Trail Running With Poles

by Maria E. Bellini

Why you could benefit from using poles

In Italy, poles can be a really useful piece of trail running equipment during races. –Especially in mountainous ultras… and we can’t stress this strongly enough!

Many runners feel that trail running poles can ‘get in the way’, messing up a smooth run, plus they don’t like the idea of having their hands full.

If the trail course profile presents, just that -– a smooth runnable route, with limited or little incline, then poles could very well prove to be a hindrance. However in Italy, trail race routes are often incredibly hilly, and poles can come in handy.

As for trail runners not wanting to carry anything in their hands, you can get round this by using expandable telescopic poles and keeping them fixed to your backpack, taking them out only when needed.

You must practice all pole packing and unpacking techniques well beforehand, as to begin with,  it can be a process that you need to get used to. Come race day you want to be able to make a smooth transition and not waste precious time faffing about with poles. (Something that I’m guilty of having done on many an occasion)

The only risk with your poles packed neatly away, is that you may postpone taking them out and actually using them! We’ve all been there! That’s why it’s all the more important that you get a speedy and effortless packing and unpacking strategy well and truly into place beforehand.

Trail running poles –best practice

How to hold trail running poles

Whilst on the trails, if you’re not using your poles, and are just running and carrying them in your hands, always remember to hold them so that the tip is pointed downwards and forwards, or if you have the tip pointing backwards, then it must always point downwards, be absolutely certain that there’s nobody following you close behind, as that could quite quickly turn nasty, if one of you were to trip, or lose balance.

Under no circumstances, wave your trail running poles about in the air, and don’t run carrying them with the tips facing upwards.

Starting out with poles

It takes time to get used to running (and walking) with poles, although you will find that it’s relatively easy, once you’ve mastered the technique. The best way to learn how to use them is to start out by walking and just using them!

Many trail runners use poles only on the uphills and prefer to pack them away or hold them whilst running on the downhills. It all boils down to personal choice and what you are comfortable with. But as they say… Practice makes perfect.

You may be interested to read our article on Etiquette on the Trails


The guys at Salomon help us get the most from our poles with some great tips and techniques

When trail running poles can be useful

Elevation and uphills

With most of northern Italy being made up of Alps, Prealps or Dolomites, not forgetting the Apennines, (which continue down southwards, throughout the country), you can start getting the picture that there’s a lot of elevation in this country.

Race profiles can go up and down in an endless pattern made up of the letter M. Get the idea?

Using poles on the uphills, where you may be doing a lot of power walking – can greatly aid efficiency and give you that extra boost, both physically and for the morale.

Feeling tired and low points

Sore, fatigued legs will be able to ‘rest’ for a stretch of time as the use of poles involves working arms, shoulders and the muscles in the upper part of your body, therefore taking some of the strain away from your legs and lower body.

Stability in tricky conditions

Another good reason for getting used to trail running with poles is the stability they can provide in poor conditions and unstable terrain. Running up a muddy slope can be mean task, but with the help of poles, it becomes much easier, as you can set down the poles enabling points of contact, to give you a firm base from which to push yourself upwards and onwards.

Trail running poles – Italyontrail.com’s Top-Tips

Weight: Purchase the lightest pair of trail running poles that fits your budget. Most poles are either made of aluminium or carbon fibre. Carbon poles have the advantage of being lighter  but are more expensive. They are considered to be less prone to vibration than their aluminium cousins, but are slightly more delicate than the aluminium poles.

Grip and handle: Grips are usually made from cork, rubber or a foamy material. Some trail runners may suffer from blisters where the skin on the hands rubs against the handle, specially over prolonged use. In this case you may find that wearing fingerless cycling gloves or mitts can help.

Winter running: Poles can be extremely cold to the touch in cold and wet wintry conditions. So if you leave your collapsible poles fully open and carry them (fully expanded) in your hands whilst running, be aware that this can become uncomfortable and the cold sensation can really be distracting and not good for the hands. You can overcome this by wearing gloves.

A final word…

Poles are usually allowed in Italian trail races, but check race rules and regulations, and bear in mind that you cannot abandon your poles along the race route.

You may be interested to read our articles on Italian trail Vocabulary and Mandatory Kit.

Maria E. BelliniMaria Elisabetta Bellini is Italyontrail.com’s founder, born in the U.K, she came to running whilst living in Italy, where she still lives and trains. Never ceasing to marvel at what’s at the summit of a hill, or around the bend along the trail, she loves using trail running as a means to explore nature, contemplation and Italy.