Ever think about getting hiking poles? Maybe you always roll your eyes at hikers who use them? Myrthe is here to explain everything you need to know about hiking poles and why you should have a pair.

How I Started Using Hiking Poles

Let’s start with a confession – I used to make fun of people using hiking poles. I associated it with nordic walking, elderly people propelling themselves forward on perfectly flat streets in Europe. I deemed myself better than that, fitter than that. I was young and invincible, so I didn’t need poles, right?


Best practice is to keep poles and ice axes outside the hut


Wrong! For me, it took breaking my leg to start using hiking poles. I borrowed a pair of poles as I slowly got back into hiking, mainly because my balance was crap after not using the smaller muscles in my leg for a few months.

And then I realised how much they helped me in general. By pushing myself up an arduous hill. By taking off some of the load on my knees when coming down a steep slope. By having additional contact points as I navigated tricky river crossings. So while my leg healed and my balance improved, the poles stuck around. 


Teaching my mother in law how to safely cross a river using poles


After a fall destroyed one of my trusty poles, I ended up using just one pole, and found I actually liked it better. Using one pole means I still have one hand free to cling to any rocks, grass, and other natural handholds while I make my way up or down steep slopes, something that often comes in handy (pun intended) in your typical New Zealand backcountry terrain. And that’s how my hiking pole became an essential item on all my hiking trips. 


Coming out of Death Valley where my pole helped navigate the snow slope

What are the benefits of hiking poles?

I’ve already mentioned a few, but let’s take a closer look at the benefits of using hiking poles.



The thing I like the most about using a pole is how much your balance improves. By having more contact points with the ground, your stability increases hugely and you’re a lot less likely to lose your balance. I find this especially comes in handy when crossing a river, but it’s also very helpful on rough and rocky terrain.


Poles are a great help when crossing rivers


Reduced Load

Trekking poles can also be a big help when it comes to taking some of the load off your legs and knees. Especially when carrying a heavy pack, poles will help you maintain a normal walking pattern, including a longer stride length. I also find poles highly beneficial while walking uphill, as you can use the poles to ‘pull yourself up’, which makes the hike less strenuous.


Using poles increases your pace, but it’s good to realise this isn’t always an advantage! When my partner and I went for a day hike with our new trekking poles, we felt like we were flying along the trail. Looking at our stats afterwards, it turned out we definitely hiked a lot faster than usual, resulting in slightly sore legs. If you’re aiming for speed though, for example while fast packing, the addition of poles is definitely a good idea!


Running Wānaka’s Skyline using two poles


Full Body Workout

If you’re using poles while hiking, you’re actively using your upper body, resulting in a full body workout. This is a great way to increase cardiovascular demand and energy expenditure, meaning your heart will beat faster and you’ll burn more calories. But if you’re not after a high-intensity workout, but rather a calm and slow-paced walk, it might be better to leave the poles at home.


Me and my trusty poles

What should I look for in hiking poles?

Keen to give hiking poles a try? Let’s talk about what to look for when comparing trekking poles.



As you can probably guess, when it comes to finding suitable hiking poles, length is the most important thing to think about. You want poles that are suitable to your body, so you get the most out of using them.

To get an idea of the right size pole for you, you can use this formula: your height (in cm) x 0.68 = length of hiking poles in cm. Or, with your arms by your side, bend your elbows 90 degrees, and your poles should come up to the top of your palm.

Some poles are adjustable in height, which is great as this means you can shorten them when you’re hiking uphill, and lengthen them when you’re coming downhill.


Poles helping us trudge through the fresh snow on our way to Top Hut



When using hiking poles, you want them to be lightweight as well as collapsible, so that you can easily put them in your pack when you don’t need them. However you still want your hiking poles to be durable and strong enough to hold your weight when leaning on them.

Aluminium poles are heavier (but sturdier) than poles made from carbon fibre. Make sure to pay close attention to the design of the joints of collapsible poles, as these will form the weakest points of your hiking pole.




Hiking poles these days have been designed to maximise comfort. For example, most poles will have soft material handles that are made for a comfortable, natural grip. You’ll also find most poles feature webbing straps, which are really useful for shifting some of the pressure from your hands to your wrists, providing extra support and helping to keep up a good stride.

You might also come across poles with shock absorption, which is meant to reduce the jolting on your wrists and elbows when you’re walking on rocky underground. If you’ll mainly be using the poles on mud, sand or snow, you might not need shock absorption (as it usually adds some extra weight to the poles).

If you’re using the poles on snow, make sure to get specific snow baskets which screw onto the bottom of your poles, as these will help prevent your poles sinking too deep into the snow.


What hiking poles should I buy?


Poles Under $100

Here’s the good news, there are hiking poles to suit every budget! If you don’t want to spend more than $100, check out the Black Diamond Trail Sport II. These entry level poles have two-section aluminium shafts and are very easy to adjust in length. They have rubber grips with ventilation channels to increase breathability. Weighing 578 grams per pair, these won’t be the lightest but they offer a great and affordable option to start out with. 



Poles Under $200

If you’re looking for poles to use during day walks and mainly on trails, make sure to check out the Helinox FL120 Passport poles. Weighing only 290 grams per pair, these poles are ultralight and very compact. They have foam grips and are adjustable in length, but only from 80 cm to 120 cm. For multi-day hikes on strenuous terrain, these poles will be a bit too lightweight. 



Sold on the idea of only using one pole? Have a look at the Leki Pole Legacy Strong. As the name implies, this pole is designed to be a robust support for your more mountainous trips. The Legacy Strong is made from aluminium, weighs 275 grams and can be adjusted from 110 cm to 145 cm.



Poles Under $300

Got some more money to spend? Definitely take a look at the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Lightweight poles, which come in four different lengths with a range of 273-315 grams per pair. Made from carbon fiber, these poles also fall in the ultralight category, but their durable design means they’ll be tough enough for longer trips on rocky terrain. The perfect companions for running up and down mountains!