Author: Tina Eckerlin
I had avoided trekking poles for years. I felt that there was a stigma that came with them from seeing older women in power-walking groups.
I did a bit of research, and decided to try them out. I have never looked back. If you don't hike with trekking poles, you should start!
Reduce Stress On The Body
Trekking poles reduce the accumulated stress on the body, especially the legs, feet, knees and back by helping distribute your pack's weight load across your body.
Poles should be adjusted to a height where they reach the top of your palms with your arm down your side, and forearms at a 90 degree angle. The top of the handle should be at your waist or hip level when your elbow is at a 90 degree angle.
Straps should always be used. Your hand should come up through the bottom (underneath) of the strap to grasp the handle. This will allow you to plant and control your poles, and avoid thumb injuries like Skier's Thumb.
Ascents & Descents
Trekking poles help absorb some of the shock and protect your knees when going down hill, and help you go faster. When going up hills, trekking poles improve your endurance by allowing you to power up!
Unless you are scrambling up and down rock faces, generally your arms and hands have nothing to do. Moreover, some people's hands swell while ascending from their hands dangling. Trekking poles increase circulation and keep them more elevated and moving. Take it from me, I have not had any swelling in my hands since using trekking poles.
Not only do poles prevent swelling of the hands, they also build muscles in the shoulders, neck and arms while supporting your spine.
Trekking poles aid in your balance along uneven terrain, providing extra stability. This is especially true if you are concerned about lingering knee or ankle injuries. How many times I have caught myself about to roll an ankle due to unsure footing, but because of the poles I had my balance shifted just right.
Poles help you shift your weight before striking your next foot forward, preventing injury.
When crossing beaver dams or water trekking poles are essential! You can gauge the water depth with your poles before placing your feet and use the poles to help balance over sketchy narrow crossings, ridgelines and on loose ground. They are a great tool to have when dealing with ice too!
Endurance & Rhythm
If you have ever used trekking poles, you will recall the sound of pole, step, pole, step, pole, step...Poles help you create a rhythm when pushing big miles, and I have noticed I hike faster when using trekking poles.
You will likely find that you have more endurance as well. Since trekking poles reduce fatigue on your joints and legs you will likely notice that you can go further with less pain and physical stress.
If you have ever been the first one on a trail in the morning, you know how many spider webs there can be. Poles are great to swipe them out of the way. They can also be used to push plants out of the way, especially noxious plants like giant hogweed, wild parsnip and poison ivy.
If you need to concern yourself with snakes, you can use them to knock around the area before stepping, giving yourself some space to react.
They can be used to defend yourself from animals, and even use them to make yourself seem bigger for black bears.
- You can use trekking poles for a variety of needs including one of my favorites, tent poles! By using a trekking pole tent you eliminate the added weight of tent poles.
- Use attach mounts and clips on your poles to take photos, videos, and eliminate the tripod.
- Create a gravity fed holder for filtering water
- Keep poles out when hitchhiking to let people know you are not crazy, just a hiker looking for a ride!
Types of Trekking Poles
The most common types of trekking poles you will find on the market will be aluminum and carbon fiber. They will have a variety of closing and locking mechanisms, along with a choice of handle materials.
Aluminum is a soft lightweight metal that is frequently used in trekking poles. Poles made from aluminum tend to be more cost effective, but slightly heavier. Aluminum poles tend to bend under high pressure rather than snapping.
Carbon Fiber is a polymer that uses crystalline filaments of carbon that strengthen materials. It is known to have a high tensile strength and a low weight to strength ratio, making it highly desired by backpackers.
Carbon Fiber is more expensive than aluminum, but much lighter. It tends to snap under high pressure rather than bend.
Natural cork is the most costly of handles, but is generally the most comfortable. Cork is porous and pulls sweat from your hands preventing blisters, without absorbing moisture. It also molds to your hands. Cork is our choice when possible.
Foam is cheaper than cork, and will serve is purposes. The type of foam will determine whether it will wick moisture away, but in general it absorbs moisture. We have found that foam wears much quicker than cork, and can create some hot spots leading to blisters on hands.
Telescopic poles generally have two to three pieces that slide in and out of each other to determine the pole height. These are the most common trekking pole type, and are our first choice when it comes to poles.
Folding poles are similar to tent poles where they have an internal cable that when components are taken apart- fold up. These are great for travelling as they pack down much smaller than other poles.
Non-collapsing or fixed poles are a single length pole that do not reduce in size. These are commonly used for skiing.
Internal locking mechanisms are generally a twist and lock design. They have a bracket inside that locks the pole section in place.
There are many new designs of this style, but we have found that most slip after a while when the bracket gets worn.
External locking mechanisms generally have a lever that holds the sections of poles via pressure. Many of these have adjustable screws to increase or decrease applied pressure. These flipping locks can wear or break with time, but are our preferred choice.
Depending on your hiking style and budget, there is gear for everyone. You can pick up a pair of carbon fiber trekking poles on Amazon.ca
for about $57 CAN that work well, or decide to pay upwards of $200 CAN or more. Many of the higher end companies offer replacement parts to help keep poles out of landfills.
Whatever type you use, you will be thankful you did!
Have trekking poles changed the way you hike? Let us know in the comments below!