Should you use trekking poles when hiking the Great Wall?

Should you take on the extra weight and cost of a good pair of trekking poles? After walking the entire Great Wall, I have a strong opinion on the matter.

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Trekking poles will help you check the depth of rivers, how firm the riverbed is, and increase your stability in strong.currents. I sometimes decided against crossing because the riverbed was very soft..

One of the secrets to successfully completing an ultra long distance walk through challenging terrain is to make the first months as gentle to the body as possible. Although I had never used trekking poles before, I decided to buy a good pair. After a couple of weeks along the Great Wall, I was sold. The trekking poles helped me in a number of ways - some of them unimaginable when I sat at home in a comfortable sofa considering whether to buy them.

You will pass a lot of caves on your Great Wall trek, some of them in the actual wall or watchtowers like here.. Use your trekking poles to ensure the roof is safe, and poke around to check for snakes before entering.

Let's start off with the down side to using trekking poles. Good trekking poles can be pricey. Carrying them uses a bit of energy, although you quickly get accustomed to this. Trekking poles can break, and can be surprisingly easy to forget behind when you are in a rush. However you will know you have left them behind the  minute you start walking. Some people also find they get in the way of walking naturally.

If you plan to walk a long stretch of the Great Wall, you will be following roads where the wall has disappeared. I found that trekking poles helped me walk a bit faster.

Here are some factors you should concider before saying goodbye to your hard earned money.

The Great Wall is often the highest point in the terrain, and therefore very exposed. Trekking poles make steep hills easier to climb. In addition they steady you on narrow stretches, and you can check that stones are safe before treading on them.

Collapsible trekking poles offer you a number of advantages. They are easy to pack away when entering vehicles. You can quickly adjust them to fit the terrain. I would typically shorten them by approximately 3-5 cm / 1-2 inches when climbing steep hills or walking in snow, and lengthened them going down.

My trekking poles in the collapsed position. I only had to tighten the locking mechanism a few times on my 6.000 km / 3.700 miles walk along the Great Wall. Notice the duct tape on one of the poles, so that I always had it ready for on the go repairs. You can also see the custom made rubber pads I used for more than a year.

Although full length trekking poles are slightly lighter and don't have locking mechanisms that may fail, I am convinced good quality collapsible trekking poles are your best bet for walking the Great Wall.

If you plan to follow the Great Wall in the non rebuilt stretches in Beijing and Hebei, you will probably be trekking in really dense forest full of razor sharp thorns. Use your trekking poles to push bushes away from your face and body, and you may avoid getting spiders on you head, or ripping up your clothes too badly.

Generally speaking, the more expensive the walking sticks, the higher the quality. The lower section of my walking sticks are made out of carbon, making them lighter where it counts the most. You may also want to consider a brightly colored pair of poles if you don't want to forget them. Some people prefer to use only one stick, keeping the other arm free to use a GPS, camera etc.

The western parts of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, go through the Gobi desert. I found that trekking poles made it easier to walk through the soft sand.

If you are doing a long walk along the Great Wall, be sure to get some extra of sets of rubber pads to use on hard and flat surfaces, or you can get a local to make some for you.

My trekking poles saved me several nasty falls. During the winter there was often a hidden layer of ice under the  sand. You will always be better off with four legs, than two.

BLACK DIAMOND ENDURO CF
(Discontinued)

These are the trekking poles I used on my Great Wall walk. See fact box to right for my recommendation.

Weight: 496 gr/17.5 oz per pair
Style: 3 section adjustable
Min/max height: 64-140 cm/25-55 in 
Locking mechanism: Fliplock

Trekking poles should always be stored with the locking mechanism open.

BLACK DIAMOND ALPINE CARBON CORK

I recommend these on the basis of research I have done, and that they fit the bill for walking the Great Wall. I have not tested them myself.

Users that are taller than 6 feet, may find these poles to short when walking down steep hills, or wanting to vault across dikes.

Weight: 490 gr / 17.3 oz
Style: 3 section adjustable
Min/max height: 63-130 cm/25-51 in
Locking mechanism: Fliplock pro

Trekking poles should always be stored with the locking mechanism open.

After only a few months, the rubber pads on my trekking poles were worn out. This guy made a new pair out of a tire that lasted for the rest of my walk along the Great Wall. I used pads about 80% of the time.

Although a lot of dogs are tied up like this one, you are likely to meet many that are not. These are not your average pedigree dogs, but viscous guard dogs that will attack. Every time I heard dogs barking I would make sure that they were tied up. If not I would keep an eye on them. I was attacked on more than one occasion but defending myself with my trekking poles.

Take care of your trekking poles, and they will take care of you!

I encountered a lot of snakes while walking the Great Wall. Use your trekking poles to hit the bushes and vegetation you intend to walk through, and you will give them a chance to escape before walking through. Trekking poles are nice to have between you and snakes and scorpions.