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Trekking Pole Benefits and Drawbacks: To Use or Not?

Visit any major trail, and many minor ones, and you'll likely see hikers using trekking poles, matching poles, or walking sticks, specifically designed for hiking. Just a few years ago, many hikers and backpackers didn't know trekking poles existed, and some that did called them “yuppie sticks” or asked pole users, “How's the skiing today?” With increased use, though, attitudes about trekking poles are evolving.

It's not just that it seems like more people are using trekking poles these days: sales figures show that more trekking poles have been sold in the United States in recent years. Sales of trekking poles increased 75 percent from 2007 to 2008, and based on preliminary data, sales of trekking poles are expected to increase another 13 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to Christina DeKraay and Kris Versteegen of SportsOneSource, a sporting goods industry trade publication.

Increased sales aren't just reflective of a fad (remember ankle warmers anyone?). Many regular hikers agree — and loudly proclaim — that trekking poles offer significant benefits. If you haven't yet tried trekking poles, consider the advantages to decide whether they're a worthwhile addition to your gear closet.

Benefits of Trekking Poles

For the hiker or backpacker undecided about if or when to use trekking poles, a good place to start is by examining the benefits poles can offer.

Strength and Fitness

Trekking poles offer improved balance, stability, and fitness. (Photo: Seth Levy)

First, there is evidence that trekking poles enhance the muscle-building and aerobic benefits of hiking. With trekking poles, hikers use upper body muscles they don't ordinarily engage, like biceps, latissimus dorsi (side muscles), pectorals, and triceps. Regularly engaging these muscles while swinging and placing trekking poles will strengthen them. In addition to building upper body muscles, engaging these muscles during a hike creates a full body workout, enhancing the already significant aerobic benefit of hiking.

Trekking poles also can increase the amount of calories burned while hiking. Studies by the Cooper Institute indicate that using nordic walking poles (similar to hiking poles, but designed to be used on paved surfaces) can increase calories burned by an average of 20 percent. These studies were done in a laboratory environment, so it is reasonable to expect that calorie burning might exceed 20 percent on a steep trail. For hikers trekking for fitness, this is welcome news, but long distance hikers should keep in mind that 20 percent more calories burned means 20 percent more calories have to be carried.

Trekking poles are more than just a workout enhancer, though. Many hikers view fitness as an enjoyable side effect of hiking, but not the primary purpose. So how do poles help those who hike for the sake of hiking?

Stability and Balance

According to Lindy Smith, Nordic Walking Instructor and former Marketing Manager of Leki, a major manufacturer of trekking poles, "they improve posture, balance, and stability."

Trekking poles provide two extra points of contact with the trail, essentially converting bipedal hikers into four-legged hiking animals. With more points of contact, hikers are less likely to slip in the first place, and slips are less likely to turn into falls.

Trekking poles help users navigate stream crossings. (Photo: Seth Levy)

Take a minute to think about the situations that lead to a fall on the trail: you step up to climb, and the foot you've weighted slips in a patch of mud or on a wet root. Without trekking poles, it's likely that you'll end up sprawled on the trail. With trekking poles, however, you can brace yourself, retain three points of contact with the trail, and stay on your feet, despite a slip.

Poles also help hikers maintain forward momentum uphill or on tricky terrain, navigate over and around trail obstacles like stream and river crossings, traverse slippery logs and rocks, and improve balance when carrying heavy loads. Many hikers also prefer the steady rhythm of hiking with trekking poles.

Less Stress on Joints

In addition to preventing falls, studies show that trekking poles also prevent pain and damage associated with repetitive stress injuries. Hiking all day, even without a heavy pack, places extraordinary stress on the ankles, knees, and hips. Many hikers can literally feel this force below their knees on steep descents, and above their knees during steep ascents. Poles recruit other muscles to this task and help transfer the weight, reducing the strain that would ordinarily be exclusively absorbed by the joints and muscles in the lower body alone.

A 2007 study in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine notes that “[a] reduction in the forces, moments, and power around the joint, with the use of poles, will help reduce the loading on the joints of the lower extremity.”

Less stress on one's body can mean enjoying more years of hiking and backpacking.

One Pole or Two?

One pole or two? It comes down to personal preference. (Photo: Dave MacLeay)

A discussion of trekking poles inevitably leads to this frequently asked question: Does it matter if I use one trekking pole or two? Some hikers, especially those out on shorter hikes, prefer to use just one pole, keeping one hand free. But, it stands to reason that engaging both arms to take the load off the knees is more effective than using one arm alone. Additionally, most experts agree that the balance and stability benefits of two poles are greater than one.

Many hikers find that the benefits poles provide become more obvious over time, or with a heavier pack. AT thru-hiker Jeffrey Hunter (trail name: Little Bear) says that he always uses poles for backpacking, but seldom uses them for shorter hikes with less weight. Similarly, Bill Cooke (trail name: Cooker-Hiker) uses poles all the time, considers them “essential on steep descents,” and “wouldn't hike without them.” When to use poles comes down to personal preferences. I often don't use poles on day hikes, but never leave them behind for a multi-day hike.

Potential Drawbacks

Trekking poles provide a considerable range of benefits to hikers — reducing stress on joints and muscles and reducing the likelihood of falling — but also present a few drawbacks to the hiker and potentially the trail itself.

Ecological Impact: Do Poles Trash Trails?

In 2002, Jeffrey L. Marion, Teresa A. Martinez, and Robert D. Proudman, representatives of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, published a paper in the ATC's newsletter The Register titled "Trekking Poles: Can You Save Your Knees and the Environment?." In the paper, the authors acknowledged the significant benefits that poles offer hikers, while asking hard questions about the potential impacts of trekking poles on trails. The paper noted that trekking poles can cause damage to vegetation, soil, and rocks, and can increase erosion, hastening the tendency of trails to “wash out.”

Might it be true that trekking poles enlarge hiking's impact to a significant level? Possibly, but whether or not this impact is significant remains up to interpretation and some debate. Hikers and trails have a real impact on the environment, but most hikers feel that much of this impact can be outweighed by the increased passion hikers develop to protect natural resources.

For hikers concerned with minimizing the impact of their poles, Marion, Martinez, and Proudman offer the following tips:

  • place poles on the trail surface rather than off trail or on vegetation,
  • consider the use of rubber pole tips to prevent rock scratching,
  • use pole baskets to minimize sinkage (but beware of large baskets snagging vegetation), and
  • limit the use of poles, especially in ecologically sensitive areas.

With proper use, the improved balance and agility trekking poles offer can help hikers stay on the trail and durable surfaces and off fragile vegetation, minimizing erosion and impact.


Other Considerations

Stow away poles while scrambling up rocks. (Photo: Seth Levy)

Learning Curve: In addition to potential ecological impacts, trekking poles have some other minor drawbacks. First, they take a little time to adapt to and the typical learning period can involve frustration. I have seen poles dangling from trees, tossed off cliffs, and abandoned mid-hike. This learning phase typically lasts one to four days on a longer hike, or several day hikes in a season. During this period, trekking poles may get caught, feel unwieldy, or cause a paradoxical loss of balance.

Scrambling: Even experienced users recognize that trekking poles aren't appropriate for all situations. On steep trails that call for rock scrambling, trekking poles can get in the way. For example, scrambling through the Appalachian Trail's Mahoosuc Notch in Maine, most hikers collapse their poles and stow them to make the mile-long trek through car-sized boulders. I frequently collapse and stow my poles during the hand-over-hand climbs that are common in New England. Trekking poles may simply be in the way if you're hiking off-trail or through blow down.

Air Travel: Another consideration is the potential difficulty of traveling with poles. This winter, I finished the Appalachian Trail and found myself in Atlanta with a plane ticket home. Carrying on my mud-encrusted trekking poles with sharp carbide tips was not an option, so I mailed them home. But for destination hikers flying to, and back from, a trail, mailing may not be feasible. It is possible to check trekking poles in baggage or a cardboard poster tube, but additional baggage fees can make this a less attractive option.


Wait, what about ski poles?

Over many miles on the trail, one can see a lot of unusual hiking poles. One gentleman I met on the Appalachian Trail carried a stout iron rod that weighed more than 20 pounds.

The price of a shiny set of trekking poles can lead many hikers to contemplate using some cheaper alternatives, like ski poles. Ski poles that fit well are often available at summer yard sales. If you’re not sure whether trekking poles are right for you, hiking with ski poles once or twice is an inexpensive way to experience walking with poles before taking the plunge and buying a real pair.

However, there are numerous reasons not to use ski-poles for hiking long-term. First, the cheap plastic grips often slip off sweaty hands. Second, the tips, meant for snow, wear out quickly on rock. Third, the pole shafts are often thinner, are non-adjustable, and aren’t designed to endure the weight of a hiker with a pack. A pole that suddenly snaps is no joke, and might lead to serious injury. Last, if another hiker asks you how the skiing is, a snappy comeback will be harder to come by.

To Use Poles or Not?

At the end of the trail, individual hikers and backpackers have to weigh the numerous benefits of trekking poles against any drawbacks, both ecological and practical. Increased trekking pole sales suggest that many hikers and backpackers find that the enhanced stability and cardiovascular benefits of poles significantly outweigh the occasional inconveniences. For the vast majority of hikers, trekking poles are helpful and recommended.

In addition to stability and fitness, poles have other benefits worth considering. For example, some trekking poles can be converted into monopods for photographers, and some backpackers use trekking poles as tent pole substitutes to pitch shelters.

If you're still unsure about trekking poles, borrow a pair and give them a try. "I've always heard other hikers talking about how great trekking poles were for their knees, but I didn't become a believer until I tried them out myself," said Ivan Levin, Program Director at the National Park Foundation and frequent hiker. "They make a big difference for my knees and are useful around camp. Now, I hit every trail with trekking poles in hand."

If you've decided that trekking poles are the way to go, now it's time to go out and confront the wide variety of brands, types, and styles of trekking poles available and select a pair of your own:

Trekking Pole Parts Explained

Selecting a Pair of Trekking Poles

Trekking Pole Fit, Maintenance, and Tips

Trekking Pole Reviews




"Trekking Poles: Can You Save Your Knees and the Environment? by Jeffrey L. Marion, Teresa A. Martinez, and Robert D. Proudman, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, The Register (2002) (PDF) and Church TS, Earnest CP, Morss GM. "Field testing of physiological responses associated with Nordic Walking." Res Q Exerc Sport. 2002 Sep;73(3):296-300



I usually find a hiking stick in the woods and usually only use them when fording streams and hiking up and down steep slopes. I toss em back into the woods when I am done with them.

I was given a pair of telescopic poles once, but could not get into the nack of using them. Used em one winter for snowshoeing. Sold them soon after.

Been thinking about trekking poles for a while. I know I could use some help getting down those steep mountain trails with that heavy pack.

Great write up and look forward to Further Info.

Backwoodsmen and European hikers in the Alps have been using hiking poles, staves, and alpenstocks for centuries. The earliest Boy Scout Handbooks in the early 20th Century featured the many uses of hiking staves, including making a tripod from 3 Scouts staves for holding a cookpot over the campfire or, in a slightly different configuration, to hold a wash basin, or even as poles for tarps to form a tent or cooking shelter.

On many of my expeditions to various parts of the world (see my avatar on an Antarctic climbing expedition to the left, or my report on our Africa trek and climbing Kilimanjaro), I carry hiking poles. They are a huge help in hauling sleds and on ascents and descents on glaciers and snow slopes (you can get poles with an ice ax head for self-arrest in case of a fall). They do not take the place of an ice ax or ice tools, of course. I have had no problem taking them with me on the plane - they are just collapsed down and placed in my checked luggage. I typically have one large duffel plus my carry-on pack with the essential down gear and boots that cannot be readily replaced if the airline gorillas lose my checked bag.

Nicely Done!

Two points after a quick study..I'm at Trail Days fixing poles!

I wish the first two photos showed correct usage of the straps..Very important. Always like skiers, from below, up through, then straight down.

Never 'reach' through as it traps your hand under the strap

On trail impacts. Leki does Not recommend the use of rubber tips on trail. Rubber tips are designed for road walking and transport protection and are not secure in most trail situations.

Use the baskets? absolutely, they keep you as aeration not plowing.

The surface scratching of the rocks is minimised by careful placement.

Overall, well done.


A drawback is ecological damage from the poles? What about ecological damage from feet, dogs, tents with matching footprints, and packs that don't float and end up being set on the ground or hung on a tree?

Not using a pole where it can't be used is not a drawback. That's like saying a drawback to snowshoes is that they don't help when there is no snow.

Outdoor writing is getting to be like romance novel writing - anything goes.

I like to use two trekking poles, it took a while to get the hang of it, three trips maybe before they became second nature.

They really do decrease strain, and help you navigate steep, narrow, or crumbly trails.

There are, of course, times when I don't need them for a bit so I carry a 24" length of cord with a clip on each end in the bottom of my water bottle pocket. I just collapse the poles and clip the cord to each trekking pole lanyard and toss over my head letting the poles hang on either side of my pack. That way I can keep moving and store the poles at the same time.

Trekking Poles are invaluable in snow situations where there is a crust and soft powder underneath. I was post-holing through a trail (no snow shoes) until I took out my poles and started spreading out weight distribution. I had a much better hike from then on. Many packs (my Golite Pursuit for example) have built in storage loops/pockets for the Trekking poles. I can grab mine without taking off my pack.

For normal Sierra Trails, which can be rugged, I find a single six foot staff to be the most utilitarian of poles. I use one of those green plastic coated steel tubes they sell as tree stakes at the nursery for $6. It is lighter than a pair of poles, rugged, has a texture good for griping along its entire length, and unlike the boutique trekking poles, is infinitely and instantly adaptable to the terrain at hand. In fact my biggest gripe about trekking poles for trail use is the terrain varies, but the poles do not lend themselves to on–the-fly adjusting without slowing down and fidling with the adjusting collets. Thus traversing 24” steps, followed by a gentle incline, then a 30” step, etc. forces me to make do with the poles as they are, requiring altering my posture to use the poles, instead of vice versa. This is especially a pain if the trail is constantly changing aspect and incline. This is not the case with the staff; by simply sliding your hand to a new position it is always the right size at the right time, with no distraction. And while proponents of trekking poles tout the total body workout and enhanced calorie burn, the last thing I want on a hike is a tool that further exhausts me while under way.

If I am traveling on snow, be it across flat or nominal inclines by whatever means, then trekking poles with baskets are the way to go, primarily for balance considerations, but also for additional trust if I am traveling on skis or dragging a pug. If the incline gets step or icy, however, it is time to break out the ice axe.

Ultimately I think modern trail trekking poles are mostly a merchandizing gimmick, like $500 teck jackets, $90 bug shirts, and $3,000 road bikes (this coming from an avid skier, backcountry fisherman, and one time Category 1 road racer). Some of these thing have a practical application, but most are sold for the same reason people buy $300 sun glasses.
Ed biggest gripe about trekking poles for trail use is the terrain varies, but the poles do not lend themselves to on–the-fly adjusting without slowing down and fidling with the adjusting collets.....

....$3,000 road bikes (this coming from an avid skier, backcountry fisherman, and one time Category 1 road racer).....

You should try the Leki Speedloks or Black Diamond FlikLoks. I have had the BD version for abt 10 years and the Leki (which I mostly use these days) for the past couple of years. They are easy to adjust on the fly. But you can simply do the same thing you do with your steel pole - just slide your hand down. You don't "have to use" the grip and strap all the time.

Having collected my share of medals and junk (er, I mean, valuable prize gear from supporting merchants) in bike races before retiring, when one gets used to the good road bikes, it's hard to break the habit. But I am amortizing my latest (almost 12 years old) carbon fiber road bike with years of usage. The Santana tandem (getting close to 30 years old), expensive at the time of purchase, is pretty well amortized, though we haven't used the child-back conversion for 20 years. You often get what you pay for, though I agree that many people buy the "name" and the "image" and never use the gear as intended.

Having collected my share of medals and junk .. ..I agree that many people buy the "name" and the "image" and never use the gear as intended.

Ah yes, racing swag… It seemed the prize on my spiff laps was always a pair of those bib togs, which I found to be both uncomfortable and too warm for So Cal riding. I got into racing as a youth, during the John Howard era, and retired chasing Scott Tinley. Had to drop out of the competitive arena in 1985, after my second knee surgery. My fondest memories were participating as an amateur in the Coors Classic (but called the Red Zinger Classic by racers) in 1981, the year Greg Lemond won and became an international name. The pros aren’t human is all I have to say. The first day in San Francisci started with a pre-stage criterion that included an uphill on Market St (I think it was Market St anyway). Lemond motored up the hill in a dead sprint at just under 30mgh (#@$%&*!!!!)

Two amateur rides stand out in my memory as the most challenging cycling I did, however. One was called the Tour of two Mountains. It was a two stage race (Category 1 riders did as a single stage) up and down Big Bear Mountain twice. It was very long, close to 200 miles but it was climbing up the mountain twice that took its toll. I don’t think I ever completely worked out the knots in my quads. The other ride was on the east side of the Sierras. I can’t recall the name (I think it included the words “death ride”), nor do I recall where it was staged, but the miles were long the elevation gain insane (15,000’ total?) and sported a down hill section so rough the organizers eventually included a warning in the application that riders have broken forks and headsets on the descent. Enough of that! A most peculiar ride, however, was the Tecaté to to Ensenada fun ride. It was one of those mass rides with thousands of riders, about 75 mile long. The lasting memory was the pavement was like washboard, providing a bone jarring ride ending with your arms more fatigued than your legs. It gave an insight what classic racing in Europe must have been like over those cobble stone roads.

My favorite down hills are the city side of Crenshaw Blvd (my PR at 67 MGH), descending Palos Verdes, the twenty + mile downhill along Angeles Crest Hwy into Wrightwood (a 25 – 35 MPH no brakes coaster with very little traffic – every rider’s dream) and the descent from Tioga Entrance on Hwy 120 (never got up to terminal velocity – the road is too pitted, cross winds too strong, straight-aways too short, and too damn scared of riding off the edge!).

Back in the mid-late 1970s I built and painted frames for Santana, while attending the Claremont Colleges. If you purchased before 1980 there is a good chance I made your ride! They are the best domestic tandems IMHO:) Yea, once you spoil yourself with a good bike, it is hard to settle for less. Something tells me, Bill, you put your cycles through their paces back in the day, given all your outdoor passions, therefore got the full benefit of high end performance. I doubt you would be labeled a wannabe. But I don’t mind the latté riders’ desire to look the part; let’em buy, they create production volume, and that brings down the price for me and you. Still, there are a lot of good wheels that cost less than $3K for those with plated silver budgets. My current ride is an early 90s Cannondale, a model that is best described as a hybrid geometry between a criterion and road bike (tight rake, long chain stays and laid-off seat angle). Dura Ace and 600 combo groupo. An agile and smooth ride for middle age, yet stiff enough you can really apply torque without flexing the frame and causing unintended gear shift. Alas, it is well past its intended life at over 30K miles. I think my next ride will be a mountain bike, set up without all the silly suspension crap, but with modest rise handle bars to get me sitting more up right, and some high pressure slick tread tires to provide a fast, smooth ride.

Paid good money for my titanium mtb in 1998...I did need at least the "silly suspension crap" in the front to offset the unforgiving nature of the racing geometry for my more leisurely rides. I bought the top of the line bike one year removed from launch to save some serious cash, (love the titanium frame's live yet compliant ride) and have used it continually to this day. Some things are worth the money, especially if you are patient enough to find them at a discount.

Which brings me to trekking poles. Whomeworry displays MacGuyver-like resourcefullness, but I'll take my Komperdell poles purchased at 75% off the original price for their flexibility and pack-away telescoping design. My 10 year old son can benefit from my poles reduced to his height requirements much better than he would plant tubes sized for my use. Many poles now include extended grips descending down the poles to allow for quick "hand position asjustments" similar to the plant-tube adjustments described by Whomeworry. Valid points all around.

Given any choice however, I'd definitely choose Moses' Staff or Gandolf's- if I ever saw it on Ebay...

I am a recent skurka-inspired trekking pole convert, and have not looked back. A couple thoughts from a newbie after one season of poling.

1. The poles serve as part of my shelter, holding up my SD siltarp 2. Big weight reduction.

2. Stream crossings have never been easier. You can see in my pics that I am constantly tossing my poles back to my fellow hikers for them to cross after me.

3. My favorite part about this style of hiking was unexpected. My arms now have something to do and serve the greater good when trekking! This may seem trivial, but it has made my backpacking experience more of a total body workout and it feels much more engaging than simply hanging my arms from the shoulder straps of my pack or swinging them around idly as I walk. No more freeloading for you arms, it's time to pull your weight!...or my weight, ah whatever.

4. --Warning, rant to ensue-- Who goes out into the rugged wilderness of ice, snow, falling rock, glaciers scraping way entire sides of mountains, or even that of a well maintained (man-made-to-begin-with) trail and frets about a carbide tip scratched rock? Not that we should head out and start a new wave of trekking pole tip cliff art in the Grand Canyon, but that type of micromanaging environmentalism is insanity. I am all about stewardship of our wild places and the practice of leave no trace, but following that line of thinking would end in a mandate that we must go barefoot so as not to leave scuff marks with our dirty man-made boots, cloths would certainly be out due to the interjection of bright colors that disrupt the natural landscape and will most certainly kill the mood for some sort of bird's mating season experience (although if I were to go al natural, I would put off the brightest white the woods have ever seen). Lastly, we would have to find some way to stop those arrogant deer who think they can come into the wilderness and own the place from scraping up the saplings with their antlers every fall. Who's with me?! Ridiculous. To claim the ability to harm the great wild with your trekking pole is to down play the wild rugged vastness that is our playground.

As to the type of pole, I am currently using a set of telescoping Komperdel poles I got on sierra trading post for a drastic markdown and I love them. They have a padded strap that is very comfortable and the extended grip (down from the main handle grip) is nice for steep slopes and just for changing things up a bit when I get tired of holding the pole the same way for 15+miles. I have no experience with other poles with which to compare them, sorry.

Needless to say, I don't see myself ditching the poles any time soon, but that is a personal preference. If you have never tried them, borrow a friend's and see what you think. Give it a little while too. They are somewhat awkward at first, but after a few miles, you will be trekking along in coordinated fashion.

I use fixed length carbon fiber poles with no baskets. I removed the straps and pitched them. After years on skis and snow shoes it only made sense to me.

Will admit though that the click, click, click is very annoying to others in a group at times.

noddlehead said:

Will admit though that the click, click, click is very annoying to others in a group at times.

Actually I haven't noticed, whom ever complains of your clicks should probably stop tailgating you.
XterroBrando said:

Paid good money for my titanium mtb in 1998...I did need at least the "silly suspension crap" in the front to offset the unforgiving nature of the racing geometry for my more leisurely rides.

As an old school road racer, I didn't get much into the mountain bike scene, but sure had fun as a kid on dirt tracks with my Schwinn stingray. Just as well, I’d probably end up bonsai over the edge of some ravine if i got into mountina biking. Anyway I did not know mountain bikes had “racing” geometry variation. Learn something new every day.

Perhaps my suspension remarks was in complete. I can see having the stuff if one only did down hill, but I find four or five extra pound makes a significant difference in exertion level over the course of a day riding up and down paved roads. That is my context, and in that vein, suspension is not needed on asphalt. When I get my mountain bike it will see almost exclusively hard top, and ballon tires will be sufficient for the bumps I’ll see. Which brings us back to the comment about the folks who buy image or status – why do owners of mountain bikes down by the beach need the gnarliest rad, extreme, mountain bikes with the radio active gas filled shocks, turbo hydraulic brakes, and Baja 500 halogen flood lights, and 75 gears, when few of them ever take their ride to the dirt, or ride after dusk, or scale any incline steeper than a driveway apron?

I would post about bikes in general but it would take the thread off topic.

Anyone want to start a new thread?

I have to say I remember while out on a few hikes early last year G and I saw some people with the trekking poles and I remember saying to myself "What are those for? Do they make you feel like you are more of a hiker?" Then after many decents down some of the slopes in the Smoky Mountains, I found that both G and I own a pair. I have a bad knee and ankle and she also has a bad knee. These poles take a tremendous amount of stress off of the joints, even with a loaded pack!

We currently run with the Leki Makalu Summit series. They have the traditional twist lock (which I like over the speed-lock---so far---just makes them a bit slimmer). This model allows you to adjust the amound of rebound in the spring, or just take it out altogether, which is a nice feature if on very rocky and hard ground. They have cork grips which are nice. I would recommend any of the Leki (Makalu Summit or Super Makalu Summits) to anyone (my buddy has the Supers and love them).

I seem to remember a thread about these from over a year should be in Forums-->Gear Reviews...if you are interested you should check it out.


whomeworry said:

"Perhaps my suspension remarks was in complete. I can see having the stuff if one only did down hill, but I find four or five extra pound makes a significant difference in exertion level over the course of a day riding up and down paved roads. That is my context, and in that vein, suspension is not needed on asphalt. When I get my mountain bike it will see almost exclusively hard top, and ballon tires will be sufficient for the bumps I’ll see. Which brings us back to the comment about the folks who buy image or status – why do owners of mountain bikes down by the beach need the gnarliest rad, extreme, mountain bikes with the radio active gas filled shocks, turbo hydraulic brakes, and Baja 500 halogen flood lights, and 75 gears, when few of them ever take their ride to the dirt, or ride after dusk, or scale any incline steeper than a driveway apron?"

You're right Ed, not need for that suspension stuff on the road, unless of course the road is riddled with enough pot holes to loosen fillings. Your remarks were just fine. I fought the susension thing on mtb's from the late 80's until '98.

I will tell you that U.S.E. (Ultimate Sports Engineering) makes an ultralight carbon suspension seatpost that works wonderfully on road bikes as well as mtb's, with about 1.5" of travel. It smoothes out the road ride without a significant weight penalty (only about 4 oz. of additional weight vs the ave. lightweight road post). It really makes a difference on touring rides.

The reason those guys at the beach ride around on the "gnarliest rad" mtb's is because they can't drive their street only, gawdy, over-wrought, and obnoxious H2's (replete with 22" spinning street rims and shiny accesorries galore) on the boardwalk...

I do like your 6' tube option. Versatile - and when I reach my hike-in camp with one I can proceed to practice my bow-staff skills and impress my chick (who has put up with me for nearly 20 years).

Schwinn Stingray is a classic bike. My first serious bike was a schwinn bmx bike-all Chrome-molly-1979. Restored and given to my kid brother 10 years ago.

I mean Chromoly...a little sleepy at post time.

The reason those guys at the beach ride around on the "gnarliest rad" mtb's is because they can't drive their street only, gawdy, over-wrought, and obnoxious H2's (replete with 22" spinning street rims and shiny accesorries galore) on the boardwalk...

I do like your 6' tube option. Versatile - and when I reach my hike-in camp with one I can proceed to practice my bow-staff skills and impress my chick (who has put up with me for nearly 20 years).

I woke my family up laughing at your reply! H2s; the male equivalent to a silicone boob job.

Just joined the community, have been reading the posts and must say that I love it already... My health has been keeping me from enjoying the outdoors as much as I would like, yet my heart is "still in the mountains"... look forward to conversations... Thank You

Welcome to Trailspace, OldGuyInTheWoods. I hope you enjoy the discussions at Trailspace and being part of the community.

LOL Ed! So true about the H2. Don't even get me started on the GIANT boats they tow (w/ the matching rims on the trailer). Although I have noticed that said combo seems to attract silicone-clad individuals in droves.

OldGuyInTheWoods, happy to have you. This community inspires passion for exploring the beautiful world of wilderness, imparts wisdom (more often than not in my experience anyway), and encourages stewardship of that which we've been given to enjoy. Every once in a while people post discordant views with fervor (or within the context of a "community," something I call "intense fellowship"). However those posts usually resolve ammicably and often shift to some of the most humorous posts I've ever read anywhere. Enjoy!

I would post about bikes in general but it would take the thread off topic.

Anyone want to start a new thread?

Noddlehead: Welcome. sounds good. Start at your peril :) Me likes bikes...especially trail ones.

noddlehead said:

I would post about bikes in general but it would take the thread off topic.

Anyone want to start a new thread?

Noddlehead: Welcome. sounds good. Start at your peril :) Me likes bikes...especially trail ones.



I like the crowd here.

Hello, and Thank You... so far I am enjoying myself and can see a bright future with your site. Thanks again. Andrew

Though it almost seems tangential to talk about trekking poles at this point (!?!), I’ve used them for over 20 years and have gone from oblivious to addicted and settled on a philosophy of “when appropriate” for a myriad of reasons.

Oblivious: Too young to understand the idea of “Joint Trauma”, assuming it was something to do with losing your stash.

Addicted: I got turned on to Leki in the early 90’s when poles were just going mainstream. I used them EVERYWHERE, convinced I was saving my knees, and in general, making things easier on my body. I took Leki’s line of “Four legs good, two legs bad” to heart and never left home without them. They also became, and continue to be, my only ski poles for all-season use.

I then however developed a perplexing case of tendonitis on the top of my elbow. From the dynamics of pole over-reliance , this is rather easy to imagine since we rarely exert that kind of force so repeatedly through the course of “normal” activity. Once I was in too much pain to lift the pole ahead of me anymore, I stopped and…

“When appropriate”: …discovered that I was apparently also relying on the poles so much that I was under-utilizing my legs. Once I ceased using poles altogether, my elbow rebounded nicely and I felt as though I regained some strength and agility in my legs that I had forfeited by relying on the poles. However, I’ve since gotten back to using them for certain trips where I know there will be excessive downhilling, scree/snow descents, stream crossings and otherwise “technical” hiking terrain. (On truly technical terrain (talus and scrambling), poles are a nuisance.) Suffice to say that poles can indeed be overused but are indispensable on almost all trips at certain times. Where that tips the balance to bring them on any given journey is the big question that only you can answer.

And on impact to trails: Poles pose a significant impact in certain environments. Here in the wet Cascades where most trails tend to amplify hydrological erosion, I’ve seen the honeycombed margins of heavily used trails collapse over time and increase trail width by up 2-3 feet, with increasingly compromised margins waiting to go further yet. The fact that you haven’t seen it is no reason to claim that the editorial is “romanticizing” the concept. It’s very real and causes quite severe erosion in certain environments. If nothing else, realize that this compromises trail quality and your access to some amazing places. However, keeping your poles’ impact within the established path and "poleing gently" just as you would your feet (remember – “four legs good”?) can go a long way towards minimizing excessive damage–save for the scratched rocks, which honestly leaves me a little speechless. (Really?!?!)
So get a pair if you don’t have them. No doubt you’ll find them useful and downright irreplaceable at times. And why miss that?

And though this is touted as a reason to use poles, on technical or long distance goal-based climbing trips where every ounce and calorie counts, this seems the antithesis to a good reason for bringing them. This happens to be the exact style of trip I've opted out of using them on. Intuition is a strong thing after all.

"Trekking poles also can increase the amount of calories burned [work required - ed.] while hiking. Studies by the Cooper Institute indicate that using nordic walking poles (similar to hiking poles, but designed to be used on paved surfaces) can increase calories burned by an average of 20 percent. These studies were done in a laboratory environment, so it is reasonable to expect that calorie burning might exceed 20 percent on a steep trail."

My first post here, but i've been reviewing gear for years (and i posted them here, but now they're just from *anonymous hiker*), but never got active in the Forums. I grew up using a "walking stick" usually an Ironwood sapling and never thought anything different - it was simply a necessity for many reasons. However, i began leaving it behind as i started hiking/climbing more mountainous terrain. What a HUGE mistake! After the vigor of youth departed and i needed sheer strength and endurance to go continuously up, the value of a "walking stick" (now called "hiking poles") re-emerged.

There's trail damage everywhere people/animals travel the same path. It's gonna happen. Eventually a new trail will need to be established and the ground will "heal".

Meanwhile, i'll be enjoying my poles (used in moderation like everything else)!

If trekking poles are not used correctly, most of the time you will be simply carrying them while gingerly placing them so you don't trip over them.

Pete's Poles has been a long time 'go to' reference on trekking poles.

The little bit of strapping hanging from the grip that usually seems to get in the way and has little purpose other than to be a convenient hanging hook, makes all the difference between a wooden walking stick (or equivalent) and a trekking pole.

If adjusted for your fit, it is designed to transfer most of the weight put on the trek directly to your skeleton via the wrist bones. Your hand and finger muscles (some of the smallest in your body) should be minimally involved when using trek poles. The fingers and hand are used to flick the poles forward and control the aim of where they are to be planted. Their work is over until the next stride. All of the weight goes directly to your wrist and not your hand. The rest of the arm and those larger muscles are then used to transfer the weight you have taken off your feet to the rest of the body. This is where that extra 20% of energy is used up. You are still going to be going up the trail, the question is how much energy are you willing to transfer from the legs to your upper body.

You can possibly transfer 20 pounds per stride to the trek poles by thrusting down using the strap and wrist to take all the weight. On a level path the Romans used the 'roman pace' (left to left) to determine that 1000 strides was a mile (mil = 1000). That assumes you are close to 5 1/4 feet per roman pace. This makes 2000 strides (one for each foot makes a roman pace) per mile.

Doing the math, you are transferring around 40,000 pounds per mile to other muscles than your legs. Maybe this is the 20% extra energy alluded to in the study. On rough terrain your mileage may differ.

You still have to get down the trail. The total energy will be about the same. Granted the legs are better at doing most of the heaving lifting, but you don't have to be Charles Atlas to simply take the load of your arms off each stride.

It does mean, however, that if training for a trip using trek poles you best be working on those upper body muscles as well as your legs, heart and lungs.

Not sure the cushioning springs included for additional cost go toward efficiently transferring that weight. There probably is a tangible use or need considering how much extra for it.

It has been said that you carry one trek pole but use two. And using two treks is much like having hand rails along the trail for the entire trip.

Your criteria should include total weight, size when stowed, cost, ease/dependability of use. Depending upon your needs make one of those more important. I like a cork grip with no kant to it. Not a lot of rocket science here, so no need to pay for it.

Unless your life depends upon it.

The biggest benefit I get from trekking poles is stability on rough / steep terrain, stream crossings, or when leaning to one side to get around an obstacle on a really tight trail. For me this takes a lot of the strain off my torso muscles not just the legs.

The total energy will be about the same.

Actually both proponents and contrarians of trekking poles point to metabolic studies that indicate use of tow trekking poles increases calories burn and imposes greater demand on the cardiovascular system, by 15 – 25%, depending on research cited. That is a significant difference IMHO.

I use trekking poles for any hike where I carry a pack. They aid in balance and give your upper body a workout. Better for my knees, too. I use lightweight poles from Gossamer Gear...

I have seen the "increased calorie burn" statement repeated many times over the years. Frequently when I do my training hikes, I use a heart rate meter that calculates calories burned, based on heart rate during the activity together with measured input data on VO2max, height, weight, and several other parameters (carryover from when I used to race bicycles competitively and the USCF training program had us fully instrumented and measured - and, no, they were, and are, very strict about anything you put into your body via mouth, needle, patches, etc - basically DO NOT DO SO).

Anyway, I have found if anything a reduction in calories burned during my standard set of hills on days that are close in temperature. The routes are between 8 and 15 miles round trip, with altitude gain (and loss) of 1500-2500 feet. There is more variation between cold winter days vs hot summer days, and on the hot summer days, if I hydrate continuously from my Camelbak vs carrying a water bottle from which I drink at longer intervals. While these are not carefully controlled experiments, the stated 15-20% should show up dramatically. Plus, I should feel more tired from the poling hikes than the sans-pole hikes, where in general it is the other way around.

Let's just say, based on my experience over the years, I have serious doubts about the claims of 15-20% increased calorie burn.

On a side note, I noticed a big discrepancy in the reported calories burned with my Garmin 305 vs the Polar and Suunto. The latter two use heart beats in the calculation. In discussing this discrepancy with Garmin, I found that they do not use the heart rate information at all, just miles and altitude gain, combined with input body weight. I had gotten suspicious when I saw the Garmin giving a calorie count even when I left the transmitter off.

I train sans poles because I feel that constant use might have a detrimental effect on my balance and agility. In this way, once I head out on a trip, the poles provide a real "boost" to my performance, as opposed to my body relying on them...

There is a significant difference in Dr. Coopers studies (and others) between Trekking Poles and Nordic Walking poles.

Specifically: Trekking poles, used correctly are designed to reduce the energy needed, and the impacts from and upon trail.

Balance, support, braking and propulsion, plus studies show a average 6% reduction in footsteps per mile, by using two poles vs. one or none. A more relaxed, longer, stride and no hesitation ups and downs. YMMV.

Nordic Walking poles similar in design to Cross Country poles are a smaller grip specifically to enhance the grip/release motion to increase the effort, calorie burn and training effect.

Different purposes, different poles.

Now, can you "train" with trekking poles...of course!

Can you walk/hike with Nordic Walking poles? Yes, with some care and compromise..note relatively pointy tops, not as comfortable for downhill, do not fall against!



One more whack at the 'energy expense' of trek poles.

If you get farther or faster down the trail over the same time period, you will expend more energy either over total distance or per unit of time. The amount of calories expended per (flat) mile running is about the same as walking -- it just takes less time running the distance. The calories expended per exercise is sometimes based upon calories used per time period. In that case running does expend more calories (per hour).

When hiking, there is a mass you need to move a given distance. Walking slowly or quicker will still expend about the same amount of calories to get it there. If, using trek poles, you are more efficient (more muscles used) and therefore cover that distance faster, you will have expended about that same amount but in a shorting time. This results in more energy per hour.

If during that period, the only thing the trek poles did was to give you a variation on push ups, then you just spent more energy doing 'useless' conditioning activity. Very little of it would be going into help getting that mass down the trail.

However, if at the end of a long day your legs and feet are less tired or beat up or you have covered more distance than you would have without the treks, then the poles changed something.

I'm guessing in the study reported, that the extra percent measured went into moving the participants down the trail faster. However, many % statistics like these are measured over time. It is usually easier to record such things over time in a laboratory with well calibrated fixed equipment. Transferring those numbers to a hypothetical distance walked in rough terrain is tricky.

I understand the cynisism behind the comments about scratching rocks and I also sympathize with those that say it is unsightly. I also know for a fact that rubber tips are not as slippery as some would have you believe as I have been hiking with an assortment of staves, canes, walking sticks and now a pair of titanium goats that I altered by removing the metal tips and. put on rubber ends since I first entered the forest at age 9 and ever since, I`m now 52. Also I find this interesting. I was manager of the iron masters mansion hostel in Pine grove furnace PA. for a spell and one of the questions I liked asking through hikers was how many bears you saw so far. Pre pole hikers w/ metal tips would always see 4,5,6. and as many as 10 or more. With the advent of metal tipped poles now some don`t see any. The hostel I managed sat right on the A.T. and I could hear metal tipped dual poles coming hundreds of yards before I could see a hiker. Just imagine how far ahead a warning the bears got. Recently I took A hike through Virginia and saw 7 bears of all sizes. Some were as close as 50ft. before they heard me. If you don`t feal safe with rubber tips you probably won`t be, and hey maybe it`s good to not see black bears even though all 7 I saw ran away like a frightened squirrel as soon as they detected my presence. And maybe scratching rocks and hastening trail erosion is meaningless and amusing but theres a slogun on the A.T. Only you can hike your hike. Life passes like the breath of a buffalo in wintertime. Enjoy my friends.

Hello All

I have tried many times over the years to use trekking poles with no use. I just cannot get used to using them. I often will pick up a stick in the woods to use on a steep descent or river crossing only to toss it back in the wild when thru with it.

I have heard the benefits of their use  and have had at least three sets of them since the 90s. The last ones even had a camera mount on the top of the handles. The last ones I had in 2009, I gave them to a passing hiker saying I didn't want them.

For myself I like the mono pole only, I tried 2 poles but I guess I am not smart enough to use them.  I don't agree with using mono on short hikes and I feel the mono works for long hikes just fine.  When going up a steep grade a use one hand on top of the other, and going down I feel there is better control with a single pole.  I don't use the strap that came with it, I have a fear of falling and breaking my wrist, it's just my fear.  I also keep the length of 130cm which is a little taller then what I have read is correct, but it works for me.  It has been used for a weapon 1 time, a dog on the trail which wasn't happy to see me, and all I had to do is lift it up and that was enough to stop the dog: and one time to dig a cat hole.  I did use sticks first before buying a pole and I have one in my garage right now that I can't throw away, it has been with me from the start and I stop using it because it crack.  I also used it at the beginning to remove spider webs, but as time has gone by, I just walk through, under or around them these days.

I do have one question for anyone, why is all the pictures from early times of man kind show or write about people with one stick only, not two?

There is a big difference between using one pole (or a staff or cane) for hiking and using a pair of hiking poles. They serve different purposes. The idea of using a walking stick to help with balance or as a tool is a good one, but two poles used together also help your speed and endurance. A person using only one pole who actually pushes with it will be throwing themselves off balance with every step. (Then there's the extra weight of the 'Gandalf' staff - never understood that one.)

When properly used, the tips of your hiking poles don't get in front of your feet - instead, like when cross-country skiing, they stay behind to help push you forward and/or up a hill. If you use them like a matched pair of walking sticks, just swinging them out in front, there's not much benefit except for the stability.

When hiking with a group, my average speed is about 4 kph. On my own, without poles, it's about 5 kph. WITH poles it goes up to about 6 kph! The difference is even more noticeable on hills, especially those long steady inclines that you encounter when going up a mountain.

On a week-long trip in the Rockies last year, with a mountain or two every day, the people without poles began to look enviously at those of us who had them. It became quite obvious who was going faster and working less, and whose knees weren't hurting at the end of a 1,000 metre descent.

I'll never backpack or hike without mine.... here's why:

They relieve knee strain on long slogs with a heavy pack.

They redistribute some load to the upper body, reducing fatigue and allowing further hiking.

They provide one with a "virtual banister" on steep ascents.

They reduce knee shock on descents, redistributing some of it to the arms and elbows.

They let you clear spiderwebs from across the trail well before you walk through them.

They prop-up my rain fly allowing it to be a little less claustrophobic when in my hammock. 

They make creek crossings much less of a sketchy prospect.

They allow me to bend down dead branches that are out of reach to use as firewood and/or tinder which is especially useful at popular picked-thru sites.

You can use them to reach high branches for hanging bear bags without using cordage.

You can poke at stuff more safely :) 

You can gauge the depth of creeks and puddles. 

I've used them as hammock spreaders.

They can replace a selfie-stick when using a clamp mount.

If I'm really tired I'll lean over on them so I don't have to remove my pack and sit down.

****THE BIG CAVEAT is that not many people hold them properly. This was not mentioned above and is a HUGE deal. The girl in the pics is NOT holding correctly and is only getting a fraction of their benefit.

Ever wonder why you always see hiking poles or sticks with a strap or cordage at the top? This is where the magic happens... To hold a pole correctly, you put your entire hand in through the loop from the bottom to the top, then grab the handle. When adjusted properly the strap will rest in the webbing between your thumb and index finger.  When held properly grip strength becomes a NON-ISSUE as the strap is transferring the weight from your wrist into the pole, bypassing your hand entirely. Sweaty palms and weak grip will never be an issue when used in this fashion.

In the video below go to 1:25 where she shows you what I mean..

See you on the trail!!

Using Trekking poles is like having another set of appendages on my body. I never leave my poles behind when going for a hike. They help drive my body forward,  they are great for determining if the snow covered ground has a void underneath, when going off-trail, and my Trekking poles also help me when running down steep hills: they act like a breaking system while booking down very steep hills.  

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