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Trekking pole technique
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Jeffrey Stylos

Locale: Northeast
Trekking pole technique on 07/14/2010 21:29:03 MDT Print View

Do most people move their trekking poles each time they step, for a 1:1 overall ratio of foot placements to pole placements?

I almost always use a 2:1 (EDIT: fixed order) foot to pole ratio, taking longer, less frequent "strides" with my poles and smaller, quicker strides with my feet, but my brother, who has hiked much more than I have, informs me that this is crazy.

My poles are Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4's, but I did the same thing with my old Leki's, each extended so that my forearms are parallel to the ground when I'm standing with the poles in front of me (making them about 3 inches shorter than my armpit).

I've tried all of the 1:1 strides I can think of -- right foot and left pole forward, right foot and right pole forward, poles placements staggered in-between feet placements -- but all of them feel awkward, and unless I concentrate on them I quickly slip back into the 1:2 pattern where I move both feet in the time it takes me to move one pole.

I don't imagine there's a right or wrong technique -- whatever works for stability and lessening stress on knees -- but I'm curious, what does everyone else do?

Edited by jsstylos on 07/20/2010 23:26:12 MDT.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Trekking pole technique on 07/14/2010 21:34:34 MDT Print View

I use them either 1:1, or 3:1. Some times I move both pole simultaneously, with 2:1, but I'm normally dead tired when I use them like this.

Edited by redmonk on 07/14/2010 21:36:13 MDT.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Trekking pole technique on 07/14/2010 21:54:43 MDT Print View

I think I'm somewhere in between the 2:1 and 3:1 ratios.

William Johnson
"Stix"ing to what feels good on 07/15/2010 00:35:58 MDT Print View

What an interesting question, Jeffrey.

I am a 1:1 user, albeit I am also very new to using trekking poles. I use the BPL Stix, and more often think about not placing the poles in between cracks, or letting the shafts clank together when I rest.

The only time my ratio is off is when I get to uneven terrain, and start stagger stepping, or avoiding puddles. But then I will soon fall into a 1:1 ratio.

Looking forward to other responses. Thanks.

Larry Dyer
(veriest1) - F

Locale: Texas
New to poles as well on 07/15/2010 06:24:41 MDT Print View

I just started using poles on my last outing and I don't think I'll ever go back. I found a 1:1 ratio felt the most natural and after a mile or so I no longer even really thought about what I was doing unless the terrain was tricky and required thinking about pole placement. In the latter case ratios went out the window in favor of balance and just doing what I could to create the most balance.

EDIT: If I may be so bold as to add another dimension to this discussion, what height setting do you guys find to work the best? I tried having my arm parallel to the ground (this puts my elbow at around 90 degrees) but found it rather uncomfortable and awkward. I find an angle of around 40ish degrees more comfortable as it allows me to use what is refereed to as "unbendable arm" in the martial arts community to relax and put my weight on the pole.

Edited by veriest1 on 07/15/2010 10:13:43 MDT.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Depends on 07/15/2010 07:16:24 MDT Print View

I will range from very infrequent pole placement to 1:1 depending on terrain, how tired I am and the condition of the trail. Uphills are more likely to be 1:1. Downhills will vary by terrain and straight level sections will be infrequent pole placement or maybe none at all. The nice thing about the LT4's is I can carry them without feeling like they are deadweght.

chris kersten
(xanadu) - F

Locale: here
It varies. on 07/16/2010 17:53:26 MDT Print View

I use mine only to help keep my pace going forward. What I mean by that is on smooth level ground, they may touch every 5 to 10 steps. But uphill and when I am getting sluggish, maybe every 2 to 3 steps. I actually play with mine alot (twirling and swinging them back and forth) and a friend of mine can tell when it's time to talk and joke and bs, or time to quiet down and focus on our pace.
The biggest mistake ever (to me) is changing lengths and using straps. You don't need straps when walking up or down slippery staircases. Your hands loosely hold the rails, right? If you slip, then you grab the rail. Why would anyone need straps? Also I always read that you should change lengths for up and down hills. Why? Once again, I think of stairs. Do you need longer and shorter arms to go up and down staircases with handrails?
To sum up my points, jus find your comfort zones and have fun with your poles. I know I do.
I failed to write that I hate straps because when I go down steep hills, I flip the poles into my palms and fingertips to "lengthen" them. Straps make that difficult to do quickly.

Edited by xanadu on 07/16/2010 17:59:27 MDT.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Trekking pole technique on 07/16/2010 18:06:00 MDT Print View

Need. Interesting choice of word.

I won't ever need to worry about my bank account bleeding money to purchase of another pair of strap free, unadjustable poles.

I find them less efficient while walking, more effort to manage when stowed, more difficult to manage while scrambling, more difficult to lash together for a pyramid pole, and a complete PITA to take on the public transit, passenger cars loaded with gear, and planes.

Edited by redmonk on 07/16/2010 18:07:43 MDT.

Paul Burke
(elpeebee) - F

Locale: Too far south of the Pyrenees
1:1 for life on 07/17/2010 14:50:47 MDT Print View

I definitely use 1:1 most of the time - just feels natural. I'v egot Black Diamond Compact Trailshocks - I used to have some Komperdells and definitely adjusted the height for ascent/descent, but with the Trailshocks there's additional grip below the main grip, so when going up hill I can just move my hands lower and still feel comfortable. Contrary to a previous poster's experience, I definitely find that different heights help me get up a trail more efficiently and down a trail with less stress on my joints.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Trekking pole technique on 07/18/2010 15:15:48 MDT Print View

I use every combination under the sun.

Rakesh Malik

Locale: Cascadia
Re: New to poles as well on 07/20/2010 12:24:36 MDT Print View

"I find an angle of around 40ish degrees more comfortable as it allows me to use what is refereed to as "unbendable arm" in the martial arts community to relax and put my weight on the pole."

I do the opposite -- make them a bit long, and rest on them like in "san chin" (if you seen Goju, you know what that is). On steep ascents, I apply force from my abs that way.

On steep descents, I reach down and plant the poles with unbendable arms and let my body down to meet them, because I found that it helped to take the impact off of my knees.

It just goes to show how many ways there are to use them :)

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Trekking pole technique on 07/20/2010 13:35:09 MDT Print View

I guess I use a 1:1, I just swing my arms like I do when walking. I don't use them on flats. Uphill, I keep my pole tips behind my feet and push; dowhill, I reach downhill and use them to brake. Sort of like skiing. The blocking pole plant is my friend.

Ike Mouser
(isaac.mouser) - F
continuing on 07/20/2010 18:35:34 MDT Print View

Do most of you use your trekking poles in sync with your stride? Meaning, right heel strike, right trekking pole strike, left foot strike then left pole strike. Or do you natrually go opposite of this. I've found on ascents, keeping them in tune makes me fly up the hills.

Andy Berner
(Berner9) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
"Trekking pole technique" on 07/20/2010 18:58:30 MDT Print View

I do the 1:1 with left arm, right leg. When going up hill I push on them pretty hard to propel myself up faster. When walking flats I tend to only bring them up a little and push backwards more than anything. I use straps and kinda just let my arms fall and they kinda send me forwards.

When going down it turns into more steps than pole plants like 2:1 or even 3:1. Also on the down hills I just flip my poles so the top of the pole is in my palm and put some weight on them.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Trekking pole technique" on 07/20/2010 19:56:42 MDT Print View

I'm kind of all over the map in terms of trekking pole usage, sometimes they're in my pack and I'm running, sometimes I'm relying heavily on them and crawling. The easiest way for me to describe my typical trekking pole cadence when I'm in the zone, tapped into the rhythm of the trail, it resembles a beat pattern that goes like so:


L= Left
R= Right
1= Step one left foot, left pole
2= Step two right foot, right pole
3= Step three left foot, left pole



This probably sounds confusing, makes complete sense in my head, only way I know how to describe it.

Edited by Eugeneius on 07/20/2010 19:57:19 MDT.

Jeffrey Stylos

Locale: Northeast
So many variants! on 07/20/2010 23:13:56 MDT Print View

Wow, I hadn't expected so many different answers!

Cameron and Travis: How does the technique of more frequent pole placements than foot placements work? I tried this, but short of tapping out Morse code, I couldn't manage a 3:1 ratio.

EDIT: Whoops! It looks like I got my own ratio reversed in my original post. So 3:1 would be less frequent pole placements. That makes more sense.

Eugene: If I understand you right, does that pattern mean you skip every other right pole placement, for a 4:3 overall ratio?

My brother showed me his technique when he visited the other day. He uses shorter poles and a more relaxed arm position (like the one described by Larry) and the tips of his poles are always behind his feet, propelling him forward. I tried this, using shorter poles, and found it much easier to keep a 1:1 ratio.

I can't wait to try all of these techniques out on my next actual hike!

Edited by jsstylos on 07/20/2010 23:19:37 MDT.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Trekking pole technique" on 07/21/2010 06:25:03 MDT Print View

Yep, I think you're right Jeffrey, so I suppose that translates into a 4:3 ratio. Kinda funny, I've never really thought much about my "technique" until this thread.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: pole technique on 07/21/2010 11:39:05 MDT Print View

On flat or gently inclined trails I usually am in the 3:1 camp. On steep hills, snowfields, or in mud (etc) I use the 1:1 (left foot, right arm, etc) technique. It's the same descending, gentle descents mean less frequent placments, steeper means a more aggressive and frequent pole plant.

There's also the double pole plant and vault/jump used to get down big waterbars or over small creeks.

My fixed poles are 115cm, which put my lower arm, when the upper arm is aligned with my torso, at a little less than level with the ground. This combined with the multi-position GG grips gives me the ideal position options for various techniques and types of terrain. The only time it comes up short is in deep snow, when I want much longer poles, and thus use adjustable BD ski poles.

Larry Dyer
(veriest1) - F

Locale: Texas
Good to Hear on 07/21/2010 12:03:05 MDT Print View

I'm glad I'm not the only one using a shorter pole or implementing unbendable arm in some fashion. I will say when my poles had straps I was able to put my weight on my wrist and let my hands just guide the poles. Once the strap broke (Sports Authority house brand poles) the unbendable arm technique was only effective when I didn't mind gripping the poles a bit tighter. With the straps I was able to really rest my weight on the poles for long stretches of even relatively flat ground. This was nice towards the end of a day or if nursing a hot spot on my foot.

In short I find the straps very beneficial. I believe they allow for a very relaxed 1:1 ratio because they put the weight of the pole more on the wrists where it can be lifted with larger muscles than those in the hands.

Larry Dyer
(veriest1) - F

Locale: Texas
Further Examination of What I'm Doing on 07/21/2010 16:29:02 MDT Print View

>I do the opposite -- make them a bit long, and rest on them like in "san chin" (if you seen Goju, you know what that is). On steep ascents, I apply force from my abs that way.<

I Googled San Chin and I see what you're talking about. I walked around the house a bit with the poles like this and found it to be a bit uncomfortable to use but my back ground is in "soft" arts like Tai Chi. It'd probably work better for me if I was more practiced in it but it is similar to what I do going up steep sections.

Jeffrey, I also took a bit of time to further examine my technique. I'm usually putting the pole about 1" behind the ball of my foot (left foot with right pole and visa versa) and it stays there until I move it forward in the same motion as my foot (this sounds similar in concept to what your brother is doing). I also noticed that my elbow typically bends very little throughout the entire motion (It may move a degree or so because I'm not actively trying to move it or hold it steady - I'm just keeping it relaxed.) and the vast majority of my arm movement is accomplished at the shoulders. At the end of the stroke this puts my wrist about 4 inches below the top of my pelvis.