Why Use Hiking Poles?

why use hiking poles

When I first started to get back into hiking a couple of years ago I didn’t even think about using a hiking pole. I had never needed them in the past during my previous experiences hiking and camping. But I notice my knees were achy after each hike I took. That got me wondering what I could do to help my knees.

Hiking poles are helpful to use for safety and balance, upper body strength, support for your joints, and to help you navigate through rough and smooth terrain. They help you keep an even pace and aid you when powering uphills and they help absorb impacts as you go downhills.

Once I started using hiking poles, I found some relief for my knees as I hiked. Going down hills always brought a lot of force on my knees as I would brace myself in various ways. As I used hiking poles I found how much easier it could be now that I had 4 points of contact with the ground.

Sometimes You Don’t Need Hiking Poles

At times you may not want or need hiking poles. When I was a teen and went hiking, I would sometimes carry a hiking stick just for fun. Once in a while, I found it helpful when crossing a stream, but I didn’t feel like I needed it. 

If you are hiking for more than an hour or up and down hills, having them can make life a lot easier. Although if I am climbing up or descending down a fairly steep hill, I use them intermittently because I need access to my hands for support when climbing. 

I also need to only use my legs for pushing up and lower down because the hiking poles can make it difficult to get proper balance and support in those situations. As seen in the video clip above, I didn’t use my pole while climbing up parts of this hill.

Support Your Joints

poles help stabilize while hiking

Hiking long distances or for long periods of time can take its toll on your body. Your feet, ankles, knees, and back may start to feel achy after a while. Hiking poles can help reduce the level of impact your joints feel.

When you are placing your hiking poles on the ground, it gives you the opportunity to decrease how hard your legs and back have to work. Just like having a firmer sole on your hiking shoes, using poles reduces the amount of work your feet are required to do. 

You can place your feet in a more accurate manner instead of creating a heavy impact on the ground when climbing and descending hills. 

If your hiking poles are adjusted correctly so that your forearm is at a 90° angle to your upper arm when standing still, then you can get enough leverage to reduce the impact hiking will have on your joints.  

I find that when I hike uphill it helps to use the lower grip in the hiking pole

Safety and Balance

In the image above you can see how I stumbled when I was looking around. This can occur frequently when hiking on loose gravel, rocks, streams, and in many other situations. It helps to have hiking poles when you are using them correctly, so you can keep your balance when the ground is loose. 

They can help you prevent and reduce the chance of slipping, and you will have a greater likelihood of catching yourself when you do slip. The key to keeping safe is knowing when to apply more or less pressure with your hiking poles.

The rule that I find works best to keep me safe is to place the poles lightly on the ground when walking on level trails. I can mainly use my legs in level areas and my arms as backup and for up and downhill climbs. 

 When the trail becomes more difficult and you risk the loss of balance, then placing more pressure on the poles is likely to help while you are walking slowly over more difficult terrain

Sometimes I need to be patient and place one foot in front of the other slowly as I consider which is the next best step to take. The times I have gotten myself in trouble is when I have bent over at the waist to try to catch myself with my poles.

A good rule seems to be making sure I place one pole on the front and the other in the back while I am traveling under any condition. And switch as I move forward. If I place both poles in front or back in an effort to balance, I often lose balance in more tricky situations.

The exception to these rules is when climbing up and down large rocks or areas where you are stepping up or down. During these climbs up or down, use your legs and little pole support. Keeping your balance should be the job of your legs, otherwise relying on your poles could get you to lose balance.  

Up Hills and Down Hills

When you are hiking up and down hills your poles can aid you greatly. They act as an extra pair of contact points for balance and power. As you climb a hill, your arms can provide a lot of extra momentum, as long as the path is fairly smooth, so you’re not focused on balancing.

As you go downhill you may feel how well your arms are acting as shock absorbers, helping your body receive less impact from gravity as you descend hills. 


If you are going at an even and steady pace, your hiking poles can give you the chance to go the extra mile. You may have a bit more energy and feel better than you would without the poles, as I have. 


You may need to change your hand position when going up a steep hill. This will help you place your poles more accurately and help keep your poles at more of a 90° angle

Going Over Rough and Smooth Terrain

Regardless of the terrain, hiking poles can help you navigate better to get to your destination. As the ground becomes rough you can rely on them to help you balance, and when the ground is smooth you can use them to keep a steady longer enduring pace. 

At times plant life can encroach into the trail. Your hiking poles may be able to help in these situations as well.

When I go on hiking trails, the path is sometimes partially blocked by plant growth. Sometimes this is easy to get through and the shrubs are soft and do not impact my ability to walk. Other times the plants make it difficult to stay on the path without being hit in some way.

I have been in several situations where I have used my hiking poles to prevent the intruding plant life from hitting me as I walk down the path. Plantlife on the sides of the trail and overhead can be deflected to a certain degree by using your hiking poles to push them away.

Keeping a Pace

hiking poles on trail

One of the best reasons I feel for using hiking poles is for the ability they seem to have to help me keep a steady pace for long distances. When your whole body is moving and your hand and feet are feeling contact with the ground, it’s as if you walking just becomes easier.

It’s not always easy hiking, but when I use my hiking poles I tend to feel I have more energy. The last time I was hiking downhill with my poles, I felt a lightness as I walked quickly downhill and used my hiking with a bit more pressure. 

The ground was level, so I didn’t need to worry about my balance and could focus on enjoying the speed and lightness of hiking down the trail.

On this trail, I hadn’t thought to bring my hiking poles but wish that I had. I was a bit steep in some places and I started to feel like I wanted to turn back before I arrived at my destination. Hiking poles could have given me the edge I needed to have a bit of a better time during this particular hike.

Upper Body Strengthening

While you are not applying strong pressure for long periods while using your hiking poles, you are consistently using your arms. It’s a great way to tone your arms and gain a bit more strength as you use them consistently over time.

On a day hike with little or no weight on your back, it can be fun to jog down a trail all the way to the trailhead. Your arms can move from the front to back in rapid succession as you lightly peck at the ground with your hiking poles. 

You’ll gain upper body strength with this repeated action. You could compare it to a treadmill-like activity, but for your arms.   

In the video above I didn’t have any hiking poles, but I still enjoy the jog. It’s even more fun if you have your hiking poles. When you can focus on running and not worry about your footing, then a steady running with your hiking poles feels good and helps build up some muscle.


Hiking poles have been a helpful part of many of my hikes and can help the people who use them with: safety, balance, upper body strength, joint support, and getting through rough terrain. 

They are good for helping you to keep up a steady pace and give you some more energy when you need to trek for extended periods. The reason I purchased mine was for my knees but now I use them for steep hills and longer hikes because they help make it a more enjoyable experience.

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I enjoy many types of outdoor activities including running, hiking, and walking. I was a former elementary school teacher for 17 years and now enjoy writing and sharing my love of the outdoors.

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