Hiking poles are generally sold in pairs. They are probably meant to be used as a pair then. One hiking pole for each hand. But what if a pole breaks mid-hike? Should you put both poles away? Or can you carry on hiking with just one hiking pole?
Many people prefer to use just one hiking pole when hiking. Hiking with one hiking pole does not have to be restricted to when one of yours breaks on the trail. The deciding factor is usually a personal preference in the debate between using one hiking pole and a pair of hiking poles.
It just depends on what you, as a hiker, are more comfortable doing. Some hikers swear by the one-pole method, while others are fully committed to being four-legged hikers. Getting out in the wilderness and experimenting with the different options is one way to figure out where you stand in this debate. But before you head to the trail, here are a few things to keep in mind while you are still on the fence.
Benefits to using one hiking pole
- Better for the knees
Hiking poles bear some of the weight that your ankles and knees would otherwise carry. Although using two hiking poles is probably more effective than using one, using one hiking pole is better than using none!
- Good for stability in technical conditions
When crossing rivers, snowy conditions, or hiking down steep scree slopes, using just one hiking pole is equally as effective as using two.
- Works out your arms
Hiking poles can serve as a gentle workout for your arms, making hiking a full-body workout. You might have to switch arms occasionally when using one pole.
- Good for posture
On an uphill, hiking poles can help prevent you from bending forward at the hips. This correction to your posture means that your glutes stay activated. Staying upright also means that you can better plan your route, and your lungs can fully expand.
Pros to using just one hiking pole
- You have one hand free
For many hikers, this is the main advantage of using one hiking pole. Only using one hiking pole means that you always have one hand free for snacks, the GPS, a map, a dog leash, or (in extreme conditions) an ice ax.
- It’s lightweight
A major advantage to only using one hiking pole is that it saves on weight while still giving you all the advantages of using two hiking poles.
- It’s easier to get used to
Using just one hiking pole feels more natural for the many hikers who have grown up walking with sticks picked up along the trail.
- It’s cheaper
Often only buying a single hiking pole is cheaper than buying two hiking poles. You could also buy a pair of hiking poles split the price with your hiking partner.
- The difference is negligible, the weight is halved
The great thing about using just one hiking pole is that it gives you most of the functionality of hiking with two poles, but you only have to carry half the weight.
Cons to using just one hiking pole
- Not as effective at weight transference
Hiking poles bear some of the weight that your knees and ankles would otherwise carry. Even though one hiking pole will bear some of this weight, it won’t bear this weight symmetrically. Although you might be able to lean on a single hiking pole with both hands in technical and steep conditions, this is not possible when walking longer distances.
- Might be harder to find a walking rhythm
Some hikers find it easier to find a walking rhythm when they are using two hiking poles. This rhythm might be harder to find when using only one hiking pole. But the good news is that walking with one pole is less prescriptive than walking with two – so you are free to find your rhythm.
- Not as much use on the uphill
Where using two poles can help you pull yourself up a steep incline, one step at a time; only using one pole is a lot less effective on the uphill.
Tips for using a single hiking pole
- A balanced gait
Always make sure that you are walking in a way that will not cause you injury. Putting too much strain on one side of your body can result in injury. Try to continually switch up the side you are using your hiking pole on so that both sides of your upper body get a workout.
- Make use of the wrist straps
Using the wrist straps on a hiking pole can allow you to have a more relaxed handle on the pole while hiking. Wrist straps also prevent you from having to bend down and pick up your hiking pole if you lose your grip on the handle, as the straps will make sure that the pole stays connected to your arm. This feature is handy when scrambles call for you to use your hands, and you don’t have time to stow your poles away.
- The poles are adjustable for a reason
Most hiking poles are adjustable in length. Make use of this feature for maximum comfort when hiking with a hiking pole by customizing the pole to your height. You can also adjust the length of the pole according to the terrain – make the pole longer for steep down climbs and make it shorter for ascents.
- Using two hands
When using only one hiking pole, remember that you can lean on the pole with both hands. This is useful in technical conditions, such as when crossing a river or steep descent.
When hiking with two hiking poles is probably a better idea
- When you have an injury
It is probably better to use two hiking poles when you have a foot, knee, or ankle injury. This is because two hiking poles take some of the weight otherwise carried by your legs and redistribute it symmetrically throughout your whole body. The symmetrical support that two hiking poles give you will help ensure that you don’t get injured by putting too much strain on the parts of your body that aren’t injured.
- When you are walking long distances
Most hikers who alternate between using two hiking poles and one hiking pole generally decide to use two when covering vast distances. Over far distances using two hiking poles can take a significant amount of stress off your knees and ankles (more than using just one pole). This can prevent stress injuries and other general aches and pains from a long day on the trail.
- When you are walking with a heavy pack
Another situation where it might be necessary to use two hiking poles is when you have a very heavy pack. Two hiking poles are probably unnecessary when hiking with a normal day pack, but as soon as you start doing multi-day hikes with all your gear on the back, then hiking poles become very useful.
- When you have a tent that needs two hiking poles
Some lightweight hiking tents make use of hiking poles instead of tent poles. In this case, when a hiking tent needs two poles, it might be useful to hike with both hiking poles. If you prefer to hike with only one hiking pole, you may be able to buy a lightweight tent pole instead of taking both hiking poles. This might help you save on weight.
There are many factors to consider when choosing between hiking with one hiking pole and hiking with two hiking poles. The distance you are walking, the weight of your backpack, and your personal preference are all things to consider. Hiking with one hiking pole has many benefits. Hopefully, this article has equipped you with what to keep in mind when you are next out on the trail, and one of your hiking poles breaks. Now get out on that trail! What are you waiting for?