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Why You Should Use Poles on Your Next Trail Run

As the trails pitch up, more athletes are beginning to use running poles to help them cover these distances faster and more efficiently.

Brand Partners

September 26th, 2022

5 min read

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Running is a beautifully simple pursuit. Just grab a pair of running shoes and head out in any direction. For those of us who venture off the city streets and onto wilderness trails, we eventually start to encounter rough and rugged terrain. As the trails pitch up, more athletes are beginning to use running poles to help them cover these distances faster and more efficiently.

Recently we asked runners to weigh in on their experience using poles. The response was overwhelming poles are clearly a hit in the trail running community. From less impact to more confidence, below are some of the favorite reasons runners love their poles.

1.   Increased Balance and Stability

When you add poles into the mix, you get two extra points of contact which helps with balance and stability. Jonathan Keirn, has been a dedicated pole user since 2018 when he used them on the Formosa trail race in Taiwan. He says, “the magic part was just how much stability they gave when going down, helping me feel like I had 4 legs to maneuver over the rocks, knotty roots and turns of the downhill parts.”

On muddy trails, slippery rocks, or loose gravel — those extra points of contact can save you from a slip or fall and often make it easier to run by providing more stability.

2.   More Power for Uphills

Runner Mark Palestind says, “I started using poles when pushing on my legs just didn’t cut it. You don’t realize how much of a workout your shoulders and back can get if you use poles to climb which makes them not only a great way to move faster but also a good workout tool.”

Using poles on uphills means you’re not just using your lower body to power up the trail, but are also getting extra leverage from your arms and back. The combined power can help you go faster and longer on hills that seem to last forever.

3.   Less Impact on Joints and Muscles

Running long downhill trails can do a number on your knees and quads if you’re not careful. This is especially true for aspiring ultra mountain runners and those managing lower body injuries or older joints.

Transferring even a small percentage of the impact from your legs to your upper body over long distances can make a big difference in the long run. Cross country skier and trail runner Julian Lopez started using poles for running a year ago and highly recommends them for long runs saying, “I have used poles in two races and in both of them I felt like I could ‘run forever’. The impact on joints and muscles is so much less, that it almost feels like I’m cheating.”

4.   Preventing Falls

No one ever wants to fall, but with trail running there’s a good chance it’ll happen eventually. That said, poles can often keep you upright and catch a fall before you tumble to the ground.

“When I broke my hand, I was told if I fell on it in the first 6 months I would need surgery,” says runner Kandace Roe. “I started using poles and they have been incredible to help with preventing my falls (especially in the later miles).”

5.   Correcting Posture

“I first used poles when I was doing a 6 hour event in Utah to keep upright going up and down a snowy mountain,” says Chrysa. “I had never used them before and found them so very helpful in keeping me from hunching too much and also making me more stable.”

Poles are a great asset to help you maintain a consistent posture while running long distances, especially once you’re tired.

6.   More Confidence

Never underestimate the power of a confidence boost during a race — trail running poles can do exactly that.

Runner Natalie Horn says, “they make some borderline unrunnable terrain runnable. Like descents on some of the Colorado 14ers, Grand Canyon, and other big moderately technical terrain. They give me confidence to move faster out there.”

7.   Maintain Momentum

Working your arms and legs in a consistent rhythm, poles can help you get in a groove and keep a steady pace over long periods of time. Runner Ryan Flint says, “the poles kept me going at a more even pace.” Using poles on hill repeats at his local ski hill, Flint notes, “I got in an extra full repeat and after a brief break, could still comfortably run (slowly) back to the car.”

*Some quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.

5 responses to “Why You Should Use Poles on Your Next Trail Run”

  1. Karen Greenawalt says:

    I started using poles after a couple really bad falls! Learning the skill has taken me sometime but for a 71 year old trail runner I need what they bring to my runs! Thank you for the post it helps me realize how important they are!

  2. Gayle Smith says:

    At 63, while running flat out, I took a wicked fall down a clean granite slope. Twisting in the air, I managed to land on the back of my right shoulder, back and thigh, sustaining some permanent injury to my shoulder upper back and neck. I finished the trail race. But have not run since. After reading the article and thinking of other trail runners who I’ve seen use poles- I’m planning to purchase a set for myself. See you on the trail.

  3. Holly says:

    I am so grateful that I started using sticks for mountain hikes about 25 years ago. I made the switch to lightweight sticks for running earlier this year. They have saved me from a couple of falls, and with the posture help they give, my IT band doesn’t get cranky. It may take a little practice to get comfortable with sticks, but it’s worth the effort.

  4. Ian J Corless says:

    I can’t fully tell from this photo BUT it looks like the leading leg/ pole combination is wrong? Left leg forward/ right arm back, right leg forward/ left arm back is correct. Photo looks like right leg forward and right arm back… Somewhat embarrassing for a ‘how to’ post endorsed by Leki

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