Hiking Poles

Twenty years ago it was rare to see anyone on the trail with a walking stick; today it’s rare to see anyone on the trail without at least one high-tech hiking pole! Love them or hate them,  I really think that hiking poles (also called walking or trekking poles) are here to stay.

Hiking poles are a boon in slippery conditions. (Photo: M.Kopp)

What Makes Up a Good Pole ?
Personal preferences differ, but good poles should: be lightweight (aluminum); have a comfortable, shaped grip that fits nicely in your hand; have adjustable wrist straps; include summer/winter interchangeable baskets; and have tough tips that will stand up to rocky terrain.  Other luxury options include cork grips (great grip even when your hands start to sweat) and spring-loaded anti-shock systems (easier on wrists).

Are Collapsible Poles Better?
Again, it’s up to the individual, but I’d never invest in a pair of poles that weren’t collapsible – mainly for storage when not being used.  Collapsible poles tuck nicely in the side of a pack for easier trail sections and take up less space in the gear room.  These poles also adjust for trails that skirt the side of a hill – allowing you to have the downhill side a little longer and the uphill side a little shorter.  They also can be made taller for stream crossings when you’re balancing on logs or rocks.

When Should You Use Poles?
Hiking poles provide stability and help distribute weight.  These are the two main reasons for investing in a set.  There are devotees who use their poles everywhere (check out Nordic hiking as the “new” walking sport), but I use my pole on the entire trail only when I’m backpacking and for only steep hills and rugged ground if I’m day-hiking. 

One or Two?
Up to you!  I have a single pole and love it, but I don’t feel the need for two poles at the moment.  I like the option of having a free hand.  Two poles do provide extra balance and are supposed to provide more relief for knees and ankles, but again, it’s a matter of personal choice. 

It does take more coordination to get used to handling two poles and, to be truthful, I’ve run into more than one two-pole trail hogs. Consider what you want, practice and then get out there and enjoy the backcountry – one pole or two!

Any tips on poles to buy, how to use them correctly, anecdotes of hiking with/without poles to share?

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