How to Adjust Trekking Poles to the Correct Height

lightweight carbon trekking pole and hiking stick proper use

Trekking or hiking poles have become very popular with hikers and backpackers over the last several years.  Hiking poles have proven to increase stability and endurance along with many other benefits. With increased popularity, there is an increase in confusion over how to adjust and set the height of trekking poles.  We will examine the guidelines for correct hiking pole height and examine when and how to vary from these guidelines.

Some confusion comes from the fact that many hiking sticks are demarcated in centimeters for adjustment, and here in the US we use inches.  We will give you some quick and easy conversions to use that will solve this dilemma. Also keep in mind that there is no perfect answer. With these simple guidelines you will learn where to start, and then you can make minor adjustments based on your personal preferences, the terrain or conditions.

Getting Started

We will examine three methods for setting your initial pole height.  One will give you a table that you will use based on your height, the second is a practical method where you size your poles based on your arm position and lastly, a mathematical formula that will give you a precise measure in centimeters.  So let’s get started:

Suggested Trekking Pole Length Table

Trekking Pole Height Adjustment TableSimply look up your height and get the corresponding hiking pole length to the right.  You can start with this setting and then adjust for preference. For example if you are six feet tall, the table recommends that you start with your poles adjusted to 124 centimeters or 49 inches.  

This is a quick, simple and effective method.

Practical Method for Setting Your Trekking Poles Length

This method requires you to have your hiking poles available.  You begin by loosening the adjustment points. Stand on a level surface with the trekking pole handle in your hand.  Stand up straight, and relax your shoulders, then bend your elbow exactly 90 degrees as seen below.

ninety degree elbow for setting hiking pole length

Lock your poles adjustments and then take note of the length.  This is your pole setting for normal hiking, walking and backpacking.  If you plan to use your poles in snow or soft mud, then you need to modify this approach slightly.  Install your mud or snow baskets, whichever you plan to use. You would hold the pole upside down, with the bottom of your hand against the snow or mud basket on your pole, as below:

Mud and Snow Trekking Pole Length

Setting your poles like this will take into account the distance the pole will sink in the soft surface.  You effectively subtract the length of the pole below the basket. This is the setting you would want for snowshoeing or even hiking on a beach with soft sand.

The Mathematical Formula Method

Ok math majors and engineers, it is now your turn.  It is generally accepted that for the average person, the optimal pole height is 68% of their height.  Based on this we have two formulas for you:

  1. Height in Inches * 0.68 * 2.54 = Pole Height in Centimeters
  2. Height in Inches * 0.68 = Pole Height in Inches

For example, for me, I am 6 feet tall – which is 72 inches:

  1. 72 * 0.68 * 2.54 = 124.35 or 124 centimeters
  2. 72 * 0.68 = 48.9 or 49 inches

I actually prefer my poles at 122 centimeters, so this method is within an inch of my preference.

Adjusting Trekking Poles for Terrain

Many people adjust their trekking poles depending on terrain.  Experts agree that one should shorten their poles about 5 centimeters when travelling uphill and lengthen 5 cm when going down hill.  Since you are planting your poles in front of you, this adjust length takes into account the grade’s effect on your pole length. Varying your pole’s length for terrain can go a long way towards relieving knee pain, and it will also make you more stable.

Remember that all of the information in this article is a guideline and are not hard and fast rules.  Make use of these methods to get an idea of the best length for you and then adjust it for your preferences.  Keep in mind your goals as to why you purchased trekking poles, whether it was to relieve joint pain, add stability or increase endurance and make sure you make the small adjustments necessary to meet your goals.