You don’t absolutely need trekking poles for hiking or backpacking although many people find them helpful. The most oft-cited advantage of trekking poles is that they take some of the pressure off your legs when descending steep slopes or mountains, thereby decreasing or eliminating pain in your knees and the surrounding cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
Trekking Pole Advantages
- The action of swinging your arms forward with each step can help you establish a steady walking pace, which is helpful on flatter trails or rolling hills. The effort takes more energy because your arms are involved, but many people find they can hike faster this way.
- Trekking poles can be used to set up trekking pole tents, thus saving you the weight and inconvenience of carrying tent poles. See our post on the 10 Best Ultralight Trekking Pole Tents and What are the Strengths and Weaknesses of Trekking Pole Tents?
- They can help increase your balance on tricky rock scrambles, crossing rickety log bridges, wading across streams and rivers, vaulting over muddy sections of trail, or for balance when you have to carry a very heavy load.
Trekking Pole Disadvantages
- They require extra energy to use. That means carrying extra food to make up for increase calorie usage.
- They break, which can be a real problem if you have a trekking pole tent and substitute tree branches aren’t available to pitch your shelter.
- Trekking poles are a real pain in the ass if you hike off-trail because they get entangled in overhanging vegetations.
- Poor posture can be exacerbated by leaning forward on your trekking poles. This also increases energy consumption because you “brake” whenever you place your trekking pole tips in front of your torso, increasing your energy consumption rather than reducing it.
- Trekking poles can be easy to lose if you don’t train yourself to keep track of them.
- If you fall with your hand looped tightly in the trekking pole straps, there is a chance you can sprain a shoulder or break a wrist.
For a list of recommended trekking poles, see our 10 Best Trekking Poles for Hiking and Backpacking Guide.