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?
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.
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”