Can You Use Just One Hiking Pole?

We’ve seen people with the cool walking staff and others with dual hiking poles (trekking poles). It kind of stinks to not have a hand free–can you get away with just using one hiking pole?

Hiking with one pole or walking stick gives greater benefits than not using a hiking pole at all. However, using two poles will allow you to get a more symmetrical workout, provide more balance, enhance endurance, and even boost your overall speed.

Realistically, a single hiking pole is better than no pole at all. That said, there’s no beating the benefits you can get from a set of hiking poles. If you’re unfamiliar with hiking poles in general, this is the right place to learn what benefits either a single hiking pole or a set of hiking poles can provide.

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Continue on and learn what hiking poles can add to your hikes and how to use them in the most efficient way.

Is It Better To Hike With One Pole Or Two?

Hiking with two trekking poles will give you the most joint support, balance, and will exercise your body more symmetrically than just one hiking pole. If you have a choice–choose two.

If you dislike having both hands tied up, you can always lend it to a hiker in your g roup.

When it comes to hiking, there’s no hard and fast rule about whether or not you even need hiking sticks, or whether you might need one or two. There are hikers who swear by using two hiking poles (like me) and those who find any number of hiking poles to be annoying (like my dad). When it comes down to it, the right answer will be whatever works best for you personally.

If one of your hiking poles has broken or if you want to use a single walking stick so you have a hand free, you can absolutely have a successful hike with just a single stick. Doing so will help a bit with balance and stability. A single stick can also be useful if you’re someone who has some trouble with just one leg. Maybe you need some extra stability on one side but not the other.

That said, you can get even more benefits from using a set of poles rather than just one. To begin with, using hiking poles uses the muscles in your upper body, including your shoulders and triceps. If you opt for a single stick, then you’ll only be working those muscles on one side. You can just choose to be vigilant about switching sides regularly, but it’s generally easier to just use two sticks, to begin with.

This is especially true because a set of sticks will add even more to your overall balance. Imagine being able to walk on four limbs rather than two or three. In addition, they can help to even out the weight of a backpack so that it’s easier for your body to handle.

So, to sum up, yes, you can hike with only one pole and you’ll get some benefit.

Do Hiking Poles Even Help?

It’s story time.

I was hiking on the Milford Track in New Zealand (I feel very fortunate I got to go. I had to book it almost a year in advance!) when one of the ladies on the hike was complaining of really strong knee pain as we were descending down a mountain pass.

Me hiking the Milford Track with my Teton backpack (Probably set my hiking poles down, somewhere)

This woman was otherwise healthy and fit, and didn’t have serious issues on the ~33-mile hike except the steep downhill was causing her a lot of pain.

I lent her my hiking poles, and she felt immediate relief and was able to get down the pass. I was grateful that I didn’t have the same problem as her, although I did miss the poles after I lent them.

Hiking poles aren’t just convenient, they can be crucial for some people in some situations.

All that said, many hikers opt to go without poles. They aren’t necessary to hike, but they can be a huge help when it comes to supporting your joints. Not only do they help to keep you balanced when the trail is rough, but they also ensure that your upper body is doing some of the work as well.

Because your arms are helping, that means your legs are getting a bit of a break. You’re spreading out the load along more of your body which can help you hike farther (with less pain).

To summarize, here are some more benefits you can get while using hiking poles:

  • Balance. Whether you need an extra boost while going uphill or something to rely on while going downhill, hiking poles are a great way to keep your balance. Ultimately, this can help to keep you from falling or straining certain muscle groups too much. I’ve found this extremely important on very slippery surfaces like muddy rocks. Having an extra “leg” on the ground makes a huge difference.
  • Muscle strength. Using hiking poles allows you to work out more muscle groups. Typically, hiking is all about the lower half of your body, and your legs in particular. Hiking poles allow you to get more use from your back, shoulders, and arms, which means those areas will be able to get stronger as well.
  • Joint protection. Hiking can be tough on your knees and ankles, especially if you’re prone to sprains. Hiking poles will keep you stable and allow you to avoid too much knee strain. You’ll also be less likely to sprain your ankles because you’ll have a way to keep most of your weight off of them even if you stumble.
  • Stamina increase. With your full body getting a workout and the hiking poles balancing out your effort, you’ll be able to go farther and work harder as you hike. If you like taking it slow, you can just enjoy the fact that the hike will be a little bit easier. Otherwise, you can use the poles to continue challenging yourself on each hike.

There’s a lot that hiking poles can do to make hiking easier on your body. However, not even the best hiking poles can protect you from blisters. You’re going to need a few more tools and strategies to make sure your feet stay comfortable for the whole hike. For more information on avoiding those nasty hiking heel blisters, take a look at our article on the topic here.

How To Use Hiking Poles Efficiently

If you’re going to try out using a set of hiking poles, it’s important to know how to get the most out of them. Using the poles correctly will give you the greatest benefits with the least amount of effort. Luckily, hiking poles are quite easy to use once you’ve learned how.

Before you purchase a set of poles or head out onto the trail with poles you may already have, check out the following steps to make sure your hiking poles are working for you as best they can!

Choosing Your Hiking Poles

Before you can get started using your hiking poles, you may need to purchase them. If you don’t already have a set, there are some different variables and features worth taking a look at before you settle on which poles you want to buy. Naturally, you’ll first have to decide whether you’d have one pole or two. For the sake of this article, I’m going to assume you’re opting for a pair rather than a single pole.

Some hiking poles come in just a single length, while others can be adjusted as needed. The latter tends to be better for hikers who like to travel more varied terrain because they can adjust to uphill or downhill travel, or just to fit you more comfortably. The one downside to adjustable hiking poles is that the mechanisms can break and so they collapse when you don’t want them to–it’s kind of a pain to adjust your hiking poles during the last part of your hike when you’re tired and grumpy.

You want your hiking poles to be at the height (if they are not adjustable) to where your elbow is at a 90-degree angle (no narrower than that).

Depending on your situation, there are also some nice bonus features you can opt for. If you need a little extra stability, you can choose hiking poles that offer an added ability to absorb shock. Additionally, those who like to keep things light can opt for foldable poles. Finally, some hiking poles even offer a place to mount your camera so that you can catch any wildlife that might be around.

As you’re shopping for hiking poles, it might be a good time to consider what kind of clothing you may need on your hikes as well. You might find yourself hiking in a variety of temperature ranges, but you’ll start to need a bit more protection when the temperature dips. Discover more about what you should wear when hiking at 60 degrees in our article here.

Holding The Hiking Poles

Holding hiking poles is often quite simple. A quality set of hiking poles will have grips attached to them that you’ll naturally want to grab onto. You’ll essentially hold them the same way you’d hold a walking stick, using gentle movements of your wrists to move the poles forward with you as you walk.

Typically, when the poles are touching the ground, you want your elbows to be bent at about 90 degrees as you grip the handles.

Your wrists should be straight and should not be bent up or down to accommodate for the handle. I’m a programmer by trade and unfortunately I feel it in my wrists if I don’t get the alignment perfectly neutral.

Notice how my elbow is bent at about a 90 degree angle (a bit wider than 90 degrees is okay), and my wrists are not bent at all.

Hiking poles often have a loop that’s tied to the top of the pole. Your hands are supposed to go through this loop. They help the hiking poles stay in your hands and if you tighten the loops a bit, it can give you some wrist support.

As you use the hiking poles, it’s important to make sure that your grip isn’t too tight. You may feel like you want to hang on tightly, but it will actually just create work for your muscles that your body doesn’t need. On top of that, you may end up with achy hands or wrists. Instead, trust in a light grip that will tighten if the situation calls for it.

Once you’re holding the poles, you’ll need to learn how to move with them. Generally speaking, you’ll move one pole forward at a time. To create the most efficient motion, take a look at how you walk. If you place your left foot forward, practice moving the pole in your right hand forward at the same time. It may take a little time to get used to, but moving your feet with the opposite arms at the same time will eventually become a comfortable habit.

It feels a little bit like swimming and it feels natural.

Navigating Different Landscapes

  • Flat Land. This is going to be the easiest area to use your poles in. Because of that, it’s a decent time to practice using the correct holds and motions so that you can be well prepared for more challenging terrain. If you have a handle on using the poles, you can push downward and backward on them against the ground as you walk. Doing so will add a touch of speed and get your muscles working a bit more.
  • Uphill. Hiking poles are great for balancing out the effort when traveling uphill. Make sure to avoid setting your poles too far away from yourself. The idea is to use the poles to help with pushing yourself upwards and forwards, not pull yourself towards the summit. This will also be the strategy that is easiest on your muscles.
  • Stairs. Stairs can be a bit tricky when you’re using hiking poles, but with the right technique, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. When you’re going upstairs, keep the poles planted beside your feet and use them to push you forward. As you move downhill on stairs, keep the poles settled on the step ahead of you to balance yourself as you step down.
  • Downhill. Because the angle is going to be different than when you’re traveling uphill, you’ll want to adjust the length of the poles. Typically, hikers like to elongate them a bit for more comfort. As you move, walk carefully and try not to put too much strain on your knees. Keep the poles ahead of you, planting them into the ground to help you balance as you move forward.

With the help of your hiking poles, you may just find that you’re able to hike farther than ever before. Compare the length of your hiking journeys to other hikers in our article on the topic here.


Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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