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By Dr Merel Dalebout, Auswalk Guide

When it comes to the importance of trekking poles, Australians need to adjust their thinking. Unlike age-related walking sticks, walking poles can improve your overall fitness by working different muscles in your body while you walk and give you a power boost if and when you need it. In the northern hemisphere they are as essential as hiking boots; even the most experienced guides use them.

The following is a short guide to what to consider when buying poles and then using them.

One pole or two?

You may think that using only one pole is the way to go. Think again. We are bipedal quadrupeds – meaning upright walking on two feet with 4 limbs swinging. We are not tripods – three is not a magic number! We naturally swing both arms as we walk, so two poles make a lot of sense. You’ll feel more balanced and more natural. Yes, poles can take a bit of getting used to. Use alternate legs and arms, just like when you are walking without them. The only situations in which I would recommend using only one pole is if you have shoulder, arm, or hand problems on one side and can only use one comfortably (better than nothing!), or in really rough terrain where you need to keep the other hand free to brace yourself on rocks or trees (of course, in extra rough terrain that involves a bit of rock scrambling, you will want to stow your poles so both hands are free). If you do actually have a bad leg or hip, and already use a single pole when you walk, note that your other leg/hip will thank you if you start using two poles instead.

Cheap or expensive

You can pick up a pair of walking poles for seniors and adults for as little as $10 at Kmart. Will they be any good? There is truth in the saying that you get what you pay for. Cheaper poles tend to be heavier, are not as strong, have less comfortable hand grips, and their locking mechanisms (usually “twist lock” style) tend to fail very easily. It’s worth paying a bit more for a good brand which will mean poles with lighter weight, a comfortable moulded hand and a built-in shock absorption mechanism. Good brands to look out for include Black Diamond and Leki. By the way, this is not a sponsored article.


Locking systems

Twist Lock: Many poles use a “twist lock” camming mechanism that allows you to adjust the length of the sections and then lock them into place – remember “righty tighty – lefty loosey”. In cheaper poles (and even some of the more expensive ones), these mechanisms often fail and stop locking properly, especially once you make the mistake of extending your pole sections a bit too far. Look at the measurements on your poles and there will be a “STOP” mark at some point. Never extend the poles further than this mark. Become familiar with these measurement marks and note the position (measurement) at which your poles are the right length for you. All good walking poles for adults should be able to slide or fold down to their shortest length easily in order to fit comfortably into your suitcase or backpack.

Flick Lock Black Diamond Poles

Flick Lock Black Diamond Poles

Flick Lock: The brand Black Diamond uses a trade-marked “flick lock” mechanism which is a lot more trustworthy than the “twist lock” option. But you will pay a bit more for this.

Fixed Length: You might also want to consider “fixed length” poles. Here, the sections of the poles are joined together by a flexible rubber connection and simply lock into place when you extend the poles to their full length. You can’t adjust the length of the poles, and you’ll need to buy the right length poles for your height. This type of pole tends to be more expensive and are generally lighter (carbon fibre).

Lever Lock and Push Lock: Both these styles of poles are alternative systems to lock the poles in place. A lever-based clamplike mechanism makes pole length quick and easy to adjust.  Poles with push lock locking mechanism will snap into place and lock with a single pull. And with a press of a button it will release the lock and collapse the poles.

If you were to trip and need to catch all your weight on your poles, make sure they are strong enough for the job. This is worth discussing with a knowledgeable shop assistant if you are uncertain.

How long should my poles be?

Your elbows should have a 90-degree (right angle) bend in them when you are standing on the flat and holding your poles with the tips touching the ground. You can adjust the length to be a bit shorter when you go uphill, and a bit longer when you go downhill if you want (or just reposition your hands a bit further down or further up the pole grips themselves – some poles have a padded section below the main hand grip to allow you to do this).

What’s the best way for me to use my poles?

The most effective motion is to move the trekking poles from knee to hip as you are walking (alternate arms, alternate legs). It’s a short motion and you want to keep your poles pointed in the direction you are wanting to go, or rather, in the direction, you are wanting your poles to push you. Refer to this short video from Chase Mountains for some excellent technique tips on this YouTube video.

Moulded hand grips & other comfort features

The cheapest walking poles for adults have simple moulded plastic handles and basic webbing wrist straps. These will not be as comfortable as walking poles which have softer foam grips (sometimes over cork or hard rubber rather than plastic) and softer padding on the straps. Wrist straps that can be adjusted by a cam within the handle can be good, as this means you will not have an uncomfortable buckle sitting on the back of the hand (but see below for more about wrist straps). Good quality trekking poles will also have a bit of an anti-shock spring mechanism built into them – you should feel a bit of a “bounce” when you push the tip of the pole down onto the ground. This will give you far more comfort for your hands, arms, and shoulders when walking, especially over a few hours.

Wrist straps – yes or no?

Wrist straps can definitely make it easier to keep hold of your poles. You won’t need to maintain quite as much of a death grip if you use them. Be sure to come up into the straps from underneath to ensure you are using them correctly. However, be aware that if you are using straps and you suddenly trip and fall, you will not be able to drop your trekking poles and easily use your hands to catch yourself. If walking side by side with someone, you might also end up entangling your walking poles in their legs (or even your own – I’ve done it!) and with straps on, you can’t drop the walking poles. Just something to keep in mind. Note that I do not use wrist straps on my trekking poles – and have actually removed them to get them out of the way and save on weight!

Should I get rubber tips for my trekking poles? 

Rubber tips or “stoppers” can be very useful if you are doing a lot of walking on rocky ground or rocks in general. They make the impact of your trekking pole tips a lot gentler (you’ll feel that in your arms) and can give you a far more secure walking pole placement by reducing the unexpected skidding of your poles that can happen when you put the bare metal tips on rock. Note that to avoid poles skidding on rocks even with rubber tips, be careful where you place them. Specifically aiming your poles so the tips sit in small cracks or depressions on the rock will keep them positioned far more firmly, especially when you are going downhill.

Product Recommendations










We asked our guides what they were using and all of them were using good quality poles. There’s no surprise there though as they use them often.

We can absolutely recommend that you don’t buy cheap poles, it’s definitely not cost-effective.

Of course, hiking poles are only one of the many things to consider when undertaking a hike, particularly if it is a multiday walk. A good backpack can make all the difference as can the right footwear.


NB: Some poles come with clear plastic cups or sleeves over the tips when you buy them. Take these off before use!

Happy walking! And relaxing.




  1. Rebecca

    2 January, 2021 at 8:09 AM

    This is very helpful advice as it covers all the various features I should consider in choosing a set of poles. Thanks!

  2. SannyKar

    7 December, 2018 at 6:59 PM

    Make a more new posts please 🙂

  3. Ermil Sipp

    24 October, 2018 at 9:08 AM

    I have used a number of sets of poles over the last ten years in quite different terrain.. My first poles had a twist lock mechanism which corroded when exposed to water. I have used flick lock mechanisms ever since. Last year I bought a set of the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles. They are excellent. Apart from being lightweight they are very compact and will fit into a daypack. They fit easily into any luggage when travelling anywhere by air. I have noticed that many people disdain the use of poles because they consider themselves too fit-only for old people! Not so. Poles reduce the wear and tear on your knees and ankles, let you use the strength in your arms to reduce the burden carried by your legs, provide you with stability when making steep descents or walking on uneven surfaces. Its like having 4 legs! If you use the wrist straps properly, then you should only need to actually grip the pole lightly, resting your thumb and forefinger around the small saddle at the bottom of the grip- that’s what its for. Its more comfortable on long hikes.

    • Merel Dalebout

      30 January, 2019 at 5:51 PM

      Hi Ermil, Thanks for your reply. I agree completely. I always think of my poles as my turbo boosters! Take care, Merel

  4. Anne

    11 October, 2018 at 8:10 AM

    No mention of Nordic walking poles? They have equal value as hiking poles in difficult terrain and on flattter terrain allow a really efficient walking action

    • Merel Dalebout

      30 January, 2019 at 5:54 PM

      Hi Anne, Thanks for your comment. You are quite right! I admit I don’t know enough about Nordic walking poles except that they are a good thing. Can you provide more information? Do you use these?

  5. Rosco

    10 October, 2018 at 6:35 PM

    Good article! My son (adventure guide, rock climber and non-pole using young person) raises the eyebrows when we have gone bush together and I break out my Lekisport, but I have used a pole when walking/ rock hopping for many years. Certainly my Lekisport did solid service on the Great Ocean and Flinders Island walks with Auswalk. I only use the one (a left handed model, yes they do exist) and find that it helps with both weight and power distribution. I particularly value it descending rocky and gravelly slopes). The handle of my Lekisport is canted over to the right slightly and fits my left hand (my dominant hand) like a glove. The grip is made of a firm but sticky rubber, and I have added a padded black tennis grip tape to the upper part of the pole (for steeper climbs when you want to hold it short). I also have a couple of cheapie poles (one tenth the price of my Lekisport) in the boot at all times and they are ok too, but a custom fit pole takes me to another level. Rubber tips are only for when stowing the pole. On the rocky stuff just take care where placing the tip, and on the level stuff the pole gets carried under the arm. Thanks what I think anyway!

    • Merel Dalebout

      30 January, 2019 at 5:47 PM

      Thanks for your reply Rosco! Some good tips there regarding specific grip types too. Nice! Happy walking 🙂

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