How to use poles

Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

As I hike, I see more people using trekking poles. They are catching on. Once you give them a try, you will be convinced. But I also notice that many folks don’t have a clue just how to use them. You see them on the rack and decide to invest some of your dinero and get a pair. But usually that’s it. If you are smart, you can get the clerk to explain their use. Many brands don’t come with any instructions. Leki is phasing out the little DVD that they have attached in the past. They have a very good website, but how many people take the time. What’s to learn? Just clomp along with them – isn’t that the idea? Well, no. As shown below, when going horizontal and especially uphill, you want the lead poles to land behind your lead foot. It is at an angle such that you should be pushing off with your arms. If you do it right, your triceps will be getting involved. Maintain the angle with the poles as you move.  Really PUSH off with the poles as you stride forward. I see many people just tapping the poles out in front of them – like a blind person. This does no good and you are merely taking your poles for a walk.

 Walking poles 1

Going downhill, and specially on steep areas, put the poles out in front of you as shown. The idea is to use them to help brake as you descend. You are transferring the energy from your knees to your upper body. I go down the Half Dome trail like Spiderman. It’s fun to watch big horn sheep scale really steep cliffs at ease. Hmmm, they have built in poles – 4 legs. Give this a try.

 walking poles visual

Also, remove the plastic tip covers that come with the poles – they are for shipping. I have even seen people using rubber tips on the trail. Why? The tungsten carbide alloy on the tips will grip the trail firmly. I saw one woman who’s tip had cut thru the rubber. If you’d like more help, I can recommend Jaya Faye Paley’s Adventure Buddies program. She gives sessions on poles for stability and balance and is often booked at Bay area REI’s and other forum. Check out her website <here>.

Unrelated thought worth quoting:  “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir

*Mr. Half Dome -Rick Deutsch –

About Mr Half Dome - Rick Deutsch

Mr Half Dome. Has written the only half dome hiking guide, One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome. Has hiked it 31 times to day. Lives in San Jose, CA Available for presentations. Carpe Diem Experience, LLC
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6 Responses to How to use poles

  1. Thanks for the kind words! I have 2 DVD’s: “POLES for Hiking, Trekking & Walking” & “POLES for Balance & Mobility.” Rick is a delight to hike with and listen to – we belong to a mutual admiration society of two. My pole trainings (free clinics and field seminars) all focus on helping people to use their upper body muscles to help PRESERVE THEIR JOINTS. Happy Trails!

  2. mrhalfdome says:

    Jayah’s DVD is at REI. She just did a 2nd one. A lot of good tips. I’ve gone with her group up Mt Tam and you learn a lot. Yes, stream crossing is so much easier with poles. In August, I crossed the Merced near Briceburg to exlore the old Portland Cement Mine – Also used my TEVA’s and poles with my boots on my shoulder for the hike.

    Rick D.

  3. Maureen Lahiff says:

    Jayah Faye Paley’s seminars, at least the ones at REI Stores, are FREE.

    she brings many sets of very nice anti-shock poles to the seminars so you get a chance to try a pair out. (she helps you set them to the correct height for level walking.)

    also, Jayah has a DVD on pole use that she’s produced, but I recommend the seminar if there’s one close by.

    another use for which I find poles tremendously helpful — the fun of crossing streams in the Yosemite High Country in June! (when the water is deep, I generally put on my Tevas and wade rather than crossing on logs, but I’ll bet poles would help a lot with log crossings, too.)

    finally, everyone’s advice for mountain lion encounters (I should be so lucky as to see one) is 1. make yourself look big, and 2. fight back if attacked. poles should help with both, if ever needed.

  4. mrhalfdome says:

    Good tips, Kathy.

    Poles are indeed awkward at first. Try just walking around your back yard and drag them behind you. Walk normal – left foot forward with your right arm. Don’t be a robot by doing same arm-same leg together. After a while bring the poles more forward and actually pick them up a bit. Then advance to planting them behind you. Next use your triceps to actually feel the force of pushing off. You’re don – that’s it. Lots of practice will hone your skills and you’ll get some benefit. Nordic Walking is a major exercise activity in Europe. Folks go around parks and in malls (with rubber tips).

    In real narrow trails, pick them up like Kathy sez, or just plant them where you can – seeing an opening. This will all be second nature with practice. Hey, I bet you didn’t ride a bike until you put the hours in!! Poles are worth it!!!

    If you need a good teacher, contact Jaya Faye Paley’s Adventure Buddies program. She gives sessions on poles for stability and balance and is often booked at Bay area REI’s and other venues. Check out her website

    *Mr. Half Dome -Rick Deutsch –

  5. Kathy says:

    Rick may have some other thoughts – but if it is at all up hill, you can keep the poles slightly behind your back foot and use them to give a slight push up, if it is slightly down hill you can keep them in front as if they were you front two feet if you had four feet. If it is narrow with a drop off, you always want to keep them on the downhill because that is the direction you would be most likely to fall, and you want the support. If it is flat and narrow, I simply don’t use them – pick them up off the ground and hold them with your hands in the strap, with the poles pointing back behind you until you reach a point you can use them again (make sure you hiking partner is not directly behind you!!!)

  6. Jackie says:

    Whenever I to use poles I end up tripping over them, I’ve actually given up on the whole idea and my poles have been gathering dust for 2 years now. I’m thinking I’m not following your advice about being behind the lead foot. I’ll have to try again. Do you have any tips about how to use them on a narrow trail where you might not have much space next to or lead foot?

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