The right gear - Poles


If you haven’t used trekking poles before, borrow one or two to try. Most people find they help with balance, save effort and reduce knee strain. They are especially useful going downhill and when crossing streams and bogs. Telescopic poles should be set longer for downhill, shorter for uphill. Try before you buy: a pair is more efficient, especially on rough, steep terrain, but some people prefer to keep a hand free for camera, binoculars or dog. However, poles are lightweight, and either or both can be stowed on your rucksack when not needed.

To get real benefit from poles, technique is important, and you must use two. Position the poles so that your hands are in front and the poles slope backwards at an angle, with pole tips behind your feet. As you walk, move your arms at the same rate as your feet, alternating your pole plants. Left pole plant coincides with right foot forward (as in this photograph, courtesy of, just as your arms swing naturally when walking without poles. Use your upper body strength to push hard on the pole, propelling yourself forward. It feels like having an extra gear!

If you walk in winter, note that poles are not suitable for icy or snowy slopes. If you are thinking you maybe need crampons, more likely you need an ice-axe and to practise self-arrest using it. You can gain this life-saving skill from a short course, or perhaps from an experienced friend.

You will soon discover other uses for poles: testing the water, digging mud out of boot soles, pushing brambles aside, even self-defence against hostile animals. If you are serious about photography, consider the kind which unscrews at the top to form a camera monopod.