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How To: Adjust Trekking Poles for Efficiency on Varying Terrain

Trekking poles are a boon for security on sketchy terrain, and they'll keep your knees alive over hard-charging decades of hiking. To get the most benefit on flats, uphills and downhills, use adjustable-length poles and adjust them correctly. Here's how.
Photos by Jennifer Howe /
  • On flat or rolling terrain, adjust the pole to elbow height, so your forearm is roughly horizontal when held.
  • On flat or rolling terrain, adjust the pole to elbow height, so your forearm is roughly horizontal when held.
  • This allows for a natural stride, arm swing, and decent propulsion.
  • For steep uphills like mountain boulderfields or precipitous trails, radically shorten the poles down to thigh height, or as short as they'll go.
  • This allows for a natural arm position, energy savings, and more security on steep slopes where scrambling with your hands would be awkward.
  • If your poles are too long, you'll be trekking in the 'stick 'em up' position, which is unstable and tough on your shoulders with a big load. It also makes you vulnerable to shoulder dislocations should you fall awkwardly.
  • For steep descents, extend the poles to chest height, which allows you to reach down for secure pole placements while maintaining a balanced position.
On flat or rolling terrain, adjust the pole to elbow height, so your forearm is roughly horizontal when held.
Image 1 of 7

On flat or rolling terrain, adjust the pole to elbow height, so your forearm is roughly horizontal when held.


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Trekking pole straps: the strap should be lengthened so that it is easier to slip the hand through (especially with gloved hand). Do this so about an inch of top handle is visible. Then you will find that the pole does not need to be grasped firmly but can be. I push off with poles on the level or when climbing mostly allowing the upper hand to take the pressure while grasping with only the thumb and index finger and using a complete grasp. From this strap use it is easy to roll the palm on top of the pole when descending and reaching ahead for stabilization downhill. One also needs to be able to get out of the strap in a hurry in the event the tip gets caught in a rock crevice.
— GaryW


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