The honest truth is that hiking poles for hiking in Western Australia can be very useful and I would recommend adding them to your kit in certain circumstances. Read the following article to get a better understanding of their pros and cons.
QUESTION 1. Do they actually make walking easier?
This is a hard question to answer, and the debate around this topic is heated! I have read a few studies and basically, the conclusions are that hiking poles:
reduce the stress on the knee and ankle joints - especially on downhills with a heavy pack, enabling you to walk faster
reduce muscle activity in the foot on downhills - fewer foot cramps and muscle knots
they provide you with better balance when you have a pack on
they increase the amount of energy required for walking
can make walking feel easier
improve posture which can make breathing easier when walking uphill
So, I guess really it depends on if you're day hiking with a light pack, or if you tackling the trail over several days with your home on your back. When walking with a pack that is heavy you can easily feel off-balance, and you can feel the increased load on your knees and ankles as you tackle steeper descents, hiking poles could be very valuable to prevent a rolled ankle or knee pain on longer journeys. Bear in mind that the extra energy you use to walk with them may mean you have to carry more food.
For a day-hike, you just consider leaving them at home, unless you are aiming for a full-body workout, you have sore knees or ankles, or maybe you are trying to lose some extra weight and want to burn more calories.
In both scenarios hiking poles can make hiking feel easier even though you use more energy when you walking with them.
QUESTION 2. In which scenarios could they be useful then?
Scenario 1. Uneven or steep terrain with a heavy pack - balance aid is the key here to prevent rolled ankles and falls
Scenario 2. Mud- extremely useful to help in avoiding slipping over as you have 4 points of contact, also as a gauge to see how deep this mud truly is.
Scenario 3. Water Crossings - poles area actually incredibly useful for river crossings, having two poles means that every time you take a step forward you have 3 anchoring points that provide stability. The poles can also be used to test dept, how slippery rocks are and what the substrate underfoot is behaving like. If you find yourself in a flood plane they will certainly be handy to act as feelers ahead of you.
Scenario 4. Snow - good luck finding snow hiking in Australia, but certainly if you pop across the ditch to New Zealand then maybe taking the hiking poles could be very wise (for snow, mud, steep terrain and river crossings)
QUESTION 3. How could they be a hindrance?
There are actually several ways that poles may affect your hike. Here is a list to consider:
You may drink less if you don't have your hands free - increasing your risk of sunstroke or dehydration
It's harder to snack + you're using more energy -so over a week or more this could become problematic
Taking photos is more difficult - this may not bother you, but many of us love to take shots and look back on them later
Extra weight to carry
If you do fall (even though it's less likely when you have poles), your hands may be in the wrist straps and this could lead to face planting
If one breaks - you now have to carry out a broken stick....
QUESTION 4. Are there any other reasons why I should get hiking poles?
Yes, there are actually a fair few and if you get creative I'm sure you could come up with some more of your own. Hiking poles can also function as follows:
Sleeping - some ultralight tents can be set up with hiking poles, check out this one below (its actually quite affordable and practical).
Shelters - you can use your trekking poles and emergency blanket or rain poncho to fashion a shelter
Chair with using your pack, either simply put the poles into the ground on an angle and rest your pack on them or you can go all out and doohickey the potato out of it like this bloke -> follow to you tube link.
Laundry line - Tie one of your tent guy lines to your pole for a make shift laundry line
Protection - now don't go hitting people or animals with your poles, but if you do encounter a danger, they serve as an extension of your arms to make yourself look bigger or in extreme cases can act as a weapon. This youtube video could give you an idea of what I mean.
Communication- if you do find yourself in trouble they could come in handy to signal to a rescuer.
QUESTION 5. Which features should you be looking for in a hiking pole?
Comfortable handle - handles should have ergonomic designs and once you start sweating should remain comfortable - cork is great
Tip interchangeability - rubber tips grip better on rocky surfaces while carbide tips do better in sand, mud and snow
Changable baskets - poles should have interchangeable baskets so you can put on wide baskets for hiking in mud, sand or snow if required
Good manufacturing material - should be strong and lightweight, carbon fibre is a really good option
Ease of stowing and deploying - poles should be easy to attach to your pack and get off when you need them. There area usually telescope-action mechanics or foldable mechanisms with a set length, or a combination of the two. Telescope mechanisms mean that everytime you deploy, you could make your pole a slightly different length. This may be a blessing or a curse as shorter poles on the uphill could be handy while longer poles could be better for downhills. The variation in length may mean that everytime you are fiddling with you poles when you deploy them to get them to the right length again, or the poles are different lengths - annoying. You may also find that they collapse if the mechanism wears out or if you haven't tightened them properly. However with foldable, lock-in-place mechanisms you may not be able to use them with your tent ?
QUESTION 6. How long should they be?
Telescopic adjustable lenght - should be adjusted so that your elbows area at about 90 +-10 degrees when they are on the ground - I find that between 100 to 90 degrees is better (i.e. shorter poles)
Fixed lenght, foldable/lock-in-place poles use the following guidelines
Body Height Pole Lenght
155 - 171cm 110cm
171 - 180cm 120cm
Hiking poles can be very useful for a multiday or overnight hike when you are carrying a heavier pack. However for the day hike, unless your going for a full body work out there is probably no need to take them, unless you have knee or ankle issues and need that extra support. If you are someone that worries about falling then hiking poles can also be an extremely important part of your kit to keep you balance and upright.
I personally use these lock-in-place poles with cork handles, they are very strong, easy to collapse and deploy and I take them on trail runs too. Click this link to find them on Amazon - that's where I got mine.
Here is basically the same version but with adjustable lenght function - if you prefer that.