I was a latecomer to the whole trekking pole thing. I would see someone on the trail, swinging those sticks fore and aft, and think to myself: why on earth would someone want to carry even more weight, have their hands full all the time, and spend all that extra money?
Then, on a longish day hike, I happened to run across a gentleman hiking by himself with a pair of poles. He stopped to chat, and after I felt we had established enough rapport I asked him straight out: “Are those poles really any good?”
He glanced down to my empty hands and my ignorance registered on his face. He looked astonished, as if I had just pulled alongside him at about 6,000 feet, in the middle of a free fall, and asked, “Are those parachutes really necessary in this sport?”
He expression grew serious, he looked me in the eye and he said, “You have GOT to get a pair of these!”
He said it with such urgency that I half expected him to grab my daypack, give me directions to the nearest hiking store, and wait right there on the trail for my return.
It turned out he wasn’t quite that much of an advocate, but we spoke for a while and he did convince me to give them a try. What a revelation!
I have lost count of the number of times my poles have saved me from falling or tripping. They also keep my hands high, which keeps them from swelling. On level ground and going uphill, that is about the extent of their usefulness (and that’s enough!). But on downhill stretches (after I have lengthened them a bit) they are even better. I walk faster, safer and with far less stress on my knees.
Here are a few more thoughts on the topic:
- Buy adjustable poles. Having the ability to shorten them for climbs and lengthen them for descents is well worth the extra expense and weight. That said, stay away from the “twist-lock” types; I’ve never had one that worked for long. Instead, stick with simple lever-locks.
- Learn how to use them. The best way to do that is to buy Jayah Faye Paley’s video Poles for Hiking, Trekking & Walking. I know what you’re thinking: there is no way I need a video to teach me how to use a walking stick. Trust me on this, it will be ten bucks well spent!
- Wear a set of thin sun-protection gloves when using your trekking poles. This will help prevent blisters on your hands (where the straps rub) and will also keep your hands from getting sunburned. The ones I use have the fingers chopped off about half way between the finger-ends and the palm, which keep my hands from sweating during hot afternoons.
- Last, don’t overspend on them. Sure, that means they’ll weigh a few ounces more, but I’m not convinced that it’s worth the extra money to go ultra-light. (I am particularly unimpressed with the super-light, carbon-fiber models that cannot be adjusted at all. Poles do break, and I’d rather not be out $150 when one does.)
Good hiking, Ray