Last Updated on 13/03/2023
In this guide to using one or two trekking poles, we share the benefits of using one trekking pole vs two as well as the differences in technique required for both options. We also explore the idea of using a walking staff instead of a single hiking pole so that you can decide what works best for you.
Should You Carry One Or Two Trekking Poles
Deicing whether to carry one or two trekking poles depends on your personal situation. Terrain matters, and so does your physical fitness. Here are some reasons why you might use either one trekking pole or two:
Reasons To Use One Trekking Pole
- To Save Weight: Leaving one pole at home cuts your weight in half. This is a big win if you are thru-hiking or an ultralight backpacker.
- Just Incase: If you don’t think you’ll need poles, but there is a chance you will. Taking one instead of two trekking poles hedges your bet.
- For Short Walks: If you are only going on a short and accessible walk, then you will be able to get away with just taking one.
- Because You Never Know: Even if you don’t use your single trekking pole for hiking, it can still come in handy for other things. I often only take one pole if I am using it to prop open a tent door or tarp shelter. I also use it to check mud or water depth, bushwhack, clear cobwebs from woodland trails, and remove my bushcraft pot from the fire.
Reasons To Use Two Trekking Poles
- Leg and Foot Issues and Injuries: If you have any kind of injury in your foot, leg, hip, or back, then using two hiking poles will help to take some of the pressure off those pain points.
- Poor Balance on Uneven Ground: If your balance doesn’t work so well, then using two hiking poles effectively gives you extra legs with which to balance your weight forward.
- Carrying a Heavy Backpack: If you have a really heavy backpack, then I would definitely recommend using two hiking poles to improve your balance, reduce joint stress, and give your back and shoulders something to lean on for brief rests.
Benefits of Hiking With One Trekking Pole Or Two
There are benefits and downsides whether you use one trekking pole or two. Here are some of the biggest advantages of each:
Benefits of Using One Trekking Pole
- Save Weight: When you are hiking long distances or backpacking abroad, you can feel every ounce of weight you have to carry. By leaving one trekking pole at home, you save half the weight.
- Less Bulk: Hiking poles are great when you need them but often feel unnecessary if you end up trekking along long flat roads. One pole instead of two means less to carry and attach to your bag.
- Keeps One Hand Free: Only using one trekking pole means you can easily maneuver through difficult terrain without tieing up both hands. This also enables you to do things like open gates and check your phone or map.
Benefits of Using Two Trekking Poles
- More Balance and Stability: Using two poles gives you much better balance with a heavy backpack and tired legs as well as providing stability on uneven ground.
- Reduce stress on Joints: Walking long distances or hiking up and down steep mountain paths with a heavy backpack puts a lot of stress on your joints, especially your knees. By absorbing your body weight through two hiking poles, you effectively have shock absorbers to reduce fatigue in your joints and leg muscles.
- Upper Body Workout: If you are into keeping fit, then you will appreciate the benefits of working out your entire body at the same time. Cardio, like swimming, is great, but simply using hiking poles turns a leg day into a leg and arm day.
- Better Walking Rhythm: With two hiking poles, it is easier to maintain a more natural walking rhythm. When you only use one hiking pole, you will tend to lean heavily on one side, which can make walking at a consistent pace difficult and lead to even more injuries.
Differences Between Hiking With Two Trekking Poles Vs One
With two hiking poles, you can get into the rhythm of moving the alternate pole with each leg – so the left leg and right pole move at the same pace and stride. This encourages you to walk as normally as possible without favoring one side or the other.
With one hiking pole, I have found that you end up leaning more on the side of your hiking pole to compensate for the support. The problem with this is that it then puts a lot of extra street on your good side, which can then lead to pain on both sides. Using a hiking pole on one side can also be hard on your hands and lead to blisters, even if you use cork grips.
Is One Trekking Pole Enough?
One trekking pole may be all you need if you aren’t carrying a heavy backpack and don’t have any injuries. If you use your trekking poles all the time, then you are probably better off with a set of two. If you only use your trekking poles for steep inclines and on odd occasions, then you will be able to use just one if you want to save weight.
One trekking pole can help you on stream crossings and when stepping down off ledges. A single pole can also support your weight if you get an injury on one leg and so you can often get away with carrying only one trekking pole if you are trying to save weight.
Hiking Staff Vs Trekking Pole
If you are only going to carry one hiking pole, should you use a walking staff instead? Staffs are long poles that you hold in a different way but use in the same way as a trekking pole. The benefit of trekking poles vs hiking staff is that they are often telescopic or dismantlable and so can be strapped to your backpack when not in use. With a walking staff, you pretty much have to walk with it all the time.
There are differences between a walking staff vs hiking poles but no real advantages unless you are a shepherd. Although thinking about it, a longer staff is better for crossing rivers (which is why anglers often use them).
We hope this guide has helped you decide between taking one or two trekking poles on your next hike. Let us know your experiences in the comments below.