Hiking poles – how to fit, measure and use them (properly)

This article  follows up last week’s  How to chose the best walking poles for the job .  We have learnt how to buy the best poles , now it is time to learn how to fit, measure and use them.

Over to Georgie:

Hopefully, reading the good news that walking poles are good for your knees inspired you.

If you bought new poles, or dragged your old ones out from the back of the cupboard, the next step is to follow a few simple rules, take a few measurements and make some easy adjustments.

Using your poles the right way will reward you with easier and speedier walking – something that appeals to all of us, especially on multi day walks – so it is worth spending a few minutes reading the How To’s.

But first – how not to use your poles !

I met a lady who had walked the whole length of the OT with her poles strapped to her backpack because they ‘kept tripping me up’. She carried them as extra weight and with no benefit to her walking just because she did not know how to adjust or use them properly.

Walking poles in NZ

3 section poles with two locking places

Image: Kathrin and Stephan via Flickr

Pole Length
You can get an expert or trusted salesperson to adjust the length of your new poles, or do it yourself using this simple formula. Unless you are venturing into billy goat country, you probably won’t need to change this setting, but always re-check your poles every day before heading off down the track.

These steps are for 3 section poles with two locking places. It may read a bit complicated, but it is really easy to do and do properly – I got it right first time and in about 10 seconds.

  • undo both locks on each pole.
  • pull each part out to just before the maximum line. Lock the lowest lock.
  • without your backpack on, stand up and relax your shoulders.
  • hold one pole by its handle and slide your elbow into and past your waist until your hand is just in front of your arm pit.. gently push the pole down into itself until the top of the handle is about 75cm / 3 inches below the level of your armpit.
  • slide your elbow forward to level with your waist.
  • look down your arm. Your elbow must be at a 90º angle.
  • if it is, lock the top lock – if it isn’t, adjust the top part of the pole, then lock.
    do the same with the other pole.
  • hold both poles and position your elbows loosely at your waist. Move your hands straight out from your body, gently plant the pole tips. Check that your elbows are at 90º . Keep adjusting the top section of the poles until you get that critical, sweet angle.
  • when you walk with poles, you slide your elbows out from your waist to swing the poles – which is surprisingly easy to do.

Like me, you might be saying ‘Wow, that is a very long pole!’, and it may well be when compared to the length you currently use. The experts say this is how we should have them, so if your poles are not long enough to get that 90º elbow angle, it might be time to invest in new ones.

Wrist Straps

It is the downward pressure the wrist straps put on the pole that gives you the reward when walking with poles.

Straps need to be well fitting, as you put your weight through the strap, rather than directly through the pole. So take the time to get this bit right.

  • hold out the strap loop with one hand and put the other hand through it from underneath
  • lightly grab the handle on each side of where the strap is attached to the handle – so the attachment is between your thumb and forefinger
  • tighten the strap so the loop will not come off your hand when you swing the pole forward

This may sound awkward, but the idea is that you place downward pressure on the strap where it comes out of the handle to swing the poles in front of you.

After about 10 minutes of uncoordinated flinging and crashing my poles around I suddenly ‘got it’, and was soon twirling my poles like a pro.


The ideal way to walk with poles is to swing them to opposing legs, that is, swing the right pole forward on your left leg stride and left pole on your right leg stride. Some people use some side swing, that is, swing right pole on right stride, left on left, but it looks awkward and seems to take a lot more concentration. Have a go at both, and see which one is most comfortable and beneficial for you.

There are a lot of web sites with very good video instructions on how to use walking and trekking poles. If you do have a look, make sure you don’t click on to a Nordic Walking pole site, as that technique is very different to hiking and bushwalking, and is primarily a fitness workout.

Next week we look at Nordic Walking, as a great way to improve walking fitness.

Till then, good luck with getting to know your poles.



Do you keep your arm at 90 degrees to your body when using poles?

Do you change the length depending on conditions? Shorter going up hill? Longer down?

Do you always use the wrist strap correctly or just hang on to the pole?

Shoot us a comment below, we would love to hear your feedback.


  1. greg says

    The description of how to size the poles is complicated… but it is incomprehensible.

    – “slide your elbow into and past your waist” – ‘past’ in which direction? Towards your back, the ground, which?

    – “about 75cm / 3 inches below the level of your armpit” – regardless of whether you’re 5′ tall or 6’8″?

    Perhaps some pictures would help?

    • greg says

      So… when standing in a relaxed position, with the poles and the correct length, your upper arm will be perpendicular to the ground and your forearm parallel to the ground, thus creating the 90 deg angle at the elbow?

      • Frank says

        That’s correct thanks Greg,
        Good pick up and thanks for your input.
        I have removed the image of the “nearly 90 degrees” position because it was slightly inaccurate , i.e. it was not 90 degrees!

        I agree that having step by step pictures may have enhanced the information Georgie is portraying. We will try better next time!

  2. says

    I do keep my arm at 90 degrees, except when I am falling :-)
    I only change the length of the pole when a big hill is coming up.
    I used to not use the strap correctly, as in I put my hand in from the top instead of from underneath. This cause me to have a bruised hand.

    Some great tips there!

    • Frank says

      Thanks Greenie,
      Georgie did a lot of research for this article (and has been under the pump with me lashing her to get it finished….only joking)

      Using the strap correctly really helps, I did the same thing as you and finally “discovered” what the strap was for….duh I thought it was just for hanging up the poles…

      I tend to change my pole lenth frequently, depending on conditions. Up hill , very short, down a steep hill, very long. Works a treat!

  3. Lindsay says

    Thanks for these very timely articles. I use (or used to use) a single Black Diamond spire elliptic pole that has served me well for several years, until descending a very steep track in NZ last month when it snapped cleanly at the lower section, while saving me from what may have been a nasty fall.

    I am thinking of replacing the single pole with two poles and the articles have given me much food for thought. Thanks again,


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