I did a quick search, and couldn't find any threads where this particular question was addressed as a specific topic (there were a few where it came into the discussion incidentally.) I thought it might be useful to have a specific discussion to help new hikers.
Question: Strictly for hiking, do you prefer to hike without a pole, with a single staff, or with a pair of trekking poles?
I'd prefer not to clutter the thread by discussing the auxiliary use of the poles as shelter supports and the various shelters available; that's a thread in itself. I'll stipulate to the very valid point that, if you are committed to lightweight hiking, a great way to save some weight is to select a shelter that uses your trekking poles to support the shelter, eliminating the need for separate tent poles. In addition to plain old tarps, there are a number of specific shelters out there: the Lunar series from Six Moon Designs leaps to mind, along with several models of the excellent TarpTent; MSR has a couple like the Twing and Twin Sisters, and just added the Fast Stash, a reintroduction of a design that they discontinued a few years ago. Black Diamond also offers some of these, as does Integral Designs and Granite Gear. Most such shelters are single-wall, and highly functional. There are also some, like other TarpTent models, that combine a single tent pole with a pair of trekking poles to optimize the setup. There are also some pyramidal-shaped shelters that only require one pole; however, some of these allow the use of "linked" poles to get increased headroom. If you're a new hiker, and interested in this approach, check these shelters out, and start a new thread if you have questions.
Because these shelters are all covered exhaustively in other threads, I'd prefer not to rehash all that here, and limit this thread to the relative merits of hiking with or without poles, using single vs. double poles, and related topics such as flick-lock versus twist-lock, anti-shock versus no anti-shock, and collapsible versus fixed.
I use a single hiking pole (staff). It is a Leki adjustible, twist lock with a "handle" that makes it look a bit like a cane. At my age the cane configuration may be appropriate.
I find that I prefer a staff to hiking without a pole or to using trekking poles. The staff helps with balance when negotiating talus and as a third leg when crossing streams. When I don't need it I just carry it in one hand. I got accustomed to having something like this when I did a lot of mountaineering and used an ice axe for much of what the staff now does.
I don't like to use trekking poles because I like to have one hand free. I also don't find that my hiking style is much, if any, improved by using two poles, even going downhill. I've given all of them a good try: no staff, one pole and two poles. For me, the single staff is the best compromise. YMMV. And, I can use the staff to hold up my tarp (oops! ).
Sounds like our experience is similar. I started, 30+ years ago, using a single, fixed-length pole (a "Scout stave" purchased at the local Scouting store), the graduated to an adjustable-length Tracks pole. Eventually, experimenting with ultralight gear, I switched to a pair of trekking poles (motivated by the dual use of shelter support.) Now, I'm occasionally back to using a single pole (and a lightweight tent that has its own pole.) I always felt a tiny bit awkward with a pair of poles, though that feeling greatly diminished with a bit of use. I also, very occasionally, missed having one hand free to grab a tree or rock.
I use at least one pole, for a couple of reasons. First, poles help keep a rhythm to my pace. They also act as an excellent brake on a steep downhill. I'm also convinced that poles take a lot of stress off my knees - a big consideration, at age 60, still using my original knees, without modification. Finally, they give me a lot better balance when crossing streams or even negotiating tricky trail sections (lots of loose rocks, ascending or descending tree-root "staircases," etc.)
I also notice that, without poles, my hands tend to swell a bit (edema?) by late afternoon. With a pair of poles set to keep my arms bent at a 90 degree angle, I don't have this problem. (With a single pole, I get to choose which hand swells.)
As far as features, I tend to choose sectional poles without the antishock feature (the "click-click" is annoying.) I've never had any problems with flick-locks, and my hiking buddy loves that feature, but I tend to prefer twist-lock for no particular reason; however, if one ever fails me, I'll probably become an instant convert to the mechanically-simpler flick-lock.) I also like the push-button adjustment on the Tracks Sherlite staff I sometimes use: it's simple, and has also never failed.
I've used Leki, Black Diamond, MSR, and Tracks brands; all are high-quality, and I've never had any failures. The Leki included a single staff and paired poles, all in aluminum; Black Diamond was paired poles, in aluminum. MSR poles (my current paired-pole choices) are the Denali III aluminum poles and the Carbon Overland carbon-fiber poles. The Tracks pole is aluminum. I really like the weight, balance, and feel of the Overland Carbon poles; the handle is also a "fuzzy" hard-foam grip that feels good. However, like the Carbon Reflex tent, I just haven't developed total confidence in carbon-fiber yet. There's no justifiable reason not to; I suspect that it's more a function of age and emotional reaction - the carbon-fiber poles just look a little too much like the old fiberglass poles from 30 years ago, and they used to break (often on the first use.) I'm working my way toward a more informed judgment, though.
Edited by Glenn (01/11/1102:54 PM) Edit Reason: additional info on brands
I carry a hoe handle with an 8" bolt screwed into the end. The bolt is sharpened to a wicked point and covered with a piece of light pipe held on by a presto pin thru a hole in the bolt. The presto pin keeps the end from sinking to far in soft ground. I fixed up the stick to walk in the mountains and to cut a hole in ice. I had a dream the other night that made me think I will carry it here on the farm. We have coyotes around that may take a calf if the cow leaves it alone. A small dog would never make it accross a field here. I have never been threated by a coyote but in my dream I was 1/2 mile from home and my snowmobile quit and I started to walk home when I saw a coyote, he was close between me and the house, he was laughing like a hyena. I went back to the snowmobile for something to defend myself and could not find a thing so the only thing I could do is wake up.
Truthfully, I am up in the air. I have used all three and haven't decided yet. Right now I am experimenting with two one-piece poles that don't adjust, $5 at a thrift store. I have used them for about a year now and am not sold on them. Although, I don't mind them either. When hiking with my dog, it is hard to hike on-leash with her and have two poles. Sometimes they seem in the way, and sometimes I see a benefit. I will keep using them for a little while longer to give them a fair shake.
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.
Loc: California (southern)
Like Pika, use of an ice axe influenced me to try a hiking staff. My first was a repurposed shovel handle that made me resemble an Old Testament prophet. I have also used sticks plucked from brush piles and modified, as well as a mop handle found on a beach, but probably the most used is a Leki collapsible. I bought a pair but typically use only one. What I appreciate most is the ski-type strap which allows me to loosen my grip and still retain the pole. I also appreciate the collapsible feature -very handy for stowing in confined places.
I have tried using two poles, but it just doesn't feel that comfortable for me.
And for a minority report---we don't either. Most of the studies we've seen show that both poles and staff actually increase the amount of work you do, although there are some ergonomic benefits for those with prlblem knees or backs.
I prefer two collapsable poles. Leki purchsed used and one did not collapse at an REI garage sale some years ago. Aluminum construction. My back feels better and my arms are busy. All other benefits have been mentioned...
I use a single pole. When I first started hiking I found that I was spending the first half hour looking for a suitable branch to use for a staff so I bought a Tracks collapsible pole. When I started using a tarptent it required an adjustable pole so I bought a pair of poles but have only used one at a time. I tried the two poles and could not get used to them. Like others have said it acts like a third leg for stability and acts like kind of a pace setter. Kind of like a metronome.
Loc: Fairbanks, AK
Is it off topic to ask if anyone has noticed if there is damage done by trekking poles?
I ask this in good nature, because I'm trying them out (bad knees and swelling in the hands) - but have noticed big holes in the ground / ground kinda ripped up depending on the type of ground by trekking poles. This was more noticeable in the desert where one there were (_a lot_) more hikers, more poles and sandy/ish ground.
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
I use a staff. Have for years now. The current one is about 6-8 years old, it's a "Beaver Stick" (the bark was stripped clean) I found on the shore of lake.
It's about chin high, I have a piece of heavy string on the top for a handle and even one of those tacky NF medallions nailed on it (the Buffalo River one).
I use it much the same as Pika, and to push brush, branches, and bramble out of my way when bushwhacking.
I fashioned a pair of lightweight beaver sticks to use as trekking poles and I just can't get used to them. I want and use that free hand way to much. I am constantly grabbing trees and rocks with one hand while climbing and using the pole for leverage and balance at the same time.
Chimpac, I love that dream!
It reminds me of a story about a guy I knew when I was about 15.
Y'all know how I am, so I'm sure you'll pardon my digression while I tell it
This guy was wealthy, his grandfather was Edward Doheny, and my father built cars for him. I won't go far into this part, but he was feeling blue so he decided to take his Greeves Trials Bike and go riding out in the desert on Christmas day. He rode for a few hours and the motorcycle broke down. He dinked with it for about an hour and then got angry and started yelling and kicking the bike till he was worn out with that, and then he sat, hands and head on his knees, and considered what he was going to do. It occurred to him that he didn't even know where he was, or how to get to his car, and that it would be getting dark, and then very cold, soon. He sat there thinking that it would really suck to freeze to death, all alone, in the desert, on Christmas day.
After a few moments he lifted his head and looked around. There, sitting about 100 ft in front of him was a coyote, staring at him. Thinking he'd rather freeze than get eaten alive, he got up and yelled and threw rocks at the coyote. The coyote just trotted a few more feet away and sat down and stared at him. This was repeated several times. Finally the guy gave up and walked back to his bike. The coyote followed him, but kept his distance, and sat back down and stared at him.
After a minute or two the coyote got up, still looking at him, trotted a short distance and stood waiting, then trotted back and sat and stared at him. This was also repeated a few times.
He told me, "It looked like he wanted me to follow him, so I did." He followed the coyote for about 20 minutes, pushing his bike, then resting, then following again, until he saw his car.
He was loading his bike on the trailer as the sun was setting, and the coyote was still sitting there, a couple hundred feet away, watching him.
He actually told me all this to explain why he was going to pour gas on that bike and enjoy watching it burn. I did a whole lot of fast talking, and then a whole lot of sanding on a car, and ended up with the bike
Great point, and one I've never really thought of. The type of terrain could very well influence your decision. Where I hike (Eastern US, mostly Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Virginia), it's not a problem - though now that you mention it, I have seen a few scratch marks where a trail might run across bare rock for 50 or 100 feet.
However, more fragile terrain might react more poorly. Do you think that using the rubber tips (like Leki or Tracks have) would avoid the problem without negatively impacting the functionality of the poles?
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I used a single pole (Leki hiking staff) for many years before switching (at my daughter's insistence) to two poles 6 years ago.
The difference was phenomenal--almost 100% improvement in hiking pace, balance, support for knees going downhill, lessened fatigue going uphill. The poles have saved me from a number of potentially serious falls.
I also use the poles (with rubber tips on the points) for exercise walking at home. Using the poles turns walking into a full-body exercise that really works on the core muscles.
I switched from aluminum to carbon fiber poles several years ago, and found another big improvement in lessened fatigue. However, I still use the aluminum poles around home and for dayhiking, saving the carbon fiber ones for backpacking. Both sets of poles are also Leki--I'm very satisfied with their products.
While the rubber tips help reduce damage in sensitive areas, and I have used them in high alpine areas, you definitely do not want to use them on wet rock!
Loc: California (southern)
Of course, you never hear stories from the hikers who are led deeper into the wilderness by the renegade coyotes.......
There is one other very useful application for a hiking staff (or poles, too, for that matter)in dense brush. In the true spirit of "It looks dangerous, you go first" I keep my hiking staff more or less out in front of me, so that it can detect any snakes that might be around .
As a newbie to the backpacking world could I chime in and ask what features one should look for in a good set of poles. I’m getting overwhelmed with all the choices out there. It seems you could spend almost as much as you want on a set of these things. I’ve used a set for light ‘walking’ that I bought from Wally World a few years ago. They work just fine and I like the mechanics of using them, I’m just wondering if ‘trading up’ would be beneficial somehow.
If you're new to hiking, but already have the Wallyworld poles and like them, do the same thing you'll do with any other new gear: take them on a training/shakedown hike where you'll be able to see if they hold up under more strenuous use but won't be "betting the farm" on them.
If you're an experienced hiker, you do pretty much the same thing with any new gear: take it on a trip where you won't be at risk if it does fail (you can bail out easily, have a backup with you, etc.)
Loc: San Diego CA
For me, trekking poles are useful when you are on trail or easy cross country. Since I go with my dog, I go free hand or with a rattan pole. There is a particularly nice 1.5 man solo tent by light heart that uses trekking poles for support. It looks like a very nice design. I have been drooling over it since TomD posted the link at the end of summer. Perfect for me and my dog.
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