Many hikers prefer to use trekking poles to distribute weight and decrease the chance of injury.

Hiking Poles Gear Guide: When to Use Them, What to Buy

Did you know that a pair of hiking poles can reduce by up to half the weight and stress on your feet, legs, and lower back? And this isn’t just when hiking on hills and uneven ground, hiking poles halve stress even when walking on relatively flat terrain. No wonder hiking poles, or trekking poles as they’re also called, are gaining popularity among walkers and hikers. They help increase speed, lessen fatigue, and stabilize your steps to prevent injury.

Here’s what you need to know when choosing your first pair of hiking poles:

Hand grips and wrist bands. Poles with soft, formable hand grips can protect the area between your thumb and index fingers from calluses and blisters, while wrist bands enable you to loosen your grip and keep your hands from cramping.

Adjustable lengths. Telescoping poles are not only convenient for storage, but also adjust to the terrain. For example, when climbing uphill, poles should be shorter than on flat terrain so you don’t overextend your arms and shoulders. Lengthen your poles when going downhill, since using poles that are too short can strain your elbows.

The right tip. There are three different styles of end tips: single (sharp), chiseled, or rubber. Single tipped poles are ideal for icy conditions, while poles with rubber tips are best for hard surfaces such as asphalt or cement. For an all-around trekking pole, select a chiseled tip.

Spring in your step. Some trekking poles are built with an internal spring that absorbs shock to further reduce impact. These are a good idea for long hikes and for older hikers concerned about hip and knee injuries.

You can get more detailed buying advice from Outdoor Gear Lab, which reviews new makes and models.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.