Trekking poles, or their ancestors, have been around for as long as there have been people walking on two feet. From simple sticks used for support and balance, to graphite poles that telescope in and out and have internal springs, the concept is a relatively simple one…
A third (or even fourth) point of contact with the ground provides much more stability than two. Many American hikers and backpackers are primarily aware of the old walking stick. This was usually a small-diameter downed branch picked up along the trail or a more ornate wooden stick that was picked up at the local store. They provided an extra point of stability but at a significant cost. They added significant weight. They could often slip on rocky or wet surfaces. And, if a downed branch was used, there was significant risk of splinters or even a fall should the branch be less sturdy than you thought. For the serious hiker, these poles added little and were often felt to be more of a hindrance than a help. Times have changed…
For the last thirty or forty years, Europeans have been dramatically advancing the technology of this seemingly simple tool. Many hikers will now even use two trekking poles for a fourth point of support. With the advancements in technology, this adds very little weight, even with two poles. But besides the points of stability, what’s the big deal? With the new internal springs, the difference is dramatic. While going uphill on a hike, being able to use the poles allows you to use your upper body to help propel you up the hill. With the internal springs, you can almost bounce your way up and over large trail obstacles. This allows you to save your legs and more evenly distribute the load, especially when carrying a heavy pack. On the way back down, you can drastically reduce the amount of stress on your knees and your quadriceps tendons. Over the course of a long hike (an Appalachian section or thru-hike, for example), your knees and legs take a beating. Using your upper body through the use of the trekking poles to distribute your weight and pack load, can allow you to have a much more enjoyable hike and much less chance of a hike ending injury. A study done by Northumbria University in 2010 showed a significant difference between the CPK levels in hikers who did and did not use trekking poles. CPK (creatinine phosphokinase) is a breakdown product of muscle tissue in the bloodstream. An elevated level, as seen in the hikers without trekking poles, suggests increased muscle breakdown. The lower levels seen in the hikers with trekking poles shows that they are fatiguing and injuring their muscles far less. This lack of damage and fatigue could make the difference in finishing that “hike of a lifetime” and in making it safely to the next one.
I have found the Leki poles to be the best for me. They combine durability along with affordability and most importantly dependability. Over the course of several years and many hikes, they have never failed me. No slipping on rocks, no falls and no injuries. I am certain they have saved me several times from serious injury. Check them out at the link below.
3 Comments Add yours
One of the more important additions to my gear!
I agree about these being an important addition to gear. This was emphasized to me this past weekend on a short trek on a nearby trail. As my wife and I made our way back down the trail, she tripped over a concealed rock. If not for her trekking poles, she would likely have hit her head on one of several large (and sharp) rocks on the trail. The small price of these poles has proven worth it over and over in such scenarios. While prepared for such a trail accident with sutures, etc., it is always best not to have to use such skills, if possible.
I really like it when folks come together and share ideas. Great website, keep it up!