Trekking poles are an optional item when it comes to our gear list. However, they are very helpful when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

The Benefits of Using Trekking Poles

The purpose of using poles is three fold.

One, they ease the stress on your bones and joints as your weight is now distributed between four points of contact (your feet and your poles) instead of two (just your feet).

Secondly, your poles assist in balance, reducing the wear on your stabilizer muscles. Stabilizer muscles are much smaller than prime moving muscles. When these muscles get fatigued, you can develop problems with movement, alignment, and joint stability, which ultimately can lead to an increased risk of injury. Poles can be also used to help navigate rough, slippery, or tricky terrain, thus they improve safety.

Finally, trekking poles take some of the work from your legs into the arms. With poles, you can use your arm muscles to propel yourself forward. This transfers the workload from your lower body to the upper body. By using your entire body to hike instead of just your legs, you’ll be able to hike at a faster pace for longer time periods, though on Kilimanjaro it’s unlikely that you’ll be ever asked to walk faster.

Do Trekking Poles Really Help?

Studies show that the use of trekking poles can reduce the impact on your joints as much as 30%. And anyone who has used poles knows you save a significant amount of energy as well.

Poles are most beneficial during uphill and downhill sections.

If you’re on the fence about whether trekking poles are helpful, consider this. The Appalachian Trail is a popular long distance hiking trail in the USA that is 2,190 miles long. Most thru-hikers complete the trail in 5-7 months, hiking between 15 to 20 miles a day. And the percentage of thru-hikers who use trekking poles on this trail is 90%.

In ultra trail running or adventure racing, athletes compete in 100-, 200-, 250-mile events. From my estimation, nearly every single elite competitor uses trekking poles. So, in my mind, there should be no debate. If trekking poles didn’t work, people would need bother carrying them.

Most people are unfamiliar with using trekking poles unless they are backpackers who carry heavy loads or hikers who do a lot distance. But, it’s not difficult to learn how to use them, and it comes pretty quickly and naturally as your body figures out how to hike more efficiently.

What are the Best Trekking Poles for Kilimanjaro?

Here are things to consider when shopping for trekking poles.

Pole Design

Nearly all trekking poles fall into these three designs:

  • two section telescoping
  • three section telescoping
  • folding

Telescoping poles consist of two or three sections that slide into one another. Telescoping poles are adjustable. Their length be adjusted to match your height and to adapt to differing terrain. This is an important feature and why we prefer telescoping poles over folding poles.

Folding trekking poles are tent pole-like and usually fixed-length. Fized length poles aren’t as versatile on Kilimanjaro’s differing terrain, where sometimes shorter poles (uphill) and longer poles (downhill) would be advantageous.

Typically these types of poles can be folded down smaller than telescoping poles, taking up less space inside of a pack. An elastic shock cord is attached to the inside of the pole which is loosened when stored away or tightened when in use.

Pole Adjustment Mechanism

The lever lock is the best mechanism and is the industry standard. These locks are easier, more durable and quicker to adjust than the older twist lock products. Both work by applying pressure to the pole sections to hold them in place. But twist locks simple use less force and thus are less secure. Trekking poles with twist locks can collapse unexpectedly during use. Twist locks also malfunction on trails that are especially dusty and cause grit to build up within the locking mechanism.

Pole Material

Most poles made today are made of aluminum or carbon fiber.

Aluminum trekking poles feature durability and light weight performance. Though they are slightly heavier than carbon poles, they are also cheaper. Aluminum poles can bend when put under stress, but do not break as easily as carbon.

Carbon trekking poles are the most high performance and lightest option available. The shaft construction dampens vibration and reduces the weight. However, if a carbon pole gets a dent or a crack, it is bound to snap entirely.

We feel that the price and durability of aluminum poles is superior. Therefore, we recommend aluminum trekking poles on Kilimanjaro.

The grips on trekking poles can be made with cork, rubber or foam. The most comfortable grip style is cork. Cork molds to your hands over time and naturally dampens vibration while hiking. Cork will give you a better grip when your hands sweat and is the lightest option available. It is also an eco-friendly choice.

How Do You Use Trekking Poles?

Be sure you know how to use trekking poles correctly. The first step is to hold them the right way, which most people do not do.

The hand goes through the bottom of the loop, then straight down on top of the strap, so it lays smoothly across the back of your hand. This strap allows the user to put weight into the pole without using forearm and grip strength. Adjust the strap so that the strap lays nicely around the wrist while you are holding the grip. The wrist loop reduces the likelihood of blisters and hand fatigue.

While trekking on even terrain, the arms should generally bend at 90 degrees when holding trekking poles. As you climb uphill, you will want to shorten the length. On downhills, increase the length.

As you walk, place the pole on the ground ahead of your feet. Use the poles to stabilize your body as you move, working to bring them into your hiking cadence. On uphill climbs, dig into the ground and use your arms to help push your body up. On the descent, use the poles to reduce the load from your steps down.

We highly recommend using trekking poles on Kilimanjaro, especially for the summit and descent.

We are a fan of trekking poles made by Leki.

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See What Should I Wear to Climb Kilimanjaro?

See How Do I Dress for Summit Night on Kilimanjaro?