A Clothing Layer Guide for Every Outdoor Activity
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Trekking Poles: How useful can they be?
If you've been on a hike recently, you probably noticed some of your fellow hikers trekking along with what looks like ski poles in their hands. The first time I passed a fellow hiker on the trail in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, I commented to my wife how silly it looked
"Why would you need to carry along two poles on a hike. It seems like they would only get in the way. How silly!" I said. Over time, I began seeing more and more hikers and backpackers carrying those useless poles. On rocky hikes, I could hear them coming down the trail before I could even see them. Well, that was one piece of gear that I was sure I would never purchase.

That same winter, I was getting ready for a snowshoeing trip and I purchased 2 sets of telescoping poles made by MSR for my wife and I. I used them a few times for snowshoeing that winter and then put them away. When spring came, my wife and I geared up for the first hike of the season. I had just purchased some ankle gaiters to keep the dust and debris out of my shoes and I was excited to test them out. As I was digging through the rest of my gear I saw the poles and thought, "why not just take them along and see what all the fuss is about." So I tossed them into the back of the car and off we went. At the trailhead, I handed my wife a pair of poles which she blatantly refused. Off we went. I must admit that I felt a little funny hiking along a the flat part of the trail swinging those poles along. They weren't helping me at all. Things changed when we hit a sudden slope. The kind that make your legs swell with blood and burn by the time you reach the top. Now, I am in better shape than my wife, but I made it to the top without even slowing down. She had to stop for a breather before reaching the top. Somewhat convinced of their effectiveness, she took the poles from me on the next hill to give them a try. I didn't get the poles back after that. Needless to say, after just one hike with trekking poles, we were sold on trekking poles. I later bought some Lekisport Absorbers that have a nice cork grip and a built in shock absorber that both dampens the blow of planting the pole and quiets some of the noise that most trekking poles make.

So, let's look at all of the benefits of hiking with trekking poles. First of all, as I mentioned earlier, you can hike up hills much easier. They help you do this by allowing you to use your arms as another set of legs to thrust you up the hill. Your posture also benefits from trekking poles as you are more inclined to hike standing up straighter rather than bending forward. This ability to use your arms to hike being able stand more upright puts less stress on the legs and, more notably, the knees each time you hike uphill leaving your legs with more energy to hike greater distances without feeling fatigued. While this may seem like the single greatest advantage from using trekking poles, the next benefit can be a real life saver.

Have you ever been hiking along and stepped on a rock, only to have the rock move causing you to sprain your ankle? Spraining your ankle is like getting a flat tire on your car and not having a spare. You can't just "shake it off" and keep going. If the injury is bad enough, you may require emergency help to get you off the trail. Ankle sprains and fractures as well as knee strains are some of the most common injuries related to hiking and backpacking. More ankle and knee injuries occur during backpacking due to the extra displaced weight being carried. Trekking poles, when used properly, can almost completely alleviate the menace of ankle and knee injuries. With a pole planted firmly on the ground, if you do happen to slip or roll on a rock, you can shift the support of your weight to your arms to prevent a potentially dangerous injury.

Now that we've discussed the major reasons to use trekking poles, let's talk about some of the little bonuses that you can also enjoy. Have you ever crossed a creek, balancing on rocks or a log as you go? How easy is it to loose your balance and slip in? With trekking poles, you are sure to keep your balance the whole way. Have you ever had some sort of varmint come after you? Trekking Poles can become your first line of defense against these critters. I personally haven't experienced this bonus, but I feel a little more secure having something in my hand to swat at an unwanted guest rather than just my hand. Now, I'm sure that with a little more thought, we could come up with a larger list of additional uses for trekking poles. But we'll pretty much end with one last area of use. In the last few years, there have been many advancements in hiking and backpacking products to make them lighter, thus allowing hikers and backpackers to lighten their overall load. A lighter load means less aches and pains when all is said and done. A lighter load on your back can allow you to wear lighter shoes that do not have as much ankle support. I personally wear some low top nikes that weigh ounces instead of pounds. The use of trekking poles pretty much assures me that I won't sprain an ankle. Wearing lightweight shoes to hike in is like taking five or more pounds off your back. Here again, you will be able to hike farther with less stress on your body. There are also several companies that make tents to utilize your trekking poles as tent poles. As a result, instead of carrying a 5-10lb tent, you can carry a sil-nylon tent that only weights a few ounces and your trekking poles double as your tent poles. This lightens load significantly.

Are you convinced now? If not, just go to this hiking and backpacking forum on Backpacker.com and type in trekking poles. You'll find countless testimonies from experienced hikers and backpackers on how much they love their trekking poles. So do your legs and ankles a favor and get some trekking poles for your next hike or backpacking trip. If you are still unsure or just don't want to invest a lot of money in some yet, visit a local thrift store. Many thrift stores like salvation army or goodwill carry old ski poles that you can buy for just a few bucks and use them for a test run. Your knees and ankles really will thank you.
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