Trekking Poles, Hiking Poles, Walking Sticks

hiking walking sticks
Hiking Poles & Walking Sticks & Staffs

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  Why Carry a Walking Stick / Staff / Pole ?

  Different Types & Accessories

  Two Hiking Poles or One ?

  Whatever Works for You

  Winter Hiking

  Article: Trekking Poles

  Other Walking Sticks Links

 


 

 


My Favorite Hiking Stick

Charles' Favorite Hiking Stick

 
I saw an article in Backpacker magazine, a couple of years ago, about Hiking Poles. In it, the author mentioned seeing Europeans using their snow poles as hiking poles to help with mountain ascents.

I lived in German Bavaria for four years, where mountain hiking (nordic walking) is very popular. I think every hiker I saw had a hiking pole of some kind. It seems much less so, over here. For me, it's not a matter of using hiking poles being a "popular" or "fashionable" thing to do, it is just common sense. Using hiking poles and walking sticks will save your bacon when traveling in the backcountry -- as it has mine, many times -- and, in addition, will prolong the life of your legs, feet, and, especially, knees.

Included herein is interesting and useful information about hiking poles & walking sticks.

 


Why Carry a Walking Stick ?

IT WILL HELP YOU KEEP YOUR BALANCE
  • Crossing Creeks, Streams, Rivers
  • Traversing Hillsides
  • Crossing Shale, Scree
  • Carrying Heavy Loads
  • Resting En Route

IT WILL HELP YOU MANEUVER

  • Crossing Downed Trees Over Trails
  • To Break or Prevent a Fall

IT WILL REDUCE STRESS ON BACK, KNEES, LEGS, & FEET

  • Provides Extra Power & Balance, Going Uphill
  • Reduces Shock on Knees, Going Downhill
  • Takes Pressure off Back & Hips (mainly uphill)

OTHER USES

  • Center or Side Pole for a Tarp
  • To Prop Up Your Pack
  • To Lean on When Resting
  • Pushing Aside Spider Webs & Brush
  • Self Defense ?


Different Types of Hiking Sticks

  The Ones I Use
  ThunderChicken's Broom Handles
  Other Possibilities
  Accessories..."Straps" are a must read

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The Staffs & Hiking Poles that I use:

HOMEMADE WOODEN STAFF:

Dimensions: 5 1/2 feet long, 4 1/2" to 5" in circumference, weighs about 28 oz. (see PHOTO above)

This is the staff that I prefer to use, although I now use it only on moderately paced hikes where I will be staying on-trail the entire outing. The problem with this staff is its size and bulk. On-trail, it can't be beat. I've used it to prop up my tarps, hang my pack off the ground, as well as prop up myself. I've used it to pole vault over trees blown down over the trail; as a support when walking up the side of a boulder; as well as for all of the other uses listed above.

I've made numerous hiking staffs, but this one is, by far, my favorite. It began its life as a 5 1/4" circumference, 7 foot long, fairly straight section of hardwood (possibly a large piece of root). Anyway, I collected it from the banks of a local mountain river. After it was completely dry, I sanded it down, carved two hand-holds, then gave it three good coats of Varathane for durability and weatherproofing. After seven years it still looks great. One of the hand-holds is situated in the center of the staff, such that my arm is at the preferred 90-degree angle when I'm holding it. Just below that handhold is a protruding knot, which provides more wood-area hand support. For the other hand-hold, I carved a sharp-U-shaped indentation into the very top of the staff over which I wrap my index finger and a slight indented area below that for the rest of my hand. Both hand-holds are extremely useful--in different situations.

BLACK DIAMOND CARBON-FIBER HIKING POLES:
Dimensions: 3-section telescoping; 26" to 55"; with a 2" diameter trekking basket; weighs 442 g (0.97 lb) estimated, per pair.

These are the hiking poles that I now carry, most often. They are ultralight with very good balance and easy to maneuver. They provide more than adequate functionality on-trail and off-trail and it is easy to pack them away when I need both hands for scrambling or whatever. The poles are very lightweight and fit well with the overall lightweight philosophy.

LEKI SUPER EXTREME SNOW POLES:
Dimensions: aluminum, 3-section telescoping; 30" to 60"; with a 4 1/2" diameter snow basket.

I use these poles in the Winter for snowshoeing. A feature which gives these poles additional functionality, beyond their obvious usage, is that they screw together to form an avalanche probe.

CASSIN DRAGONFLY ICE AXE:
Dimensions: 28" long. When snow scrambling in the Spring, or alpine hiking in early Summer, the axe is useful as a hiking aid, as well as security for a fall.

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ThunderChicken's Broom Handles:

From = ThunderChicken
Date = 11/23/99
Subject = Walking Stick Testimony

During my search for a good hiking staff/pole I have tried everything from fancy store bought poles to the long stick found in the woods. I'm tall, so I found that almost all of the fancy store bought poles are too shakey and noisy when fully extended to support the pounding they receive up and over mountains. Sticks or limbs are usually not straight which I find cause annoying vibrations when pressed to ground or rock (not to mention excess weight). I use and love wooden broom handles fitted with a cane tip (purchased at any drugstore). I opt for the longer 60" length, made of pine I think, and I find the thinner the better. I have drilled a small hole near the top for a leather lanyard, which when twisted right, acts as a perfect wrist strap. Because the pole is straight, it does not vibrate. It's very light. When going downhill, I hold it near the top for extra reach and when going up hill, I can hold it lower down for more power. It's quiet, it's unobtrusive (I don't like looking like some gearhead straight out of REI cranking down the trail), and it's cheap. I sometimes use two, depending on the terrain and/or load. Happy Trails!!!

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Other Possibilities:

There are many good commercial poles produced. Aluminum, lightweight steel, wood. My preference is wood, but I now use aluminum the most.

You can be creative, also, but choose wood with caution. Overly soft woods will disintegrate from the bottom up. Hardwood is the best. If you can find long, straight root sections, that's premo--as tough as you can get.

Bamboo works okay--especially if you can get a natural handle between the joints.

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Accessories:

There are several choices one can make, when using ski-pole type hiking poles.

Hand Grips:
Hard rubber, hard cork, plastic, foam are all common materials used for pole handles. Plastic is lifeless, cold, hard, and slippery. Foam isn't durable enough. Hard rubber and cork seem to mold to the hand well and are very durable. Make sure the finger grips fit your hands well. Some poles come with slight, subtle design differences between right and left hands (e.g., Leki Super Makalu) to provide less unnecessary friction against the hands.

Hand/Wrist Straps (and How To Use Them)
Most hiking/trekking poles come with wrist straps. Several poles (e.g., Leki poles) come with a color coding. The right pole has a red or black dot on top of the hand grip and the left pole has a white or silver dot. The significance is that each pole has a hand strap that has been contoured to best fit each hand.

If you use straps, find poles with straps that are made of one-inch nylon webbing that are pre-twisted to provide more comfort to your wrist.

In my opinion, most folks either don't use straps or, if they do, think the straps are just a safety device to keep them from losing the poles, should they drop them. Although that may be true, that's not their main function. If you are using poles correctly, your hands won't get tired. The correct way to use the poles is to (1) insert your hands thru the straps--from the bottom (2) rotate your hand around until your hand is cradled into the strap with the pole grip in front of the hand (3) tighten the strap (4) lightly grip pole handle with two or three fingers and thumb (don't grip tight because your hand and fingers will get unnecessarily tired and/or sore) (5) with your fingers, guide the pole to where you want to plant it, still very loosely holding it in your hand, then plant it on the ground with all the weight of your body, pack, etc. transferring to the wrist strap via your wrist and arm.

Bottom line: the appendage stress associated with using poles should not be on your hands and fingers, but on your wrist and arms. If your poles have straps, and you use them, it isn't necessary to grip the handle so tight, such that you experience white knuckles.

Shock Absorbers:
Some poles (e.g. Leki Super Makalu) come with shock absorbers. Springs are integrated into the telescoping shaft joints, such that they absorb some shock otherwise absorbed by your elbow and wrist joints. Most poles don't incorporate them, but you can purchase them separately.

Adjustable Shafts:
Some poles have telescoping sections with a screw-down-tight locking mechanism located at the intersection of each pole section. Some poles have three sections--they can be reduced more in length so that they are more compact--but they cost more. Other poles have two sections--they're longer when shortened, but they may weigh a little less, as well as cost less. Then there is the one-section pole which is cheaper but is not very packable.

Camera Mount:
The handle on some poles will unscrew to reveal a 1/4" screw that is compatible with most compact point 'n shoot and zoom cameras. These poles are intended to have camera-monopod capability.

Baskets vs Non-Baskets:
In non-snow terrain, your typical ski baskets tend to get in the way. They get caught in brush, wedged between rocks, and are difficult to use in crossing fast water. An alternative, that I use, is the Leki 2" diameter trekking "basket" with carbide tip.

Rubber Tip vs Carbide Tip:
Most aluminum ski-type poles come with the carbide tip. Others (e.g., Tracks Sherlock) come with a rubber tip. I personally do not like the rubber tip because I've had it slip on wet ground and rock, whereas I have not had that problem with the carbide tip. Some people like the rubber tip because it doesn't sound like "fingernails on a blackboard" when crossing rock surfaces and it's easier to maintain a smooth hiking rhythm because the rubber tip doesn't create "drag" by penetrating the ground. Also, some environmentally (over)conscious folks say they don't like the tips because they poke holes in the earth. Again, rubber tips slip in wet conditions. Choose wisely--your health and welfare must come first.


Winter Hiking

Further instruction on the usage of hiking poles can be found on the Winter Backpacker page

Snowshoeing tips & techniques
and Snowpoles - necessary Winter equipment.


Two Poles or One ?

Should you use two ski-type poles, one ski-type pole, one staff, or ?. It boils down to what is your preference. Or more specifically, what feels right on the trail. Theoretically, I felt that two poles was the best thing to do. It didn't work for me, at first--it just didn't feel right. I couldn't get balanced--couldn't get a good rhythm. I didn't have problems on snow with two snow poles, but I couldn't seem to get the same rhythm on the trail. So, for a long time, I used only one aluminum pole, or one wooden staff, when (non-snow) trekking or hiking. Currently, though, I've gotten more comfortable with two aluminum hiking poles. I've found it helps my bad back, considerably.

Experiment doing both. Do what's comfortable. I can't help wondering though, if, over a long period, the stress put on one side of your body by using only one pole, could lead to back problems. Whereas, with two poles you're putting equal stress on both sides of the body. - ?


Whatever Works For You !

My intention here was to promote awareness and provide some alternative solutions. What's best for you ? Only you know. If you're interested, test it out. Borrow someone else's pole (if they'll let you--but that's another story) or use your ski pole or a broom handle, just to see how it feels. If you decide on having a pole, then make or buy what feels best. Remember, it should feel like an extension of your body. If it feels clumsy, then you will probably be clumsy. If it fits smoothly into your hiking rhythm and even enhances your rhythm, then you've got a good candidate for your third (and fourth) leg.


From: Eric
Subject: Walking sticks
Your Message: Just discovered your site today and was looking it over. Saw you had a section on walking sticks and took a look at that (My knees don't hold up on their own so well on long hikes anymore).

Anyhow, I had a suggestion for an additional thing to make into a walking stick. I went through the Zion's Narrows with several friends last year and was quite surprised when several of them showed up with pool cue's for walking sticks (the cheap one piece cue's, I think they found them at a thrift store for really cheap). I enjoy billiards and at first thought what a travesty. Suprisingly their pool cues held up well and worked quite well despite the fact that the Narrows is pretty much a trail you hike almost entirely in water with stones and boulders under water (really requires a good walking stick for balance). I had borrowed some trekking poles from my roommate and at a critical moment of unbalance one collapsed on me and I fell in (no fun, cold). Some of the others in our group that had the nice telescoping poles also had telescoping problems (collapse)as well. My friends having the light weight one piece pool cues didn't have any off balance problems at all.


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