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Hiking with poles – or maybe without?

Everything you need to know about buying and using hiking poles
Hiking break at the high altitude trail along Gosaukamm ridge

Hiking poles are increasing in popularity. But what is the real benefit? What are the advantages and disadvantages? And what should you consider when buying them? We have the answers ready for you here.

Hiking break at the high altitude trail along Gosaukamm ridge

The advantages

When used correctly, poles bring many advantages, which make purchasing them worthwhile for hiking enthusiasts:

  • Relief for the joints, muscles and spine
  • Less fatigue on long tours
  • Better balance and more stability when carrying a heavy backpack
  • An upright posture leading to easier breathing
  • More propulsion when going uphill
  • Surefootedness on uneven or slippery surfaces
  • The muscles of the upper body and torso are exercised at the same time

The disadvantages

Using poles improperly or excessively can lead to some disadvantages. What are they?

  • Weakening of balance and coordination if used too often
  • On level ground: tendency to take long steps, therefore applying more force to the foot when raised (places stress on the joints)
  • Impractical in very steep terrain with many climbing sections


The use of poles usually only makes sense on longer and demanding tours and when hikers…

  • Are on the move in particularly difficult or slippery terrain
  • Carry a heavy backpack
  • Want to protect your joints and save energy
  • Struggle with balance problems

However, if used incorrectly, they can actually do more harm than good. In flat terrain, the tendency to take long strides puts more stress on the joints than hiking without poles. If used too often, your own coordination and balance will suffer.

The following applies: It depends on these points and, above all, correct use! What is correct use? We’ll tell you now!

Hiking path at the Salzalpensteig

Correct use of hiking poles…

…when going downhill

In steep terrain, the use of poles helps to absorb the strain on the hip, knee and ankle joints. It also ensures more surefootedness. Set the poles a little longer and use the double pole technique. To do this, bring both poles forward at the same time as the leg to be relieved and shift your body’s centre of gravity a little forward (by slightly bending your upper body). Put the balls of your feet down first for maximum joint relief.

Caution: With telescopic poles there is a risk that they can fold in unintentionally. Therefore, never completely rely on the poles and be sure to check the locking mechanism before every descent!

Mountain hiker along the way to Abtenau

…when going uphill

By walking up when using poles, the legs have less to do. Hikers also generate better propulsion. The double pole technique is also best for the ascent. Both poles are used at the same time in order to then push yourself forward. Caution: the tips of the poles should never be placed too far in front, but rather parallel to the body’s centre of gravity. The length of the poles should also be adapted to the terrain.

Enthusiastic hikers on hiking paths near lake Tegernsee

…on a traverse

If you are walking parallel to the slope, the stick on the slope side should be a little shorter and the one towards the valley a little longer. If the terrain is less steep, it is ok to hold the stick on the slope below the handle. It is up to you whether you choose the double pole technique or prefer the diagonal pole use.

Tip: In very demanding terrain, be sure to take your hands out of the pole loops in order to be able to protect yourself in the event of a fall!

Hiking break at the high altitude trail along Gosaukamm ridge

Important considerations when buying poles

When buying hiking or trekking poles, you have the choice between classic, collapsible telescopic poles and folding poles. The latter are particularly useful on tours with many climbing sections, as they can be packed into the backpack to save space. However, what is not recommended is fixed-length poles. Their possible uses are limited – although there is no risk of them accidentally collapsing.

With or without a plate? Medium sized plates are needed in summer, but only for high-speed tours. Large winter plates should be used when snowshoeing in winter.

Since almost all pole tips are equipped with a system to change them, the plates can be easily swapped or removed. The tip of the pole must be made from a particularly hard material for use in stony terrain. Natural cork or natural rubber are suitable materials for the handles. Both are non-slip, heat-insulating and kind to the skin. Important: the pole loops should be equipped with a safety mechanism. The best thing to do is to seek advice from an expert at a sports shop.

With or without poles: hiking is always a pleasure! Do you see it the same way? Then find out more about Eurohike’s most beautiful hiking tours!

By the way: You will find more important tips on the correct hiking equipment here!

You now receive special conditions when you book a trip.