of things, hiking poles are purely optional and while there are certain benefits to using them they’re not hiking necessities by any means.

Hiking poles can be a great stability booster for some, and a complete waste of backpack space for others. Which category do you think you’ll fall into?

Before you make your decision, let’s take a more detailed look at hiking poles.

Benefits of Hiking Poles

Hiking poles are used for many different reasons. In terms of their primary purpose, hiking poles are used to help you navigate terrain quickly and efficiently while providing you with extra stability and support.

Hiking poles are more than just a great workout for leg day. Using hiking poles properly will result in an increase in your pace, stimulating blood flow and heart activity. Your oxygen intake will also increase which comes with numerous health benefits.

Hiking poles also provide you with peace of mind in knowing that, should you need it, you have support. This is great for all levels of hikers, from pros to novices who’re in need of a little extra confidence and some peace of mind to assist them on their expeditions.

And finally, hiking poles work wonders when it comes to promoting good posture – a trait that’s especially important for hikers who carry heavier loads.

Have you heard enough about the benefits of using hiking poles and are ready to learn how to use them before you nab a pair for yourself? Read on for more.

How to Use Hiking Poles

pole walking for seniors

You’d be forgiven if you, like many others, thought using hiking poles was a simple case of putting pressure on them while you hike. There’s actually a lot more that goes into using hiking poles effectively.

The first step to using hiking poles is to pick poles that are ideal for your height. Adjustable poles can be adjusted to suit those who are between 5 and 6-foot tall. If you’re any taller than this, you’ll need to find specialized hiking poles.

On the other hand, if you’re shorter than 5 feet, you’ll also need specialized poles, although this can commonly be found in hiking stores that have a dedicated kids’ section.

Here’s how to use hiking poles:

1. Adjust Your Poles Length

First things first, figure out how to adjust the length of your poles. Position your elbows so they’re bent at a 90-degree angle and figure out which length setting makes for a perfect grip at this level.

If over time you start to notice that the poles need frequent lifting over grass or rocks, simply shorten the height of the poles a little bit.

2. Put Your Hand Through the Strap

If your hiking poles feature straps, use them. Insert your hand through the strap and grip the pole. You’ll notice that the strap isn’t twisted and appears over the back of your hand with your thumb firmly positioned over the strap. 

If the strap doesn’t feel secure, adjust the length of the straps. These straps are extremely helpful because if you accidentally drop your poles, they won’t fall to the ground immediately.

3. Make Sure You’ve Got a Decent Grip

The handgrips found on hiking poles are normally designed to be easily and comfortably used. Your grip on the pole should always be as relaxed as possible and provide enough slack for the hiking pole to move backward and forward in a circular motion.

The more relaxed your grip is, the less effort you’ll need to spend on driving the pole forward. To perfect your grip, practice by holding the hiking poles with only your thumb and forefinger.

4. Practice Arm Motion

As you’re walking with hiking poles, keep your elbows tucked into your sides. For every step you take with your right foot, thrust the left hiking pole forward. Like we mentioned above, the more relaxed your grip is the easier it will be to operate the hiking poles.

It’s important to always work in opposites while you’re working with hiking poles to make sure you don’t develop a swaying gait. Work with the natural sway of your arms that occurs when you’re walking. There’s no need to exaggerate any motions as hiking poles work best with your natural stance.

Don’t worry if you can’t quite get the hang of the whole opposite arm/leg movement because many people struggle with this in the beginning. A great way to practice is to walk as you normally would but drag the hiking poles behind you as you go. After doing this simple exercise for a couple of weeks most people adopt the opposite arm/leg movement as their standard way of walking.

5. Plant the Tip of the Pole

For added stability, you’ll need to ‘plant’ the tip of the pole. What this means is that the hiking pole will touch the ground before you propel it forward for the next step.

If you’re looking for an upper-body workout, feel free to exert small amounts of pressure down on the poles as you plant the tip. This technique can also help you with braking while you’re on a downhill slope or path.

6. Double Poling

Sometimes planting both hiking poles at the same time is necessary. This is usually when you’re traveling uphill or downhill or while you’re navigating a particularly tough bit of terrain.

This technique is called the ‘swing and drop’ and is done by thrusting both hiking poles forward at the same time, then taking a few steps forward before repeating this process until there’s no longer a need for it.

How to Walk Downhill

using one walking pole

Some people only use hiking poles for the purpose of walking downhill with a lower risk of falling. Shortening your stride is highly recommended so that the impact stress of a downhill walk is alleviated.

If you’re traveling downhill on terrain that’s icy, muddy or extremely steep it’s recommended that you descend sideways by jabbing the pole’s tip deep into the ground and placing your foot right above it.

How to Hike Uphill

When using hiking poles on uphill trails, you’ll need to shorten the length of the poles. Remember, in this situation, hiking poles are used to help you push off the ground, not used to pull yourself up the hill!

For extra efficiency, keep the hiking poles as close to your body as you can. Also, don’t plant the tip of your pole in front of your leading foot as you’ll exert too much energy.

How to Use Poles for Speed

If speed is your focus rather than stability, use your hiking pole the way you would use a Nordic walking pole. You can do this by relaxing your arms a little and placing more pressure on your shoulders to maneuver the poles. Plant the tip of the pole behind your body as opposed to in front of it to propel yourself a little further.

Lugging Your Belongings While Making Use of Poles

Backpacks are always the first recommendation when it comes to transporting your goods during outdoor activities. When hiking and making use of hiking poles, this becomes less of a recommendation and more of a requirement. This is mainly because your arms need to be free and, moreover, you don’t want anything hindering the mobility of your arm movements.

Should You Use One or Two Poles?

For as many people who swear by carrying two hiking poles, you’ll find as many people who swear by carrying only one. There are no real benefits over using two poles as opposed to one and the decision is mainly one of personal preferences.

In saying that, if you only make use of one hiking pole over a long distance or for a long amount of time you can create a body imbalance. However, this isn’t really a cause for concern as most people only make use of their single hiking poles as and when needed.

Hiking Poles vs. Nordic Walking Poles

how to hold trekking pole

Ah, the old hiking poles vs. Nordic poles debate. The short answer here is that neither one is better than the other as they essentially serve different purposes entirely. Hiking poles are used to provide added stability while hiking, whereas Nordic walking poles are actually used as tools to burn calories and work your upper body muscles.

While the two types of poles serve different purposes, they share a number of similarities (and as many differences!).

Let’s take a look at them.


Both poles are adjustable in terms of length. In your typical designs, you’ll normally find both are made with durable aluminum while the more expensive models feature premium materials such as carbon fiber.


Nordic walking poles feature a strap to ensure the pole stays firmly positioned in your hand. On top of this, the strap features a sort of ‘snap-back’ technology which means there’s no risk of the pole accidentally slipping out of your hand.

Hiking poles don’t often feature these straps and when they do it’s normally a strap found in between the thumb and forefinger used merely as a preventative measure to stop the poles for slipping out of your hand by means of reinforcing.


Both Nordic walking poles and hiking poles feature grips, although hiking poles’ grips are traditionally larger and support a more anatomical design. The grips found on Nordic walking poles, on the other hand, typically feature a minimal design that’s narrow.

Tips, Paws, and Baskets

Essential characteristics, another similarity found between these two types of poles is that they both normally consist of a carbide tip, rubber paw, and a basket.

Carbide tips are designed to dig into hard ice and secure your grip on softer trailers.

Rubber paws are used over the carbide tip to help grip onto asphalt-based surfaces like roads, walkways, and pavements.

Baskets are designed for usage in either snow or sand and dirt to prevent the tips from sinking into soft surfaces like those we’ve mentioned.

Final Thoughts

Before we wrap up, we’d like to share two general tips for using hiking poles that can really impact the success of your hike with hiking poles.

  • Take great care when using your hiking poles for hiking on rocky, hilly or generally unstable terrain.
  • Sometimes hiking poles can slip between the crevice of two rocks. Make sure to remove your poles immediately. If you don’t, your poles could snap or worse you could become unbalanced, fall over and injure yourself.

Always remember that because of the desire to travel as lightly as possible every hiker’s tool serves a purpose, and hiking poles aren’t an exception to this rule. Ensure that you dedicate enough time for the purpose of finding the perfect hiking pole for your unique needs.

So, what’s the verdict? After taking a more detailed look at hiking poles have you made your decision on whether you’ll be trying them out for yourself or is this one product you won’t be taking along with you on your next hike?

David Miller

My name is David and I have been an outdoor guy for as long as I can remember. I have a strong passion for the great outdoors in general and specifically camping. I am the kind of person who spends more time outdoors than indoors. I am a staunch believer in the fact that outdoor life should be well lived because it's in the natural, serene, and untamed wild that we find out who we truly are. Let’s take the journey together.

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