Loc: St. Louis, Missouri
Well the rain finally slowed enough this weekend (the flood waters have finally receded) for me to be able to get out on the trail a bit. I'd been feeling ansy to get out so it was nice.
I decided to try some trekking poles. Thought others who were considering them might be interested in my initial thoughts.
I'd heard a lot about trekking poles but never used them. I read a lot of trailjournals from people who love their Leki's. But I couldn't see forking out $100 for something I might not like. Then I ran into a trailjournal of a guy who used Swiss Gear poles (from Wenger, the makers of the swiss army knife) purchased at Walmart. They aren't the highest quality so on his thru-hike he went through 3 pair. But he pointed out that still costs less than one pair of Leki's. I went to Walmart and sure enough, $15.00 got me a pair. For that price if I don't like them or if I do like them and they break I won't feel too bad. (There are similarly inexpensive poles at Sports Authority under the Coleman brand and other places too.)
So here's my experience. I found that whether I liked the poles depended on how steep the grade was. On fairly flat sections of the trail or where the ups and downs are mild they just felt like extra baggage. So I hopped off-trail for a bit and attacked some really steep hillsides. That's where the poles really shine. I found I could move pretty fast both uphill and downhill. On steep, rocky surfaces that were covered with leaf litter the poles really kept me from a tumble or two.
The other use for poles that I was curious about was for pitching shelters. I set up my 8x10 tarp using the poles on a night when the wind was gusting pretty strong. I had used the tarp before in high winds but always using trees (of which there are plenty in Missouri). I had 6 guy lines to stakes and then one line on each pole that went from tarp to pole to stake. I had seen this setup online but it didn't look that sturdy to me. I must say I was impressed. Even when the wind really picked up the tarp held up like a champ.
So I ended up feeling pretty positive about my poles. If there is any downside from buying cheap poles it hasn't hit me yet (but one weekend isn't much of a test). I like using them however I don't think they are right for every trip, at least not for me. I'll take them on trails where I expect very steep grades and uneven terrain but not for flat or gently rolling trails. If I'm going somewhere without trees then I might also consider them for tarp pitching but only if I would also use them for hiking. In flatter areas with few trees I would just bring a bivy.
I'm pretty much on the same page as you. I use my poles on (1) steep grades (up or down), (2) rough ground and (3) river crossings. Sometimes those 3 conditions make up most of a trip, sometimes less than half. It all depends. Sometimes the poles will ride in my pack for hours but they're usually my shelter poles as well.
I would be curious to know where that guy's 3 sets of cheap poles failed.
_________________________ If you only travel on sunny days you will never reach your destination.*
* May not apply at certain latitudes in Canada and elsewhere.
I have some MSR carbon fiber poles and they have held up to some rough use for three years now. I like them a lot. They help me travel faster and the extra stability has, I'm sure, saved at least one twisted ankle. I use them to pitch my Squall 2 Tarp Tent so they have dual use.
They only drawbacks that I can see with the cheaper poles is that they are most likely heavier. I don't know the specs on your poles, but I am judging from trends I've noticed when I was initially shopping for mine. As with most things in commercial backpacking gear - the lighter the more expensive. The other drawback has to do with durability. If it breaks on the trail you now have something that is of little use if they are not repairable, and something you will then have to carry out with you; useless weight.
Cheap poles are not a bad idea for trial trail use though.
I have two sets of the same ones, but probably only 100-200 miles on them. I think they work great, but they are certainly on the heavy side. I had one "break" by being unable to lock, but I loosened it all the way, pulled it apart, stuck the back of a knife blade in it and twisted it back the other way a bit, and when I slipped it back in it worked fine. One thing is to really learn how to use them. You should be compressing the antishock springs. Leki has some videos on their site.
If you're careful you shouldn't have a problem. I'm heavier than you and I have no trouble with komperdell carbon fibre poles under normal use. I have broken them, but in this case I had them strapped to my bag on a scramble and didn't screw one in. - a tree caught on the basket, pulled it out overextended, and "snap" - MEC gave me a new bottom piece for free.
Understand that by "normal use" I mean on trails. If you're trying to self arrest with a carbon fibre pole on a mountain, well, you're gonna break it <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
Loc: Lynchburg, VA
I'm not sure if I count as a "bigger guy" or not. I am 6'-5" and weigh about 195. I use a set of Leki Air Ergo Longs (I think that's the right model), and I have had no issues with them. I like to torque down on them a lot too. Obviously those are not cheap poles, so I can't comment on cheap ones.
Loc: St. Louis, Missouri
Actually I've thought about this some more and an idea occurred to me for people that are concerned about cost and weight-bearing ability. A while back Trailrunner posted about a set of homemade Carbon Fiber trekking poles he made. They are very light but apparently very strong. The key to their strength, I think, is that they are not adjustable. I think it's the internal locking mechanism on poles that is the weakest part of any pole. So if you know the length you want (and you aren't one of those people who likes to lengthen poles for going downhill and shorten them for going uphill) then you could make a pair like Trailrunners.
As I recall he got the carbon fiber poles from a website for kite builders.
If the adjustable joint is the weak spot on the poles and you didn't pay much for them, you could always glue them in a fixed position. That would obviously leave you with an unadjustable and possibly usless piece of gear. I use a hickory staff that I've inserted a short section of a hardened concrete nail and epoxied it in place. I find that using a single pole is versitile enough for helping me get up and down trails, cross rivers, and keep vegatation from slapping me in the face. I have thought of trying poles and may in the near future. If I do, I'm headin to wally world. My staff is on the heavy side but if it breaks, I can always burn it. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smirk.gif" alt="" />
I love mine. Usually just one and not both. i like a free hand for pics ect. I use mine for shelter support. I have the low cost Leki - 69 I think they were. They are old enough that I do not remember. But to tell you the truth I like the ash shovel handle from Home depot a lot better for support. I can pole vault over small creeks with the shovel handle. The only problem is that it is not adjustable for shelter height. Bottom line - I like to hike with a stick of some sort.
I'm just imagining myself trying to pole vault over a creek with my (komperdell carbon fibre) trekking poles - well - it would probably make good TV.. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
Heber If they work for you then when they do break you'll be willing to spend more. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> I have old Leki avolanche probe adjustable ski poles that I use most every where when I'm skiing or sometimes hiking in steep country like the Sierras where its nice to get some chest muscles involved in the climb to spare my knees. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
When I downhill I ski I use fixed poles - why? They're stronger, more dependale, cheaper <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" /> (garage sales) Fixed poles don't look cute in your little pack though... <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />
Fixed poles CAN be used for a self arrest as can any "heavy" quality aluminum pole, but not UL poles nor carbon. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/crazy.gif" alt="" /> Even Phat might be better advised to pole vault with fixed poles.
(what was that thread about pole vaulting over cliffs?) <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" />
Someplaces poles leave holes or cause erosion, but on rock they're golden, but you may need a rubber tip. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />
I have used poles as a "long arm" to reach across on some dangerous decents to push against a rock on the other side of a steep crack. Your life depends on that pole in such a case - use a good one. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> Jim <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.
Loc: St. Louis, Missouri
Whoops! I just checked at two Walmarts in my area that only a few weeks ago had lots of these poles and now they are gone! I guess they weren't moving fast enough. You can still get them on Ebay I noticed.
Not that these swissgear poles are very good but the price was sweet.
Loc: North Carolina
I have 3 sets of these poles for the wife, a teenager and myself. After 3 years, I'm down to 2 sets due to loss in a river and damaged due to repeated river crossing. We are lightweight backpackers, but not hung up on ultralite so weight is not an overriding issue. Although i could have had the wife use her employee discount at REI, I'm cheap and opted for the $20/pr at wally. Kinda a glad I did or I would be out $125 instead of just $20. As with any gear u expect loss and damage.
I won't go without trekking poles because they save my body and lighten my load.
I saw one set at the local wally a week ago and it was an open package and one of the poles was broken. Someone had fully extended the thing and came apart. I fiddled with it for a couple of minutes and gave up. They seemed way to flimsey for me. Usually you get what you pay for. Unless you build it yourself, then you usually spend more on supplies and time. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smirk.gif" alt="" />
Loc: intermountain west
I got the Swissgear poles to try, and I like them- Yes, they are heavier than most, but I'm nowhere near being a minimalist fanatic. They keep me on my feet just fine, thank you. I will always have some kind of pole with me from now on. The starter poles will always be good loaners to get others hooked...
Trekking poles kept me alive. Seriously - without them I would have fallen down a very steep hill several times. I hiked into Big Sur/Ventana wilderness last weekend, and all 10 miles of the trail run along the sides of steep hills/ridges covered with poison oak and trees. There were at least eight trees down across the trail and I was wearing more than 25 lbs of dead weight on my back... without the poles to keep me upright I would have had to take off the pack and crawl over/under each of these. I nearly fell as it was, and the poles took most of my weight without breaking (Komperdells, on sale from backcountry.com when I got them). I also used them while fording the Big Sur River twice, and to fend off the shiny green leaves of poison oak, and one feisty Jack Russell terrier. Used properly they take some of the weight off your back/legs and they really helped on ascents and descents, particularly when I was really really tired on the last couple of miles going out.
I did not know there were trees in the trail, and the guidebook said nothing about the river crossing being so deep and swift. I intend to take the poles on any hike of any length where the trail isn't paved/busier than a freeway at 5 pm. I should add that I was a serious doubter, even after using them on 8 mile day hikes, because they do seem like just something else to carry - but I've found they really do make a difference, and at some point I don't doubt they will come in handy as tarp poles.
Lori Where did you enter Ventana? I can't think of a river crossing in Big Sur except on the south east side near Hunter Ligit. Jim
If you park at the ranger station at Big Sur and hike in to Sykes, you have to cross the south fork to get to the campsites. There's also a stream crossing or two but those are manageable without getting more than the bottoms of your shoes wet. I was headed for those hot springs - it's a popular trail. About a third of the way in you pass from the state park into Ventana Wilderness.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki
“I fiddled with it for a couple of minutes and gave up.”
When I see a pole at the store, I give it to my youngest daughter (now 11). If it passes her test, then it’s good to go. So far she has broke all the kmart, target, and walmart poles <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/frown.gif" alt="" />.
Loc: St. Louis, Missouri
Okay, I thought that Walmat had discontinued the swissgear poles but now I see them again, at the same $15 price per pair. Perhaps it's a seasonal item or perhaps I just got lucky.
This past weekend I took my daughter bushwacking in fairly hilly terrain. I used the poles again and I'm liking them more and more. Not to say that they are as good as Leki's (which I haven't tried) or anything. But they are useful enough that I bough another pair today as a spair or in case one of my kids wants to use them. (My daughter and I traded off a bit with the one pair this past weekend).