Trekking poles (also known as hiking poles, hiking sticks or walking poles) are a common hiking accessory. When in use, they resemble ski poles as they have many features in common, such as baskets at the bottom, rubber-padded handles and wrist straps. Unlike ski poles, however, they are often made in two or three sections and can be extended and retracted as necessary for use. Their maximum length is usually 135 cm (54 inches). Some poles come with spring-loaded tips to aid walking under normal conditions and to reduce wrist strain. Trekking poles are usually made from lightweight aluminum or carbon fiber. When fully retracted, they can easily be stored in the side pocket of a backpack.
Descendants of the common walking stick, trekking poles are usually used by hikers for the same reasons — to provide some rhythm to their walking pace and for added support. On flat, smooth terrain they really aren't necessary although using them can increase the exercise a hiker gets from the trip, as well as the speed. But on less certain terrain, or steep slopes, they provide useful lateral stability, and many turn to them for help with knee pain. They can also be used as aids when climbing rocks or boulders, to probe the depth of mud or water and facilitate a crossing. When traversing steep slopes for long distances, some hikers make one pole shorter than the other to make those trips feel more as if they were taking place on level ground. Some backpacking tents are designed to use trekking poles as tent poles. Along the same lines, trekking poles can be used to set up a Bivouac shelter.
Hikers who take to snowshoes in winter find trekking poles especially useful.
The hard tips of many poles can frequently leave scratches on rocks. On high-volume trails this can be very evident, and some other hikers find this a visual intrusion into the natural environment, particularly in wilderness areas, which are supposed to kept "untrammeled by man", in as natural a state as possible.
- Pete's Pole Page The hows and whys of pole use