How I Set the Height of My Hiking Poles

by Mike on May 30, 2016

The time I spent in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to hike three of the popular Great Walks the Country has to offer. The most popular is the Milford Track where the huts are booked 8 months in advance. The huts provided the cooking stove and a padded bunk, everything else including garbage had to be hiked in and out. With that said, my backpack ended up weighing somewhere around 12 kg or around 25 lbs. This isn’t a substantial amount of a weight, but walking with any kind of load for 6 hours a day can start to tax your legs and back.

Using trekking poles

Using trekking poles

To help distribute the weight, a lot of hikers including myself use trekking poles.

The benefits of hiking poles are:

  • Helps you balance on slippery or loose surfaces
  • Reduces the load off your legs
  • Less strain on the joints, specifically the knee.

To reap the aforementioned benefits, you have to use the poles effectively. On flat ground, I feel the poles have little effectiveness. It’s the descents and ascents that it’s really worthwhile having the poles.


Each pole should have a strap. Don’t buy a set of poles that doesn’t have straps. I’ve seen those hiking poles with “cane grip” those can be beneficial as a quick grab and stab grip.

There’s a certain way to use the straps so that you’re not constantly gripping or squeezing the poles. You want to insert your hand through the strap so that strap is below your palms and wrap your thumb over the strap while gripping the pole.

How to grip trekking poles

Gripping trekking poles


Descending Trails

I set the height of both poles so that my elbows are about 90 degrees or slightly greater. The reasoning is that when I step down, I plant the poles and lower myself down. This reduces the weight that’s placed on the knees while stepping down and ensures I don’t fall over.

Ascending Trails

I set pole height shorter so that my elbows are little more open than 90 degrees. This allows me to place the pole higher up on the trail and pull myself up. Think of it as placing a pole on a step above the height you’re standing at and pulling yourself up with your arms as your propelling yourself with your legs. This will distribute the workload to both your arms and legs.

Mixture of Ascents and Descent

There’re going to be trails where there’s going to be a constant mixture of the ascents and descents that constantly changing your pole height is not going to be possible. Instead, what I do is set one pole as my ascending pole and the other as my descending pole. Preferably, you want to set your dominant arm for the ascending pole because that’s your stronger arm and you’ll be able to pull yourself up. While your non-dominant arm is set for a descending pole because you’re lowering your body.


I wrote this post because over the numerous hikes I’ve done, I’ve seen people have the poles height incorrectly based on the terrain they’re traversing. Knowing where you’re going and setting the pole height properly will allow for more efficiency while hiking. The efficiency can pay off when you’re hiking really drastic ascents and descents, thus alleviating stress on your legs, particularly the knees. If you want more information, there’s numerous videos on Youtube.

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