Trekking Poles: Do you really need them?

8:33 p.m. on September 21, 2017 (EDT)
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Do you need trekking poles? Some people believe in them with almost religious fervour, but after considering the claimed advantages and disadvantages, I decided that, for me at least, they are more trouble than they are worth.

There are plenty of people wanting to sing the praises of trekking poles so I thought it worthwhile to explain why I think they are not a good idea.

They do not increase efficiency

Despite manufacturers' and users' claims, careful scientific studies have concluded that trekking poles do not increase your efficiency and in some situations may decrease it.

I hear howls of objection so I doing a little Google searching e.g. "DO TREKKING POLES MAKE YOU MORE EFFICIENT?" on the Mountain Tactical Institute website. This page also contains a summary of, and references to, other scientific studies.

You can read plenty of stories along the lines of "I walked a million miles using poles and they are great" but remember these are, in the scientific jargon, just anecdotal evidence. They prove nothing without rigorous scientific testing. People run marathons dressed as gorillas but that does not make it a good strategy.

They do not make hiking safer, maybe the opposite
This seems largely based on the idea that poles give greater stability and so decrease falls. They are also claimed to reduce the weight on some joints. However, the studies referenced by the Mountain Tactical Institute concluded that in some situations, poles can actually increase stress on joints.

The help they give is going to depend on the type of surface you are walking on. If it is fairly flat are you likely to loose your balance and fall anyway? Do you really need poles for stability on a surface like this:

P1030318-cr.jpg

If it is uneven the poles are going to give a third and fourth point of contact but is the pole actually going to grip when needed? Are you going to lean against it only to find it slips away? Unlike the track above, this is a section of track is awkward to negotiate because of the rocks:

P1030277-cr.jpgProblem is that the metal points of the poles that grip so well on soft surfaces don't work here. These rocks are covered in scratches like these showing that poles have slipped:


P1030278-cr.jpg

What happens if the pole slips like this and you fall? In this situation the poles go from being an aid to a hazard. They are hazards firstly because your hands, which you will instinctively try to use to stop your fall, are now holding poles. (I minimise carrying anything - camera, drink bottle, whatever - in my hands while hiking for this reason.)

Secondly, you are now close to a couple of rigid objects each with a sharp tip which, with the weight of your body behind it, could do a lot of damage.

Another hazard of poles is illustrated by a story I heard from a woman who swore by them. She said they had become essential to her for hiking after she tore a tendon in her leg. Sounds reasonable, except that when asked how that injury happened, she said it was the result of tripping over her trekking pole!

My conclusion: Poles don't make walking safer.

Poles do not suit changing track conditions
Poles are clearly not going to be of use in every situation. Here in Australia, the vegetation tends to be very spiky and stiff and to grow over the track like this:

P1030269-cr.jpgThe track is clear enough but the vegetation is growing over it. On tracks like this poles are not only not going to be usable, they are going to get caught on the vegetation.

In theory this should be no problem, just stow them. Trouble is, in most cases this means taking off your pack. If conditions change again you might want to get them out again but are you going to do this every few hundred metres in some cases? Some backpacks (e.g. some Osprey) have easy-stow loops but that only makes it less of a hassle, not no hassle.

I did a small survey of serious Australian hikers (anecdotal, I admit) to find out how many used poles. The answer was that none do. In fact some were far from polite about it. Their conclusion is that they did not need them especially for the kind of walking they were doing and that it was better to improve balance ans stability in other ways.

Poles are good on muddy tracks
The only time I have been with someone and wished I had poles was hiking in Tasmania. There tracks tend to be more than a little muddy (search for Sodden Lodden Plain!). Some people I was with who used poles said they were good for finding the firmer bits under the mud. Without poles, I finished up with mud in my boots but on reflection I could have used a branch to do the same thing.

Alternatives to trekking poles
As noted above, there is good scientific evidence that poles do not increase efficiency so their main claim is that they improve balance and stability and for that the risk-benefit is not in their favour.

If you are not going to use poles to improve stability, what else can be done? Fortunately, there are some simple alternatives:

  1. Wear boots that provide ankle support.
  2. Work on improving your balance on uneven surfaces. Just as skating requires different skills from walking, walking on uneven surfaces requires different skills and strength from walking on flat surfaces.
  3. Keep your arms and hands free so you can use them to improve balance and grab onto supports.

Conclusion
My conclusion is that poles are a bad idea because:

  1. On well-graded trails, poles offer no advantage.
  2. On rough trails, they may be of help but they may also a significant hazard.
  3. On trails with thick vegetation they are a hindrance, not a help.

And one final thing: think of others

If, despite what I have written here you decide to use poles, PLEASE think of the people around you. You are carrying a weapon that can do a lot of damage (even ward off bears, it is said). Don't swing them wildly behind you as you walk. When you carry poles rather than walk with them, points to the front please, not rear. And so on, you get the idea.

8:49 p.m. on September 21, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

You view it a weapon; it is a tool. I do swing them wildly, partially to keep some folks away from me; glad to know it's working.

9:28 p.m. on September 21, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

I disagree with all of your assertions that supposedly debunk the "myth" that poles are helpful. The only point I will agree with, and only partly, is about whether poles can prevent a fall. I would say that 9 times out of 10 when I stumble or trip, having poles has been helpful in maintaining my balance, up to and including some instances when I clearly would have fallen but the poles made the difference. But I do agree that perhaps 1 out of 10 of such occasions the poles can make the situation worse by getting in the way of my foot placement or by sticking in a crevice at just the wrong moment.

BTW this topic has been discussed ad nauseam on this forum and others.

P.S. And are the trails really so crowded that you can't give a few feet distance between you and the person in front of you to avoid their pole tips?

9:53 p.m. on September 21, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

So many people use hiking poles that I think any attempt to prove their worthlessness will be futile.  It's like saying "cars aren't good for people".  Okay. 

A hiking pole(s) is VITAL for creek crossings, most especially when carrying a weighty backpack.  In fact, two poles work better than one.

I'm a one pole guy---and keep one hand free to eat snacks while I'm hiking or pruning and clipping briars out of my face so I need a free hand.  Mandatory?  Of course not.  I went years backpacking without a stick.  But while I might rail against bicyclists on hiking trails or horses on backpacking trails or god forbid ATVs, the presence of hiking poles doesn't even reach the fraction over a zero blip of concern.

11:52 p.m. on September 21, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

I wonder if the folks that hike in snow are shaking their heads at your ludicrous assertionions? Try checking the depth with your feet, I can virtually promise you a fall. And as Tipi said and I can testify to crossing our local creek that was ankle deep the day before but a raging waist deep river with full grown trees washing down it the next morning, those poles saved my A_ _ in the crossing when the footing got washed out from under me.

we all wish we didn't carry them but their benefits and usefulness are self evident and to bring up a point you made as to our clumsines, you can't reach out and gab a branch that ain't there. Or maybe you've neglected to go above tree line And on the way down they are even more useful for blind steps.

broaden you scientific experiences reading about it only goes so far.

1:16 a.m. on September 22, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

Your first photo, the one with the two hikers on flat ground, is a good illustration of why poles don't work for some.

Here is the difference :


trekking-poles.png
the person in front is using them to help his stride , the second (in this particular shot) is using them for balance.

I use them like the guy at the front.

I learned that watching family members doing competitive cross country skiing. In fact I hold the strap the same way too (another major point that differs from the way most use them)


x-country.jpg
(BTW, note the opposite hand to foot  coordination, works much better that way)

5:36 a.m. on September 22, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

So wheres the articles to back your claim? Really post the scientific studies I like to see what the say and how they conducted them...

5:37 a.m. on September 22, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

As for the question in the title :

Do you really need them ?

Of course not. Most of the stuff we carry we don't "really need" but can be good to have.

You don't need a stove, if you are OK with cold food.

You don't need a mat , if you are OK sleeping on hard ground.

You don't need a tent if a bivy is good enough and so on.

So why do I use trekking poles ?

Because I like using them.

You don't ? 

Don't use them.

9:08 a.m. on September 22, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

I first started using them for snowshoeing about 30 years ago, they were just an old pair of ski poles that probably weren't the correct length but they helped with those clumsy old bear paws. 

When I got out of the army almost 20 years ago I was given a pair of modern snowshoes (Yubashoes Borderlines) and they were easier to walk in than the bear paws so I didn't buy poles. During the winter I worked as a ski lift mechanic I'd sometimes do my morning checks of the lift lines on snowshoes instead of a snowmobile, and figured the difficulty climbing the hills came solely from being overweight and out of shape. I used those without poles for 7 or 8 years, until I got too fat for them and gave them to a friend's son. 

Another few years went by and I bought another, bigger, pair of snowshoes (Tubbs Wilderness), this time buying poles at the same time. Using the poles made snowshoeing much less strenuous, I was pretty badly out of shape at the time but using poles really helped me settle into a steady rhythm on the power lines & snowmobile trails where I did most of my snowshoeing. It did take a little experimentation, but I knew when I had it right because it felt right. To me it was a lot like paddling a canoe, if you pull the paddle out of the water before you've gotten all the push you can from it you'll get tired much easier. Same with poles, when you're no longer getting any push from the pole is the time to pick it up. They pretty much come up on their own when your arm starts moving forward as the same-side foot and opposite arm begin striding, all you have to do is keep the basket from dragging. I gave a pair of snowshoes and poles to a hiking friend about 5 years ago and she doesn't use them correctly, so they probably are causing her to use more energy. She thinks they're helping, though, so I don't say anything to ruin the placebo effect. Plus, she'll say that there's no right or wrong way to use them, an argument will start, etc.

I don't use them on level ground when hiking, and rarely when snowshoeing now. I do use them on snowshoeing ascents and don't find them particularly taxing because I use my shoulder & back muscles, not my arms. On descents I use them for balance and extra braking, and generally palm the finial instead of lightly gripping the handle because that way the pole is in line with and an extension of the bones in my lower arm and wrist.

When hiking I use them occasionally on ascents, but much more often when descending. Instead of my knees being jarred when my descending foot slams down on the ground or rock I'm stepping into, I use the pole in my opposite hand to support most of my weight and let my downhill foot make a much softer landing. It also helps the stationary (uphill) knee since it doesn't have to support all the weight while I'm stepping, and while being bent.

Since I've started losing weight the shock on my knees is much less, and with all the hiking & snowshoeing I'm doing the tendons, ligaments, and muscles are strengthening and keeping things in alignment so I don't have to use poles as often. There's much less knee pain, too, and I think sone of that comes from having started taking glucosamine & chondroitin tablets about a month ago. But poles have definitely helped me, both to increase my wind and take the shock off my knees. And I figure that having poles means I'll always have something to splint a broken bone or support a sprained ankle, whether mine or someone else's. I'll always carry them. 

 

11:29 p.m. on September 22, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

a couple of observations.

first, i think it depends on the conditions. i rarely consider poles a necessity for three season hiking, but they are very helpful if not necessary on snow - assuming i'm using poles and not dual ice axes, which depends on how steep the terrain is. Having poles or dual axes is helpful in the winter because walking with crampons or snowshoes is inherently clumsy and more likely to compromise your balance. In addition, snow cover may mask buried hazards, and poles are an extremely useful way to identify that. Anyone who has ever fallen through crust up to their hip will understand what i'm talking about. Poles are very beneficial (but not necessary) on steep, snowy trails because even the most aggressive crampons or snowshoe binding claws can slip. ps - those scratch marks on the rocks? crampons can cause those too. 

second, 'necessary' is a matter of opinion. If a person has somewhat compromised joints and wants to spread the impact of a hike so it's not completely falling on their legs might feel the poles accomplish that. I'll hazard a guess that no scientific study exists to contradict this point. 

Third, setting 'necessary' aside, my primary use for trekking poles is to get a better workout when i'm walking on mostly flat ground. using poles works muscles in your arms, back, and core in ways that walking without them simply does not do as well. Using poles results in burning more calories and raising your heart rate more than you would without the poles. There is generous scientific evidence to support the notion that aerobic sports that involve both your upper and lower body - swimming and nordic skiing come to mind - are more likely to improve overall health, flexibility, strength than activities which do not  incorporate your upper body. try the Journal of Applied Physiology if you want to look at scientific studies of this.

for the most part, i agree that for most conditions, trekking poles are more of a personal choice than a necessity. when i'm hiking on trails that are steep and mostly rocky, for example, i leave the poles home. if i'm day-hiking with my family in reasonably easy circumstances, i feel no need to bring them either. However, saying 'poles are a bad idea' for all conditions is an opinion based on an overly narrow view of the conditions and circumstances under which people use them - in my opinion.

11:45 a.m. on September 24, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

No science or analysis beyond this for me:

1980s to mid 2000s...25 yrs of backpacking with a hiking stick. Almost gave up the idea of anything but shorter trips and less mileage (I don't focus trips on miles but do like to get to certain spots away from the crowds) due to nagging ankle and knee pain from old injuries from soccer.

Since mid 2000s...have used trekking poles. The difference is remarkable.  Limping out of the woods a day early due to tweaking an injury is a rare event rather than almost every trip. Mileage and climbing  (and more importantly descending) are much less painful. And I can leave tent poles behind.

My pack weight has dropped too which certainly helps, but the conversion to trekking poles came before a major investment in lighter gear so I could definitely tell the difference.

Just last weekend I had a hard descent to the car and was alternating the poles using one for balance and the other to help take the weight off the knee on each drop.

They are not for everyone, but they do wonders for some. To each their own.

11:41 a.m. on September 25, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

 

I use them every time I climb a PNW volcano but never on a hike I can do in trail running shoes. 

That is my take on them. 

To some they are part of their shelter and indispensable.  If you like hiking with them, cool, if not, cool too. 

11:00 p.m. on September 26, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

I thought I had made it clear in the post. To make it even clearer, this is the list of references from the Mountain Tactical Institute article mentioned in the post. If this is not enough, I suggest you search scholarly articles in Google Scholar (not straight Google). I got several thousand references:

Mountain Tactical Institute References from Scientific Journals:

Perrey, S. and Fabre, N. Exertion during uphill, level and downhill walking with and without hiking poles. J of Sport Sci and Med; 7: 32-38. 2007.

Porcan, J, Hendrick, T, Walter, P, Terry, L and Walsko, G. The physiological response to walking with and without power poles on treadmill exercise. Res Quarterly for Ex and Sci; 68(2): 161-166. 1997.

Knight, C and Caldwell, G. Muscular and metabolic costs of uphill backpacking: are hiking poles beneficial? Med & Sci in Sport & Ex. FEB 2000.

Wilson, J, Torry, M, Decker, M, Kernozek, T and Steadman, J. Effectos fo walking poles on lower extremity gait mechanics.Med & Sci in Sport & Ex. MAR 2000.

Schwameder, H and Muller, E. Comparisons of knee joint forces during downhill walking with and without hiking poles. J of Sport Sciences; 17: 969-978. 1999.

Vesternin, V, Hooka, L, Hynynen, E, Mikkola, J, Hakkinen, K and Nummela, A. J of Strength Cond Res; 28(4): 902-908. 2014.

11:06 p.m. on September 26, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

Please read what I wrote, not what you imagine I wrote.

I never used the word "myth". I actually made it clear from the the very first sentence that I was expressing conclusion for my kind of hiking. This is what I said:

"I decided that, for me at least, they are more trouble than they are worth"

11:49 a.m. on September 27, 2017 (EDT)
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Re: Trekking poles: Do you really need them?

thanks for posting the articles - really interesting reading. There are a variety of observations in them, some conflicting with others. The bottom line is that the majority of the studies, none of which are particularly scientifically viable due to small sample size (the mountain tactical institute used 4 tests subjects, the others were generally 10-20 test subjects with few trials) limited variables (mountain tactical's 'trial' consisted of a half mile walk on flat ground only, there was considerable variation in the body weight of the test subjects, and there was no effort made to adjust variables like carrying weight on your back or testing uphill/downhill function), observed increased heart rate and exertion/energy output from using poles, more particularly on uphills, with one study indicating a greater benefit on downhills. (kind of goes without saying, but going uphill/downhill and carrying more weight on your back clearly correlate with greater oxygen intake, calorie burn, energy output. You want a better workout, do hills and carry a backpack with some weight in it - common sense).  

balance, comfort level and safety aren't factors one can measure - they are a function of personal preference, opinion. what the various studies do seem to indicate is that using poles increases your work load - more oxygen intake, more calories burned, more effort expended. that seems consistent with other forms of exercise where the upper body output plays a greater role. so no, they don't make walking more efficient in the sense that you burn less calories, but they do shift some of the work load to your upper body - which probably means you get a more efficient workout using poles, and also means that if your upper body is absorbing some of the impact, particularly on downhills, then your lower body may be expending somewhat less energy and absorbing less shock. seems consistent with my anecdotal observation that using poles yields a better workout.

one more article to add to the pile:

file:///C:/Users/friedmana/Downloads/Med%20Sci%20Sports%20Exerc%202009%20Schiffer-2%20Kopie.pdf 

6:59 p.m. on September 27, 2017 (EDT)
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I found it quite ironical that the post started with :

 Some people believe in them with almost religious fervour, 

(true ...) 

but that was followed by over 1000 words and 4 photos (one of which reminded me that most don't know how to use them) to try to prove that they don't work.

8:01 p.m. on September 27, 2017 (EDT)
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To answer the OP's first question, yes. Especially since I use them to pitch my shelter.  They save my knees going up and down hill, help with balance from time to time and I used to downhill ski for many years so they actually help me time my steps. Old habits die hard.

10:22 p.m. on September 27, 2017 (EDT)
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I don't use trekking poles. I use ONE straight tree branch I picked up in Grand Teton NP 43 years ago. In my opinion, it is the greatest thing for a hiker since sliced bread. It has been a third leg and prevented me from falling numerous times and provies support when crossing a stream with a light to moderate current. (Because dry wood floats, it does not perform well in a stronger current.) I sometimes rest by putting the palm of one hand on the top of the pole, the other palm on top of the first and putting my head down on my hand.

Over the years, I've picked up several branches I could use as a trekking or support pole. I look for those that are light but strong, fits comfortably in my hand and long enough that I can use it when my forearm is at a 90 degree angle from my upper arm. If you can't find a branch that's good for you, you can go to a Lowe's, Menards or Home Depot and get a broom handle for a few bucks which will do the same thing or use a cross-country ski pole whose mate has broken. My "replacement pole" which I intend to use if my old reliable breaks is a wooden handle for a push broom.

My only caution when using this type of support is to keep it about 5-6 inches from my foot with my forearm at a 90 degree angle from my upper arm. The pole doesn't do me any good if it I use it with my arm extended.

10:48 p.m. on September 27, 2017 (EDT)
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l don't use them anymore on trails like the Ozette Triangle in the Olympics anymore because much of it is done on elevated sections made out of wood or composite planks that make slipping or planting a tip in a crack a real issue. However, on most trails I find them helpful in maintaining my balance and conserving energy by sparing my legs somewhat, especially now that I'm an old trail dog.

 

11:23 p.m. on September 27, 2017 (EDT)
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I have been quite happy with broom handles, etc. but I do like collapsible poles since they can be adjusted to several lengths and stowed easily.  A bamboo pole is light and strong and works quite well.

I amvcurrently using some el cheapo carbon fiber sticks from Costco.  They work as well as items costing five times as much.

11:56 p.m. on September 27, 2017 (EDT)
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I think that the statement "Poles are useless and even downright dangerous" is proven historically to be false! Historically a pole was certainly a weapon ie the quarter staff used to stave (an alternative word for pole) off danger, people or animal. The staff or pole was an essential tool for any traveler, look at pictures of medieval travelers such as Canterbury pilgrims, itinerant monks, peddlers and the like they all sport a pole. More pertinent is the agricultural worker, can you imagine a shepherd  on a high country beat without his or her "Hill stick" Nah! I have used a pole most of my life some cut from the hedge now factory made and so much more convenient. 

I leave you with a thought. The origin of the saying "The staff of life" In the 1300's it was used by Geoffrey Chaucer as meaning not bread but a support through life.

3:03 a.m. on September 28, 2017 (EDT)
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In 1999 I hiked on the Long Trail in Vermont.  Going straight up and down those mountains on 18" stone steps (as I remember) with no switchbacks and a 40 pound pack resulted in 2 months of physical therapy on one of my knees.  The therapist told me that if I didn't give up backpacking I wouldn't be walking within 5 years.  I bought a set of poles that year and kept on truckin'.  I finished a very arduous solo hike in the Himalayas last month, again with a 40 pound pack and with no ill effect. The poles were also used to support my tarp, and even for digging footholds when I found myself high on the side of a gorge.  I don't like backpacking without them.  They have saved my knees, kept me from falling in water crossings and on dry land.  I flicked a rattlesnake off the trail when he was in front of me, and I use them to check for snakes when in grass or brush.  I'm in cobra country now so this is no light matter...And I know, that if used properly, poles can help propel you up hills and ease the shock going down.  Not to mention providing additional traction on mud, ice, snow, wet grass, rock slabs, you name it.

My sister had hip replacement a while back.  She told me she missed getting out and hiking.  I told her to get some poles, and she was out hiking in the mountains soon after that.

Reading this article, it seems to me the writer got most of his info and opinions from some supposed scientific research article and not much actual experience.  From my own experience, I know that using trekking poles has greatly extended my backpacking life, and continues to do so, even at the ripe old age of 65.  I Haven't slowed down yet, nor have I stopped using trekking poles,

8:04 a.m. on September 28, 2017 (EDT)
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In my opinion, it is the greatest thing for a hiker since sliced bread.

People have been using walking sticks for much longer than they've been slicing bread. So, your expression really should be turned around: "In my opinion, sliced bread is the greatest thing for a hiker since the walking stick."

8:20 a.m. on September 28, 2017 (EDT)
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@lanw, Have you ever personally used trekking poles going on steep inclines and declines? I didn't see where you mentioned if you had tried them yourself. I know you read a lot of scientific research on them, but the best way to know if they will work for you or not is to try them out and see what results they have for you personally. If you are hiking flat terrain, you probably don't need them, but each person is different and when it comes to hiking gear, the best research you can do is to test it yourself. As far as stowing them goes, Leki and Black Diamond make collapsible pairs that come in their own carry case. You can easily show them in the pockets on the outside of your pack or even inside. If you are definitely sold on not using them, that is up to you, but in this case, I believe you shouldn't totally dismiss them until you try them.

11:44 a.m. on September 28, 2017 (EDT)
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After over 30 years of hiking without a pair of poles or stick for that matter, I decided to get a pair of  Ozark trail hiking poles from Walmart. I immediately noticed that my knees felt much better at the end of the day. This alone was enough to convince me of the benefits but in two years of use they prevented one fall that would have had me rolling down a very steep bank in the Smokies. Another slip that without poles would have had me landing on my butt with all of my weigh turned into a slow, awkward yet gentle sit down in the middle of the trail. Also my Pace increased about a quarter of a mile an hour. I think the increase was a combination of  navigating slick roots and rocks a little quicker and keeping a better stride on smoother sections of trail. As far as injuring yourself with your poles, anything is possible but I will keep my knife and stove at the top of the list of things that may hurt me. And finally, anyone that can fight off a bear with a hiking poles is mean enough to fight off a bear with their bare hands...They just thought using a pole was more of a challenge.

12:58 p.m. on September 28, 2017 (EDT)
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I think it's great for people to be able to express differing views about gear but agree with Ashleigh in that it's not clear if the views expressed come from any personal experience. This is a key point and why we all value reviews/opinions that demonstrate personal, vigorous testing of gear in various conditions.  Also, poles are a tool, and tools can be used incorrectly and ineffectively. I've noted this appears to be the case with many hikers. I began downhill and cross-country skiing as a kid, so I learned the correct way to wear the straps, how to pole-plant/pivot, and how to lengthen my glide, shuffle up hills, and maintain balance well before I started hiking. For those without a skiing background, trekking poles can be very foreign and awkward. I watched my friend struggle with hers all summer on a thru-hike, mainly because they were too tall for her. Improperly sized as they were, her arms tended to swing far out to her sides, putting stress on her shoulders and causing her to have an awkward stride. They were more of an impediment than an implement; the kind of gear that people end up using just because someone at REI said they needed it. So it's very crucial, as with any gear, that one educates themselves on the correct sizing, fitting, technique, etc. And even after all that, poles still may not work for you, and that's ok. It's worth noting that a fair amount of experienced long-distance thru-hikers (all of which started out using trekking poles), have switched to not using them. Check out Jupiter's blog on hiking the 5000 mile ECT, without poles. It helps that he also had a 6 lb baseweight! As for me, I love my poles and will continue our long relationship together:)

1:23 p.m. on September 28, 2017 (EDT)
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I'm an older (71), heavier (200#) hiker with bad knees and a declining sense of balance.  Poles increase my confidence when negotiating tricky footing situations.  They reduce the impact on my unhappy knees.   In addition, they allow me to use upper body muscles to supplement my lower body ones especially when going uphill.

3:10 p.m. on September 28, 2017 (EDT)
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I totally get the allure of not using poles...not using them would eliminate my need for rain mitts...I would probably use an umbrella more during the warmer months to defend against spider webs...I could lighten my load and save the expense (though I make my carbon fiber and cork poles for about $60 and they only weigh a little over 7oz combined). Still...with all the disadvantages of poles I cannot imagine not using them...especially soloing where a bad fall could lead to becoming immobilized. Obviously I could become immobilized with poles...but mine have saved me a bad fall too many times to count...and since I use a tarp 75%-90% of the time I save a lot of effort in search of sticks.

I also want to add something about "proper" use...the individual who introduced poles to me more than a decade ago suggested I remove the straps (as do notable backpackers like Skurka and Philip Werner of Section Hiker). I am not saying that using straps is a bad thing...but the only two bad falls I have seen with poles resulted in a dislocated shoulder and a fractured wrist because they trapped the hand...so I would argue that not using straps is not objectively improper...but simply one method among many that individuals can choose from as they become more experienced. Similarly...Justin Lichter advocates no less than 4 different methods of pole use...and I personally have a very fluid style that alters as conditions change throughout the day. I guess what I am saying is that "proper" is a tricky word...a handful of nerds using their Texas Instrument calculators improperly created personal computing and revolutionized the world.

12:20 a.m. on September 29, 2017 (EDT)
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Using the strap...

as with using the poles , there are different ways of doing it.

If done the way pole manufacturers suggest, the hand is not trapped in there when you fall.

It happens to be also the way X country skiers use it 


Trekking-Pole-Straps.jpg
you open your hand and the strap slides out of it.

4:22 a.m. on September 29, 2017 (EDT)
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I'm not comfortable with saying these folks were not using the straps correctly...even less so if I wasn't there. I can say that these folks did not fall straight down...the falls were complex flailing and twisting of bodies and poles involving a great deal of inertia...and that with no straps there is 0% chance of strap-entanglement. I would add...my point was more about the notion that there is a single correct way to use poles as opposed to multiple correct ways that are heavily user dependent...at least when hiking.

5:08 a.m. on September 29, 2017 (EDT)
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How did I miss this thread!  Generally I agree with the OP, on-trail use of poles has limited utility.   You all have already read my screed elsewhere, in another recent thread, so I won’t repeat the detail therein, but will add to the debate the following considerations:

Context of the OP’s premise
The OP’s comments were specifically addressing on-trail use of trekking poles.  No one is questioning their utility off-trail or on snow and ice.

If it feels good, do it!
Some comments indicated folks just like using trekking poles.  No arguing with that!  Others state they use them to exercise the upper torso.  And that is fine, too, but most of us want to reduce effort expended while schlepping a pack.   These two reasons for pole use, however, do not refute or support what others are trying to claim as the measurable efficiencies or liabilities of pole use while backpacking.

Trekking poles can serve multiple purposes
True.  And if they function also as poles to your shelter this is a tangible merit.  But the multifunctional utility of poles and staffs are irrelevant in the context of their value as walking aids.

Trekking poles aid stability, enhance safety
This depends how they are used.  I have followed behind legions of trekking pole users.  I have seen stumble and fall incidents, some caused by improper use of poles, and some made worse by poles.  Most of the stumbles and falls where poles may have contributed occurred going downhill, when the hiker was trying to plant the pole in a spot beyond what could be reached downhill using the standard pole grip.  These people resorted to cupping the pummel of the pole grip in their palm, similar to gripping a stick shift.  A pole held thusly is more apt to fling out from under you if the handle is not in line with the force vector that extends from the pole tip to your shoulder socket.  In one case the hiker had to abort their trip and be helped to self-evacuate after gashing their face on a rock and breaking their collar bone.  I witnessed this fall and believe overextending the pole’s reach by using the pummel grip technique was the major factor leading to this fall.  The straps were not a contributing factor to any serious mishaps I witnessed, but I know straps have contributed to certain accidents, as others described, especially while skiing.

Efficient use of poles
Franco raises the point that technique is crucial to getting utility from trekking poles.  He is right, particularly about propelling one forward, but his explanation is incomplete.  Note his image of the XC skier.  The skier gets forward thrust off the pole because the tip is well behind him.  Pushing against the tip propels the skier away from the tip, which happens to be a generally forward vector.  The reason the skier gets this efficiency is his poles are long – arm pit length – permitting him to trail the tip much further behind than afforded by conventional length trekking poles.  Even the lead hiker in his other image has poles that appear to be about four or five inches longer than the conventional elbow length used by most trekking pole users.   Conventional length trekking poles limit the distance one can trail the pole tip, thus more of the applied force is directed upward into the sky, than horizontal along the ground.  If one attempted to lengthen their trekking poles to replicate XC ski pole technique, they may risk snagging the trailing pole’s tip on a ground feature during the retrieve, and getting yanked off balance.  These comments all come from firsthand experience, as well as from observing others in the field.

Scientific research
Like Denis, I’d like to see at least one good scientific study, preferable one NOT sponsored by parties with a ve$$ted interest.  Unfortunately all existing studies are highly flawed in methodology, and some are also suspect based on funding sources.  One has to wonder why no one has published good research – perhaps good research has been done, but never saw the light of day because the results didn’t support the agendas of its sponsors.  Alas I speculate.  So here we are, all of us talking out of our hats.  

Expert testimony?
Since there lacks solid, scientific research, we are left primarily with our anecdotal testimonies.  Some of us can only speak from relatively little experience; others haven’t tried the alternatives such as staffs, or lacked guidance on proper techniques using either of these devices.  Some compare their hi tech trekking poles to staffs that were little more than a stick found trailside, or a heavy dowel pole, or a length of bambo.  But how many have tried a hi tech, balanced, light weight carbon or alloy walking staff?  Slim to none I guess, based both on my own conversations as well as testimony posted on the TS Forums.  Does such skewed experience lend fair credence to the topic?  Furthermore some of us are probably predisposed to instill virtues in our trekking poles or staffs because we spent a load on these devices or otherwise are psychologically invested in our choice of tools, and feel the need to justify our choices in our own minds, often in conflict with objective evidence.  This rationalization process is called cognitive dissonance.  It seems every owners of a Jaguar boasts how great their car is, regardless Jaguar vehicles are renown as auto repair garage queens.  But they can’t all be exceptions to the rule.  This is classic cognitive dissonance.  And then there are the likes of Tipi Walters, those who speak from a lifetime of backpacking experience that exceeds the age of many chiming in on this forum, who furthermore has tried all manner of pedestrian ambulation on all manner of terrain and trails.  I’ll always listen to him.  (Don’t tell Tipi I said this, but I think he actually may know what he is talking about.)  I personally have been backpacking, BC tele skiing and mountaineering for over five decades.  Trust me, I have plenty of experience with both poles and staff.  I find a staff is better at addressing on-trail situations and easier to use.   As for water crossings, both staff and trekking poles are way better than no assist, but poles are better suited for some stream crossings while a staff is better on others.  FWIW my left knee has sustained four surgeries from other sports over the years, so I do appreciate the assist any device can provide.  But I find a staff way better at dealing with on-trail situations, while trekking poles are better at addressing rugged, off-trail travel and travel over snow and ice.

Ed

5:43 a.m. on September 29, 2017 (EDT)
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A side issue: waist deep water crossings

Someone mentioned how trekking poles helped them ford a "raging waist deep river."  Me thinks this hiker's survival is due more to a break from the One up above.  

Experts universally recommend hikers should find an alternate crossing whenever the water is swift and over the knees.  The aforementioned description compels me to state crossing such water conditions should never be attempted.  No excuses.  Alaskan, Andean and Himalayan adventure lore is chock full of fatalities occurring to very experience persons in exactly these conditions.  I once resorted to a 30 mile detour that had me coming out of the mountains two days late, rather than attempt to ford a stream that was running high from melt off and a spring rain.  My overdue status tormented my family, authorities and employer, but I made it back, safe and sound. 

Ed

6:15 a.m. on September 29, 2017 (EDT)
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whomeworry said:

A side issue: waist deep water crossings

Someone mentioned how trekking poles helped them ford a "raging waist deep river."  Me thinks this hiker's survival is due more to a break from the One up above.  

Experts universally recommend hikers should find an alternate crossing whenever the water is swift and over the knees.  The aforementioned description compels me to state crossing such water conditions should never be attempted.  No excuses.  Alaskan, Andean and Himalayan adventure lore is chock full of fatalities occurring to very experience persons in exactly these conditions.  I once resorted to a 30 mile detour that had me coming out of the mountains two days late, rather than attempt to ford a stream that was running high from melt off and a spring rain.  My overdue status tormented my family, authorities and employer, but I made it back, safe and sound. 

Ed

Agreed 

6:33 a.m. on September 29, 2017 (EDT)
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I crossed knee-deep floodwater at a low water crossing in Ft Sill, Oklahoma once and don't know how I didn't get washed away. The only reason I didn't, I think, is that decades of heavy wheeled and tracked vehicles had rutted the concrete enough to cause a small eddy, and just to the downstream side it was noticeably calmer. I still couldn't pick my feet up, though, but had to slowly shuffle along and concentrate 100% on what I was doing. So yeah, don't cross fast-moving water. 

4:31 p.m. on September 29, 2017 (EDT)
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I have saved myself from some potentially nasty falls  by using polls.  I also like the fact that poles help strengthen my arms while aiding my balance.  thanks to my daughter-in-law for encouraging me and loaning her poles  to me on my first city to city hike in Italy.  The poles made a great difference.

11:11 p.m. on September 29, 2017 (EDT)
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Was it Reinhold Messner who said, "I don't use poles because I need them, I use them so I won't need them."?

4:00 a.m. on September 30, 2017 (EDT)
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If Messner had spent more time on the Net and less climbing he would know by now that using poles is wrong.


Messner.jpg
Here is another guy that could have benefited from some more theoretical expertise.

Ueli Steck .


Ueli-Steck.jpg
Odd that such an ultraliter would carry the extra pole weight.

2:50 p.m. on September 30, 2017 (EDT)
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Trekking poles are mandatory for me because of knee problems. Regarding falling: sometimes you can use a single one.

3:03 p.m. on October 1, 2017 (EDT)
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Interesting thread!  I personally have been using trekking poles for well over ten years.  I cannot begin to count the number of times my use of poles has helped me avoid a trip/fall accident.  I also enjoy the added aerobic benefit of using them to power up hills and get my arms into play.  

I read with interest the articles put forth by the OP and interestingly found most of them to counter what he put forth in his opinion.  For example: "The proper use of hiking poles during downhill walking in the conditions reported in this study caused reductions in the external and internal loads on several knee joint structures. Our results have important preventive implications for all hikers, but for those with knee joint problems in particular."  Here's another:  "By redistributing some of the backpack effort, pole use alleviated some stress from the lower extremities and allowed a partial reversal of typical load-bearing strategies."  

To sum up, I recently completed the Washington section of the PCT from White Pass to Stevens Pass.  While on the trail I interacted with hundreds of long trail hikers and 90%+ were using trekking poles.  These guys and gals, it would  seem, are the experts when it comes to the art of hiking with poles.  

4:28 p.m. on October 1, 2017 (EDT)
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It's interesting to me that the longest threads recently are this one and another related to hiking stick vs poles. The only longer threads are the semiannual discussions about back country coffee!

I use my poles in several different ways...one "proper" alternative coming through the straps from the bottom, another threading through from the top and resting my wrists on the straps, sometimes not using the straps at all, and occasionally collapsing one and stashing or holding it while just using the other. Each depends on mood, terrain, etc. I may not always use them properly but I use them appropriately for me at the given time and place. I understand the increased risk of injury if you get caught in a fall so usually adjust my grip style depending on fall potential. In my constant mix of on and off trail hiking one style cannot sufficiently address my needs.

Heartily agree with the need for care in stream crossings and possibly rerouting to avoid danger, although I would emphasize the AND in "swift and over the knees". I'll often go over my knees in a slow pool or run section to avoid a swifter but shallower riffle area...widest part of the stream is often best for crossing despite the appeal of a short width from bank to bank.

9:29 p.m. on October 1, 2017 (EDT)
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I find it interesting that after dismissing anecdotal evidence and untested theories for using poles, a whole raft of anecdotal evidence and untested theories are advance in support of NOT using poles.  A couple stand out.  

Theory: Work and practice on improving your balance instead of relying on poles.  Well, wouldn't the same work and practice also result in improved balance with poles and improved ability to avoid tripping over poles.

Anecdotally, I have avoided falls countless times with well placed pole plants.

Theory: poles (do/do not) improve stability.  There are theories for both.  Fact, carrying a pack raises your center of mass substantially.  Theory (easily tested using simple diagrams and vectors to calculate the forces) a higher center of mass requires greater force (muscle effort) to restore balance as the center of mass approaches or moves outside the support points.   Observation, most people do not spend as much time carrying packs as walking without packs, and are not as skilled at maintaining balance with a pack as without.  

Anecdotally, when I carry a typical 35 pound pack, I find I use different muscles and tire in fewer miles when I don't use poles than when I do use poles.  I have observed the same with other hikers.

Theory: poles do not grip smooth boulders well (see photo offered as evidence slipping metal tips).  I once was a proponent of this theory, at least until I tested it personally.   

Anecdotally, I tested the theory and found counterintuitively that while they do occasionally skid, the metal tips on my Black Diamond poles provide the best grip on both wet and dry, large flat rocks such as those encountered on the JMT.  That was in comparison to Lowa boots, New Balance runners, and cross track trail shoes, not to mention hands, elbows, knees, seat, and other portions of my anatomy.

At the end of the day, it is probably specific to the person and the trail.  Some are better off without poles.  Some are better off with them.  Each person has to perform their own test and find out which.

4:28 p.m. on October 2, 2017 (EDT)
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We should probably discuss something less controversial like religion or guns or global warming. 

10:01 p.m. on October 2, 2017 (EDT)
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Pillows.

Only took me 10 years to figure out that the problem, for me , was the fabric not the type. 

(I have now a silk pillow case stuffed with whatever)

7:20 a.m. on October 3, 2017 (EDT)
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I find/think that it damages your posture as it forces your to stoop down and arch your back a bit.

5:52 p.m. on October 3, 2017 (EDT)
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mandy Richards said:

I find/think that it damages your posture as it forces your to stoop down and arch your back a bit.

 Now you may have a point on that statement, if you are just hiking and don't have them extended to where your arms are at chest height. However I will postulate to you that if you are carrying any backpack of significants you are already doing that. And the pole/staff accually helps in that scenario. 

7:37 p.m. on October 3, 2017 (EDT)
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correct-sitting-position-driving-incorre
Some people insist in driving like the one on the left.

That is what is called the wrong way of doing it.

Chances are you will get a sore back.

Most things are like that , the trick is to learn on how to do it correctly.

If used correctly, poles will help you to walk erect rather than the other way around.

Start by having the pole handle at elbow height.

This is the first video that came up on You Tube, first time I have seen it but it does show the more important bits , so here it is :

I don't put my hand over the handle going downhill, I just have the poles about 5" longer than on flat ground .

9:50 p.m. on October 3, 2017 (EDT)
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John Starnes said:

if you are just hiking and don't have them extended to where your arms are at chest height.

Carry trekking poles however you feel they work best for you, but chest height is higher than the recommended "ideal" height. Typical recommendation is 90 degree bend at the elbows (forearm parallel to the ground, which would be between your  waist and hips), but I like them a little lower than that so I have more leverage to push backwards on the poles to help propel myself forward an extra inch or so per step.

10:30 p.m. on October 3, 2017 (EDT)
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JR no doubt you are probably correct, however for myself I find that when I use them fully extended im able to walk without slouching. It helps me tremendously. I have had  back problems since my teens and correct posture is imperative for me. On level or down hill it works for me and up hill your way is best.

and I've also noticed that with fully extended poles breathing is undoubtedly better as it allows the lungs to fully expand.

and also my belly doesn't look so big LOL

11:23 p.m. on October 3, 2017 (EDT)
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Franco thanks for the illustration it clearly states what I was getting at. I have since my teens practiced good posture in my walk driving and sleeping habits. I've had too. The correct way in that picture is much easier to achieve for me at least with poles fully extended and arms at the same basic height as that picture When pack on. 

Now if I were into speed or tight places then my way would probably be useless as they are much more cumbersome in those instances. And You and JR would be unequivocally correct.

I guess what I'm getting at is that we all need to separate how we are and what we are using them for. 

If in fact it is stride and also power on up hill I say you all are undeniably correct. Around waist height.

if it is for posture and stability on level ground and down hill. Not so much. Fully extended I say.

if it is for stability then to each his own. (example the way I think Ed has mentioned about  a staff seems to me too be the sturdiest way as you can simply plant it and either hold or hug it, depending on what your doing. But that's not to say that you way in the same instances isn't just as effective. 

If everyone is 5ft 10in tall and 170lbs then one way works and so does a homogeneous way of thinking. We are not. We while similar in our pursuit are widely developed in our physical attributes  and training.

1:52 p.m. on October 4, 2017 (EDT)
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Makes sense John, thanks.

2:24 p.m. on October 4, 2017 (EDT)
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Thanks to the OP for opening the discussion.

As we age, many of us lose that carefree equilibrium of our youth, growing more unbalanced... in many different aspects, almost daily. Just ask our kids. 

I now use a wading staff (collapsible Folstaff) in all my river fishing. The fast, rocky rivers of NH are tricky wading. A good staff doesn't guarantee safety, but it is a very good aid to navigating fast water above the knees. Trout and salmon fishermen have been negotiating fast water since the dawn of fishing and have learned techniques to survive their own temerity (see my avatar).

I would recommend that all hikers who need to cross fast flowing rivers read a good dissertation on safe wading. It begins with a staff (or walking stick). One of the tricks is of interest: when you find yourself losing your balance, slap your staff down sharply, and almost flat, into the water on the downstream side. The staff will be pushed upward by the flowing water, providing you with good temporary support. This is what whitewater kayakers do to hold themselves upright in ferrying across a stream. (Putting the paddle in on the upstream side will flip you right over as the water pushes the blade under the kayak. :)

9:25 p.m. on October 5, 2017 (EDT)
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The OP mentions studies that claim to have proven that poles do not increase efficiency. I'm grateful to those who have followed up on this, and called into question the validity of these studies.  I have a very basic question: were the study subjects experienced at using poles, and were they using them correctly?  Most hikers don't use their poles efficiently, swinging them forward at random times rather than in tandem with their feet (left pole and right foot move forward at the same time, etc).  For a fuller discussion, with clear graphics, and by someone (a physiotherapist and a hiker) with far more expertise than I, check out pacerpoles.

And by the way, the poles are great.

11:35 a.m. on October 6, 2017 (EDT)
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I don't use trekking Poles as I use a hiking staff; a staff that is based upon availability not nationality. The staff usually consists of a large fellow behind me to keep me from falling backward, one "wingman" on each side to keep me on the trail, and Igor, faithful Igor, who leads the way, carries my pack, and serves as a cushion when I stumble. This is my minimalist hiking staff. I have never claimed to be ept. :(

On a serious note, a six-foot-long, one-inch diameter, hardwood staff was always a great help to me in backpacking. Though heavier than an aluminum pole, the single staff is long enough and has sufficient mass to move raspberry canes out of your path, provide full, confident support on rocky ground - especially going downhill - and the length permits better balance when walking a log across a small ravine. Hazel is a good wood for a staff, ime. If the tip is flame-hardened, it will not wear down quickly. ime, the bare wood tip is superior to a sharp and slippery metal point. When walking an easy, level trail, the staff is simply swung forward in the hand, pendulum fashion, without appreciable arm movement; sometimes letting it shoot out through a relaxed hand. Thus the weight of the staff is not burdensome. The only time, in my experience, that the staff is a hindrance is when climbing a simple pitch with both hands is necessary. Then letting the staff hang behind on a length of webbing may be the best approach. That permits immediate access when you want to jam it into a crack for additional support, yet keeps it out of the way for the most part. I am not a climber, so take that advice with caution.

9:03 p.m. on October 6, 2017 (EDT)
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Where I backpack in the Sierra, Peru, France most everyone uses poles. To say they don't help is like saying a human on 2 legs is more efficient than a horse with 4 legs. I use my poles to help push me forward especially going uphill. Going downhill they allow me to move faster while still being in control. When crossing high or fast water they are mandatory. While can understand they don't work well in the bush, for most people we are hiking trails that are in a little bit better shape perhaps. And as for carrying a hiking staff, way too heavy.

5:29 a.m. on October 8, 2017 (EDT)
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A prior post noted"

"..While on the trail I interacted with hundreds of long trail hikers and 90%+ were using trekking poles.  These guys and gals, it would  seem, are the experts when it comes to the art of hiking with poles."

One should exercise caution when considering what everyone else currently does as supporting the pros and cons of trekking poles and staffs.  The above assertion lacks historical context.  Trekking poles (a.k.a. ski poles) have been around for 80 years.  Yet they only came into vogue as hiking aids after REI and other retailers started aggressively marketing them back in the late 1980s.  Actually this was helped along by the cool looking Euro-uber hut to hut trekkers that everyone envied and wanted to emulate.  They also popularized internal frame packs, another topic we could debate until we have no more coffee beans, but I digress.  Before that most of the so-call expert thru hikers in America used no aid whatsoever, and those using staffs out numbered the pole users.  Since trekking/ski poles (and internal frame packs) have been around for quite a awhile what explains the widespread change of practices over this time span? (Answer: retail $ale$.) 

An issue that is far from resolved is what constitutes "properly" adjusted poles.  The traditional elbow high length comes from mountaineers, and their pole height probably was largely the result of using alpine ski poles (which are fitted to this height).  I find the height of one's poles should vary with the specifics of each situation, generally with shorter poles used for going up and longer poles when going down.

As for comments on the exercise poles offer, it is all good if you are seeking additional exercise, but I notice no one has suggested they enjoy the additional exercise they get by adding more weight to their packs or strapping weights to their arms. Alas I think such considerations are relevant to workouts and training walks, but not what most of us seek out when walking around with a pack containing our household on our backs.

As for comments on staffs: most people are relating experiences with crude stick and relatively heavy broom handles.  That simply is not a fair assessment.  Certainly if trekking poles were fashioned from such materials there would be less enthusiasm.  For less than $10 one can try a relatively light staff, by using one of those green plastic coated steel nursery tree poles - a 6' X 3/4" pole will do nicely.  I use a carbon fiber staff which weighs less than a pair of name brand trekking poles made of the same materials.  It is well balanced and effortlessly carried by two fingers when not used.  I still may use trekking poles off trail, and definitely over snow, but find my staff (which adjusts so I can use it as a mast for my pyramid tarp) offers greater utility than poles for on-trail use.

Several comment about research on the topic.  Some use it to support the trekking pole argument, and some to refute it.  What should be apparent to the critical reader of these articles is virtually all of the articles cited have serious enough short comings that these articles lack credibility, one way or the other.  Their sample sizes are too small, test scenarios bearing little semblance to real world applications, and many of the metrics evaluated are too subjective.

Lastly some tout how devices (trekking poles or staffs) helped them avoid "countless falls".  That statement worries me.  The occasional save is great but something is not right if you are stumbling on a regular basis.  Poles of any sort are no substitute for better technique and safer ambulation.  If you are saving yourself so frequently from falling as to make this claim, the odds are against you in the long run.  Please be more careful, slow down, focus on making sound placement of one's feet, and always remain centered and balanced.

Ed        

10:43 a.m. on October 8, 2017 (EDT)
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I like to have poles when carrying a load, for that little bit of extra oomph on any big uphill steps and something to lean on on the downhills for a little knee relief. I usually leave them behind on day hikes, preferring to keep my hands free. But I really missed them on a long, steep, and rough day hike over Mount Kimball in the Santa Catalinas yesterday. I really could have used that oomph on the way up and knee relief on the way down. We can debate the theory and biomechanics all we want, but in the end we each have to decide what works for us individually. More often than not, poles work for me.

8:43 p.m. on October 8, 2017 (EDT)
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"Trekking poles (a.k.a. ski poles) have been around for 80 years.  Yet they only came into vogue as hiking aids after REI and other retailers started aggressively marketing them back in the late 1980s". 

That could be true in the US however the major trekking pole manufacturers are based in Europe (Italy and Austria) and there is where they started to sell them.

No REI in the EU.

So in Europe did they create a market by manufacturing and then advertising poles or did hikers ask to have dedicated hiking poles instead of using sticks or sky poles ?

9:36 p.m. on October 8, 2017 (EDT)
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Ed,

You said: "Lastly some tout how devices (trekking poles or staffs) helped them avoid "countless falls".  That statement worries me.  The occasional save is great but something is not right if you are stumbling on a regular basis.  Poles of any sort are no substitute for better technique and safer ambulation."

Yes, something is not right for some of us. I have no sensation, except pain, in my hands and feet due to peripheral neuropathy. I have no sense of touch. My sense of balance is poor, my knowledge of foot placement underwater is poor. Yet I will continue to wade fast water. It may take me twenty minutes to climb back up the bank from the river, because my pacemaker doesn't increase my heart rate when climbing; but I will continue to fish the rivers I can. I am all for safer ambulation, but I have no means of achieving it, so I'll just stumble along as best I can. 

Don't forget that walking is simply the ability to put one foot forward before you fall on your face. For some of us, the foot just doesn't move as fast or accurately as we may wish. For some of us, the staff as a third leg is not optional, but a necessity. 

Just my personal observations, YMMV.

6:02 p.m. on October 9, 2017 (EDT)
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Overmywaders:

I share some of those afflictions, but to a lesser degree.  Soon enough I, too, will be tottering along.

Obviously my advise did not address our specifics.  I was addressing folks who may not have considered the risk of over relying on equipment to keep one safe when venturing into BC.  Particularly regarding kinetic activities; getting hit by a falling rock is just as dangerous as falling and hitting a rock.

As I age and lose capabilities I have scaled back my ambitions.  This out of self preservation and others well being.  Hopefully those of us with diminished faculties are seeing the big picture consequences, and are not venturing into situations where a pre-existing health condition ends up placing others (SAR) at risk. 

Ed   

6:59 p.m. on October 9, 2017 (EDT)
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Ed,

Ah, no worries. I would not, ever, call in SAR... I hope. If I can get myself into a mess, I better get myself out or die trying. :) That is what the backcountry is all about, imo, the wonderful immediacy of life in nature. 

I have been digital for 18 years. That is almost two decades more than I would have enjoyed if nature had not been held in abeyance by a battery and integrated circuits. But the technology would be a waste if it prevented me from the simple pleasure of wading a trout stream. Sure, I envy you and all the others that can still climb the hills, I confess it; but I have wonderful memories of days, weeks, and sometimes months, in the forests and hills. And if the memories are not enough, though they usually are, I can live in the backcountry vicariously through you and others. So, all is good. Thanks.

7:29 p.m. on October 9, 2017 (EDT)
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Thinking about this thread something else came to mind.

As a premise, for and against arguments don't affect me because having tried with and without I prefer to walk with them.

So on that point , it is clear that there are thousands of people that are repeat users , in other words they have tried them and keep using them.

Why would they carry the extra weight if they did not work for them ?

Is is just to justify having spent $50-200 on them ?

If so ,what about the hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars of gear sitting somewhere not used because.... ?

1:40 a.m. on October 11, 2017 (EDT)
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I don't think that you can ever make generalized assumptions on if a piece of gear is good or bad for all hikers, you can share your own experiences and opinions, but in the end everyone needs to decide on their own.  For me, I like trekking poles and really find them useful when carrying a heavy pack.  I'm pushing 60 and look for every advantage I can get and I've found that trekking poles really do make a difference for me.

7:13 p.m. on October 12, 2017 (EDT)
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Franco said:

Thinking about this thread something else came to mind.

As a premise, for and against arguments don't affect me because having tried with and without I prefer to walk with them.

So on that point , it is clear that there are thousands of people that are repeat users , in other words they have tried them and keep using them.

Why would they carry the extra weight if they did not work for them ?

Is is just to justify having spent $50-200 on them ?

If so ,what about the hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars of gear sitting somewhere not used because.... ?

Indeed there are those who definitely get the benefit of trekking poles.  But observing how a significant portion of pole users get about, the poles seem more in the way than of any utility.  Others have stated both of these points already, so I will move on. 

Why are there repeat pole users?  Why are there repeat Fiat, Land Rover and Jaguar car owners, each brand notorious for being unreliable.  Apple computer users will ask why are there so many Window system users?  Why do people own mondo 4wd monster trucks just to drive around town?  Why do people shell out large dollar$ for diamonds?  And why do attractive people submit themselves to risky, elective, plastic surgery? 

A lot of consumer behavior is vanity driven.  It is the primary reason REI and other outdoor retailers are better categorized as outdoor "lifestyle" retailers, versus outdoor gear stores.  There's money to be made catering to peoples egos and fantasies.  Lots of folks spend hundred$ on high tech garments so they, too, can look like Joe Adventurer.  Go to any trailhead and check out all the day hikers sporting all manner of tech shirts, exped trousers and GPS technology, all to walk three miles and picnic somewhere in the shade.  It's herd mentality, and the herd has decided cutoffs, t-shirts, and sneakers aren't outdoorsy enough for day hiking.  We are inclined wear the tartan of our respective clans; that is why hipsters and their posers look "hip", surfers and wannabes look beachy, while backpackers and greenhorns look woodsy, as certain costumes define the fashion code of these cliques.  So if alpha Joe Trekker is wearing Patagucci fleece, Julbo eyewear, and toting trekking poles, the flock will outfit accordingly. 

Some equipment gains loyalty by alleging certain advantages or meeting imaginary needs.  Trekking pole syndicates and water filter cartels often market their dope under false pretenses.  I will grant you water in much of the eastern states is suspect, but potable water is rarely an issue in most of the Sierra and PNW.  Yet everyone has a filter in those venues.  Why?  Because we are programmed it is a necessity.  So indeed people often carry the extra weight because someone convinced them it was necessary.

Perhaps I should have skipped droning on, and cut to the chase.  Why do survivalist prepers stock up for events that will knock all of us back to the stone age, yet they don't bother learning primitive subsistence skills that will be critical when they emerge from the rock they were hiding under?  Why do I hike to find solitude, then invite others to join me?  Why do I have a UL cuben fiber tarp, down and titanium gear, then go and pack three pounds of fresh oranges for a ten day trip?  People do lots of things that are not pragmatic or logical.  (I am trying to be sincere albeit this really sounds like trolling.)

Ed   

5:47 p.m. on October 13, 2017 (EDT)
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"Why are there repeat Fiat, Land Rover and Jaguar car owners, each brand notorious for being unreliable"

That is a false analogy because this thread is about how useful or not poles are not what brand one should use.

My point was that if indeed poles are useless or detrimental for most, why do they keep using them and don't just leave them at home ?

(can't do that with cars...)

BTW, if Apple computers were so reliable , how do the Apple service centers stay in business ?


Apple-repairs.jpg
Anyway,  explain to me why (for one) I used trekking poles on solo trips into areas where most likely I was not going to meet anyone else and having a tent that did not need a trekking pole to stand up ?

Was it to impress myself ?

For many years I had no fewer than 15 tents, 4 backpacks, 6 mats, 4 down bags and a couple of synthetic (all of those not the same year after year..) so why would I care about showing off a $100 pair of poles ? 

Why would I wear $60 shoes when I have a perfectly good $400 pair of Italian leather boots ?

5:09 p.m. on November 14, 2017 (EST)
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As a former Nordic (XC) patroller and racer I've used pole straps properly for decades - and with right and left hand strap arrangements as well.

OK Sonny, you're 20-something and full of pi$$ and vinegar. And you think "WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' POLES!"

BUT... at 45 your knees may wish you did use them since your twenties.

Eric B.

5:15 a.m. on November 15, 2017 (EST)
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Franco said:

"Why are there repeat Fiat, Land Rover and Jaguar car owners, each brand notorious for being unreliable"

That is a false analogy because this thread is about how useful or not poles are not what brand one should use.

My point was that if indeed poles are useless or detrimental for most, why do they keep using them and don't just leave them at home ?


Anyway,  explain to me why (for one) I used trekking poles on solo trips into areas where most likely I was not going to meet anyone else and having a tent that did not need a trekking pole to stand up ?

 

I think you missed my point with the car examples.  I was not addressing brand loyalty as such, rather I was addressing loyalty to our opinions in the face conflicting information.  These car buyers are sticking with their opinions about the cars regardless the facts do not support their position.  I referenced cars, but I could have used political and economic philosophy, lucky rabbit's feet, or other opinions we also tend to get over invested in and stick to, regardless the claim we stake is  unsupported in our specific instances.  Read up on cognitive dissonance for an in depth description of what I am describing.

As for why you do certain things - I am making generalizations, which obviously will have exceptions.  But more to the point: I do not know what makes you tick, so I'll pass on any attempt to second guess your motives and thought processes. 

Ed

10:33 p.m. on November 16, 2017 (EST)
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What makes me tick ?

There is no need to guess, I have already explained the point.

I don't have to justify the cost of the poles to myself or anyone else.

Why would I bother if they did not work for me ?

I could put a very long list of outdoor gear that I have purchased (or borrowed) that has not worked for me or simply have found something else that works better. 

But no I don't carry any of it with me so that I can justify the cost or whatever....

For poles, I did change from one flick lock section to both because they work better for me with both.

Seems to me that you are unable to understand that for some poles do indeed work. 

11:03 a.m. on December 5, 2017 (EST)
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For the first 35 years of my backpacking career I was young and athletic and the thought of using treking poles never came up.  Now I am 67 with some bionic parts.  Poles help to unweight the joints and provide a lot of balance. They help me going uphill and downhill and stepping over obstacles and across rivers. 

People only get to attempt "to cross waist deep raging rivers" once. 

12:04 p.m. on December 5, 2017 (EST)
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Franco said:

...Seems to me that you are unable to understand that for some poles do indeed work. 

Apparently you did not notice in several prior posts where I stated I have and use trekking poles, when the venue calls for them.  Thus you observation is a wild misrepresentation of my point. 

My point is I see poles used where they have minimal to zero utility for most of us, like on well maintained, moderately graded trails.  It is not a whack POV: the OP of this thread obviously thought there may be credence to this opinion.  Others posting to this thread have stated they have greatly reduced their pole use, because they came to the same conclusion after reflecting on the experience.  I have an in law, who after 15 years of always hiking with his poles has decided to leave them at home on most hikes for this reason.  I am just saying there are probably lots of people like him who would do the same, if they stepped back and evaluated the activity.

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

As for me knowing how you tick based on TS forum posts; what I do know is you are not a simple minded person, that it would take chords of wood and many drams of whisky around a fire before I could begin to appreciate the fulsome character of Franco.  I am sure there is so much more to your persona, it would be incredibly arrogant for me to reduce you mindscape to what I can glean from prose posted herein - even in the context of a trekking pole bull session...   

Ed

 

3:04 p.m. on December 5, 2017 (EST)
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70 posts in a single topic from Sept 2017 to Dec 5, 2017

My avatar to the left has me carrying about 50 pounds in my Dana Terraplane hauling about 20 pounds in my sled.

Location Antarctica, destination Mt Vinson

Adjustable poles - everyone on team using poles

Ice ax on Terraplane

roped up - there are crevasses on the glacier

photo Dec 19, 2006

Summit is 16,000 ft nominal, barometric altimeter reading 19,000 ft (air pressure in polar regions is lower for given altitude measured above "sea level")


DSC00129.jpg

8:40 a.m. on December 6, 2017 (EST)
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I was making a point of staying away from this thread for obvious reasons, but since this is where all the people talking about hiking poles are hanging out I'll just leave this review link here

Komperdell Contour Titanal Power Lock

Not perfect, but a nice balance between weight and strength. Seem to be on closeout regularly so can be had for decent price until the next version comes along.

9:59 a.m. on December 6, 2017 (EST)
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Nice post by Bill.  You needed all the help you could get. 

8:22 p.m. on December 7, 2017 (EST)
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About the funniest comment I have seen on this was at White Blaze where someone posted that he does snowshoeing and he has never seen anyone using poles for that.

The funny bit is that I have never seen anyone snowshoeing without poles....


Snowshoeing.jpg

1:24 p.m. on December 9, 2017 (EST)
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Franco said:

About the funniest comment I have seen on this was at White Blaze where someone posted that he does snowshoeing and he has never seen anyone using poles for that.

The funny bit is that I have never seen anyone snowshoeing without poles....


Snowshoeing.jpg

Poles make doing most anything in the snow easier and safer.

Ed

3:19 p.m. on December 9, 2017 (EST)
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I always have poles with me when snowshoeing, but since my knee has regained most if not all its strength I generally only use them on steep sections and to check for wells in deep powder. They really are a necessity for maintaining balance and giving yourself a firm foundation when you’re on a steep section and have to kick 2 or 3 times to make a step that will handle your weight. Doing it while balancing on the other leg is almost impossible. They’ve come in handy for extricating my leg from underneath large branches in voids when I break through the snow above it, too. Late in the season the snow often melts from the ground up as water starts flowing underneath it.  

2:13 p.m. on December 10, 2017 (EST)
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I use them for varying reasons...AS I was pointing out this is kinda in the camp of what the best backpack or sleeping bag etc...NO real science to disprove anything.Its a personal preference and opinion...AS long as people don't lecture on not using them or using them.What"s the harm in people having them and seeing improvements in their hiking...Its a tool to help...

5:44 p.m. on December 11, 2017 (EST)
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I never used to carry them, until I started snowshoeing a couple years ago. Once the snow went away I tried carrying those pole with me but realized for hiking I didn't need them often and they were not compact enough for me to carry in or on my pack, normally my old Camelbak Rim Runner. Until I found a decent pair of inexpensive collapsible poles from a company called Paria Outdoors. I can easily break them down and stow them in the side pouch since they break down to about 15", and they are light enough I don't even notice them. When I do feel I need them for rough terrain or to support my hammock tarp I always have them at hand. I think it all comes down to preference, use what you like. There's really not a right or wrong answer.  

7:46 p.m. on December 12, 2017 (EST)
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I must disagree with the video on trekking poles. The guy said to "remove the caps" from the pole tips so the carbide tips could "grip better". 

For me I actually purchase rubber caps for my poles to get a better "grip"on rocks and most other terrain. 

I use the carbide tips only in snow when I have ski baskets on the poles. 

Eric B.

5:35 p.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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I spotted this photo on Face Book on a site from back home . (Italian Alps)

Made me realise that even old people are affected by advertising :


trekking-poles.jpg

9:32 a.m. on January 10, 2018 (EST)
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Look at all the pine boughs on her pack. People will do anything to hide their off-brand backpacks. :)

5:39 p.m. on January 16, 2018 (EST)
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My 2 cents....

1. My knees were shot with arthritis. I didn't think I would ever backpack again. My physical therapist told me using trekking poles properly would transfer 20% of my weight to my arms. Poles (as well as a whole lot of strength training and stretching) got me back on the trail. 

2. Hike your own hike. Use poles. Don't use poles. Why argue about it?

10:50 a.m. on January 25, 2018 (EST)
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i did not realize trekking poles still get sold with rubber tips. i never use them, and i don't think my most recent pole purchase, a couple of years back, came with rubber tips (black diamond). i had one pair years ago with rubber tips, and the sharp carbide tips punched a hole in the rubber pretty quickly. 

haven't yet found a pair of trekking poles that can double as nordic ski poles. they don't extend long enough.  

12:13 p.m. on January 25, 2018 (EST)
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If you walk along the trail tapping the ground with them, you're not using them.

If you walk while holding them at an angle, propelling yourself and taking a few pounds off your legs/joints as you do so, adjust your grip as you go up/down hills (perhaps even lengthening/shortening by inching your grip up or down the handle), use them to set up your tent or tarp, fend off dogs/snakes/random spiders dangling/brush with them, have a way of attaching your camera to get selfie shots or pics off the edge of precarious places.... cross streams (or just test the depth with them), catch yourself as you nearly face plant/tip off the trail because you're a bit balance challenged/your buddy accidentally bumped you... if you have poles for a decade and all of this is true, and you lack the need for medical attention as a result... if you blow your knee and your doctor orders you to use poles because you insist on hiking anyway... you're using them.

Need them? Probably not. Benefit from them? That depends on you, entirely, and how you use them.

8:30 p.m. on February 5, 2018 (EST)
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Lori Pontious said:

If you walk along the trail tapping the ground with them, you're not using them.

 I had to call my partner‘s attention to this on our Saturday hike, the entire trail from trailhead to summit was ice with a light snow cover in most places and it seemed his poles slipped more often than not. Good thing I was 6-8 feet behind otherwise I would have been skewered a few times. What I ended up saying was something like ”Jenn already wants me to die out here for taking you away from her after 3 months of enforced inactivity, if you slip and break something because you’re not planting your poles securely she won’t leave my demise to random chance.” He was using my MSR Flight 2s, not some cheap junk, so there was no reason for those tips not to be penetrating the ice with every step and not moving when weight was put on them. 

3:08 p.m. on April 5, 2018 (EDT)
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People who do not use hiking pole straps properly think they are there only to keep the poles from "falling out of your hand". 

In reality hiking pole straps are, used properly, a great help in pushing on instead of (used improperly) being forced to desperately grip the pole handles and tiring your hand and forearm muscles. 

Of course there are several lightweight tents that rely on two hiking poles to support them, eliminating the need to carry the weight of tent poles. 

So, Ian W., hiking poles have many important uses that "far outweigh their weight". (Lordy, I love to quote myself!)

The weight saved by not using hiking poles is not worth the pain that mode causes.

And that wisdom applies equally to using frameless packs to save weight.

Eric B., an elder of the tribe

May 23, 2019
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