I'd heard people talk of the benefits of walking poles for long enough however at the outset I never liked the prospect of having your hands tied up using poles. I would much rather have hands free to do what they need to. After all how much difference can poles make to your walking? Or so I thought.
First few times out if can feel a bit odd until you find your rhythm with your right pole going forward with your left leg and so on. The difference is astounding, when walking uphill it's as though you have a banister at your side at every step to drag yourself up the hillside with. For descending it's the same - cushioning your knees and ankles as you go, preventing the ache that so many of us suffer from. They do take so much pressure off your legs leaving them in better shape for longer. They come into their own when yomping through streams, in this case they are most definitely like extra legs and when you're balancing on small rocks and in these cases four legs are definitely better than two.
If at any time you're sick of using them or you need you hands for any reason - they slide away in seconds to about a third of their extended size and you can strap them to the back of the pack (most packs have straps specically for walking poles or ice axes) or carry them in one hand. I can not sing their praises highly enough it makes the whole job so much easier enabling us to go yomping for longer.
You see so many sites too that promote the use of walking poles for fitness, for an example click here. They are awesome for an all over workout! If you go for a good trek in the hills with walking poles you will feel your shoulders ache from their overuse, something you definately don't feel in their absence. As you are using your arms as well as your legs (even though it may feel only marginally) it does work your heart harder and give you a better cardio workout walking the same speed over the same distance - hard to believe but it's true.
Today too you can get poles that multi task, for example doubling up as the likes of monopods or torches. These are naturally a bonus as you don't want to lug a full blown tripod out for miles and if you can cut the weight you do without fully compromising on the quality of photographs or film.