May 20, 2019
THE SHAKEDOWN – 13: TREKKING POLES
QUADRUPEDALISM: IS GOING BACKWARDS GOING FORWARDS?
One of the easiest ways to reveal where your pack and accessory weight is vs. your center of gravity is by hiking without trekking poles. On uneven ascents or descents, relying on balance alone – especially over extended mileage – can put unforeseen demands on muscles that can compound into real, sometimes debilitating pain over time. Trekking poles can give your moving mass stability, distribute joint stress, and give other muscles a chance to pitch into your momentum efforts. So, is the case for using them a slam dunk? Not necessarily. We’ll let everyone share their points.
MIKE ST. PIERRE
HYPERLITE MOUNTAIN GEAR // CO-FOUNDER + CEO
In my opinion, poles are a necessity–not an option. I started out using twist lock poles, and they can be an excellent option. However, I found I constantly had to take them apart to clean them and finagle the locking mechanism to get them to work again. As a result, I now use flip-lock carbon fiber poles because I’ve found them to be more stable over time. Flip locks are slightly heavier, but considering I break a couple of poles every year from hitting the trails hard, I try to find a balance of durability and weight.
The materials your poles are made out of is the next major consideration. Recent advancements have made carbon fiber trekking poles the obvious choice for adventurers with funds to spare. They’re ultralight and will dampen vibration while you’re on the trail which translates to less fatigue over the course of thousands of pole strikes throughout the day. The next lightest option will be aluminum. It’s a great option, but actually enhances vibration, which can lead to buzzy-feeling “power tool” hands.
When sizing your poles, you want to keep your arm parallel to the ground as a general goal. But also consider that if there are lots of roots and rocks, you’ll be picking your pole way up over and over again to clear those items. So, in that terrain, I keep my pole slightly shorter, so I don’t have to lift the pole up so much and tire my arm out.
Even though I bring two poles on almost every backpacking trip I embark on, though I only actually use one while hiking (more on that later). I typically use just one pole because I find it’s easier to switch hands when terrain is technical, and I noticed over the years that I (and others) tended to rely too much on two poles when tired or descending steeper terrain. I found I was tensing my body and trying to hold back from the gravity carrying me downhill. In turn, this stressed out my back, neck, and shoulders. I felt I was contracting my muscles and tiring myself out faster. I solved this problem by switching to one pole.
In keeping with Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s philosophy that less gear equals more adventure, I always consider the possible duel purposes of every item I bring. Trekking poles are one of the most versatile tools we can use in the outdoors. You can use them as splints and also to set up your shelter.
Setting up an ultralight tarp or pyramid tent without two poles takes significantly longer without them. You’ll spend time looking for a big stick to use as a center pole or just the right tree to suspend it. Save yourself the labor and time it takes to look for rocks and sticks by using poles. Bind them together with lash straps, shoelaces, or a bandana to set up your UltaMid, or use single poles for the various ways you set up your tarp.
“Trekking poles are the difference between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive when you’re on the trail.” // Max Neale
The best thing about poles is that they don’t just save your knees. In fact, they can save your life. They make passage over treacherous, rocky, root-covered or unstable terrain easier. They also allow you to balance better when fording a river or walking across wet logs. I shorten them significantly when I climb steep terrain, using them much like a mountaineer might use an ice axe. I’ll stab it into scree or even snow above me to keep from slipping downslope.
Trekking poles make traveling the distance so much easier on the joints especially while backpacking. My Leki Carbon Ti’s (7.6 oz per pole) have come on all my backpacking adventures and work for almost a year now. They’re light without compromising durability.
NICK "CLICK" REICHARD
THRU HIKER // PHOTOGRAPHER // @NICHOLASREICHARD
I love using the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles, but have recently been using poles less and less. I still believe for some trails, poles can be very useful as long as they aren’t depended on too much.
LIZ "HANDSTAND" KIDDER
THRU HIKER // WORLD TRAVELER // @LIZKIDDER
Personally, one of the best pieces of advice that I got when it came to trekking poles: If you are using them, and not carrying them, then the weight doesn’t really matter. You are putting your weight on THEM, so lightweight doesn’t necessarily mean “better.” Durability and functionality are more important. I started off with Black Diamond Trailback trekking poles and they were great. They didn’t break, however, at some point about half-way through my thru hike, the bottom piece fell out on one of them and I didn’t notice until later, so I never found it. I think I could’ve ordered the piece and had it mailed to me, but I just wanted to grab a pair as soon as possible. I got a new pair in Harper’s Ferry the next day. The outfitter only had one option- a pair from Komperdell. Those worked great for the rest of my hike, no complaints! I feel that trekking poles are essential for a thru hike. It allows you to utilize more of your body on the uphills, takes pressure off of your knees and joints on the steep downhills (especially in the Whites), and they dual as tent poles for many tarp-style ultralight tents. And they could also be used for protection/self-defense if it came to that!
EDDIE "OILCAN" BOYD
THRU HIKER // TRIPLE CROWNER // @OC_BOYD
I have used many different types of trekking poles, but in the end, they all break no matter the price tag. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy the expensive ones because they do feel nice in the hand and certainly last a bit longer, but it’s just something to keep in mind. Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork and Helinox Passport TL trekking poles are my two favorites.
TYLER "WATER BOY" COSGROVE
THRU HIKER // PHOTOGRAPHER // @TYLERCOSGROVE92
People either love them or hate them. I personally love them. They’ve kept me from falling on my face countless times, and when you use them as your tent poles, you’re shedding your base weight. I’ve tried a few brands, but mainly what I look for is a good strength to weight ratio. I’ve seen really ultra-lightweight poles go out of commission more than I have some of those made with more time-tested conventional materials. I wouldn’t recommend getting the lightest ones you can find, especially if you rely on them as part of your shelter. However, the Black Diamond Carbon Cork poles I own have lasted me the last two hiking seasons now, and I would highly recommend them.