Trekking Poles

9:09 p.m. on December 2, 2015 (EST)
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Hey guys, I've hiked a bunch of small weekend trips and making the push to start to do some more extended trips next year. In the process of buying some new gear and wondering if trekking poles are really worth it? I always see people using them however, have never done so myself. I know they can help with stability and have read that they help take some wear and tear off your knees.

Just wondering if they are really worth it and if what are the things to look for when buying trekking poles. I know weight is important and I'm sure how compact they can get is another great feature. Just looking for a little more knowledge from people who have used them. Thanks for the help. 

10:15 p.m. on December 2, 2015 (EST)
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IMO they are ABSOLUTELY worth it. I would have had to be carried off Mt Washington a couple months back if I hadn't had mine. They basically make you into a 4-footed animal, taking a lot of the strain off your knees and ankles and helping enormously on descents if you're not much of a boulder-hopper.

What to use? I think anything is better than nothing. I have Black Diamond Synclines, they're 2-section poles that only collapse to 34" and were hard to stow on my pack in such a way that they'd be out of my way and easily accessible. I may rig up some sort of carrier on my right shoulder strap (the left has my hydration tube) because even when snowshoeing there are times I don't use them and would rather have my hands free. Many packs have carriers on the shoulder straps.

For snow-free hiking I'm planning on getting some 3-section poles next year. Black Diamond FlickLocks seem to be very sturdy and I've used them for several years with no problems at all. Z-poles seem to collapse to a shorter length, but if I'm not mistaken they come in fixed lengths so you can't adjust for uphill or downhill travel. On the other hand, if the shock cord breaks you can duct tape the sections together, which wouldn't work as well on FlickLocks. Other brands, such as Leki or MSR, I have no experience with and don't know their strengths & weaknesses.

I'll never hike without them again.

10:30 p.m. on December 2, 2015 (EST)
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Yes, definitely helpful. The more you use them, the more different ways you'll find to use them. Great for ascents and descents, stream crossings, rock hopping, etc. It's like having banisters on a staircase; it's like being turned into a four-legged animal.

Features: make sure they have comfortable grips. Cork generally considered the best, otherwise a firm foam with a little give is good. Flick-locks rather than twist locks are easier. Lighter weight overall is desirable, aluminum is a good, durable choice, carbon fiber is lighter but costs more and can be fragile if flexed too much or receive a sharp, lateral knock. Shock absorbers are extra weight you don't need.

Yet another advantage of poles is that some shelters can be supported with trekking poles, turning them into dual-use gear and keeping your shelter weight down because you don't have to carry separate poles.

To try them out, Walmart sells some cheap ones for $20-30 a pair, they're perfectly fine, try those to see if you like poles -- if you do then you can upgrade, if not then you aren't out much.

Use the wrist straps properly to transfer the weight to the back of your wrists. At the end of your first day with them your arm muscles will be a little sore -- that represents the weight that your legs and feet were relieved of.

10:22 a.m. on December 3, 2015 (EST)
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I just spent 2 months hiking and my trekking poles kept me a foot...They keep you moving on the uphills and keep you stable on wet rocks and wet leaf litter where you could fall or slip...One of the best things that I purchased and would take with me..They also support my tent...

10:36 a.m. on December 3, 2015 (EST)
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Phil Smith said:

.....For snow-free hiking I'm planning on getting some 3-section poles next year. Black Diamond FlickLocks seem to be very sturdy and I've used them for several years with no problems at all. Z-poles seem to collapse to a shorter length, but if I'm not mistaken they come in fixed lengths so you can't adjust for uphill or downhill travel. On the other hand, if the shock cord breaks you can duct tape the sections together, which wouldn't work as well on FlickLocks. ......

 Minor correction --- BD's Z-poles come in 2 families. The "trekking" family are as Phil says, a fixed length, no length adjustability, similar to "standard" ski poles in that respect. My wife has a pair like that - no problem for most hiking and they are the correct length for her.

The other Z-pole family does have a length adjustment and has the Flicklok clamps for the adjustment.

Length adjustment is very useful if you are on variable terrain and for side-hill traverses where you adjust the uphill pole to a shorter length and downhill pole to a longer length, and on trails where you have long uphill and downhill sections (most people prefer shorter poles on steep uphills and longer poles for downhill, as well as stream crossings where you might cross on the rocks, but want more reach to the bottom of the stream)

I use poles for most hiking, as well as skiing and snowshoeing. As a kid, I used a stave (tall wooden pole) which had many uses. On Scout trips, we would make a tripod with 3 staves to hang a pot over the fire. You can't do this with metal or carbon fiber poles.

If you are going to the Ultralight direction, as mentioned above, the poles (preferably adjustable ones) are useful for pitching your tarp or some of the UL tents - no need to carry a set of dedicated tent poles.

If you do backcountry skiing, a variation is poles that convert to avalanche probes. Thankfully, I have never had to use my avy probe poles for anything other than practice (or maybe that's because I am ultra-cautious in avalanche terrain).

One advantage that hasn't been mentioned is that using the poles helps you develop a rhythm to your hiking that helps you relax as you hike along. And, if you travel in bear or mountain lion country, the poles can be waved around to make you look bigger, which helps the critter to back off. A friend of mine told me of a friend of his that got a lion to back off by pointing his poles at the lion - apparently the long "stick" plays tricks with the lion's vision. OTOH, some of the trails I hike on locally are open to equestrians (many of whom are not that experienced) - some horses will react to this strange 4-legged creature and shy. I one time was carrying my poles stuck into the side pockets on my pack so that they stuck up like horns or antlers, when I encountered a pair of equestrians on not-too-well trained mounts that got very perturbed at this strange creature. I had to take off my pack and lay it on the ground before the one horse would calm down.

In my experience, the best poles currently are from Black Diamond and Leki. I have used a couple other brands and won't buy them again.

Adjustable poles come in 2 types - lever-locking (BD's Flickloks and Leki's very similar locks) and "twist-lock". The twist-lock type have a tendency to pick up fine dust and dirt and thus start slipping - it is a real annoyance when you lean on a pole and it suddenly collapses (the sections slide together), sometimes dumping you on the ground. Two brands of the twistlocks I have had have dumped me multiple times. Yes, you can (and should) pull the sections apart from time to time and do a thorough cleaning. But this is a super pain, especially on a multi-day trip. The lever-locking type generally are very dependable, though if you are a bit careless, you can have the clamp loosen over time (usually many months and miles of hiking, vs the twist type which can start slipping in just a couple hundred feet of walking).

There are also "shock-absorber" poles that have an internal spring that absorbs some of the shock through the pole and make for a more comfortable hike. I don't use this type any more, since it requires more maintenance. But some people like that feature, especially when carrying heavy pack loads.

And some companies make poles with a grip that has a bolt-hole on top into which you can screw a clamp, making the pole into a monopod for your camera. For the most part, these are for small cameras, not your big DSLR. I hesitate to mention this, but I have seen one clamp for a trekking pole that you can put your smartphone into as a "selfie stick"

4:47 p.m. on December 3, 2015 (EST)
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Thank you for all of the input, very helpful. 

5:29 p.m. on December 8, 2015 (EST)
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I personally am not a fan of trekking poles, preferring instead a hiking staff.

My take on the pertinent issues:

Stability on trail
In theory the poles serve as additional contact points with earth, broadening the base that stabilizes you and your load as you negotiate uneven terrain.  Anyone who has used poles or a staff for this purpose will attest optimum stability occurs only when one's hands are positioned somewhere along the pole length that maximizes leverage and control.  Unfortunately that position is different with every obstacle you negotiate.  Thus the user of trekking poles must either: A) frequently readjust the pole height to accommodate oncoming obstacles; B) make do with the current pole length setting and settle for less stability; or C) pre-adjust the poles so they are long enough to accommodate obstacles necessitating a long pole, with the hiker otherwise gripping the pole lower on the shaft for all other obstacles.  In practice most hikers adjust their poles for "typical" conditions and readjust their poles for optimal stability only on occasion, thus they generally settle for less stability.  Walking staff users do not have to make such concessions.  As for trekking pole hikers availing to option C: they might as well use a staff.

Less strain on legs
I believe this attribute is overstated, regarding both trekking poles and walking staffs.  Nevertheless there is some merit to this claim.  It is inaccurate to state trekking poles can be used to generally take some of the load off your legs.  This is apparent if you consider human arms cannot carry loads of any significance for protracted duration of time.  Try carrying a gallon of water in an arm extended from your body and you will QUICKLY fatigue.  And that is only nine pounds for less than five minutes.  But both trekking poles and walking staff can assume a portion of weight, MOMENTARILY, while negotiating obstacles; however the amount of load relief as well as stability afforded are both dependent on correct pole adjustment and hand position. 

Stride efficiency 
Indeed trekking poles may aid in executing a more efficient stride (less energy expended getting from point A to B).  This is due principally to the fact using trekking poles requires one swing their arms as they advance the poles.  It is the arm swing that delivers the improved efficiency, the pole otherwise are just along for the ride.  If you develop the habit of swinging your arms while hiking you would not need poles to attain this efficiency.  Some will argue if you use the wrist loops you can push off the trailing pole and use your arms to assist forward locomotion.  This, however, is a minimal advantage, as anyone who XC skied uphill or has attempted to pole themselves uphill on alpine skis will attest: your arms QUICKLY fatigue when more than minimal effort is used to propel one forward using poles.

Control on unstable surfaces
Now here is where trekking poles shine! If you are traveling over snow or scree that shifts underfoot, or other similar unstable footing circumstances, trekking poles are definitely superior in assisting balance and control.

------------------

Due to the aforementioned I prefer a walking staff.  Mine is one of those tree stakes you get at the plant nursery, made from green, plastic coated, light weight steel tubing similar to that used in trekking pole.  It is very light, the plastic coating provides good gripping, and the length accommodates a greater range of terrain conditions than trekking poles, and it is cheap! 

Alas a green pole doesn't look as cool as those REI catalog cover photos of uber-trekkers chasing Edelweiss high above some bucolic Swiss village.   

Ed

7:29 p.m. on December 8, 2015 (EST)
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Bill and Whome always have great input. 

Trekking poles are worth it.

12:31 p.m. on January 23, 2016 (EST)
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I am with Whomeworry, I prefer a staff. I actually use a piece of bamboo I found while hiking the West Coast Trail way back in 1992. Since I started using it I love it. The benefit of a staff is that it is much stronger than a trekking pole. I would caution against using trekking poles when crossing steep angles across snow. Next to impossible to self arrest with a pole, a staff would work better as it is stronger, but I still carry my axe for those situations.

I have considered buying a pair of collapsable poles, but never have. On rare occasion I have picked up a second staff on trail and have found that two is better than one in some instnances, but I find always having both hands tied up annoying. When the going is easy I even stow my staff away on my pack.   

12:16 p.m. on January 24, 2016 (EST)
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I went for decades without using trekking poles, eschewing them as "something extra to carry". This was mostly when I hiked on trails in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where any major creek crossing was typically spanned by a bridge. However upon moving to California, and starting to hike (and backpack) in the Sierra, I discovered that I'd have to make major creek crossings where there weren't bridges, and it's necessary to use the "3 legs on the ground at any point in time" technique to avoid getting swept away by the current. It was then that I started using trekking poles.

A second reason to use them soon emerged, namely snowshoeing. I quickly discovered that trying to snowshoe on anything but flat terrain was much easier with poles than without.

So now I use them on any significant hike, and any backpacking trip, and of course for most all snowshoeing excursions.

11:22 a.m. on January 25, 2016 (EST)
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For hiking,  I also use a hiking staff. I had started looking around and just wanted a piece of strong wood to hold me up and keep me going. I found a hiking staff online and I absolutely love it! It's made out of bamboo and I added a spike to it for more stability.

5:14 a.m. on January 27, 2016 (EST)
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I use a piece of bamboo.  Strong while very light.  Lightest staff I've ever had.


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12:30 p.m. on February 4, 2016 (EST)
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i take collapsing (flik lock) poles on most longer hikes; whether i use them depends on the terrain.  they are a hindrance for scrambling and steep, rocky trails in my experience, both uphill and downhill.  in most other settings, i think they help.   they help the most in slick winter conditions, for me anyway.  

i don't think weight is a significant factor if you get a decent quality set from the more prevalent brands, black diamond and leki.  i can tell some are a few ounces lighter than others, at home, but i can't tell when i'm walking and using them.  

make sure  you like the handle, and consider whether they work best for you with a light glove, even a fingerless glove.  i occasionally blister between the thumb and index finger on long hikes in warm weather, so i tend to use very light fingerless gloves when it's hot out.  

2:10 p.m. on February 4, 2016 (EST)
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This is the pole I use most of the time. It is bamboo that I found many years ago washed ashore on the West Coast Trail. It is 52.5 inches. I added cork tape to the handle which has been amazingly durable and I added some paracord frapping to the bottom to prevent splitting. Lineseed oil keeps it fresh,and as an added bonus I have carved 1,2,3,4 into the side of the pole each 12" for a crude measuring device. I usually use that to test the depth of water at crossings.
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8:46 p.m. on February 22, 2016 (EST)
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I have to use poles or my knees will be gone. I have pins and other hardwear in both knees. I use some custom made knee braces too. I have some carbon fiber poles from easton. I think they are ion 65 carbon Or something. Thick but a tad heavy for carbon fiber. Love the foam grips and soft straps. I prefer cork grips but these are a dream for me. I've tried all my buddies poles. Some have given me blisters or collapsed on me. I started with the cheap Walmart 20$ dallor pair. The rubber grips ate me a little. Glove or athletic tape fixes that. I had no choice about using poles. Know I don't leave home with out them. I prefer the flip locks but I also put a lot of pressure on my poles and the twist locks always seem to fail. Able to keep my feet dryer too. 

Mudfoot

11:29 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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I had never used them so I decided to try them out, did not go cheapest nor most expensive...researching around I decided on the Leki Legacy Poles. I'd share the link, but evidently that is not allowed.

I have used them several times with no issues, really like them traversing streams as well as descents. They collapse small and are light enough that I do not even notice them if they happen to be strapped to my pack.

Simply put, I will always use them while backpacking.

Another thing that could or could not be of interest to you is protection. I am in Arizona and you never know what critter may come out to say hello when you least expect it.

9:53 p.m. on March 10, 2016 (EST)
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If you have a Costco nearby, I discovered that they are currently carrying trekking poles from a company called Cascade Mountain Tech. These poles are adjustable, made from carbon fiber (about the strongest material for the weight you can get) and weighing about a pound for the pair. The length adjustment is a "flick-lock" system very similar to Black Diamond's and Leki's length clamps. Plus they include a variety of bottom pieces - the built-in carbide tip, plus a round tip for walking on paved surfaces, a "boot-shaped" tip also for paved surfaces, a snow basket for use with snowshoes, and a small basket for use on dirt or sand.

I am testing a pair and will post a gear review when I give them a thorough workout.

The best part is that Costco is selling them at $29.99, compared to the big name companies that can run several hundred dollars. If you decide you don't like trekking poles, you haven't lost much compared to what you would spend on the major companies.

reelandtrigger, welcome to Trailspace. The reason you can't post links (and a few other things) here on Trailspace is that you joined just recently. After you post a few things and show that you aren't a dealer in disguise (if you are a dealer, just note it in your profile), phishing, spamming, posting non-family friendly items, etc, you will find new privileges open to you. We would love to open everything up to you, but this is the internet, after all, and there a few bad actors around that cause problems for everyone. A few informative posts and sticking with the Trailspace rules will soon allow you to do links.

Anyway, I agree that Leki makes great poles and has for many years.

7:59 a.m. on March 17, 2016 (EDT)
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Absolutely 100% worth every penny. I would make some suggestions on making sure to get external locking and cork handled. There is a significant difference in strenght, weight, feel, and comfort on all poles! Walk around your local sporting goods store for a while with a few different pairs, but absolutely buy a pair. 

1:16 p.m. on April 11, 2016 (EDT)
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The difference between trekking pole(s) and a stave, staff or Moses Pole is a bit of a loop of material attached just below the handle.  It takes the weight from the trek pole's downward thrust to your bony skeleton through your wrist bones  - bypassing a lot of muscle. 

Treks are normally used in a pair.  A properly adjusted and used set of trek poles can take 20 pounds per stride off of your feet and lower body.  How much weight transferred is dependent upon how fit your upper body is. Simply transferring the weight of your arms is substantial.

If you transfer 20 pounds in 2000 strides that is around 40,000 pounds a mile - not counting for inefficiencies and all the other details.   At the end of a day that will translate to the energy saved to participate in another mile or a better feeling if you quit earlier.

At least the two treks act as a replacement double hand rail down along trail.  As others have said these are not for use in boulder hopping.

One can make a dandy mono-pole with an appropriate screw epoxied in the top of the hand grip.  The two of us stake out an awning on our Stephensons Warmlite tent.  I've used the poles for extensions to get hung up hangs from a tree and as center poles in a tarp covering.

Pete' Poles seems to have bit the Internet dust.  This is a distillation: http://friends.backcountry.net/m_factor/poles.html#WORTH

4:12 p.m. on April 11, 2016 (EDT)
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I only use them when I am already carrying a lot of gear.  For fast light trips on flatt-ish terrain I see them as a waste of weight.  I climb peaks like Hood, Rainier and Adams with my old aluminum ski poles and since we skied down Mt St Helens they were kind of necessary there.

Backpacking in the woods I grab a stick occasionally to aid in crossing a creek or two then I leave it for the next guy to use. 


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Of course when it gets steeeep I switch to an ice axe




11:29 a.m. on April 12, 2016 (EDT)
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I have a couple of pairs of trekking poles...but I like the pair I made most...$57.00 (you can make them for 1/3 of that cost if you find some cheap golf clubs at a 2nd-hand store)...and they weigh less than 1/2 a pound (7.2oz). The whole thing slipped together in about 20 minutes...but I did use a hand-drill to bore a larger hole in the cork fishing-pole grips.

https://www.trailspace.com/forums/gear-selection/topics/151456.html


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12:50 p.m. on April 12, 2016 (EDT)
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thirty dollar carbon poles would be a find.  looking forward to Bill's review.  

4:27 p.m. on April 12, 2016 (EDT)
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Here's Skurka's take on similar poles for sale at Costco (absent the flick-lock upgrade) a few years ago: http://andrewskurka.com/2012/costco-trekking-poles/

12:21 a.m. on April 13, 2016 (EDT)
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Those poles are not available at all Costos, unfortunately. The same ones can be found on Amazon for $40 with free shipping. They get good reviews on BPL.

9:48 p.m. on April 26, 2016 (EDT)
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Gremlin (and others), you might want to look at my review of the Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles. I include a discussion of trekking poles, choosing them, and videos of hiking with them/

9:57 a.m. on April 27, 2016 (EDT)
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I just use a wooden stick from the ground when I need a hiking stick. Usually just to get across a stream or up or down a steep trail/route. I have tried bought sticks before, but just cannot get used to using them. old tree sticks and limbs long enough work fine for me, but I don't like hanging on to them all day and carrying them on my pack. 

1:04 p.m. on May 11, 2016 (EDT)
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I have a set of leki anti shock poles that have seen over 10 years of use.  They are good except for the fact they're not a flip lock system.  It tends to be a pain in the butt to adjust them on the fly while on the trail.

If you have a gym membership, or access to an elliptical  machine, I suggest using them before hitting the trail with the poles.  Your body will get used to flailing your arms repeatedly.  That way they will not end up so sore you curse the use of trekking poles on the trail

12:34 p.m. on June 18, 2016 (EDT)
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Using trekking poles in the beginning for me felt awkward, until I had to go down a very steep area, then I was thankful I had them. I use them on every hike now, they are like a part of me now. I really save my knees using them on steep descents. One time on the trail I packed up camp and went on my way and only took 3 steps before realizing I left them behind. I use REI brand anti shock poles and they work great. 

6:15 a.m. on June 20, 2016 (EDT)
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speacock said:

.. A properly adjusted and used set of trek poles can take 20 pounds per stride off of your feet and lower body.  How much weight transferred is dependent upon how fit your upper body is. Simply transferring the weight of your arms is substantial.

If you transfer 20 pounds in 2000 strides that is around 40,000 pounds a mile - not counting for inefficiencies and all the other details...

I respectfully disagree.  My main refute to this notion that your arms take on this burden is described in my post (above) under the subheading labeled Stride Efficiency.  Any skier who has tried to pole their way around the flats or inclines will attest to how quickly arms fatigue when put to this task.  But again, don't take my word; you can prove this to yourself, as I suggested therein.  You suggest your arms can relieve your legs of up to 40,000 pounds per mile.  If you hike only six miles that is up to 240,000 pounds - over a hundred tons!  That is three full semi trucks loads of freight!  I know of no one possessing that kind of arm strength/endurance, let alone us ordinary mortals.  Poles may intermittently take on a small portion of the load, such as when ascending a difficult series of steps, but humans do not have physiques that permit using our arms in such a manner for a sustained period of time.  That said, they do have certain advantages: as others alluded poles help establish a rhythm making the effort for the legs less burdensome, especially for those who are not inclined to swing their arms when they walk without poles.  And trekking poles do offer better stability on rough terrain and lengthen the impact moment experienced by or legs as we stomp down a steep grade.  But the perception that poles permit the arms to assume a significant load otherwise placed on your legs is ill informed.

Ed

 

3:37 p.m. on June 24, 2016 (EDT)
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partially based on this thread, i replaced my black diamond aluminum anti-shock poles with a set of carbon shaft poles.  the carbon poles are noticeably lighter, and the shafts dampen shock about as well as the shock absorbers.  they also have cork handles, which i must say is an improvement...we'll see how they last.  so far, so good.  

i don't know how to quantify how poles help, but my knees tend to feel less sore after steep downhills if i'm using poles.   

2:59 a.m. on June 25, 2016 (EDT)
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whomeworry said:

 Any skier who has tried to pole their way around the flats or inclines will attest to how quickly arms fatigue when put to this task.  

 Elite nordic skiers double pole the entire 90 km Vasaloppet in Sweden and, more recently, the 56 km Birkebeiner, which unlike the Vasa has some pretty significant uphill. But a lot of the power in double poling on skis comes from stomach muscles, not arms. That won't translate to hiking or backpacking unless you want to double over at the waist on every stride.

I mostly use poles for rhythm and balance as Ed suggests, but sometimes put a little oomf into the arms when going uphill as a kind of power hiking mode. And the opposite for going downhill, something to momentarily take a little weight off that uphill knee...

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