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Trekking poles look like ski poles, but they’re built for the trail. They’re also much more versatile. Runners, hikers, and backpackers alike use trekking poles for added support as they explore the backcountry. They’re useful for novice hikers and experienced backpackers alike. Trekking poles should be lightweight enough to carry for long distances, but also strong enough to brace your full weight when you need it. Traditionally designed for travel on dirt trails, trekking poles today come with interchangeable components that allow you to use them on the pavement, snow, and even on icy surfaces.


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Sizing for trekking poles is crucial. Most walking poles are adjustable, which means you can adapt their length to you. Normally, you want them to make your elbow bend 90-degrees when standing. Shorten the poles slightly for steep ascents. Shorten only your uphill-facing pole on traverses.


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An alternative to a trekking pole is a standard hiking staff. The main difference is that trekking poles are used in sets of two, while you would only use one hiking staff. Trekking poles are usually made out of aluminum or another hard but lightweight material, while hiking staffs are traditionally composed of wood. Trekking poles are made for technical expeditions, and offer additional support when you’re carrying a large pack. Use a hiking staff on relatively flat terrain and when you’re not lugging extra weight on your back.


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Odds are that you won’t want to use your walking poles the entire time you’re on the trail. You will either want to take a quick break from using them when your arms tire, or you just don’t need to use trekking poles on easier terrain. The good news is that a lot of trekking poles are collapsible, meaning you can either stow them inside your pack or strap them to the outside when you aren’t using them.