They may look a bit dorky, but they can really help me have a better day hiking: poles. In the Netherlands, where I live, I don’t use them too often. Their added benefit is mostly on routes with quite a few climbs and descents or when the path is rocky. Here, we have neither.
Balance and rhythm
Let’s start off with those rocky roads. If the path you’re walking on is not paved, flattened, or smoothed out, poles can really help you with balance. Like training wheels on a bicycle, they can prevent you from tipping over if you’re doing a balancing act between steps.
Poles also make it easier to maintain a rhythm. Like the leader of a marching band, the movement of the poles gets you in a nice cadence. That, in turn, can get you in a zen-like state and keeps you at a decent pace, too.
Up and down
Poles have benefit my hiking most when going up or down. Something to lean on every single step does really help lighten the load on my back when going up. On descents, the poles also take a lot of the load, which is so much nicer on my knees and ankles. You basically spread the load to your arms and wrists as well.
That brings me to one tip on the gear, the poles themselves. Make sure they gave a comfortable cork or neoprene grip. I have hiked with rubber or hard plastic grips too, but they got me blisters and sweaty hands. And it’s nice if they are collapsable or telescopic too. Then, you can simply fold them up and hand them from your backpack when you don’t use them.
They may seem a bit overkill here on the flat Dutch paths. But in all other environments, I will always take my poles on hikes.