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Effectively Using Hiking Poles: The Gas-Brake-Coast Method
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Effectively Using Hiking Poles: The Gas-Brake-Coast Method on 10/11/2011 14:04:25 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Effectively Using Hiking Poles: The Gas-Brake-Coast Method

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Multiple uses of poles on 10/11/2011 14:26:56 MDT Print View

The author hardly scratched the surface on the multiple uses of trekking poles! Here are some more:

Hand crutches
Digging catholes (literally scratching the surface, hee hee!)
Flipping branches/rocks off the trail
Clearing drainage ditches along the trail
Propping up your backpack to make a chair
Fishing pole
Used around home, turns exercise walking into a whole-body exercise that works on the core muscles (rubber tips on the points are a good idea on pavement)
Prop up sagging clothesline

I'm sure there are lots more!

Roger B
(rogerb) - MLife

Locale: Here and there
Re: Effectively Using Hiking Poles: The Gas-Brake-Coast Method on 10/11/2011 14:36:39 MDT Print View

The information provided in this article is ideal for users of poles. Whilst Pacer Poles are different in some ways they are essentially the same. The following link provides some excellent discussions on the biomechanics of walking poles, much of which is relevant to this article. Pacer Poles

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Picking things up on 10/11/2011 15:11:28 MDT Print View

Another us of poles is to pick up things you've dropped when you don't feel like bending over. For a while I was pretty good at using poles to pick up Nalgeens, dropped hats and whatever else could be hooked with a pole or pinched between two.

I don't know about using them to move poison ivy though. Seems to me you might get it on yourself at some point. If I suspect the ends of my poles have touched poison ivy I don't touch the bottom half until I can rinse them off in a creek.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
hand straps on 10/12/2011 11:22:56 MDT Print View

"You are making a joint by using the strap as a strong, tireless ligament. If you grip tightly, your hands and wrists will needlessly work and stress."

This is how I use trekking poles, to be able to load my arms and take stress off of my legs, while NOT gripping tightly and wearing out my hands/forearms. Let the straps and your triceps take the load, not the little forearm muscles and tendons.

I've never understood how people can get much benefit from no-strap poles. If you load such poles with any signficant weight (which is the main point of using them in the first place), your hand has to apply lots of force to maintain the connection. That's a high price in energy and fatigue in order to save, what, 1 ounce per strap, perhaps less?

Edited by El_Canyon on 10/12/2011 11:26:10 MDT.

Maxine Weyant
(Maxine) - MLife
downhill/hand straps on 10/12/2011 13:53:38 MDT Print View

When I hike downhill, I usually take my hands out of the straps and turn the poles backwards. I wrap my hands around the straps and the palm of my hand rests on top of the pole. This does several things:

It usually keeps me from having to lengthen the poles on the downhill.

By holding the strap, I can just move my wrist slightly as I'm lifting the pole and tip of pole lands right where I want to place it next. So my arms aren't working to lift and place the poles.

Palming the top of the pole really offloads my knees a lot more on the downhill.

Holding the straps really gives my hands and forearms a break. My wrists can maintain a more neutral position for awhile, my skin gets a break, and the sweat can evaporate. I often do this even when I'm not walking downhill. And when it's hot, I'll dunk my pole handles and straps in a cool stream to remove the grit and cool my wrists and hands, until the straps dry out.

Don Jones
(djfrogg) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Results of Good Poling Techniques on 10/12/2011 16:30:16 MDT Print View

Skip does a great job of explaining the basics of trekking pole use, especially valuable for those new to using poles in the backcountry. The main point of his article—that technique is important —is right on. I observe few with good poling technique. I have found the Nordic Walking community a great source of information on poling techniques.

At the top of the article, Skip mentions four purposes (“promises”) for using good pole technique. In my own website article on this same subject (, I have identified seven different purposes: BALANCE and STABILITY; POWER; SPEED; ENDURANCE; HEALTH and EXERCISE; RELIEVE STRESS and REDUCE INJURIES; ENJOYMENT and FUN. The point being that technique is closely related to purpose—different purpose means modifying basic techniques.

An overriding purpose for using poles is fun and enjoyment. I derive much enjoyment by learning and applying good form and technique. The most fitting analogy here is that of skilled cross-country skiers or speed skaters on the ice. When they have mastered their respective forms, they are examples of power and beauty and grace. Not only fun to watch, but fun to experience first hand. While my analogy is a stretch applied to hiking with poles, good poling technique can add much to the enjoyment of being in the backcountry.

Alice Hengst
(Moondust) - MLife

Locale: Southern Sierras
Sometimes I just carry them on 10/12/2011 20:11:40 MDT Print View

If I'm on an obstacle-free trail, I will usually just carry the poles by holding them towards the middle so that they balance in my hands. I can hike much faster if I don't touch the poles to the ground, so when I don't need them I don't use them.

I also use the palm on top method that Maxine mentioned when I'm going down a steep hill.

Edited by Moondust on 10/12/2011 20:12:18 MDT.

Steve Horne
(shhQuiet) - F - MLife

Locale: Southeast
To carry or Use? on 10/12/2011 21:46:07 MDT Print View

I use them very much like using poles with cross-country skis. You're pushing with your legs and arms at the same time. But I do find it clumsy to take off the straps when switching between carrying and using them. I really depend on them for the downhill. I'd rather trade off some upper-body energy to save my knees.

Luymes Ted

Locale: So Cal.
Another use on 10/18/2011 22:08:32 MDT Print View

When going fast downhill, I use them to hop over rocks or obstacles. Plant the poles on either side of the obstacle and use momentum to lift yourself over. Use the same technique to "jump" from a taller object to a lower surface. It's fun and saves my knees.

Bruce Johnson
Hiking poles on 11/03/2011 13:02:54 MDT Print View

The article is okay,as far as it goes. However, Pacer Poles are far better than Lekis or any of the other usual brands (all of which basically adapt cross-country ski poles to hiker use). Pacers offer a distinct, hiker-centered design. I am 70, and my Pacers are a crucial part of my gear for continuing to backpack seriously at this age. One other commenter offers a link to the Pacer website.

Steve Genest
(srfish59) - M

Locale: SoCal
Hiking Poles on 10/01/2013 12:55:56 MDT Print View

Great article, Skip. The truth is, for me, they are indespensable. They hold up my tent and there's simply no way these old legs could hit the trail without them. I've recently begun using them on my weekly afternoon walks.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
FINALLY! on 01/17/2014 12:59:13 MST Print View

Finally an article on this much-needed topic and one that nicely addresses the absolute need for properly using hiking pole straps.

As a Nordic (XC) skier my use of hiking pole straps comes naturally. But others may be very resistant to any advice on this point.

TO WIT: Once on a Virginia section of the AT I tried to help a through hiker on the use of his hiking poles and was met with outright anger and resentment that I, a mere section hiker, would dare to tell him anything. OK, buddy, HYOH and, in this case, suffer. Ya can lead a horse to water...

Randy Cain
(bagboy) - MLife

Locale: Palmdale, CA
To strap or not to strap...... on 01/17/2014 22:37:55 MST Print View


Your post seems to imply that not using straps will mean inevitable suffering. Could you elaborate?

Lloyd Long
(longlw) - M

Locale: Central Cascades
Proper use of trekking poles on 02/27/2014 10:13:11 MST Print View

Yes, if you grip the handles too tightly you will get tendonitis (tennis elbow). That happened to me before I learned how to let them swing free. It took me almost two years to get rid of the condition.

Randy Cain
(bagboy) - MLife

Locale: Palmdale, CA
tendonitis on 05/11/2014 20:11:11 MDT Print View

Well the solution is to not grip the handles too tightly then. It's a false assumption that just because someone is not using straps that therefore they have a death grip on the handles. I haven't used straps in years, and am much happier without them. Most of the time I'm griping the pole with nothing more than an index finger and thumb encircling it. It's not much of a grip. Never had any hand/wrist fatigue or any problems at all.

Jake D
(JakeDatc) - F

Locale: Bristol,RI
Re: To strap or not to strap...... on 05/12/2014 09:29:02 MDT Print View

I do not use straps and do not believe that you can use them like XC ski poles since there is no GLIDING involved. it is like pushing the steering wheel in your car.. you are using effort but not directing the movement. when you push your poles your foot is planted... you are not pushing your body anywhere.

I use them more like mogul skiing where you lightly hold the grip, flick with your wrists and only do a solid pole plant when you need balance.

otherwise its about timing and giving your feet the freedom to step where you want with the poles for backup if you are off balance.

uphill i'll shorten them and use them as handholds to pull myself up a higher step. downhills i use the grip in palm method a lot.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
The XC pole strap anaogy on 04/28/2015 14:18:43 MDT Print View


True, you do not use a straight arm extension with hiking poles as one does at full stride when XC skiing and the alpine ski analogy is more appropriate.

Still, when going on the steeper uphills you do "push off" on the pole strap and your hand does open as you begin to retrieve the pole on the upward/forward swing. Then your hand closes lightly on the grip for another pole plant.

I like the assist that poles permit my upper body to give my legs on uphills and I really Need the cushioning they give my knees on downhills. I think hiking poles have over the decades, saved my knees since, at 72, they are still fine.

Philip Tschersich
(Philip.AK) - MLife

Locale: Kodiak Alaska
Gliding on 04/28/2015 14:55:33 MDT Print View

You can 'glide' while hiking. Your arm cadence does not have to match your feet. Really, they don't. On some steep climbs I will double-pole, planting both at the same time and then take two steps, and then reset the poles before taking two more steps. You know, like V1 skating. Even on the flats I sometimes have my arms go through half the cycles (half the cadence) my feet do, using alternating poling. One pole is planted during both footfalls while the other arm swings the other pole forward, and then the second pole gets planted during the second L and R foot series. The arm follow-through is not as dramatic as with xc skiing, obviously, but my hands aren't just moving up in down in front of me like I'm working a snare drum. Straps (used like xc ski pole straps) are instrumental in transferring all that power to the poles unless you are palming the head of the handle. Poles can have a dramatic effect on your forward and upward propulsion, you just have to put them to work for you. I'm 5' 11" with long legs and I like 120cm trekking poles in our local steep terrain. Maybe I'd opt for longer ones if I did a lot of mellow trail hiking. Poles rule.

Edited by Philip.AK on 04/28/2015 14:57:28 MDT.