Benefits of trekking poles?

9:29 p.m. on May 25, 2015 (EDT)
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I am all for adding more gear to my collection if it makes for a more comfortable hiking and/or camping experience, but I question the benefit of buying trekking poles. I have never owed a pair.

In 30+ years of camping and hiking, I have only felt the need to have trekking poles on 2 occasions.  Once was while hiking on a glacier in Alaska and once hiking on a snow and ice-covered trail in Switzerland. In those situations, I thought the poles would have likely added more stability. 

I have tried them out on a few spots in the southern Appalachians in fairly steep terrain and I have also tried them out in very moderate terrain, and I just didn't feel like they helped much at all.

Am I missing something? 

Trekking poles seem to be very popular these days, but are they actually beneficial, or more of a fashion statement?

Your thoughts?

 

10:44 p.m. on May 25, 2015 (EDT)
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I don't think trekking poles are a fashion statement for most of the folks who use them. In my case it took about 10 minutes to convert...the advantages were obvious and apparent...and I bet it is similar for a lot of others. The greater stability on mud/rock/ice is only one of the advantages for using trekking poles...I personally think the greatest advantage of trekking poles is in their capacity to convert my upper-body strength into extra power on steep trails and to take some of the load off my feet. I figure I am carrying and feeding these muscles anyways...so why not bring them into service?

2:03 a.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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I've used mine as ski poles and with snowshoes, where they are invaluable to prevent or at least make less likely falling over with a fully loaded pack. They are useful for fording streams and help take up some of the shock on your knees on steep downhills. 

7:09 a.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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I find them very useful, but others seem opposed so I'm guessing there is no right or wrong answer. Use them if you find them useful, like anything else.

For me I find them useful in many different ways depending on the trail. On steeps they can provide balance when rock hopping your way up a slope, or power in situations where you can apply arm strength to assist.  On treacherous terrain planting a pole can create an anchor point to place your foot next to giving it extra traction. On a rare to me flat section the poles are great for marking time to keep a long, quick stride. In winter I've  used them as a deadman to help hold down the tent in a blizzard and in summer they can help keep my feet in deep water crossings.

Mine are old and scratched up so I'm pretty sure they aren't a fashion statement. I use them because I find them useful.

7:27 a.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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In addition to the uses already listed, I use poles to push saw briars, dog hobble, and such things out of the way on the overgrown wilderness trails I use.

I quickly became attached to them once I started. Now I find if I try to go backpacking without them, I'm searching around for a suitable stick to use.

9:31 a.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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I have had my knees get sore after long rocky downhill hikes (i.e. a lot of stepping up and down.)  Poles are supposed to help with that, although I haven't decided yet if they do.

9:39 a.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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DrPhun said:

I have had my knees get sore after long rocky downhill hikes (i.e. a lot of stepping up and down.)  Poles are supposed to help with that, although I haven't decided yet if they do.

 It comes down to technique. I find them really useful for gently lowering myself down on steps that would be over long and so tend to create a more traumatic landing. By easing down rather than crashing I find it takes the stress off the lower front of my patella area.

The poles really help with controlling momentum on descents. By keeping my mass under better control I believe it also reduces the stress on the knees in general, not to mention the chances of plunging out of control off the side of a mountain :)

10:46 a.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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I'm 27 and haven't started using trekking poles until this past year and I have noticed a difference in my knees at the end of the day. They've also helped me from slipping a time or two.

Like Patrick said, they also are great for other uses, especially if a person uses a tarp or tent which uses/can use trekking poles to pitch it. There's some weight savings there for the weight conscious folk. I've also used them as a modified clothesline to dry off my socks and clothes when I didn't have any good trees. 

LoneStranger said:

The poles really help with controlling momentum on descents. By keeping my mass under better control I believe it also reduces the stress on the knees in general...

Absolutely, LS. This is where the poles come in great and save the "shocks" that are our knees, muscles, and ligaments!

12:45 p.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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Long, long ago I wrote a brief series of articles for Trailspace about different arguments for and against the use of trekking poles. All of them are listed here: https://www.trailspace.com/gear/trekking-poles/


For hikes longer than 1 day, and any time I'm carrying more than 20lbs or so, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks - for me. I appreciate the protection they provide my knees and ankles.

12:54 p.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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pros:

  • They save my knees on long hikes, and especially on descents.
  • Prevent injury over unstable terrain
  • Can serve double duty as shelter supports

cons:

  • get in the way while scrambling
  • more of a nuisance over easy terrain

In my experience, for the type of hiking I do, poles are a no-brainer. To call them a fashion statement is a bit silly.

1:07 p.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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I adopted the use of trekking poles about 15 years ago and find them indispensable for hiking in the hills and mountainous terrain with heavy loads. The adjustable ones are good for uphill travel to get a better grip on slippery slopes. For downhills they can take much of the weight off ones knees; an important factor if you suffer from a pre-existing injury. I have found them to be essential for carrying heavy weights and maintaining my balance as well as a safety item while on icy stretches. They have prevented falls and potential injuries while out hiking; something I prefer to avoid these days.

As Orwell said, “Two legs bad, four legs good.”

2:05 p.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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Wow thanks everyone for all this great information. Many of these benefits I had not thought of. So now I have to start the research on which poles will be best for me. 

I'm hiking a very strenuous trail this weekend in westrn NC with a 4000 ft elevation gain in 5 miles so it sounds like a good place to put a pair of poles through their paces.

Thanks everyone!

4:26 p.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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Trekking poles turn me from a 2-legged animal into a 4-legged animal.

Lee, when you tried them before, did you use the wrist straps, and if so how did you wear them? They are designed to go over the back of your wrist so that you transfer weight to the poles not by your grip but by the leverage from the long bones in your lower arm.

4:56 p.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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I use to mock Trekking poles. Then I was diagnosed with arthritis in my knees. They saved my hiking.

4:57 p.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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i use them depending on the terrain.  not my favorite for scrambling or really jagged trails - it's an other thing that can slip and cause a fall, and planting a pole usually isn't a secure as taking a step with a hiking boot.

my two criteria - shock absorbing handles and collapsible, with a locking mechanism that is more or less fail-proof (i like the flik locks, not the ones that twist to tighten the poles)

5:47 p.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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saved me from dogs several times

7:32 p.m. on May 26, 2015 (EDT)
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http://www.personal.dundee.ac.uk/~pjclinch/poles.htm

Is a good source to study up on technique.  The difference between a trek and a pole is the trek has a nylon strap that transfers the weight accumulated by the trek to your skeleton rather than your muscles.

If you can take 20 pounds of weight off your lower body on each stride, you will save 40,000 pounds a mile.  To be able to maintain anywhere near that effort you have to plan on working those arm, chest and back muscles.  Your arms weigh around 12 pounds so just coasting you are saving some energy.

The trek is 'flicked' ahead using your fingers.  You don't keep a death grip on the trek handles.  Let the strap do the work.

You need two treks to get most benefit.  Consider the treks provide a very long handrail along side the trail.

It isn't that complex  Our requirements were smallest when collapsed, cheapest with quality.  Shock absorbing grips may not be what you are looking for.  Weight doesn't really figure in if used properly.  You are not carrying them --  SierraTradingPost.com and Komperdells.  FlintLocks are better than twist locks.  Check out those brands.

6:03 a.m. on May 27, 2015 (EDT)
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I am a recent convert to trecking poles, and agree strongly with several posts about the difference on my knees. While I have often used a hiking stick over the last three decades, my knees are not what they used to be. Lightening the load from the old 30 or 40 lb pack to under 20 has helped over the years but the trecking poles made the biggest difference. I used to have to wrap at least one knee every day, but now I carry the knee brace wrap only for emergency purposes. The poles also gave a side benefit of new tent options.

8:27 a.m. on May 27, 2015 (EDT)
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I think one mistake some younger people make is thinking they don't need poles because their knees are still fine. So they will just wait until they have problems.... I would consider using them earlier on to prevent injury rather than waiting until problems set in.


I've got problems with one of my knees due to an old baseball injury (knee on knee collision with base runner) that never healed quite right, and that forced me to be extra careful a little earlier than I would have normally intended to. In hindsight I would have been much better served to start using them a long time ago rather than just in the past few years.

11:03 a.m. on May 27, 2015 (EDT)
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I encounter people who say they have tried poles and find they do nothing for them except add extra weight to carry, When I ask them to show me how they have used the poles, I find that virtually all of them are using the poles incorrectly. The first mistake is usually having the poles set to the wrong length. The second most common (and almost universal) is using the straps incorrectly. Related to that is using the poles (or most often, a single pole) as you would the old staves (a single wooden pole that is about shoulder height or taller). That is not to say that a stave is useless, since most people using staves also use them incorrectly.

Helping shift some of the weight off your knees (and hip joints) is only one part of the benefit. To add a couple more (but by no means all) of the benefits - balance on rocky or narrow trails and keeping a rhythm to your hiking. Getting a little push when going up steep hills is something I see people new to poles not doing. I also frequently see people who don't know what to do with their poles when coming to an area where you need to do a bit of scrambling up a slope and want to use your hands for balance or gripping a handhold (or railing or cable). And on steep snow slopes, a lot of people are unaware of the Black Diamond Whippet (available as a dedicated pole or as a replacement pole top section).

In the High Adventure Training courses I help instruct, we see lots of people starting out with no idea of how to use poles who become "true believers" by the end of the course and the "on the hill" session which includes a hike through hilly terrain.

12:05 p.m. on May 27, 2015 (EDT)
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Great point about using them incorrectly, When I first got them in the early 2000s I didn't take full advantage of their benefits. There are quite a few videos on YouTube and other sources about proper use, or were a while back.

7:43 p.m. on May 28, 2015 (EDT)
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Hey JRinGeorgia, yes I did have the straps across the backs of my wrists to transfer weight via my lower arms.  I am going to give them another shot this weekend.

Thanks all of you guys who responded.  I have read all of your comments and I appreciate this wealth of information!

Cheers, Lee

10:21 a.m. on May 30, 2015 (EDT)
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I use poles for backpacking because it unweights the old joints, and provides balance when hiking with a load. I use them very much like xc skiing in the trad diagonal stride. I use old ski poles. They cost $10 bucks used and are not adjustable, but never slip when I lean on them.

For day hiking, and hunting carrying a rifle, I rarely use them and have left them by the trail a few times to be picked up on the return trip.

8:27 p.m. on June 5, 2015 (EDT)
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You don't need anything store bought. Really you don't.

Grab a good stout stick, wear gloves if your hands are soft. 

They help on inclines. You can rest your weight on them.

I use one (single) to help on the steep inclines, keeping my other hand free. Some people like two... up to you.

But grab a stick first, then if you must... go buy a pretty shiny one that matches your outfit from the store. ;-)

9:01 p.m. on June 5, 2015 (EDT)
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Trekking-Poles.jpg

The picture shows how I use the loop.  The gal (never met her) has it in the right orientation (under the wrist), just not tight enough to do much good.  The weight of the thrust of the trek goes from the loop to the wrist bone.  Even though she seems to have a death grip on it, I'd guess she is using the loop as a keeper so she doesn't loose it. Don't plan on using a hand grip that much.  Those are some of the weakest muscles in your body.

9:36 p.m. on June 5, 2015 (EDT)
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I use them like this :


hiking-poles-technique-3_zpsm4b8uewh.jpg
not my photo.

8:27 a.m. on June 6, 2015 (EDT)
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+1 to Franco. That is how the loop transfers weight to the arm bones.

8:41 a.m. on June 6, 2015 (EDT)
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Once I started using them like that, it made a huge difference on both load transfer and ease of use on the hands. Can go all day without getting tired.

9:27 a.m. on June 6, 2015 (EDT)
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+ 2 on Franco's pic..That's how I roll....

10:07 a.m. on June 8, 2015 (EDT)
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I used to diss trekking pole users but now feel naked without them, even on dayhikes. As mentioned, they have many more uses than load assistance. Highly recommended.

9:19 p.m. on June 26, 2015 (EDT)
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I'm 43 and had a partial knee replacement last August.  I feel and know the difference in poles.  I won't hike without them.

October 15, 2019
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