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#73715 - 05/12/07 05:58 PM Hiking poles.
Pika Online   content

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1754
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
I just finished a five day trip in the Grand Canyon. I started out by going down the Bright Angel Trail from Grand Canyon Village to the Tonto Trail; this is a heavily used trail and so I had an opportunity to observe a lot of backpackers going both up and down and along some of the trails I traversed in the Canyon.

One thing in particular that I noticed was the manner of use of treking poles by most of the hikers. If I had to guess, I would estimate that fewer than one of ten actually were using their poles. Most of the hikers I watched sort of walked along with a slightly choppy stride, arms held out in front and kind of tapping the ground in front of them with the pole tips as if using them to feel their way along the way the unsighted use their canes. It seemed to me that, used this way, the poles actually interfered with their natural stride ... there was no real arm swing or definite stride with a lot of these people and certainly no use of the pole to propel. In fact, I saw one young woman trip over one of her planted poles and darn near went on her face. It actually seemed that most would have been better served by leaving one or both of their poles at home.

From the look of the packs these folks were generally carrying (huge) and the looks on a lot of faces (pained) they were not real experienced hikers. I wonder how many of them went to a gear store and just said "give me what I need to do the Canyon". I suspect a lot of them did and as part of the package were sold a set of high-profit poles that they did not know how to use. Are members of the backpacking community really being well served by salespeople in outdoor stores selling stuff this way? Have any others noticed this or is it just me day-dreaming?

I don't use poles myself; I do use a staff but only use it on up- and down-grades and when crossing streams; the rest of the time I just carry it as though it was a cased fishing pole. So, not being a pole user myself, I may not be well qualified to judge the skill with which they are being used. This is just an observation; I know that a lot of experienced treking pole users swear by them. Should shops that sell them give lessons in their use? What's your take on this?
May I walk in beauty.

#73716 - 05/12/07 06:18 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Pika]
aimless Offline

Registered: 02/05/03
Posts: 2940
Loc: Portland, OR
Are members of the backpacking community really being well served by salespeople in outdoor stores selling stuff this way?

I am certain that such a question would never cross the minds of those particular salespeople. It takes a sort of miraculous restraint to sell a minimum of stuff to people who come in asking for "the works". But couldn't the salesperson at least show them some proper poling technique before they leave the store? It isn't like people are born knowing all they need to know. Someone has to show them.

#73717 - 05/12/07 06:45 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: aimless]
kbennett Offline

Registered: 10/27/03
Posts: 820
Loc: north carolina
Are members of the backpacking community really being well served by salespeople in outdoor stores selling stuff this way?

It's hardly fair to single out the backpacking industry. Walk into Best Buy and tell the salesperson you'd like a nice HD home theatre system, or walk into a car dealership and ask for "something sporty." You'll be loaded up with high-margin products of debatable quality and utility -- um, just like going into REI and asking for "everything I need to go backpacking."

So, the answer to your question is an obvious "No." Not sure there's any solution, really. Given the advertising budgets of the major gear manufacturers, and the prevalence of their products in Backpacker Magazine reviews, I seriously doubt that any newbie would feel well served by a salesperson who pointed out the ultralight cottage-industry gear popular in this forum (or suggested making a stove or a tarp or what-have-you). From the perspective of a newbie, bombproof gear seems preferable to lightweight gear.

As for the poles, I find them very helpful at my age. It did take me some time and effort to learn to use them properly. I suspect that the average salesperson does, if asked, attempt to tell the customers how to use them. But it takes some practice and thought while on the trail. (I also notice that my technique starts to slip when I get really tired -- maybe that explains the GC hikers you saw?)
--Ken B

#73718 - 05/12/07 07:59 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: kbennett]
haikublue Offline

Registered: 04/29/07
Posts: 205
Loc: Berkeley, California
Hiking poles really help me too. Particularly on the decents (sp?) I have bad knees. They shouldn't be stabilizers for heavy packs. They do take some practice to get used to. I don't backpack without them. But I rarely day hike with them.

#73719 - 05/12/07 09:59 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Pika]
Bearpaw Offline

Registered: 07/25/04
Posts: 1732
Loc: Tennessee
I use poles religiously and recommend them for hikers who express a concern for previous issues with lower extremities and the knees in particular. If I am working with a customer, I ensure they walk away knowing how to place the hands through the wrist straps and thus hold the pole so they use an absolute minimum of forearm strength. I also discuss basic technique with them. ]

However, this is for those customers I can specifically spend some time with in our pole section. I typically spend a shift in camping fitting folks for packs, showing them how to set up their tent, prime their stove, clean a water filter, stuff a sleeping bag into its compression sack, or pulling watches/heart-rate monitors/GPS/knives/ sunglasses/binoculars out of the optics case. How often do I get to coach a potential customer in using poles? Not often enough.

Try to sell folks truly lightweight gear at my store. A frightening number balk at lightweight gear because Backpacker Magazine has extolled the virtues of bomber gear for so long to go with the SUV's they advertise. To be fair, Backpacker has shown some signs of lightening up a bit in the last couple of years, but the mindset still exists: if you pay enough for gear - you won't have to work or worry in the backcountry. Your GPS will show you where to go, your Jetboil will make cooking instant and easy, your somewhat heavier freestanding tent will practically erect itself, merely possessing trekking poles will make you a mountain goat and so on and so on and so on.

Or you could actually study up, make contact with friends or an experienced group or maybe even take a course in backpacking. There you could learn some real skills, and go smarter, lighter, and safer without relying on a mountain of gear or a college student being paid $6 an hour that most customers won't listen to any way because they know every thing from reading Backpacker magazine. But this approach takes a great deal of effort, and backpacking isn't really about effort, is it?

My take would be to ask the folks with poor technique if they'd ever asked about how to use their poles. I'd wager a dime to a dollar that it never crossed their minds until they actually got out on the trail. I always make an effort to educate my customers in how light they can really go and be safe and comfortable. When I run into the the "traditional" heavyweight objections, I sell them what they've made up their mind about already and let them trod on in pigheaded ignorance.

#73720 - 05/12/07 10:21 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Pika]
billk Offline

Registered: 08/20/03
Posts: 1196
Loc: Portland, Oregon
It seemed to me that, used this way, the poles actually interfered with their natural stride ... there was no real arm swing or definite stride with a lot of these people and certainly no use of the pole to propel.

I have a love-hate relationship with my poles. I don't like using them, but the benefits outweigh the inconvenience. I don't think the idea is to "propel," but rather to take some weight off the feet, knees, and legs. I find it most comfortable to use them at half the speed of my legs, that is, one left-right cycle of arms for every two leg-cycles. It's less awkward than it sounds. In fact, I just sort of naturally fell into it. On steep uphills, it's one-to-one, and on steep, rough descents it's a bit haphazard, as there's really no regular stride then anyway.

The wrist straps are absolutely essential. For years I carried, off and on, a Fletcher-esque bamboo staff which was basically useless except for crossing streams. The wrist straps on poles allow you to apply some downward pressure (taking pressure off your feet) without tightly gripping the pole.

When I bought mine, a fairly knowledgeable REI employee showed me how to use the wrist straps. He's been working there many years, though. It's probably not realistic to expect all the employees (in any store) to be knowledgeable about the products.

#73721 - 05/12/07 11:51 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: haikublue]
frenchie Offline

Registered: 10/05/05
Posts: 461
Loc: Lyon, France
Strangely, I feel much more comfortable with poles when I have a "large" (mulitidays) pack on my back, than on a day hike...It seems the poles keep the shoulders active also, less tired at the end of the day. And the "one swing of arms-two swings of legs" is the good rythm for me, too. I like this feeling of my whole body moving along, not only legs and back, very similar to cross-country skiing, but that's plain "nordic walk" technique!

#73722 - 05/13/07 10:48 AM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Pika]
Trailrunner Offline

Registered: 01/05/02
Posts: 1835
Loc: Los Angeles

Are members of the backpacking community really being well served by salespeople in outdoor stores selling stuff this way? Have any others noticed this or is it just me day-dreaming?

I would venture to say that many of the people selling those poles don't know how to use them either.

IMO learning to use poles is not like learning how to swim or how to ski. A 10 minute lesson and a little practice should suffice. With some people it's instinctive. Leki has this on their website. Should be all most folks need.

As with any other consumer product whether it be a blender or a parachute, proper use and care is the responsibility of the buyer. Unfortunately lots of people don't take the time to get to know their gear. I've been on trips with folks who fired up their new stoves or set up their new tents for the first time.

Personally I'm not going to lose too much sleep over other people not using their equipment properly unless they're a danger to themselves or others. Occasionally if I see someone really suffering from something easily corrected I'll make a subtle suggestion but that's about it.

#73723 - 05/13/07 11:16 AM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Trailrunner]
Pika Online   content

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1754
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
Yeah, I'm not loosing much sleep over this either. It was just something I noticed while on the trail.
May I walk in beauty.

#73724 - 05/13/07 01:38 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Pika]
OregonMouse Offline

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6490
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
First, hiking poles: I started using them about 1 1/2 years ago and don't know how I ever got along without them! They have saved me from several falls, at least one of which would have been serious. They are really great for fording creeks. They really save my knees (one of which hasn't been 100% since reconstructive surgery after an X-C skiing accident 19 years ago) on the downhill. And using them for my daily walks around home (with rubber tips over the points) turns exercise walking into a whole-body exercise. Here is an excellent site on how to use them (thanks to somebody who posted it on this forum back when I first got my poles). My one caveat is that after a year of use I decided that I don't need the anti-shock feature. It is a bit noisy and certainly adds to the cost of the poles. For someone with arm/shoulder joint problems, though, the anti-shock feature is probably a good idea.

Don't get me started on gear stores, espcially REI, or on Backpacker Magazine! I'm liable to run on for pages and may use some vocabulary not suitable for this forum! I just want to say that my history with REI is that I inevitably get stuck with green teenage clerks who don't know anything. I know there are some experienced clerks around, but I suspect that there is a conspiracy that when an elderly lady walks in they assign the greenest clerk. So what if she may be the next Grandma Gatewood! Anytime I've bought something was recommended by Backpacker Magazine, I've been sorry afterwards.

Any time I encounter beginning backpackers, I refer them to this site, particularly to the articles on the home page!

#73725 - 05/14/07 09:05 AM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: OregonMouse]
wandering_daisy Offline

Registered: 01/11/06
Posts: 2794
Loc: California
I share your opinion of REI and Backpacker. A few REI employees have been quite good though. REI has become the K-Mart of backpacking and stocks what sells, not what is best. Also, because of their policy of accepting returns, they have quit carrying a lot of the light weight gear because they got too many returns when the items wore out due to misuse. My problem with gear reviews is that one person (usually a big young fellow) is sent out on one trip with an new item and knows that it is his "job" to come back with something good to say about it. I am small, older and female and usually have needs in equipment that are 180 degrees from the reviewer's needs. Hence, his blatherings about how wonderful the equipment performs, is useless to me!

Now for hiking poles, I too have been a late-life convert. I love them! I resisted for years because I viewed them as more weight to carry. I finally started using them last year and realize that the advantages outweigh the weight (no pun intended!). My only complaint about my poles is that my hands just are not strong enough to adjust them in the field. I can never get them tight enough on my own. I would rather have poles that were custom fit for my height with no adjustment feature. It is annoying to have one pole collapse on you and not be able to fix it!

#73726 - 05/14/07 09:32 AM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: wandering_daisy]
OregonMouse Offline

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6490
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I haven't had any problems getting my poles (Leki) tight enough. And I'm one of those people that has trouble opening jar lids (if banging it on the counter doesn't work, I have to go beg help from a neighbor). Since I have a Tarptent which uses trekking pole support, I have to change the dimensions on at least one of my poles every night and morning. Have you checked out the flick-lock poles? I haven't tried them, but I've been told they're less liable to slip.

#73727 - 05/14/07 12:52 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Pika]
BarryP Offline

Registered: 03/04/04
Posts: 1574
Loc: Eastern Idaho
I only see two ways people will learn about poles:
1. Read extensively about all types of poles. And then try it.
2. Hike with someone who has used them for a while.

I have used these 2.6oz poles for the last 3 years. :
Like they tout, wrist straps are not needed. They are so light you won’t notice them. Your grip is enough. Because of these poles:
1. They naturally shock absorb.
2. Your hands will never swell while hiking (happens to me w/o poles)
3. It only takes a light grip to do full weight steps. This is good for the hand muscles.
4. You only need a loose grip (minimum) on the pole at all times. If you did this for a heavier pole (or staff) you would drop the pole!
5. Never worry about a pole collapse. I noticed my 3-section-pole partners set their height once and don’t touch it for the next several weeks. They hate messing with it. I tease them and tell them “you might as well get a fixed pole.” <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
6. I can use my 115cm pole on my Rainshadow AND on my GG Squall Classic (though at an angle).
7. You won’t get the “wrist strap yank” when a pole tip gets mysteriously stuck while you’re in walking stride (those are fun to watch <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />)

Having straps might be important on heavier poles but not light ones. Can you imagine our older friends having wrist straps on their canes?

Other bonuses of all poles/staffs:
1. You can go longer miles because now your upper body is helping with the distance; even on level terrain.
2. Your knee life is extended
3. falls are minimized
4. crossing streams are much easier
5. If you get a twisted ankle or swollen foot, the poles will help minimize weight there.
6. For the 1st hiker on the trail, they make good spider web cleaners <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
7. My daughter also uses them to keep the stray dogs at bay.
8. If I have to carry my partner’s packs (because of emergency-- which I‘ve done), I can put a pack on each forearm (i.e., carry an extra 2 packs). Combined with the trekking pole, I hardly feel their weight on my forearm as I move forward. But I’ve only done this a couple miles at a time.


#73728 - 05/14/07 02:51 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: OregonMouse]
CJC Offline

Registered: 04/16/04
Posts: 738
Loc: Southern Nevada
I have used them for the past 2 years and would not go back to the twisting till tight type of pole. My BD's have never slipped or come un-clamped. These are the new version of my BD's and seam to have a new idea on adjustable poles. I like them alot.

#73729 - 05/14/07 03:25 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Pika]
azcanyon Offline

Registered: 07/12/04
Posts: 264
Pika wrote
I wonder how many of them went to a gear store and just said "give me what I need to do the Canyon". I suspect a lot of them did and as part of the package were sold a set of high-profit poles that they did not know how to use. Are members of the backpacking community really being well served by salespeople in outdoor stores selling stuff this way?

I hear what you're saying, but as a general rule, I think it would be unfair to blame outdoor stores and salespeople for every act of idiocy you can witness daily on the main corridor trails of the Grand Canyon. We can blame them a little, I guess; there's plenty to spread around. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />

For what it's worth, some friends of mine went to Summit Hut (here in Tucson) before a GC trip last year. They were going to look into renting some trekking poles, but the staff insisted they could try out a used pair for no charge--just return them and if they wanted to buy a pair in the future the store could help with that. They also took the three minutes necessary to explain the basics of how to use the poles.


#73730 - 05/14/07 03:55 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: OregonMouse]
Bearpaw Offline

Registered: 07/25/04
Posts: 1732
Loc: Tennessee
I have never had a problem with my BD Contours every jamming up or slipping. I swear by the FlickLock.

I am also going to get a pair of the BD' new Spire Trekking Poles. I've not been able to break my Contours in over 700 miles of use (and I have broken every other trekking pole I have tried) , but the Spires look even sturdier for only one ounce more. I will try them out on the Tahoe Rim Trail and John Muir Trail this summer.

#73731 - 05/15/07 10:10 AM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Pika]
naturegirl Offline

Registered: 10/29/06
Posts: 83
Loc: Southern California
I almost always take my poles. I guess you can tell that from my avatar. They have saved me from quite a few spills and are great for the frequent stream-crossings I normally encounter on my hikes. Plus they come in handy for setting up a tarp if I don't bring my hammock.


#73732 - 05/20/07 07:18 PM Re: Hiking poles.quicken my pace [Re: Pika]
strongone Offline

Registered: 06/24/05
Posts: 166
Loc: North Carolina
I just love swinging along with my poles. They want to explore the trail ahead of me to make sure I don't stumble on the roots and rocks. They want to go swimming and look back at me saying IT'S OK THE WATERS FINE. When I set up my tarp they stand guard for the weather. They like to race ahead and dare me to keeep up, but if I leave them at home they seem to know and snicker at the stories of my tumbles.

#73733 - 05/24/07 12:32 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: naturegirl]

My wife and I are just getting into backpacking this year. Fortunately we are located in the northern rockies of Montana and have a plethora of options. One of the things we thought about purchasing was a mediocre set of hiking poles.

Now, we aren't people that just go out and buy stuff on a we spoke to some friends, did a lot of research online, and eventually came to the conclusion that we'll just wait and see how we feel after a few trips. Neither one of us have back issues or knee problems...but then again we've never carried a pack 5-10 miles in a day. Although some of our day hikes have been 15-20 miles in a day.

Anyway, one bit of info I found online was a video explaining how the poles should be used. I found it pretty helpful. It explains how to use the straps, how/when to adjust the length, and also the correct technique and form. Hopefully anyone looking into buying and using poles can find this video helpful too <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif" alt="" />


Note - you'll have to scroll down a bit, it's under the heading of "Backpacker's Gear School: Trekking Poles"

#73734 - 05/24/07 07:31 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: CJC]
oldranger Offline

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
You actually buy your poles? While I have a pair of adjustable Lekis, I also have my very first - a $2 replacement tool handle, drilled for a strap, and my very favorite - a branch with a naturally ergonomic handle, discarded by another hiker. I also prefer the sound of natural wood on rock, compared to that of a carbide tip. My most useful was a mop handle I found on a beach when I desperately needed one to deal with wet, slippery trails, having found out the hard way that my wrist had not recovered from a bicycle spill a week earlier.

I really appreciate hiking poles during stream crossings, and that is an occasion where the commercial products shine - their thinner shafts offer less resistance to fast water. So you really need several poles, but they don't have to be expensive.

#73735 - 06/05/07 06:04 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Pika]

Good Points:

I had to have the technique explained to me at the store. It took a few days until I had it down without thinking. I use the all the time, I hike alone so safety is a key for me, the poles give me some peace of mind,



#73736 - 07/01/07 06:12 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Pika]
hootyhoo Offline

Registered: 12/14/06
Posts: 686
Loc: Cyberspace
It may require some time to adjust ot having a pole or two in your hands...especially for those that are feeling the weight of an overloaded pack for the first time.
And keep an eye on ebay-it sounds like there might be some gear for sale as soon as they get back out of the canyon.

#73737 - 07/18/07 11:08 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: frenchie]
MattnID Offline

Registered: 06/02/07
Posts: 317
Loc: Idaho
I don't really use my poles unless I'm going up or down a hill that is either, long, steep or loose, or if I'm doing a river crossing. I've used them on flatland on occassions when I want to speed up or am on some "iffy" ground. For the most part though they're shortened down and strapped to my backpack until I need them. I don't really feel that they lighten my load at all. But then again, my current occupation being in the Army and in the Infantry where we carry uncomfortable rucksacks filled with 60lbs or more of junk and walking at as fast a pace as we possibly do, backpacking isn't too bad.

On top of that though, when I backpack I'm not in it to see how far I can go in a fast time but more of just out there at a decent pace admiring my surroundings and enjoying being away from the usual bombardment of information in our technology obsessed World.For the moast part though, I'd have to agree that a good number of people don't know how to use their poles and really just have them because they see the people in the magazines have them, so they must be a necessity as far as they are concerned.
In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.-Aristotle

#73738 - 07/21/07 08:01 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: Pika]
lamanite Offline

Registered: 07/25/06
Posts: 114
I remember reading once (in regards to trekking poles) that the human arm can weigh 5 or more pounds, on average I think the number was 7 pounds. I think the argument was that just by swinging around hiking poles and resting your arms on them while you walk, you are in effect taking 10-15 lbs off of your legs. Just a thought/theory. Obviously most of us use them much more effectively than just this. I see benefits from proper technique, pushing off or pulling up on uphill, putting weight on them on downhill (easing impact on knees), and more importantly, I use them for most of my balance in uneven and loose terrain. Ever tried some new sport that requires balance and woke up the next morning feeling sore muscles you never knew you had? Alot of fatigue in the legs comes from them constantly steadying and balancing your body and pack load. Transfer the balancing act to the arms (poles) when the terrain is uneven and the legs go much longer now that they are just supplying raw go power!

#73739 - 08/21/07 02:52 PM Re: Hiking poles. [Re: BarryP]
Earthling Offline

Registered: 02/22/03
Posts: 3228
Loc: USA
BarryP and BearPaw pretty much covered the bases as far as pole usage goes IME. I'd have to concur with their experiences as it matches up with my own pretty well.

After I backpacked across America the first time in 1986 with one hiking staff, I thought there could be another technique <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/confused.gif" alt="" /> I was missing out on. So saunter I did into my favorite place to jack up a charge card, Campmor; where I proceeded to grill my favorite guru of gear (Eric) a long time staffer (who's STILL there <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" />). Eric proposed I try a PAIR of hiking poles, which, at the time seemed a 'novel idea' to me; since hiking with one seemed cumbersome, how could another possibly help <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" /> But, to his credit Eric insisted that a pair would be my Holy grail, and I whipped out the plastic and whistled out of the store with a pair in hand. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" /> Fast foward to 1990 when the stars aligned and I had another opportunity to backpack across America and I took it <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> The pair of poles really seemed to help my pace and kept my body from cursing my brain over the torturous miles I put it through daily (I averaged 29 miles a day, not bad considering all the yakkin' I tend to do with folks I meet along the way <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />).

I still use those poles today, sometimes showing interested folks out day hiking the benefits by letting them try mine for a few minutes down a trail. And, yes, poles do take some getting used to for most everyone. Once you use them with a heavier pack though I found it hard to leave them home....Just like my Clark Jungle Hammock <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smirk.gif" alt="" />

I think WD and OM had some pertinent comments regarding store help, and the products. Surely it'll find it's way up to the ears that need to 'hear' about it if the manufacturers reps' and store folks have their ears to the trail.....

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