As I have gotten older I have found that I am increasingly needing assistance when walking uphill and downhill. My knee joints are not what they used to be as a result of years of abuse as a caver, climber, runner and walker. The cartilages are pretty much ‘shot’ and my sense of stability seems less than it used to be.
“So how can I overcome these problems in-order to continue hill-walking?”
Well the answer is fairly simple, and involves the best piece of kit I carry with me – my trekking poles.
I am not going to talk about which ones to get as there are so many out there. Only you will know what price range, size, weight etc that you will require, and if not, then you local outlet will be able to advise. I want to talk about how to use them efficiently and effectively to make your life easier and walking more pleasurable. Again, what I tell you here will not be everything. You will adapt the way you use the trekking poles to suit your individual requirements.
Holding the poles –
There are two ways to hold the pole – the obvious way and the correct way! At the top of each pole is a strap which is important in making sure your weight is transferred correctly to the poles. Use the strap incorrectly and you will have to grip too tightly creating stress and strain in the forearms and increasing fatigue. Use the diagram below to follow the correct way to use the strap. Using the strap in this manner will allow you to put a lot of your upper body weight on the poles without having to grip too tightly. Finally make sure you adjust the strap correctly to get the right fit for your hands.
Pole length –
The next thing is to adjust the length of the pole to suit your height and the terrain over which you are walking.
On flat ground when you are holding the handle of the pole with the tip on the ground, your elbow should be bent at about 90 degrees and your lower arm horizontal. You may find you prefer a slightly longer or shorter pole, try different lengths until you find one that suits you. Most people set their poles between 115cm and 125cm.
When walking downhill you may wish to lengthen the poles slightly. Position the poles slightly in front of you and shorten your stride, this will take some of the impact stress from the knee joints. If the slope is very steep, icy or muddy, one useful technique is to walk down sideways, planting your pole firmly into the ground and then using this as a ‘back-stop’ for you foot.
When walking uphill, you may wish to shorten the poles slightly. Use the poles to push-off rather than pull yourself up hill. Do not place the tip of the pole in front of your lead foot, if you do you are using your energy pushing the pole downward rather than backwards. Do not over reach with your trekking poles and this will reduce their efficiency.
I have found that as you get older and the joints become stiffer and less stable, trekking poles can become an essential part of your kit. On all terrains, the poles can be very effective in providing an extra form of stability, Especially when crossing streams or uneven ground. Even when walking along on flat ground, the use of the poles in the ‘nordic style’ will greatly increase you speed and distance covered with very little extra effort. The reason for this is that you are now using you upper body in addition to your legs to propel yourself along.