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Cane grip vs. vertical grip trekking poles.

Ok, so this isn't really a new topic, but so many people use trekking poles and I think the superiority of cane grip poles is so dramatic, that it's worth another post.

I am certain that very few of you have really, seriously tried cane grip poles.  Good trekking poles aren't cheap and you've been told by "experts" that vertical grip poles are better, so you have been unwilling to try cane grips just to see for yourself.

So, very few of you, maybe none of you, have tried cane grip poles and, probably, most that have, have adjusted them, incorrectly, the way they would vertical grip poles.

You can't say they aren't as good as vertical grip poles because you haven't given them a fair test.

Be honest now.

I have very good Leki carbon fiber vertical grip trekking poles and a second, cheaper pair of Mountain Smith poles.  I've used them on some long, hard hikes.  I do know how to use the straps.  I don't understand why anyone would just assume that I don't know how to use the straps.  I used to go up to a Nordic center a couple times a week, during the winter.

But the new Leki cane grip poles, adjusted correctly, are ten times better than vertical grip.  They are more ergonomically correct and allow you to push down with greater force.  The correct way to adjust them is so that your arm is only bent about 20 degrees.  I let my arms hang by my side and adjust the poles so that the grip is about even with the wrist.

Is it a matter of personal preference?  Probably, but without trying cane grip poles, adjusted the way I say, how can you know that you wouldn't prefer them?                


I have had the Wanderfreund for a very long time and adjusted it immediately with a slight bend to the elbow as that style walking stick should be. It is in no way better and is in fact much poorer in performance than standard Black Diamond or Leki hiking poles. With standard poles your elbow is supposed to bend 90° which gives you far more reach downward than a 20° bend will give. It is a longer and much more powerful stroke. In the middle part of the stroke you can put serious weight on the straps and poles if you know how to use the straps correctly so nobody is going to be fooled there.

Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The problem with cane grips is the design is effective on only a relatively narrow range of terrain irregularities.  I have been a veteran of assorted sports related injuries to my leg joints, and tallied close to a year's experience with canes.  I am pretty sure that qualifies me as an experienced cane user.  They work great around town on gentle grades.  But not so great on stairs and other significant inclines, especially when descending, due to the reasons Ghostdog describes. 


I palm my grips hard on the way down in rocky terrain. Basically make them an extension of my arms straight to the ground.  If anything I wish that the tops were just a little larger on my BD poles. Shock absorber is a must. 

I find a cane too unbalanced also. 

With vertical grips you can choke up or down without having to fiddle with any adjusting devices.  This is good when route steepness is constantly changing or when you side-hill.  I can also hook my thumb in the wrist loop as I choke up on them to use different muscles in my hands.

Like Paul Lapiere, on my way downhill I palm the ends of the grips as I do when I skin uphill sometimes when I want to remain standing upright. 

Yep, on steep downhills I palm the knob ends of my trekking poles, I’ve found it’s best for me if they’re pushing against the heel of my hand instead of in the middle where your hand folds. That puts the pole in line with the wrist & forearm bones and allows you to put a tremendous amount of weight on your poles. Make sure they’re planted securely!

"Vertical?" grip poles (most have a bit of angle) are best but only WITH properly configured pole straps. They are better over the long haul than "cane handle" poles and that's why they are so popular.

BUT ya gotta know how to properly use hiking/XC skiing pole straps. GOOGLE XC ski pole strap use and learn the corect way.

Those straps are not there to keep the poles on your hands. They are there to push against and to relieve your forearm muscles from the strain of constantly gripping the pole handles.

Since I love the backpacking mantra of "dual use gear" I now have a tent, the TT Notch Li, that uses my hiking poles for supports. That makes a lot of sense to me.

Eric B.

May 28, 2022
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