Should I Use Trekking Poles?

The Farming Daughter Blog: Should I Use Trekking Poles? (https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2017/02/20/should-i-use-trekking-poles)

Should I use trekking poles?

As I started hiking more frequently I remember asking myself this very question. It seemed like the mark of a thru hiker was a pole in each fist, and if the “professionals” were using them, then I should as well, right?

On the other hand, I’m not a very graceful person so if I couldn’t even walk without tripping over my own feet how would I manage while worrying about two extra sticks? Plus, would the benefits of trekking poles outweigh the hassle of not having my hands free to snack while walking or snap a pic? And I have to admit, I was secretly afraid of projecting a facade of more hiking expertise than I actually possessed.

These concerns, coupled with a reluctance to spend money on something I might end up disliking kept me from buying trekking poles. Thankfully, my sweet mother made the decision for me and bought me a pair for my birthday last year. After using them on almost every hike I’ve gone on since then (including snowshoeing) I’d like to share my reasons I think you should at least give trekking poles a chance.

1. Trekking poles give you stability.

The first 5 minutes of using my trekking poles I doubted I would like them. I seemed to knock them against every root and stone in my path and they felt awkward and cumbersome in my hands. So much for supporting me, I thought. These things trip me up more than they help. Good for me I didn’t quit, because I quickly picked up the rhythm of stepping with my feet and swinging my poles. Once I was in the groove, I soon realized how helpful my poles were at keeping me from stumbling. They provide two extra points of contact with the ground that help to keep my balance. They also work splendidly to help you feel more secure on steep downward descents.

2. Trekking poles put your whole body to work.

Hiking is essentially walking long distances in the woods. It’s great for giving your lower body and cardio a workout, but no so much the rest of your body. That is, unless you use trekking poles. Using trekking poles causes you to engage your arms and upper body, giving you an awesome full body work out.

3. Trekking poles help you to power through challenging parts of the trail.

Because you now have your arms and upper body engaged while hiking it makes it easier hiking through steep or challenging sections of the trail. I have often found my poles are just the extra “boost” I need to assist me up a daunting incline.

4. Trekking poles take stress off your knees and lower joints.

Since your whole body is engaged while using trekking poles the impact is also distributed. Ironically, for being an avid hiker I have problems with feet, leg, and knee pain. Using trekking poles makes my arms and upper body go to work and helps take some of the stress off my knees and lower joints. I really wish I had used trekking poles on my September 2015 backpacking trip when I was hiking on a sprained ankle!

5. Trekking poles are multi-purposed.

Trekking poles aren’t only for helping you to walk! They work great for sounding out the depth of creeks or snow. There are some ultra-light tents that shave weight by using your trekking poles as the poles to hold up your shelter. You can purchase camera mounts that attach and turn your trekking poles into a mono-pod for photography. And lets all admit, who doesn’t feel at least a bit more protected from predators with two sturdy sticks in their hands?

And finally…

6. Trekking poles help you to hike faster.

The combination of stability, a fully engaged body, assistance on precipitous parts of the trail, and decreased hiking pain naturally means you’re going to hike faster. Granted, speed isn’t everything, but sometimes I appreciate being able to maximize my time in the outdoors and cover more ground.

Is there any time when you shouldn’t use trekking poles? If you’re planning on walking at a more leisurely pace trekking poles aren’t always necessary, when you’re going to be doing an activity that requires the use of your hands (such as photography) it might be best to leave them at home, and if you’re in a group walking close together poles might get in the way of others.

If you’re still not fully convinced that you need trekking poles and are hesitant like I was to drop the dough on them, I recommend you start out with a cheaper pair just to give them a try. I was pleasantly surprised with how well my Yukon Charlie’s Trek Lite Anti-Shock Poles worked! So far they’ve proven very durable, it’s relatively easy to adjust the length, and for only $50 they surprisingly still have the high-end feature of cork grips. You can find them here, or search on Amazon.com where certain colors are even cheaper.

my-trekking-poles

I hope this post has convinced you to at least give trekking poles a chance, but whether you prefer a pole in each hand, your trusty walking stick, or to just let your arms swing free, the important thing is to get out there and go hiking!

What is your experience with trekking poles? Have you ever tried a piece of gear and wondered where it had been all of your previous hiking life?

-Michaela “The Farming Daughter”

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Columbia Vixen 22 Pack Review

The Farming Daughter: Columbia Vixen 22 Pack Review ( https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2016/01/24/columbia-vixen-22-pack-review/)

I admit it. I’m a total backpacking gear geek. So it’s entirely normal for me to quote tent statistics, argue the benefits of down versus synthetic insulation, and gush about pack suspension systems. But when I was still waxing poetic about my Columbia Vixen 22L Daypack almost ten months after I bought it, I knew I was completely smitten.

The Farming Daughter: Columbia Vixen 22 Pack Review ( https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2016/01/24/columbia-vixen-22-pack-review/) 10

I purchased this pack from REI in the beginning of April. I was looking for a comfortable fitting pack that was large enough to carry the essentials for a day hike, without being overkill. Since then I have used it in a variety of conditions including: snow hiking in the spring, my trip to Valentines Flats, snowshoeing this winter, and even lending it to my sister to use. The pack has proved to have exactly the features I need, without any superfluous ones that I don’t.

The Farming Daughter: Columbia Vixen 22 Pack Review ( https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2016/01/24/columbia-vixen-22-pack-review/) 2
Using the Vixen at Valentine Flats this spring

Let’s break down what I love about this pack, and the few things that could use some improvement.

Features

The Columbia Vixen 22L is a women’s specific daypack with a 22 liter capacity. It has one main panel loading compartment, a small zipper pouch at the top, a stretchy stuff pocket on the front, and two water bottle pockets on the sides. There is also a water bladder sleeve in the main compartment and two zipper pouches on the hipbelt.

The Farming Daughter: Columbia Vixen 22 Pack Review ( https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2016/01/24/columbia-vixen-22-pack-review/) 9

I read some complaints that the pack wasn’t divided into smaller sections for organization, but personally I found the compartments it did have worked well. I tend to use the small zipper pouch for important items like car keys, cell phone, money, ID, and a headlamp. The main compartment I organize by using a small dry sack for first aid & survival gear, and a medium dry sack for extra clothes. The outer stretchy pouch is perfect for frequently used items or wet and dirty clothes that you don’t want inside your pack.

The Farming Daughter: Columbia Vixen 22 Pack Review ( https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2016/01/24/columbia-vixen-22-pack-review/) 5
Small zipper pouch on the top of the pack: perfect for storing small items like car keys and your phone

The 22 liter capacity is not huge (especially when hauling extra winter gear), but it is sufficient. I like that the pack is hydration system compatible, but make sure you insert your water bladder before your other gear, otherwise it can be a pain to slide it into the sleeve.

The back of the pack is a “trampoline back” which means that your back is held away from the back of the pack by a piece of aerated material.

The Farming Daughter: Columbia Vixen 22 Pack Review ( https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2016/01/24/columbia-vixen-22-pack-review/) 3
The trampoline back creates a gap for increased ventilation and airflow

I love this feature because the resulting gap between the pack and yourself almost completely solves the uncomfortable “sweaty back” problem!

The shoulder straps and waist belt are also designed to keep you cool with Columbia’s innovative combination of comfortable Techlite™ foam and mesh.

A built-in whistle on the sternum strap buckle and a system to store your trekking poles when not needed were nice touches. I’m still a little dubious, however, of the Silverback™ reflective lining that, supposedly, “allows you to easily see inside your pack”.

The Farming Daughter: Columbia Vixen 22 Pack Review ( https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2016/01/24/columbia-vixen-22-pack-review/) 4
Back view of the pack

Fit

I would probably say that the comfort I feel while wearing this pack is its number one selling feature for me!

This was the first pack I ever bought that had a women’s specific design, and when Columbia says “women specific” they don’t just mean “shrink it and pink it”. The way this pack wraps around my curves and hugs my back without flopping, bouncing, or shifting makes me happy just to think about it! The weight is placed squarely on your hips so the shoulder straps don’t even touch the tops of your shoulder! It practically feels like it’s levitating when I wear it.

The Farming Daughter: Columbia Vixen 22 Pack Review ( https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2016/01/24/columbia-vixen-22-pack-review/) 8
Trying out the pack for the first time in April 2015…after one mile the comfort of the pack had me sold!

I do have a warning though, for my petite backpacking sisters… I have to wear this pack with the waist belt tightened almost as far as it will go; my sister Addison wears it tightened all the way. So if you are very slender you might want to pass on this pack…you won’t be able to tighten the waist belt enough and all of the pack weight will be placed improperly on your shoulders.

The Farming Daughter: Columbia Vixen 22 Pack Review ( https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2016/01/24/columbia-vixen-22-pack-review/) 6
Addison using the pack during our backpacking trip in September. She loved it so much I almost didn’t get it back from her!

Durability

While this pack has held up fine for me, I would be a little hesitant to recommend it to anyone who is rough on their gear or who will be packing in areas with sharp brush or rocks. The fabric of the pack is strong for holding gear, but quite thin, and I’m afraid it could be easily punctured. The stretchy front and side pockets make me suspect they could be snagged on bushes. Case in point, don’t drag this pack over scree or run through a briar patch with it (not that I would recommend doing this with any pack!) Let’s just say I am infinitely glad I chose not to take this pack on my caving expedition in May!

Price

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for this pack is $129. Comparing it to similar models (like the Osprey Tempest 20) I would say this pack is comparably price for its market. Catching this pack while on clearance and combining it with a coupon, however, helped me to snag the Vixen for a cool $44.73, which for the comfort level and functionality was a steal in my opinion!

Conclusion

The Columbia Vixen is an extremely comfortable pack designed with women in mind. The pack has the perfect amount of space for an all-day summer hike, or a lightly packed winter snowshoe trip. The ventilation system is top notch, and the easily accessible stuff pouch, hip belt pockets, and trekking pole loops put this pack at the top of the line. However, petite individuals or gear abusers might want to steer clear.

The Farming Daughter: Columbia Vixen 22 Pack Review ( https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2016/01/24/columbia-vixen-22-pack-review/) 7
Using the Columbia Vixen while snowshoeing

Where to purchase

Most unfortunately, I bought this pack on clearance because Columbia was discontinuing it. Why they would scrap such an excellent pack is beyond me and I will be on the lookout to see if they start offering a new design with comparable size and features. In the meantime, if you see this pack on eBay or a gear swap I recommend grabbing it!

-Michaela “The Farming Daughter”

Note: This pack was purchased for my own personal use. I was not paid or compensated in any way to purchase, use, or review this pack. The views and opinions expressed are solely my own.

Valentine Flats

Far have I traveled and much have I seen,

Dark distant mountains with valleys of green.

“Mull of Kintyre” by Paul McCartney

Dear me! I’m rather far behind posting about some of the adventures I’ve been having. I think I’ve just been too busy having the adventures (and working on the farm, and being a big sister, etc.) to post about them. I’ll attempt to post about what I’ve been up to, starting today with a day hike I did in April.

I went hiking, together with two of my brothers (Marcus and Mason), my cousin Christopher, and our family friend Professor Allan, to Valentine Flats, a part of the 3,014 acre Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area. I had never been there before, but after seeing the steep cliffs, waterfalls, and the creek I absolutely plan on going back.

After meeting up with the rest of our group, we hiked down the steep trail leading into the gorge. Sixty years ago there used to be a farm on the flat land in the valley, and this trail was the former access road to the farm. It was amazing to see how thick and tangled the trees were in an area that had not long ago been cleared farm land. All that remained was the stone foundation of the farm house and a bit of the barn foundation. It reminds me of a verse from Ecclesiastes that says, “A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.”

The abandoned house foundation.
The abandoned house foundation.

After the farmhouse ruins, we hiked through the woods and flat flood plain to the Cattaraugus Creek. Near the upper end of the flats we saw a plain tombstone marked “Thomas Dutton”. In the fall of 1826, Thomas Dutton was traveling near the creek on his way to Ashford and was, presumably, drowned. His body was found washed ashore the next spring about 1600 feet downstream. It was impossible for the coroner, Ahaz Allen, to determine, but it was reputed that since the $400 and silver watch Thomas had been carrying were never found he had been killed by a thief.

Thomas Dutton's tombstone
Thomas Dutton’s tombstone

The area of the creek that we saw was at the confluence of the south and main branches of Cattaraugus Creek.

Valentine Flats: Cattaraugus Creek (https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2015/06/13/valentine-flats/)

Mason, Christopher, and Marcus
Mason, Christopher, and Marcus
Christopher and Mason
Christopher and Mason
The boys and I
The boys and I

This was the second hike that I used my new Columbia Vixen day pack. I am in love with it and hope to do a review post soon.

Valentine Flats: New day pack (https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2015/06/13/valentine-flats/)

The cliffs
Some of the cliffs in Zoar Valley are over 400 feet tall.

Marcus is going on a week long backpacking trip in July so he wore his new Jansport Klamath pack to test it out. Mr. Allan decided to try it on for size too.

Marcus and Professor Allan
Marcus and Professor Allan

While we were down at the creek we saw a group of white water rafters float past. It looked exciting and fun; I hope to do it some day!

Valentine Flats:  White Water Rafters in Cattaraugus Creek (https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2015/06/13/valentine-flats/)

Valentine Flats: Posing near the cliffs (https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2015/06/13/valentine-flats/)

Valentine Flats: Cattaraugus Creek (https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2015/06/13/valentine-flats/)

While we were hiking Mr. Allan, ever the instructive professor, amused and engrossed me by expounding on the difficulties the first settlers faced when journeying through these dense woods. He had me imagine what it would be like to be a pioneer wife traveling with my husband and several young children, with all of our scanty possessions in one wagon. It was much easier to envision myself struggling through this arduous terrain when I was actually walking in it myself.

How would one get a wagon and ox team down this hill?
How would you get a wagon and ox team down this hill?!

I also noticed these Red Trillium and Coltsfoot blooming. It was so nice to see flowers again finally!

Red Trillium
Red Trillium
Coltsfoot
Coltsfoot (Tuissilago farfara)

Valentine Flats: Hiking https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2015/06/13/valentine-flats/

I had a great time at Valentine Flats and would definitely recommend the trail to others!

-The Farming Daughter