Using trekking poles can come in handy for balancing a heavy pack or taking a load off your knees — but they really shine when it comes to navigating on all sorts of challenging terrain. Here’s how to tweak those poles to make sure you’re getting the most possible support out of them in every condition and type of terrain.
Stop! Don’t take your trekking poles into deep snow unless they have snow baskets on them — a big discs that sits just above the tip of each pole, keeping it from sinking too far into the snow. On most trekking poles, you can just unscrew the old baskets or snap them out (if they’re there in the first place), then screw or snap the new baskets in.
Using trekking poles comes in especially handy if you fall while snowshoeing in deep snow. If the snow’s too deep for you to poke a pole down against the ground and lever yourself back up, place both poles flat on the snow, upslope from you and crossed in the middle so they make a big “X.” Place one hand where the poles cross, and use that support to get your feet back underneath you.
Dirt and Gravel
No baskets needed here! In fact you’ll do better without them. If you’re really depending on the poles for balance or support, place them firmly with each step and pay attention to how they feel in your hand. It’s that feel — and sometimes the sound of the pole hitting the ground, too — that will tell you if the pole is planted solidly enough for you to trust it with your weight.
On Rocky Surfaces
The metal tips on your trekking poles will slip and slide on rocky surfaces, and can leave ugly scratches on the rocks. Pop some rubber tip protectors on your poles, and problem solved — they’ll grip solidly on dry rock, with nary a scratch (or dulled pole tip) to be seen. But be careful: Just like your feet, those rubber pole tips can still slip when the rock is wet.
Here’s where adjustable trekking poles really shine: Shorten them for uphill slopes, and lengthen them for downhill slopes. That way you still have full support from the poles, without having to stoop forward or lean back to use them for leverage.
If you don’t have adjustable poles, you can cheat it by gripping the poles lower down when you go uphill, and holding onto the very top of the handles when you go downhill.
Walking sideways across a slope? No problem — just shorten the uphill pole (or grip it lower down) and lengthen the downhill pole (or grip it at the tippy-top of the handle). That gives you equal balance and support on both sides.
Mud and Slush
Mud and slush work out pretty much the same: Goopy and slippery. Use snow baskets on your poles or, better yet, mud baskets (completely round discs). Either type will keep your poles from sinking into the mud as deeply, and create a little extra stability for you.
Article written by Lisa Maloney, Hiking Expert at About.com