Backpacking

The Case for Trekking Poles as the 11th Essential

March 22, 2018

More than anything else, hikers associate trekking poles as a piece of gear that provides stability. Hiking on uneven, rocky or wet terrain is tricky. Trekking poles or hiking staffs provide additional points of contact on the surface as you move. Trekking poles greatly reduce the strain on your hips, knees, ankles and feet, especially if you’re wearing a weighted backpack. There are several types of trekking poles, and their uses go beyond stability. Let’s take a look at why you should consider trekking poles right alongside your 10 Essentials.

Types of trekking poles

Typically, modern trekking poles are sold in pairs, and each pole is adjustable in length. Each pole also has a grip at the top and a carbide tip at the bottom. The shafts, made of either aluminum or a composite material, often have multiple segments that allow adjustability. Hiking staffs, on the other hand, are a single pole, adjustable like a trekking pole or just a piece of hardwood trimmed to a suitable length. Some staffs have a camera mount hidden in the grip.

Trekking poles are used in tandem. As you walk and your arms swing alternate of your feet, the trekking poles provide balance and can take some strain off muscles and joints going uphill and down. As a general guideline, on flat ground, set the length of the trekking pole so that when your arm is bent at a 90-degree angle your forearm is parallel to the ground. When going uphill for extended periods of time, shorten the pole length a few inches so you are not greatly altering your arm motion. When going downhill, extend the pole length a few inches so you can touch ground first, then ease your weight onto your knees and feet.

Features on trekking poles

Locking mechanisms. Trekking poles that come in segments require a locking mechanism to hold them in place once you set the length. Some poles use a “twist lock.” You spin one segment inside another, left to tighten and right to loosen. Costing slightly more, poles with a lever clamp design are quicker to adjust and break less frequently. A thumbscrew helps with the tightening adjustment. Still other poles use a combination of level clamps and a popup lock that holds a segment in place.

Antishock devices. Some manufacturers try to reduce vibration in the poles with spring-loaded tips, or rubber “dampeners.” The spring-loaded tips may give about an inch, acting like a sort of shock absorber. Dampeners are little rubber shock absorbers located near the tips. They don’t give as much, but some manufacturers claim the Dynamic Suspension System reduces the amount of vibration by as much as 40 percent.

Grips. Most grips are either a hard or soft rubber, a firm foam or cork. Over time, the cork grips mold to the shape of the hiker’s hand. Though most trekking poles are considered unisex, the ladies models from some manufacturers will have grips with a slightly smaller circumference to fit their hands better.

Tips. When traveling on soft trails, rocks and roots, most hikers will use the carbide tip for improved traction. When using trekking poles on concrete, sidewalks or streets, most hikers will put a rubber cap over the carbide tip to reduce vibration and wear.

Other uses for trekking poles

Aside from assisting with your load as you walk, trekking poles come in handy for other reasons on the trail. They are particularly helpful at keeping your balance when crossing streams or rivers, when you can’t see your feet or the bottom.

Again, some grips or knobs on a trekking pole or hiking staff can be removed to reveal a mount for a camera. So poles can serve as a monopod to steady your shot.

Many hammock campers use trekking poles as part of their tarp configurations.

There are ultralight tents on the market that don’t come with traditional tent poles. The tent is designed to use the hiker’s trekking poles to hold up the tent body or rainfly.

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