do I need trekking poles

Do I Need Trekking Poles?

Trekking poles are standard equipment for many experienced hikers - but do you really need them? The answer is maybe—there's only a couple conditions that I use hiking poles under. Here's how you should determine whether you need trekking poles or not.

A trekking pole (also known as a hiking pole) is basically a ski pole with a handle that you use when hiking. Trekking poles are almost always used in pairs. There is also something called a hiking staff (also known as a hiking stick) that is a single pole. Most hikers go with two trekking poles over a hiking staff. I think the pair just provides more benefits.

After years of using trekking poles, this is what I’ve learned about using them (and not using them).

Why Use Trekking Poles?

Do Hiking Poles Really Save Your Knees?

trekking poles save knees
Using your hiking poles like this probably doesn’t help your knees much.

Many articles quote a 1999 study that says using trekking poles takes up to 25% of the strain off of your knees. The reality for most hikers isn’t that great. In fact, there studies that show that there’s no difference whatsoever between shock absorbing poles, regular poles, and no poles.

Personally, I’ve had knee pain with and without poles. I stopped my knee pain completely by simply shifting my weight. Instead of heel striking, I now focus on stepping on my fore and mid-foot. This engages the “natural shock absorbers” of my hamstrings to buffer any shock in my step. I think hiking with trekking poles naturally allows people to shift their weight (and foot strike) forward, which is probably a factor in those reduced strain studies. So if you want to help your knees out, I recommend shifting your weight forward when hiking with trekking poles.

If you suffer from heel or knee pain, I’d recommend reading this article on plantar fasciitis.

Why Not to Use Trekking Poles

I used trekking poles religiously for years. And then I stopped for a while and it felt great to “just walk” without another piece of gear. Here’s why I stopped.

So Should I Get Hiking Poles?

Some people absolutely love hiking with trekking poles all the time. I used to be that person. But now I mix it up depending on the circumstance.

I’d recommend doing what I do. Get a pair and use them for situations where it makes sense. Otherwise keep them strapped to your daypack in case you need them. If the mood strikes you to use them, go for it. They’re so light these days, it shouldn’t add more than a pound or so to your pack.

Trekking Pole Recommendations

trekking pole
Most trekking poles that you find at REI are pretty similar. They’re lightweight, strong, and adjustable. Avoid cheap models that you find at mass-market stores like WalMart.

Trekking poles have some features you should look for. These are my recommendations:

I’m a big fan of REI reviews. I’d recommend taking a look at REI’s trekking poles with high ratings, and choosing a pair from there.

I’ve been using the Black Diamond Z-Poles. Black Diamond started from scratch to design the perfect hiking pole, and the results are pretty great. I love the fact that they pack down small and are super light. I keep them in my pack for when I need them.

z pole trekking pole
Z Poles are super light and compact down into a small package. I like to keep these on my pack in case I need them or feel like hiking with them.