If you’re just learning to use trekking poles on your hiking excursions, the various length options on a retractable pole can be a bit confusing. When wondering “how long SHOULD hiking poles be”, don’t worry. The answer is fairly simple.
Most adjustable trekking poles offer a wide enough range of lengths to cover most people for length, and for each individual, there’s a standard “flat terrain” length that you’ll use most of the time. Occasionally, when you’re walking uphill or downhill, it can be helpful to adjust your pole length for different purposes.
When hiking on flat terrain, the perfect length for your poles should be a length that allows you to bend your arm at approximately 90 degrees when holding the pole straight up and down (at a 90 degree to the ground when the tip is touching the ground).
90 degree angle in the arm, when your pole is at a 90 degree angle with the ground. Maybe we should call this the rule of 90?
This is generally the right length for most flat to moderate terrain. But when you start to hike on steeper inclines and declines, there are some great reasons to consider adjusting the length.
Once you find that length, take a look at your pole, and make a mental note of the number (length in cm) you’ve adjusted it to. You’ll need to remember this number a lot, especially if you adjust for uphill and downhill conditions, as we’re about to describe.
This “rule of 90” length is generally what you’ll need for most flat to moderate terrain. But when you start to hike on steeper inclines and declines, there are some great reasons to consider adjusting the length.
How Long Should Hiking Poles Be When Going Uphill?
When hiking uphill, shortening your poles will help you to get better traction and even out the effort between your arms and legs, by allowing you to “pull” yourself uphill with the poles. When hiking with a backpack or child carrier, this can help a considerable amount with the strain put on your back as well.
How Long Should Hiking Poles Be When Going Downhill?
When hiking downhill, lengthening your poles will allow you to extend them properly to the ground because the ground will be just a bit farther away. This will allow you to place your weight on the poles as you make your way down the hill, effectively reducing the impact on your knees (and to your back, when carrying a heavier load).
How much you adjust your poles when hiking up or down hills is a little harder to put a rule of thumb on (sorry, no rule of 90!) Just be patient your first few times out, be prepared to stop for readjustments, and when you find a length for each scenario, take mental note of the length marked on the pole so you can make adjustments more quickly on future hikes.
Now, next time a friend asks, “How long should hiking poles be?” YOU’ll be the one in the know!
Bonus Tip: How to Properly Use Hiking Pole Straps
No…hiking pole straps aren’t made to allow you to swing your pole in circles over your head, Game of Thrones style, as you run at your sibling or significant other. (That’s funny, but dangerous. Someone could put an eye out so just don’t.)
Straps are actually there to help transfer load and weight as you use the poles. When your hand is properly placed in the strap, you also don’t necessarily need to have a tight grip on the pole. It should bounce back into your hand after each strike.
To properly put your hand in your hiking pole strap for best use, we thought it would be easiest to give you a quick video demonstration: