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Hiking Pole Questions
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scott burgeson
(DrDystopia) - F

Locale: Upstate NY
Hiking Pole Questions on 07/20/2009 13:13:16 MDT Print View

I am new to hiking poles having just purchased my first pair. All of the instruction I have read explaining how to fit the poles say that they should fall 2 to 3 inches below the arm pit.

Now this feels a bit tall for me but I can really feel them working my arms and taking weight off of my legs on uphills and this length seems ok on the downhills.

My question is this. Even though every instruction I have read says poles should be this long every picture that I have seen of people using hiking poles, from pics of people on this site to pics of Andrew Skurka and other professionals, everyone has their poles MUCH shorter then this. This ranges from hip level to just above hip level.
Am I doing something wrong here?

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Hiking Pole Questions on 07/20/2009 14:40:22 MDT Print View

Poles can be used in at least two ways-

To stabilize and to propel.

I use mine as 'outriggers' that help keep me upright, assist with traction, and provide 3rd and 4th points of contact when negotiating tricky terrain, slick logs, or swamps. I have them set to about the top of my hip bone.

When I 'swing through' I don't have to lift my hand much above elbow height. I can 'palm' the tops of the poles while going downhill. They feel right when providing an assist up an 12" 'step' in the trail or powering up a short steep section.

For propulsion, similar to the Classic cross-country ski stride, they need to be higher so you can get more of an extended 'push'.

Adjustable pole offer the advantage of 'tuning' until you find your sweet spot.

Aaron Zuniga
(gliden2) - F

Locale: Northwest
Re:Hiking Pole Questions on 07/20/2009 14:46:10 MDT Print View

Here's a nice sizing chart for poles=)
Height Pole Size inches cm
2'9''-3'0'' 30'' 75cm
3'1''-3'4'' 32'' 80cm
3'5''-3'8'' 34'' 85cm
3'9''-4'0'' 36'' 90cm
4'1''-4'4'' 38'' 95cm
4'5''-4'8'' 40'' 100cm
4'9''-5'0'' 42'' 105cm
5'1''-5'3'' 44'' 110cm
5'4''-5'6'' 46'' 115cm
5'7''-5'9'' 48'' 120cm
5'10''-6'0'' 50'' 125cm
6'1''-6'3'' 52'' 130cm
6'4''-6'6'' 54'' 135cm
6'7''-+ 56'' 140cm

How to fit yourself for poles:
You will need a tape measure, a partner will make this easier.
Hold your arms at a 90o angle as if you were holding poles
Measure the distance from the top of your hand to the floor
Take the number you measured and add 2'' to get your best fit pole size.
Measure both hands to help avoid error

This should help you get dialed with your new poles.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Hiking Pole Questions on 07/20/2009 23:15:58 MDT Print View


When I bought my 1st pair of poles 3 years ago, I had no clue of how to use them or set the length of them.

I found that this video really was helpful on showing me how to use them with the wrist straps to help propel me up and down the hills.

It is pretty comprehensive about selection, use, and care of the poles.

Hope this help you out.

Wouldn't go on a hike without them.

Also, to answer your question, per this DVD, the top of the poles should be placed about the height of your hip.

The middle section should be about the width of your fist and the lower section locked at a length that places the top of the handle/pole at your hips.

When you are a down hill slope, you can then adjust only the middle section to be longer to help slow you down or to ease the force on your knees.

While going uphill, you would shorten the length of the pole so that you can still easily swing the poles uphill without prematurely hitting the uphill slope.

Use of the straps is critical as you are using your wrist/arms to carry some of the load of your body as you step up or down hill.


Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Hiking Pole Questions on 07/21/2009 10:14:31 MDT Print View

Unless you're skiing or using your poles for propulsion, they shouldn't be that long.

Another way of phrasing what people have suggested is that the pole could/should be adjusted about so that with your arm hanging at your side, your forearm should be bent parallel to the ground when you're holding the pole.

scott burgeson
(DrDystopia) - F

Locale: Upstate NY
propulsion on 07/21/2009 13:27:31 MDT Print View

All of these descriptions seem to match the pictures I have seen. That REI video was awesome. I am going to pass it along to my wife who has also been using poles at a propulsion length and has been having trouble with them.

I have not used poles before now because I always hike with my dog and her leash occupies my hands. This week we are taking a trip to the whites in NH and I will be using them.

As a side note: has anyone had any experience using poles in these types of conditions? Do you find you are putting them away once you reach the rocky areas above treeline?

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Poles Above Tree Line on 07/21/2009 14:27:55 MDT Print View


I have used my poles above tree line, snow shoeing, and even across patches of snow late in the season.

Anytime you are going across rocks, you just have to be careful about how you plant your pole tips so that they don't get wedged between the rocks and cause you to snap the tip off.

The only times that I have put my poles away was went it was so steep that I was literally climbing from rock to rock, hand over hand, scrambling.

Using the poles is more about the steepness of the slope that you are going up or down.

98% of the trips that I have taken, I have been able to use my poles to steady myself going up or down.


Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re:Hiking Pole Questions on 07/21/2009 14:27:58 MDT Print View

Aaron, I think your chart is a little out of whack! If you went by the chart you would buy 30" poles for you 36" kid. That would put the poles just under their chin. I think all the rest of the numbers are skewed also. I set my poles at 115 cm going uphill and 120 going down (more each way depending on the steepness of the terrain) and I am 6’2” tall! I just measured my are at 90* and it measures 47” to the top, even if I add 2 more inches that would only be 49”/124 cm. I have a 32” inseam so my legs are “normal” length.

Scott, the pole under the armpit is for old school Cross-country skiing. When I worked at a ski shop we would size alpine ski poles by having the person grab the pole upside down, arm at 90*, with their hand on top of the basket. That would give them the proper size for alpine skiing. If someone had longer poles then necessary it could/would cause them to put their weight back before a turn (not what you want).

On hiking poles they hopefully won’t go into the ground like a ski pole so the measuring technique should be the similar (but we aren’t trying to get our weight forward on a turn, see above).

The 90* thing works well, if you have adjustable poles you can size the poles up or down depending on the terrain.

I find that poles help if I’m on steep terrain or hiking rough trails but if the going is fairly easy I either put them away or don’t bring them. They just get in the way.

Aaron Zuniga
(gliden2) - F

Locale: Northwest
Re:Hiking Pole Questions on 07/21/2009 15:41:50 MDT Print View

-Tad, maybe the numbers for the smaller sizes are a *Tad* off, but the majority of them seem to be pretty accurate. Are you sure you don't need to lengthen your poles up? Im 5'10" and use a pair of BPL Stix 125cm; they couldn't be a better fit. On ascents I just choke up on them if needed, descents i can rest my hands on top of the handles. On gentle flat grades my arms are at near perfect right angles. This is what works for me. If your poles are too short, they aren't going to be as benafical on the trail, and walking hunched feels poopey=) Ask Quasimoto

John Sixbey
(Wolfeye) - F
when i put them away on 07/21/2009 17:19:23 MDT Print View


I find I bang my poles if I try to use them when it's rocky. The ones I use (from Gossamer Gear) are so lightly built that I'm sure they'd eventually break on a rock if not careful. They end up getting packed when the terrain gets technical, but they're great when the ground's tame or there's a trail to follow.

One thing I learned about hiking poles is that it's nice to have a set of baskets to attach when you reach snow. Otherwise, they become useless. They really add stability on snowy hills.

Edited by Wolfeye on 07/21/2009 17:21:38 MDT.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re:Hiking Pole Questions on 07/21/2009 18:16:07 MDT Print View

Aaron, maybe it’s from my skiing background or excessively long arms (my wife says I act like I am a knuckle dragging ape sometimes), but 120cm is the most comfortable for me. I don’t want to get into a discussion about swing weight and pole height on the effect on rhythm and fatigue, but if you have to lift the pole up to high to make placement then they are too long.
I don’t use my poles the same way as a Nordic skier does- they use them for most of the propulsion, I use my legs for that and only use the poles for balance and a short push when going uphill and a brake coming down.
I still think the chart is off- Have someone measure the height to the top of your hand with your arm at a right angle, I would really be interested to see how it compares to my measurement.
Maybe you and I got our arms mixed up when they were handing them out?

Bryant Burton
(moabrocks) - F
cross-country ski poles on 07/24/2009 09:42:38 MDT Print View

So does anyone use cross-country ski poles to hike with? It seems like there are some pretty good deals on carbon fiber poles in almost any length. Handles are a little different shape and I would guess the baskets are removable.

- Bryant