On a recent walk we had a discussion about the correct use of the straps on our walking poles.
One member had been recommended by a mountain guide never to use the straps on the poles as it could inhibit the use of the hands in the case of a fall. However, other members had been strongly advised by well known adventurers that the correct use of the straps was essential.
In this article I wish to strongly propose the correct use of these straps.
This page is open for signed-up members to add their own comments to the discussion.
For the first few years that I was hill walking I regarded the use of poles as necessary only to those who had knee problems or who needed extra balance on difficult ground.
However, as I had some poles at home which my wife had bought to assist her on some tricky terrain when walking in the Alps, I decided to try them out on a challenging 'A' walk. What a revelation! While I always felt quite sure-footed on the hills, the new experience of using the poles made me feel much more like a four-footed mountain goat.
Once I got the feel of using them I was hooked. I found they were a great aid for uphill climbing as the muscles of the whole body can be used and not just the legs. For downhill walking they greatly reduce the stress on the knees and provide great security of balance. The more difficult the descent, the greater the value of the poles.
A secondary benefit I have found is that I now get much more exercise in my upper body and while this adds to the total exercise load on the day, I feel that this distribution of the exercise is most worthwhile. In particular I now find that carrying a rucksack is far less tiring than without using poles.
I first used poles on skiing holidays, not that I really ever used them correctly to make ski turns. That gave me the habit of the correct way to use straps so they would not cause injury in a fall.
How ski instructors shout at you if you use them incorrectly. I contend that if using straps for skiing is safe when used in a particular way, then it would be even more so for hill walking where falls are much less frequent, for me anyway.
The correct way to use a strap is to enter the hand into the loop from below and grasp most of the strap under the palm of the hand with the top of the strap coming up between the thumb and forefinger.
When used in this way it is no longer necessary to grip the pole tightly and your full weight can be supported by the strap without gripping the pole at all. When held loosely, the pole can swing forward under the fingers and there is no reason for the wrist to keep flexing as the pole moves forward and backwards.
The advantages of using the straps in this way are
1. Weight is taken up by the wrist and not through a tight grip on the pole.
2. A looser grip is much less tiring and less stressfull on the wrist joint.
3. A tight grip tends to restrict blood flow to the fingers which then become colder.
4. It's possible to plant the pole further ahead and do so more quickly.
5. The pole will fall well away from the hand if let go in a fall which is not the case when the straps are used incorrectly as the straps will hold the poles between the hand and the ground the faller is reaching towards.
There are occasions when the use of poles is not suitable.
The situations that come to mind are when it is necessary to scramble up or down a rocky patch using hands and when walking a narrow path through dense vegetation where the poles become snagged both on planting and lifting.
When the conditions are particularly icy or slipery it might be worth considering keeping the hands out of the straps to allow completely unrestricted use in case of a fall.
Further reading can readily be found on the internet where a search for 'correct use of walking poles' will yield more expert opinions than mine and even some diagrams on the correct use of the straps.
Comments from club members to this page are welcome.