Monday, September 29, 2014

The Benefits of Hiking with Trekking Poles

Trekking Poles skull and crossbones

For the uninitiated, using trekking poles to hike might appear a bit superfluous. After all, they do kind of seem like training wheels for walking. Together with gaiters and those "mudflap" baseball caps with fabric that hangs over your neck for sun protection, trekking poles scream "uber-hiking-nerd" to those less familiar with their benefits (even if the user mistakenly feels like they exude an aura of wily expertise.) Regardless of any aesthetic superficialities they may or may not project, trekking poles can add huge benefits to your hiking, especially if it involves overnight or multi day backpacking. Let's discuss those benefits in detail...

The Benefits of Trekking Poles
  • They relieve pressure and stress on legs and joints with every step - while they technically add ounces to your kit, they actually absorb a great deal of the weight that would normally fall on your legs and back.
  • They provide balance and stability and can help prevent falls or spills - especially on icy and slippery surfaces.
  • Poles can aid in river and stream crossings.
  • They allow you to test the density of soggy, muddy ground or thickness and strength of ice
  • They can be used to push aside foliage from overgrown trails.
  • They can allow you to safely feel for (or simply warn) snakes in overgrowth or rocky overhangs.
  • Many backpacking tent designs (including this one reviewed here) use trekking poles instead of traditional tent poles.
  • Poles can be used as a first aid, emergency splint in case of broken leg, severe sprain, or other injury.
So, those are some of the main benefits of trekking poles. I should acknowledge that I almost always only use one trekking pole during my hikes, because I like to have one hand free for photography (though I bring two because I use them in lieu of tent poles.) Using only one pole while walking means I'm getting half of benefits with respect to stress relief on my joints, but I like having a pair with me if I ever find myself especially fatigued on a long hike or in need of extra stability.

I personally use a simple twist lock Komperdell model without the special "antishock" features found in many designs. I didn't pay much more for them than I would have for lesser quality poles found in the aforementioned warehouses of cheap consumption. For more information, see my Quick Guide to Trekking Poles, which details many features to look for and offers buying advice.

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