Are Trekking Poles Necessary?

Trekking poles are not for every occasion.But, man, my poles sure saved the day (and my knees and ankles) when I descended from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River.


Dear Kristin,
Time and miles have taken their toll on the knees with one total knee replacement recently. I am getting back to limited hiking and some of the folks I pass on the trail are very high on the use of trekking poles. I would value your advice as to tips on how to adjust them to the proper length and techniques for most advantageous use of the poles to both reduce stress on the knees and ensure stability (twisting artificial knees is very painful!). I sure hope these poles are a benefit and not just an equipment fad?

Submitted by - Mike, Montana


Dear Mike,

I used to be very suspicious of trekking poles. “Just another thing to carry.” “I like to have my hands free.” “They cost a lot of dough.” These were some of my most common reasons. That was about 10 years ago, and now I’ve come to my senses.

Now, trekking poles are not for every occasion. It would have been foolish, for instance, to bring them on my recent hike through the slot canyons of Utah’s San Rafael Swell. They would have spent more time strapped to my pack than in my hands, and gotten in the way during stemming and scrambling situations.

But, man, my poles sure saved the day (and my knees and ankles) when I descended from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River (5,000 feet) in a day. And when I had to cross a slimy, moss-covered log in Olympic National Park. And when I had to traverse rushing streams in the Wind Rivers.

So, you get my point. For reducing shock on the legs, and for boosting stability in sketchy situations, trekking poles rock. It’s like having four legs instead of two. But that’s not all: poles can be used to rig a tarp, anchor a tent (deadman-style), and splint a broken leg (Though I thankfully haven’t had to use them in the latter way, I have used them in the former two.)

You can get trekking poles with all sorts of fancy shock absorbing systems, but in my opinion, they just weigh and cost more. I prefer non-shock poles that collapse down small for easy packing. I like cork grips that don’t get sweaty, and I like easy, secure flick-type adjustors, like these by Black Diamond:

As for tips on how to adjust and use your poles, check out this video I did a few years ago for the full scoop.