Hiking poles

Posted by: Litespeed

Hiking poles - 04/23/08 06:10 PM

I have just got back into more hiking and was wondering how effective hiking poles can be. The last hike I did was stenuous and very very steep in places with lots of loose gravel. I ended up falling twice on the downhill. Would hiking poles help prevent this from happening if used properly?
Posted by: urbansix

Re: Hiking poles - 04/23/08 06:19 PM

I'm new to hiking poles too - my most recent outing was my first with them. They came in very handy for tricky river crossings (using both), and gave me something to do with your hands while normal hiking (using one). I normally aquire wooden staff to use anyway, but these are much lighter. From what I have read the general consensus seems to be that they are invaluable for steep climbs and descents. They let your arms assist in the effort, and take some of the impact & fatigue off your feet, ankles, knees. Plus lend stability.
Posted by: lori

Re: Hiking poles - 04/23/08 06:35 PM

On a recent dayhike I offered a friend one of my two poles. She didn't want to deprive me of a pole. She slipped on a short hill and got a gash in her palm, which we cleaned out quick and bandaged, and I gave her the pole - she said it helped her a lot. She hadn't gotten hiking shoes/boots yet and was going up and down loose dirt/gravel on rock surfaces and other uneven terrain. She's going to get a pair of poles now, just for dayhiking.

Me, I think two poles used the right way, even on the flat parts, makes a huge difference especially while carrying a pack. Poles help on ascents and descents, prop me up when working my way over a fallen tree in the trail or wading a creek that turned out to be swifter than it looked, and make dandy snake fender-offers, or dog diverters, or what-is-that-thing pokers. They can be tarp/tent poles or weapons of defense. And they take weight off your back/legs; try hiking with them in nordic fashion, then carry them a while. There's a perceptible difference. I had to work with them a while to understand how to use them, but once it worked, I "got it."
Posted by: Trailrunner

Re: Hiking poles - 04/23/08 06:57 PM

IMHO poles have their place in many but not all situations. They are certainly a blessing for people with chronic injuries as they take stress off the feet, knees, hips and to some extent the back. They have probably saved my bacon in a few stream crossings. And they make such good tent poles.......

But they do have a downside. Some will argue that they damage trails but my main concern is this: For healthy people, overuse of poles can be counterproductive in the long run. They take away the job of many accessory muscles that stabilize the lower extremities and contribute to balance. Their use is not part of a natural gait. Yes, they take the load off the quads and the gluteals (thigh and butt muscles) on long hills, but those same groups need to stressed in order to develop.

I don't believe that heavy use of poles by beginners, especially those who are not in shape, is a good thing. Not to imply that the O.P. is necessarily out of shape <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> But I do believe that a good sense of balance and accessory muscle development can be hampered by the use of poles.

The more you use poles, the more you will depend on them. And then what happens if you lose them or they break? When I used to work in physical therapy, a good doctor would always get patients off crutches, walkers or canes as soon as possible. Why? Read the above.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-pole. Personally, I usually take them along (see my av) but actually use them only on long climbs, unstable terrain, stream crossings or when my legs are absolutely shot.
Posted by: Wolfeye

Re: Hiking poles - 04/23/08 11:54 PM

It seems like most people like poles. I think they have a place with trail users; I've found that trails are a lot harder on the feet than off-trail terrain, and I suspect poles would help take some of the load off. Offtrail, my feet never hurt and my hands are very busy doing things like scrambling, climbing, compass reading, or parting brush... anything carried in the hands tends to be very cumbersome. That depends on where you hike, though. The only times I wish I had poles are at creek crossings and on snowy hills.

I'd recommend hiking without poles for a while; treading safely on uneven or slippery footing is something that the body learns with practice, and I think poles are literally a bit of a crutch.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Hiking poles - 04/24/08 12:51 AM

I started using trekking poles two years ago at my daughter's insistence (before that I used a single staff). The poles have saved me from a number of potentially serious falls, and really help my knees on the downhill. I also use them for exercise walking ("Nordic walking"), with rubber caps on the tips, at home, since they convert a waist-down exercise into a whole body exercise that does great things for the core muscles. If I need to scramble (something I rarely do any more), I can collapse the poles and tie them to my pack. I also use them as tent poles, so they do double duty. They can also function as a splint or as the base for a travois should my dog be injured (the main problem being to persuade the dog to stay on the travois....) The poles are also a great place to carry that important essential, duct tape. In other words, a true multiple-use piece of gear.

As has been cautioned, though, poles shouldn't be used as a substitute for getting your leg muscles fit! You need strong leg muscles to support your joints and prevent injury, and the poles won't substitute. And you need to practice balance exercises (at least I do!).

It's a good idea to get the rubber tips for the poles even if you're not planning to use them on pavement or sidewalks. Unless you're on slippery ground or crossing a stream, where you really need those sharp points, the rubber tips will protect the trail from damage and also preserve the points longer.
Posted by: coyotemaster

Re: Hiking poles - 04/24/08 05:21 AM

I've been using poles for a couple of years now. Diamond Back something or the other with cork grips.
On narrow, brushy and rocky, twisting trails poles are a pita. Poles want nice, wide unobstructed trails.
On really steep trails, where hands are needed (and in AZ there are plenty of rugged trails like that), they get in the way. I have to tie them to my pack to free my hands.
And I find that generally, they seem to slow my pace a bit.

But I carry them because I like how they keep my hands up and keep blood from pooling in the extremities. I also like how they cause me to work my shoulders back & forth, something about that motion helps keep my shoulders & back from tiring so much. They also do noticeably take some burden of my cartilage damaged, decrepit knees.
I also just like having something in my hands, but I really think I prefer a hiking stick for that. (like 6'+ tall and 1 1/2" - 2" diameter) (Michaels has the tall bamboo poles cheap. They are light and reasonably strong with good diameter. I am still experimenting with rubber caps on the end. Some sort of tip protection is definitely needed on these bamboo poles and the rubber tips don't last long.)

I do go back & forth about whether poles are worth it overall.
If I had a tent that utilized the hiking poles I don't think I'd vacillate so much.
Posted by: 12Step

Re: Hiking poles - 04/24/08 06:21 AM

I recently bought trekking poles, and I still only use one of them when I hike. I like to have a free hand to hoist myself up onto or lower myself down on rugged terrain. The thing I like about trekking poles for me at least is that, for the money, I'm getting two poles for the price of one. A collapsible decent hiking staff can cost about as much as a set of decent trekking poles. I still bring both with me because if I hit a long flat part of the trail I can use both. I can lend the second one to someone I'm hiking with.

I'm old school. I was the one that used to hunt the ground for a good hiking staff.

All in all I like trekking poles. I like that they are collapsible, and can have multifuntions.

Posted by: Paddy_Crow

Re: Hiking poles - 04/24/08 06:27 AM

I often hike with my dog, which is one reason I don't use poles. I need a free hand to manage the dog. I have started using a staff (LL Big Survival Stik), which I like. It helps me keep my balance in many situations. It's also great for walking the dog in the neighborhood when a dog gets loose and decides to visit us.
Posted by: Litespeed

Re: Hiking poles - 04/24/08 06:42 PM

I see that Walmart has some Swiss Gear Hiking poles for a little over $20.00. I was thinking of getting those to see if I like them. If I find they help me, later I can purchase better ones. I figure even if I don't like them $20.00 isn't that much to invest. Do you think that would be a good idea?
Posted by: Pika

Re: Hiking poles - 04/24/08 07:32 PM

Some outdoor stores have either a tryout or rental program for trekking poles. You might want to look around and see whether you can try a pair for a day or so either free or for a few dollars. Summit Hut in Tucson will loan you a pair for a hike and sell you a pair if you like them. I'm sure other outdoor shops will have similar programs.
Posted by: Heber

Re: Hiking poles - 04/24/08 07:56 PM

I bought the swiss gear poles with exactly that thought in mind. It would seem that all poles "work" the same in terms of how you can use them while you hike. The more expensive poles just "work" longer, i.e. are less prone to breakage. So if the cheapies last for a few trips and help you decide if you want to spend the $110+ on top notch poles then they are well worth the $15 to $20 that Walmart charges.

The top quality poles are lighter of course. But there's a problem with wanting the lightest right away anyway. The lightest poles (like the ones at Gossamer Gear or Backpacking LIght) are not adjustable. You buy them custom cut to your ideal length. But how do you know your ideal length? Once again $15 and a little experience with Walmart poles will help you determine that.

Other people may have other ideas of course. In particular some people adjust their poles for the terrain (uphill or downhill). Way too much work for me I'm finding. One length is fine for me.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Hiking poles - 04/24/08 08:40 PM

I use a stick. I've used them for years. Here's why:

They help with wet crossings.

They provide a solid brace when going up or down steep and slippery terrain.

They provide a way to extend a "Hand" to someone I'm hiking with.

I use it constantly to push brush away from my body and face when I'm bushwhacking.

It could be use as critter deterrent if necessary, but I've never actually done that. (I've found it difficult to hit a critter with it when I'm running that fast.)

I hang my hat on it.

I poke my fires with it.

I flip rocks with it in hopes that they might be an arrowhead.

I lean on it when I'm resting.

It feels good to have one with me.

It's nice to look at and reminisce about the miles and places I've toted that stick when I'm not out bushwhacking around <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />

My current stick is a branch from a River Willow that was cut and debarked by a beaver. They're light, sturdy, flexible, and have a good grip on most surfaces, so they have become my hiking pole of choice.

I never could get used to using two. I've left too many deep in the forest to want to buy a metal pole and lose it too, so I do occasionally carry back a really good one when I find it. That way I always have a few spares at home. I've had the one I use now for about six years but I've had to go find it more than a few times after leaving it behind.

Posted by: mockturtle

Re: Hiking poles - 04/24/08 09:01 PM

I only started using them a couple of years ago when I got a pair as a gift. They sure make a difference on those descents! And I think they help maintain balance, as well.
Posted by: lori

Re: Hiking poles - 04/25/08 06:59 AM

They're selling Komperdells at Sierra Trading Post for 44 bucks. They're not the lightest, and they're not flick-lock like some others, but the pair of Komps I have are pretty solid and have taken my weight several times.
Posted by: mockturtle

Re: Hiking poles - 04/25/08 07:56 AM

Mine are Komperdells. I like 'em.
Posted by: BarryP

Re: Hiking poles - 04/25/08 09:25 AM

The swiss gear poles perform wayyyyy different than the gossamer gear poles. Itís like night and day. So the cheap pole will give you a feel for a heavy pole.

I will apologize in advance if you canít find any wally world poles that are not broken. My youngest daughter tested them all and couldnít get them back together. I tried fixing them with my leatherman and I think I made it worse. I think the ceiling-camera man got some entertainment. The key is donít fully extend them! And tighten them hard or they will collapse on you. Of course, once tightened, you wonít be able to un-tighten. However, I got one un-tightened by putting on some rubber dish gloves. UmmmÖ I think Iím going to stop my story hereÖ

Posted by: Heber

Re: Hiking poles - 04/25/08 10:29 AM

Now there's something I hadn't thought of. I have heard of people switching to the Gossamer Gear poles and finding that it takes a while to get used to the feel (although they all seem to end up liking them). But I was under the impression that if you were using heavier poles at a certain length then you would get your Gossamer Gear poles at the same length. But I haven't made that switch so I'll defer to your experience. Do you think that a length preference based on a heavier pole will tell you what length of Gossamer Gear pole you would want? If not would you want a shorter or a longer pair?
Posted by: BarryP

Re: Hiking poles - 04/25/08 11:29 AM

ďDo you think that a length preference based on a heavier pole will tell you what length of Gossamer Gear pole you would want?Ē

Weight wonít determine length. On level ground, your arms should be at right angles (forearm vs upper arm) while holding the poles.

One thing youíll notice on a 2oz pole vs. a 12oz pole is how to hit your mark. Youíll find it so much easier with the lighter pole. And you can hit it faster since there is less mass.

For an adjustable pole, in theory, you should shorten the pole for going uphill and lengthen the pole for going downhill. In practice, hill maneuvering happens so often that adjustable-pole people just set their pole for one height and stick with it for the whole hike. Plus this keeps less wear-n-tear on the locking mechanisms.

I use my fixed-length pole also for my GG Squall tarptent. Iím lucky itís the same height! But my pole is not tall enough for my Rainshadow (my family tent), so that tent has itís own front pole.

Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Hiking poles - 04/25/08 01:13 PM

I don't have any trouble managing my dog and two trekking poles, even though I have him on leash most of the time. I think that's because my exercise walking is also with the poles, so he's learned to avoid them.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Hiking poles - 04/25/08 02:00 PM

On level ground, your arms should be at right angles (forearm vs upper arm) while holding the poles.

I'd be afraid I'd slip and crack a rib with a pole that height. Has that ever happened to anyone here?

Posted by: lori

Re: Hiking poles - 04/25/08 06:23 PM

On level ground, your arms should be at right angles (forearm vs upper arm) while holding the poles.

I'd be afraid I'd slip and crack a rib with a pole that height. Has that ever happened to anyone here?


I'm having trouble picturing how that would happen - when you're using the poles nordic style, they are either alongside or behind you, at an angle, and if you fall with the pole you'd end up with it flat beneath you.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Hiking poles - 04/25/08 08:42 PM

I tend to step sideways a lot when going down steep, rocky or slippery decents, so my stick is at my side too. To the untrained onlooker it might appear easy, but I can get pretty creative in my falls, and some would be pretty hard to reproduce without my kind of extensive experience, so it's also easy for me to imagine how a pole that would fit exactly under my lowest rib when standing straight might get jammed there in a fall. I think I could pull that off.

I googled "injury caused by trekking pole" and this page came up:

Hiking Poles

See, I'm not the only one who can fall with unique style and flare <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />

My guess is that those poles are made and used primarily for trekking on trails, which I seldom do. It's pretty much impossible to bushwhack nordic style in the Ozark Forests for more than a few consecutive strides, but conjuring an image of someone trying is entertaining <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />

Trailrunner must be right, it's a matter of where and how you hike.

Posted by: Litespeed

Re: Hiking poles - 04/27/08 04:10 PM

I just bought my first pair of Swiss Gear hiking poles at Walmart. Wanted to make sure I would like using poles before I get any that are more expensive.
Okay -- here is my stupid question. The poles came with two different tip covers. The big one I know is for using on pavement (which I will never use), but I'm not sure when or if I would use the smaller tip covering. What is the small tip covering actually for?
Posted by: Heber

Re: Hiking poles - 04/27/08 06:26 PM

I think that they are just to protect the tips while in the store. They seem to think for actual trail use. I use the big ones when I'm worried about causing erosion on the trail.
Posted by: Jimshaw

Re: Hiking poles - 04/27/08 06:47 PM

Lightspeed - use the large tip on rock. Small hard tips skate on rock, the bigger rubber tips are more like climbing shoes. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />

wish I still had the larger ones, you can break carbide tips on rock. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />
Jim <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Hiking poles - 04/28/08 08:55 AM

Do hiking poles really cause much erosion? I've seen a single short duration hard rain remove all evidence of human traffic many times and I've seen strong wind do the same.

Just having a trail leads to erosion by natural causes. The actual use of it by humans I think contributes little to erosion. This has been what I've observed anyway.

Posted by: Litespeed

Re: Hiking poles - 04/28/08 12:00 PM

Are you ever NOT suppose to use the rubber tips that come with the poles?
Posted by: Jimshaw

Re: Hiking poles - 04/28/08 07:18 PM

remember poles were first for skiing, the rubber tips are for rock, rock skiing is expensive and dangerous, thus the design for snow... <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
Jim <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />