Why Walking Poles Are A Good Idea.
The best piece of advice I received before setting off on the Camino, was definitely take two walking poles. For some obscure reason I had thought one would be enough! They were an absolute game changer and got a thorough work out every day across Spain – I have never gone hiking again without poles.
The benefits of walking poles:
Extra stability, Less injury.
No one wants an injury and using waking poles helps to prevent injuries and back pain by improving your posture while you are walking. That dogged, determined ‘lean forward’ we so often develop to get us up a steep incline puts a lot of strain on your back muscles. Poles assist you to walk straighter uphill and thus reduces the impact on your back muscles. Your joints and in particular, your knees will thank you for the reduced work load afforded by using walking poles as you leverage the work load across a variety of muscle groups.
ADDED BONUS: Less stress = less fatigue. Increase the workout with a good long, faster pace using your poles for an upper body work out.
ADDED BONUS: Burns extra calories.
With the added stability you are also that bit safer for water crossings, difficult terrain and narrow tracks.Careful on the down hills! Poles really come into their own on the way down. That said, it is just not sensible to expect them to be 100% failsafe. If the locking mechanism on the pole fails – you can be sure you will too! Always remember they are there to assist your stability – don’t be tempted to think they can always handle all your weight. Poles are not a crutch!
Where to start .
Ensure you get the right advice to get the right poles for your expedition.They will all have features of adjustable height and interchangeable parts on the end of your pole.
The pointy end is ‘the tip’ and will gain you some traction into soft ground and on ice.
The circular ‘basket’ prevents your pole from sinking in too far such as across sand or soft ground.
The rubber cap on the end is known as ‘the paw’ and is best for use on paved surfaces.
The right height.
Adjust to the right length by working from the bottom section upwards – lengthening or shortening to fit comfortably when your arm is at a 90 degree angle and bent at the elbow. Frequently this position coincides with aligning to the handle grips at hip level.
Why are there straps?
You will only ever once in a lifetime lose one pole over the side of steep terrain. It’s good practice (and much more convenient) to slide your hand through the loop of the strap and then grip the handle. Be sure that the strap is not twisted and grip loosely over the straps. This way the straps will hold the pole on your wrist if you let go of the handle.
ADDED BONUS: The straps on your poles take up some of the vibrations running up the pole and act as shock absorbers consequently your wrists get less fatigue and stressed.
The Camino presented a huge variety of terrain and so there was endless entertainment to be had from experimenting with how many different ways to use poles on a long journey. My techniques included a strong march from the shoulders, or flicking the ends out without moving my elbows from beside my hips, using them both forward together simultaneously, then trying to alternate them, with the same foot, with the opposite foot and so it went on.
My hiking companion had her own styles some of which were potentially quite damaging to other walkers at times when the pointy bits were swivelling around behind her head.
HOT TIP: Always keep your poles pointed downwards.
The reality is that they are most efficiently used when your arms are in a neutral position using the shoulders to push forwards and not just the poles. Opposite arm to opposite foot. Left foot right arm together …
So get yourself some walking poles (or ask Father Christmas ?) and ANOTHER HOT TIP : Don’t forget to pop a pack of Wool-it in your pocket to STOP blisters and help keep those feet moving. Ready, Set, GO! And enjoy.