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Winter Peak Ascents in Colorado Backcountry Blog

Colorado Adventure Guides
Guided Hiking Tours in Summit County, Colorado

Adventure Lessons from Colorado Adventure Guides

Guests preparing for a hike with Colorado Adventure Guides commonly ask about trekking poles. Do I need them? Do you rent them? How do I use them? 

Knees love trekking poles; poles distribute the impact of hiking to all four limbs rather than just to the legs. They can give hikers a little extra power going uphill, as you can push off both your arms and legs. Their greatest value, however, might be on the downhills, when the impact forces of descending tend to make knees ache and quads sore. Poles can also improve balance by keeping four limbs in contact with the ground instead of two.

If you want to try the benefits of hiking with poles, first find a pair that fits you. When holding the handle with the tip of the pole on the ground, your elbow should bend at a 90 degree angle. Some hikers like to lengthen their poles for downhills and shorten them for uphills if their poles are adjustable.

Remember that you don’t need to change how you walk to use trekking poles efficiently. You may have never noticed, but with each step forward you take, the opposite arm and hand also swing forward. This opposite arm swing happens involuntarily whether you are hiking up a mountain or walking through the mall. Now that you have poles in hand, simply plant the pole in the ground each time the hand holding it swings forward. For a natural arm swing and efficient pole use, plant the pole tip slightly ahead (if hiking downhill) or behind (if hiking uphill) and outside of your body. In other words, when your right foot steps forward, your left arm, hand, and pole also swing forward, and you plant your left pole. You weight your right foot and left pole at the same time. Then step forward with the opposite foot and swing and plant the opposite pole. Don’t overthink it! When using poles smoothly and efficiently, your body moves naturally, just as it would without poles.

This opposite foot/pole technique effectively distributes impact between all four limbs and aids in balance, but there are also other ways to use poles. Sometimes, when pushing the pace up steep terrain, it’s helpful to use a double pole plant: plant both poles ahead of your feet simultaneously, then take two steps, resting your body weight on both poles as you step. It’s nice to use this technique to get into a mesmerizing rhythm while hiking uphill: plant, step, step, repeat indefinitely. You could also take four smaller steps in between a longer pole swing while using the double pole technique.

Finally, it’s important to remember a few seldom mentioned things about using trekking poles. Firstly, keep in mind that poles redistribute the impact of hiking; while poles reduce the impact to the legs, they add impact to the upper body. Expect to feel some soreness in the triceps and shoulders, especially while getting used to them. Additionally, though poles are very helpful, there are some situations in which they can be annoying at best. If your hike requires frequent use of hands for scrambling, consider leaving poles behind. And perhaps most importantly, remember that those stabby things in your hands can seriously injure others! Leave space between you and other hikers to avoid impaling your hiking buddy’s Achilles tendon. Be aware of where you point and plant your poles.

We’re excited to announce that we now offer trekking poles for guests to rent on guided hikes! We also highly recommend shopping with the knowledgeable staff at Mountain Outfitters in Breckenridge if you’re looking to invest in a pair of your own. Happy hiking!

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