Several terms describe products that serve—essentially—the same function: walking stick, hiking stick, walking staff, hiking pole, trekking pole, Nordic pole. Having a third, or even fourth “leg” to lean on can increase a hiker’s confidence on the trail tremendously. Added balance can be crucial when hiking over uneven terrain, on winding, narrow trails, and when crossing streams and rivers.

Hiking Poles Help:

    • Ease the knees on steep descents
    • Act as a “third leg” for balance while traversing uneven terrain
    • Cross fast-flowing streams
    • Scare away menacing dogs
    • Support an impromptu rain shelter
    • Clear spider webs overhanging trails
    • Probe areas where snakes are suspected

Hiking poles also redistribute weight from the lower body to the arms and shoulders, easing the strain on knees, hips, ankles and lower back. They are a blessing for those prone to aching joints. Hiking poless can help to improve posture, too, which makes breathing much less labored, especially when climbing steep terrain. And better breathing can help a hiker’s endurance considerably.

There are (like so many hiking gadgets!) a wide variety of poles, staffs, and sticks on the market. Some people simply prefer the rustic charm of a hand carved wooden walking stick to a straight-as-an arrow mass produced metal one.

Most important, is the walking stick’s size. All the benefits of using a great stick are lost when hiking with one that is either too long, or too short. The perfect walking stick should be about 6 inches higher than the elbow. Any shorter, and the hiker tends to hunch over; any taller, and the hiker will find it awkward to climb even small hills.

Trekking Poles
Most hikers use aluminum or titanium trekking poles for support on the trail, and understandably so. Trekking poles are lightweight (compared with their wooden counterparts), sturdy, and best of all—adjustable.

Most trekking poles are made from aluminum or a titanium alloy, so they are extremely lightweight. Many of the newer poles weigh as little as 9 or 10 ounces apiece, and are usually sold in pairs.

One of the neatest things about poles is that they’re collapsible (an important consideration for a hiker traveling by air for a hiking vacation). Usually two or three sections make up the pole shaft. These sections telescope neatly into one another, and make storage a breeze. Three-section poles are the easiest to carry or store, but are more prone to breaking than two-section poles, which have fewer parts and longer pole sections.

Virtually all poles have handles, which protect hands from the cold metal of the pole shaft, and keep hands from slipping on warm days. The most common handle materials are rubber and cork, and there are benefits to each. Cork can absorb moisture more easily than rubber, but rubber will prove far more durable in the long run.

Nordic Walking Poles
The use of Nordic walking poles, long popular with European hikers, is catching on big-time here in the U.S. Like their trekking pole cousins, Nordic walking poles keep the hiker stable and in balance on almost any surface, and help build strength.

They can be one-piece lightweight, composite poles or slightly heavier and collapsible. These poles often have switchable tips that work on hard surfaces and grass and sand, as well as special strapping systems and grips shaped for efficiency and comfort.

When evaluating  hiking poles, the most important factor to keep in mind is comfort. And the only person who can determine what feels best is the hiker using them.