Q&A: Do I need trekking poles on the Camino de Santiago?
To sum it up quickly: YES!
My mom reminded me the other day that I could not stop talking about my trekking poles when I returned from the Camino. I loved them so much! Prior to the pilgrimage, I had never used trekking poles. I thought they were something for older people, people with injuries or hardcore hikers summiting big mountains. I didn’t think they were needed for someone like me, who is young, healthy and not an extreme outdoorswoman. Oh how I was wrong!
Benefits of Trekking Poles
The main reason for trekking poles is to offer support to the rest of your body while you hike. Poles reduce the impact on your legs, knees, ankles and other joints. There were times when the terrain was hilly and I felt so grateful to have that extra boost of support from my trekking poles.
Stability is important, too. Especially if you plan to carry a heavy backpack, having four anchors to the ground (legs and poles), like a chair, will provide stability and help prevent falls or missteps that could lead to injury.
Trekking poles are also supposed to help with speed. If you are a skier, you know that using your poles can propel you forward on the slopes. The same is true with trekking poles.
Lastly, and this might just be my personal opinion, when I used my poles I felt like a badass. Once I got my groove on the first day I was cruising and it felt amazing. Also, as a woman traveling alone, I liked the idea I had a big stick I could use to defend myself. On guard!
How To Pick the Right Trekking Poles
Trekking poles are pretty much unisex. They vary based on size, cool features and color. First thing is to narrow pole options based on your height.
Pole lengths are typically between 26 – 53 inches long. There are suggested pole length charts online. What I have found is the following:
If you are under 61 inches tall, poles length ~39 inches
If you are 61 – 67 inches tall, poles length ~ 43 inches
If you are 68 –71 inches tall, poles length ~ 47 inches
If you are over 68 inches tall, poles length ~ 51 inches
Next, what kind of features do you want? There are some super fancy poles that are adjustable, absorb shock, ultra-light, and some even have camera mounts on them! I picked adjustable poles so that I could fit them on my pack and adjust the length for hills. That was a really great feature. Also, mine were very light and had grips that were smaller (made for women), features that I really appreciated over time.
Here is a link the online amazon store for trekking poles. There are many affordable options.
Here is what I recommend:
How To Use Trekking Poles
The night before I started the Camino I was literally up late watching ‘how to use trekking poles’ videos on the Internet! I was excited to use my gear on Day 1 and I wanted to get it right. Funny enough, one of the first conversations I had with Becky (See Pilgrim Profile: Becky) was on trekking pole tips.
Here is the simplest guidance I can give you:
Adjust your poles so that when you grip the poles your arm has a 90-degree bend at your elbow. Think good ergonomics at the keyboard.
Next, place your hand upward through the strap and then grip the handle like you are going to shake someone’s hand. This tip helps support your wrists while you are walking. It is also helpful to use the straps in case your hand slips and you drop a pole. With a heavy pack the last thing you want to do is bend over to pick something up from the ground.
I employed the alternating stride technique on the Camino. Basically, when you place your left foot down your right pole hits the ground at the same time. If you are a runner this should make sense to you as your arm propels you forward as the opposite foot hits the ground.
You want to make sure the pole’s contact with the ground is at a 30 to 45-degree angle behind you, with your hand over the point of contact on the ground. This helps propel you forward.
If your poles adjust, you can shorten them when you are climbing and lengthen them when you are descending. These techniques maintain your stability on hills.
And that’s it. Walk normally, add a little flair with your poles and you are set!
Get out there and start practicing with your new trekking poles! Let me know how you like them. Hope this post was helpful as you prepare for your trek on the Camino de Santiago. If you want more tips for the pilgrimage, leave a comment below or subscribe to la princesa del camino newsletter. ¡Buen Camino!