Using a pair of hiking poles on your hikes provides several benefits. Poles help transfer about 20% of the workload from your lower body to upper body, which helps your endurance and gives a bit of upper body workout. They also help with balance on rocks, ascending and descending loose terrain and gullies and crossing streams on slippery rocks.
After hiking and climbing with a variety of pole designs, I strongly prefer the style with an “L” shaped handle vs. a straight handle. I have two reasons for this preference. First, if you are hiking for hours at a time, your wrist will eventually feel the stress with a straight handle because it is in a bent position as you can see from the photo. However, with the “L” handle, the wrist remains straight and more relaxed. And second, if you are hiking on an incline or a rocky trail, you will get better balance if you thrust a pole forward (especially on descent) which is much easier to do with the “L” handle – you have lots of forward wrist pivot motion in comparison to the straight handle.
If you are hiking in scree or very rocky trails, you will want to remove the basket near the tip so that it does not get caught in rock cracks. If the pole comes with a rubber tip, remove it. The carbide tip that remains is very strong and is great for planting on a rock or a root to help your balance. If you are hiking on snow, leave the basket on – and if you are on loose snow, purchase a set of bigger baskets, they are easy to switch.
The pole I like best and have used in every imaginable condition except rock climbing and scrambling (where I collapse them and stow on my pack) is the Leki Wanderfreunds WITH spring action that Leki calls Dynamic Suspension. That adds a bit of give with each pole plant which reduces the impact on muscles and joints and increases comfort. The poles are adjustable and Leki has a length estimator on its web site. For a 5’11” person the pole length should be 125 cm on flat surfaces, shorten about 5 – 8 cm on uphills, lengthen 5 – 8 cm on descents.