Skills

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.


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

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

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This allows for a natural stride, arm swing, and decent propulsion.

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For steep uphills like mountain boulderfields or precipitous trails, radically shorten the poles down to thigh height, or as short as they’ll go.

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This allows for a natural arm position, energy savings, and more security on steep slopes where scrambling with your hands would be awkward.

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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.

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For steep descents, extend the poles to chest height, which allows you to reach down for secure pole placements while maintaining a balanced position.

Photos by Jennifer Howe / howephoto.us