Walking poles, also known as trekking poles and hiking poles, are a popular accessory with many people who enjoy the outdoor lifestyle. They are often thought of tools for the elderly or those with leg injuries, but poles have many benefits for walkers of all ages and fitness levels. If you enjoy hiking or walking in hilly terrain, walking poles can make a big difference to stability and speed.

Uneven trails and steep inclines can be a challenge for the most experienced walkers. Trekking poles help you to balance and distribute your weight evenly, and they reduce stress on the knees. Walking downhill can be particularly hazardous, and using poles can reduce the risk of slips and falls. Many walkers claim that using trekking poles improves their posture, and being more upright can help breathing and endurance.

If you’re considering buying some walking poles, the following tips will guide you to choose the ones that are best for you:

What type of terrain do you walk in?

If you’re a trail or lowland walker your equipment needs will be different than those of a more adventurous mountain hiker. Heavy duty walking poles are better for rough, unbroken terrain. Ultralight trekking poles are more suitable for low-level use, and they are ideal if you enjoy long days exploring in flat terrain. Poles with so-called ‘umbrella’ feet are good for walking on soft ground as they don’t sink in as easily as those with narrower bases.

Do you have limited space?

If you enjoy long hiking and camping trips, space in your rucksack may be limited. Folding walking poles are a good option in this case. Compact, collapsible poles take up very little room and are just as strong and stable as fixed poles once erected. Folding walking poles are also ideal for travellers, and they can be carried in hand luggage when you fly.

Do you need very light poles?

Lighter is often considered better, but mountaineers and more adventurous hikers sometimes prefer sturdier walking poles. The thickness of the shaft and the material it’s made from are two of the main factors in the weight of poles. Carbon poles are very popular, but the ones made from aluminium are only a fraction heavier. Some hikers claim to experience vibration from the shaft when using aluminium poles.

Do you walk in low temperatures?

Walking pole handles can be made from cork, foam or rubber. Cork is generally recommended for people who walk in hot weather and warmer climates as it wicks sweat away from your hands. If you walk in low temperatures and cooler regions, rubber handles are good for insulating your hands.

Do you have knee injuries or other weaknesses?

Some poles have shock absorbing features to reduce impact on the body. These are often recommended for people with knee, hip or ankle problems. The anti-shock mechanism isn’t popular with everyone, and it’s worth testing some walking poles with this feature before buying a pair. The argument against them is that fixed poles give greater stability on steep inclines.

Walking poles aren’t just for the elderly or those with joint problems. Using them on a hike means you can walk with reduced effort and cross more challenging terrain. Walking with polls also help develop upper body strength as your arms and shoulders are working as well as your legs.