Walking poles and running poles are a great aid to getting about in the hills, they can take the strain off your lower body, aid stability on tough terrain and help cadence (to name a but a few benefits). But are they for you? Here's a quick guide...

Back to basics - pole types

Looking at our range of poles, we stock the majority of walking and running pole types and it can get confusing if you're not sure what's right for you or your activity. Here's a quick guide:

Telescopic - twist lock

These are the 'classic' pole type and have been around for ages. Basically the pole sections vary in diameter and so slide into each other so they can be adjusted on the go and stored in a shorter format. Look out for 'compact' versions - these usually have an extra section so they are more compact for carrying when not in use or for travel (such as air travel - they're easier to fit in your suitcase). Twist lock poles adjust to length and are then locked by an internal expanding 'plug' - by twisting the poles the plug locks the section solid at your preferred length.

The red internal wedge expands to lock against the next tube over it to fix the pole solid

Telescopic - Quick lock/lever lock

As per the twist lock poles above, quick lock poles are the same (including compact versions) in terms of the formats and the sections but are secured at the correct length by an external lever that nips one section tight against another. This system has been developed in recent years and is now perfected and works really well. The advantage is that they are quicker and easier to adjust on the go and the mechanism, being external, is simpler and less prone to wear.

Z Poles

What we call 'Z-Poles' are sectional poles connected together with a cord (the 'Z' comes from the shape the 3 sections of poles make when the poles are collapsed). When the cord is pulled tight, the poles are locked together. Simple as that. Some poles use really simple systems - literally a cord with a knot and slot on the handle to lock the pole, some are much slicker but very effective.

Linked by a cord the pole sections form a 'Z'
Z-Poles are compact to carry

Fixed Poles

Fixed length walking or running poles are not such a popular option in the UK. It's partly down to the practicalities of travelling and storing poles when they are not used. Also fixed length poles are, well, fixed and so you don't have the advantage of changing the length to exact requirements or carrying them in compact form etc. That said, they are generally a lot lighter and easier to live with. Quite often fixed length poles are associated with trail running or specific walking - such as Nordic walking.

The lightest option but not compact to carry

Common benefits of poles

Everyone has different views and it's personal choice but here's a few common benefits of using walking and running poles - ones that have resonated with our customers:

  • Eases load on ankles, knees and hips
  • Aids stability on difficult terrain
  • Reduces muscle strain on ascents and descents
  • Increases workout for upper body
  • Aids walking and running rhythm and cadence
  • Reduces fatigue over longer distances

Activity - what to look for

So, with the different types of poles a bit clearer (hopefully), what's the best type of pole for what you do?

Casual walker - Twist lock and quick lock poles are better suited to walkers. The poles take greater loads (i.e. you can put more of your body weight on them for support), are more robust and usual come within a price bracket that works well for occasion to moderate use.

A Fizan Compact walking pole -it's well-priced, sturdy, simple and light

Weekend and holiday hillwalker - If you are keener and spend more time walking you'd still be best with a twistlock or quick lock pole (again from a durability and load carrying perspective) but you may prefer to upgrade models for ones with lighter materials (Carbon poles are lighter but can be less durable), more comfortable handles and wrist straps. If weight is an issue then some Z poles offer an aluminium construction (for durability) with the light, compact form of a z-pole.

Mountain King Super Trekker poles are light and well-priced. Better still they are a UK company

Hiker and trekkers - If you are really striding out, doing longer distances and, perhaps, walking with a pack for multi-day trips, then some of the 'upper end' twist or quick lock walking poles would suit best. They are most capable over tougher terrain, carrying loads and adding comfort with premium straps and grips.

Helinox trekking poles are awesome - well-designed, quality components and with all the features for a multi-day trek

Trail runners - Trail runners tend to look to poles to cope with longer distances or specific events. As such Z-poles are most often the best option. They are compact when not in use (they can often be carried in the hands without getting in the way), they stow easily and, in use, they are lightweight (but not so suited to bearing all your weight) and precise. Carbon-materials are a common choice as they make the lightest poles but if you are heavy on your feet or unsure, aluminium poles may prove a good investment too.

Other considerations

We hope that the above helps a bit narrowing the choice. In addition to this, here's a couple of things we commonly discuss with customers when we talk about poles in the store or over the phone:

You get what you pay for - If you buy a good brand - you really do get a better pole. These brands invest heavily in development, tweak designs to ensure the hardware is up to the job. They stand by guarantees. If anything goes wrong and you can get spares in the future to save you replacing your poles if something breaks.

Pairs are best - most good poles come in pairs. Apart from for light, casual use, using walking poles and trail running poles as a pair works the best!

Try before you buy - It's always worth seeing if you can borrow some poles to try before you make a purchase. Talking to customers in the store, whilst many wax lyric about the benefits of using trail poles some simply don't get on with them. You never know.

Watch where you leave them! - Finally, in our store we do a good trade in replacement poles - replacing poles that have been lent up and forgotten whilst checking maps or at the end of the day getting into the car. Please do keep track of them if you have some or get some. It's so easy to lean them up and forget!

The final note is to say, of course, we have a great range of poles. The trail running and walking poles are here on our website. But please call or email for advice, we are happy to match you up with the right walking or running poles.