For me walking poles have been a massive help. Like many I initially wondered to their benefit, in my own mind even slightly mocking those walking bolt upright tap tap tapping away with their shiny poles.
For a leisurely walk I doubt I would use them, but anything with a decent climb or longer distance I will, at the very least, have them with me if not actually using them. The reason being the unexpected. When volunteering I often carry two pairs, lending them out in the final leg of events to help people get over those final few miles.
I bought a pair of walking poles just two days before I started my very first Ultra Walk on the Isle of Wight. I’d read a few Facebook posts on groups and a few people swearing by them. In my nervous state I hurried out and threw some money at a pair of Leki brand poles. I simply would not have finished that challenge if I hadn’t of done so.
During training for my first event I had a number of injuries. Later, after my first challenge, I would go on to discover I have a very slight hip deformity that throws out things on my right hand side. As such, during the challenge, my right side Iliotibial Band (ITB) locked on at 80km atop a big hill. What followed was 26km and hours of
excruciating pain as I dragged myself to the finish line. The only way that was possible was with some walking poles. Not long after the same happened when I was resting next to Edale Rocks towards the top of Kinder Scout in the Peak District. Yet again the only way I got myself back to my car was with those same poles.
Now these are two extreme examples, walking with good walking poles helps many things, ideally avoiding injury altogether. It helps posture, and can help avoid swollen fingers if that’s something you suffer from. They take load off the knees on steep descents, and help engage the power you have in your upper body for steep ascents.
If you decide to invest in a pair then spend some money. I’ve seen cheaper poles shatter or mechanisms break, if you end up being reliant on them this is a nightmare scenario. Leki are a very well known make and have served me well. I have had two pairs of poles and a single ‘Wunderfreund’ pole, all of which have helped me as well as those I’ve loaned them to. Cork handles are often on the higher end poles, lighter but less severe on your hands. With rubber grips I started to get blisters when bare handed over long distances. Personally I use the rubber tips, you sacrifice some grip but the constant tapping when walking on hard surfaces is mildly irritating to me, I wouldn’t like to inflict it on others.
Once you have your poles then be sure to learn how to PROPERLY use them. There are many helpful YouTube videos out there showing the way to hold them. Whether or not you walk diligently, timing each and every step, or like me just casually you should still be putting your hands through the straps correctly. Also don’t confuse standard walking poles with Nordic Walking poles. They are different and Nordic Walking is a whole other subject. We’re talking casual use here.
The more expensive have clips or other quick release mechanisms. This is because you will be wanting to adjust them whilst on the move. The poles should be shorter for going up hill, and longer for coming down. On the flats your arm should bend at around a 90 degree angle when holding the pole.
Many people will walk happily without poles. A friend of mine invested in a pair before taking on a 100km ultra walk last year and ended up not using them once. That said he’s used them since on climbs and the investment paid off. I approach my walks with a ‘Rather have it and not need it’ view. I don’t over pack, but I do consider the benefit, cost and weight of the things I take. Given the help poles have given me in the past I don’t think I’d ever walk without at least one with me, just in case…