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.
One of the major publications (Outside Magazine, maybe?) did a study that showed that the poles almost always used more energy/calories than hiking without them. Uphill was most obvious, and downhill was least obvious.
(This makes sense--you are using more muscles, and you are carrying more weight. My physics professor was right!)
But they did notice improved stability for some hikers, and also noted some improvement in knee strain, particularly hiking downhill.
I hate hiking poles where the terrain is easy, but when it gets steep I can lean into them and use some chest muscles to help get up the hill, then they're ok.
Collapsable poles are alright for hiking, but I use a staff, maybe an 8 foot 2x2, or a non-collapsing ski pole when hiking/crawling/climbing in really rough mountain rocky terrain. Sometimes you can reach out with that pole and push against a rock 8 feet away, to give you the leverage to make your next move safely. They are especially good for descending unknown mountains where you could end up in a bad situation where ya can't back up and ya can't go forward cacuse yer arms aren't long enough. Jim
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
I always have a stash of good Beaver Sticks, and I usually offer friends their choice of them when we hike, but a lot of them decline.
That surprises me, because I use mine, a lot.
But, based on what I've read here, I think it has a lot to do with hiking style and location. I can see where trekking poles would work great on a trail, and I know you wouldn't want an 8ft staff while bushwhacking here in the Ozarks, where there are so many low hanging branches.
A friend of mine fashioned a foot peg, like the ones that fold up on a dirt bike, onto a hiking stick so he could use it as a step for wet crossings. He uses it kind of like a stilt, but with only one leg, and for one long step. He told me there is a commercial product that is similar, but I've never looked into it. It actually works pretty good for creek crossings, which we have a lot of here.
I thought a retractable knife in the tip of my staff would be cool. Then I could turn it into a spear in case a bear wanted to eat me. So far no bears have shown an interest in that though, so I've procrastinated in actually making it.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I have to use collapsible poles--because I'm a shortie, the length I need for hiking is shorter than what I need for my shelter! It's also great to be able to collapse the poles and tie them on my pack if I need one or both hands for scrambling.
Trekking poles do help considerably those of us with leg/knee/foot problems, and I strongly suspect that their use may help prevent overuse injuries in the healthy.
Since my shelter requires only one trekking pole, I still have one available for short excursions around camp, such as fetching water. I'm not sure I'd want a shelter requiring two poles for that reason. For dayhiking or other longer excursions, I use the first measure I described earlier--take out the pole and weigh the tent down with a rock or two so it won't blow open if the wind comes up.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
Monopod - another use I'd forgotten (I don't take many pictures.) However, the Tracks Sherlite Staff (and their others, too - and a Leki Staff, I think) all have screw-off wooden knobs that expose a screw-on fitting for cameras. A photographer can tell you more about the technical details.
Loc: East Texas Piney Woods
I concur with Jim. If the hiking is easy, I stow my poles and trek on. I also like to take lots of pictures and poles are a hindrance to that. I find poles help me the most on the downhills in relieving the pressure on my knees and ankles.
I carry a 3/4 - 1 inch diameter bamboo staff that is my height. I glued on a pvc cap to the end to keep if from splitting and wrapped one layer of duct tape up the first section of the top and bottom for reinforcement. I've found this to be a great alternative to wooden staffs and/or hiking poles. It does provide that leverage that Jim mentions.
I do have other wooden staffs that I have made that are more decorative and are more works of art than utilitarian. Living where I do, I have plenty of available material for practice.
If you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you can't. Either way, you're right.
One staff works well for me, especially when the trail requires use of both hands and feet. I got an old Tomic aluminum ski pole from ebay. While not the lightest thing out there its stronger than any treking pole Ive used and a fraction of the cost.
Climb the Mountains and get their good tidings... -John Muir
Do you set up the Rainshadow 2 with one pole or two when you are taking your grandkids?
I find that two poles lets me lever my way along the trail after I've popped an ankle, and makes it easier to avoid popping the ankle in the first place. Doesn't do to end up immobilized when I've got the kids along.
I never used to really like the things, unless I was somewhere (like Jim described) where I needed a handhold, but one wasn't available - like a ridge. Collapsable poles are handy when you don't want to have to carry them, like when you are scrambling uphill and using your hands.
I own a white ash hiking staff that I made for my Dad about 30 years ago. Dad always said if a bear came at him that staff across the snout might change his mind. I say or make it worse! I use two trekking poles for the first time last year. I wont be without them now. My knees are notwhat they used to be, and they really help. They are also useful on the icey spots. Mine are chepo Kswiss from farmand fleet! So far they ae holdingup well!
We keep a plethora of trekking poles and converted ski poles by the back door (we have a nature preserve out our back door). I prefer the ski poles because... 1) they can't collapse 2) don't rattle or have moving parts. 3) are about $1 each at garage sales 4) have been used to wack wild dogs without damage to the pole. (seriously!) 5) tips/shafts are lighter than telescoping poles, which give them an easier and faster "swing", since there is less mass. I convert the handles to have trekking pole straps, if needed. You can't tell the difference once converted.
My wife likes telescoping trekking poles for the adjustment feature, but they have collapsed on hard downhills before, and they are good ones.
Hiking staffs....I have two, one aluminum and one wood, but neither gets used. After several miles of hiking, the staff's weight takes it's toll on wrists.
I like my hiking poles. I used to cross country ski and so I do own some ski poles but never used them for hiking.
The features I like about my trekking poles are:
(1) If I need to be hand (or hands) free I can collapse the pole (s) and strap it to my backpack out of the way. (2) I can adjust the pole if it is used to hold up my tarp shelter. (3) I like the rubber tip as opposed to the point (which is also available on mine).
My poles are very sturdy. They are Tracks Sherlock made in the USA. They have undergone some very rough usage but have never collapsed under load and the rubber tips stay on very securely. They may be slightly heavier than other brands but for me it doesn’t seem to be an issue.
You make good points...my wife would agree 100% with you. I'm a cheapskate and tend to use my poles more as tools, and tend to beat them up, since I use them 3-5 times a week. For tarps, however, I use a prussic or clove hitch slider on the pole for adjustment.
Loc: California (southern)
Sometimes the adjustable feature is useful; sometimes not. I like my adjustable poles when I need to pack everything into a tight space to get to the starting point. Otherwise, a non adjustable pole works fine.
I am about 100 poles short of a plethora, but I still have a passel.
Extreme newbie here, so forgive the ignorance of my question, but for those of you who use one staff or pole, do you tend to use it in your strong hand, weak hand, or do you shift based on the terrane and obstacles?
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Snarly, I tend to keep it in my strong hand, but I switch a lot too. I use mine a lot for moving bramble, brush, and branches away from my body and face, so depending on which side they're on, I'll move my staff. Same with hiking along the sides of steep slopes, I keep the staff on the downhill side. If I'm climbing it's generally in my strong hand.
In the rare times I find myself on a trail, I might carry it, holding it so it's balanced in the center, and if I'm on that trail for a long distance I'll switch hands while carrying it and start thinking that I should be using trekking poles with both hands
Loc: California (southern)
I switch hands from time to time, but usually carry it with the strong hand. On steep slopes, I usually have it on the uphill side, but that can vary with the situation. I like a strap around my wrist, just like a ski pole, so I can drop it from time to time and still maintain contact.
I've used one treking pole quite a bit when out coon hunting and it was great to have one, but two would have been in the way because you need a free hand to move limbs and stuff alot. I tried using two one a hike the other day, and didn't really care for it on the easier (more level) areas. On the other hand, on some steep downhills (especially where there was quite abit of loose rock) having two was WONDERFUL. When using one I typically keep it in my strong hand, but when on the side of a steep hill, I prefer having it on the downhill side.
I always hike with two poles. For all of my lifetime I have never had good balance and using two poles helps keep me on my feet especially with the pack on my back. A slick rock or tree root, start to go for a tumble, many times the poles have helped me get a footing. I also think that in my case the steep downhill runs with two poles are a little easier on the knees. The new lightweight telescoping poles do not seem to wear out my arms and just make hiking more enjoyable and in my case safer.
Hi, I agree with ALLEN,we just did a two day hike through Okanagan Park and I could not have done it without the two trekking poles.They saved so much stress on my knees and helped big time with my balance during the huge inclines and declines. Made the hike so much more enjoyable for me. I know it is a individual preference but I will never leave home with out them,they will be going with me on the West Coast Trail this year.....
I'm kind of an old school hiker. It was just this year that I switched to an external frame pack. Before that, I was using a homemade pack. (I'm 58). The only reason I did the switch is someone gave me a couple of pack 11 years ago and I decided to try one out. It was ok. My pack somehow always ends up at 35 pounds so I'm not into the lightweight thing.
The reason I point this out is to show I'm a little slow to change.
I started noticing a lot of people using trekking poles on the trail and in pictures and movies, so I decided to try them out. I love them. After a couple of hours, I felt like I had 4 legs. The only place I don't like them is smooth flat trails, but we don't have many of those here.
I've never used a hiking staff, but I imagine it would have some of the same benefits...maybe in another 30 years.
Well, it's six months after the original post. In those early posts, I indicated that I was in a state of indecision between a single staff and a pair of poles, and not quite sure I trusted carbon fiber poles.
Since then, I've been using a pair of MSR Carbon Reflex poles, and found that I prefer two poles to a single staff. I've gotten used to the rhythm of two poles, and find that I do feel more confident with four feet than three. About two weeks ago, I had a chance to try a single pole again (a friend forget his poles, so we split my pair for the weekend), and I found that I missed having the extra pole.
I have actually built up a fair degree of confidence in the carbon fiber. They have never seriously flexed or suffered any kind of wear or damage, and (except for one time, when I forgot to tighten it) have never needed re-tightening or adjustment due to slippage in the mechanism. (I've also developed a pretty high level of confidence in the carbon fiber pole that holds up my Carbon Reflex tent.)
I'm not convinced that they work any better than a good set of aluminum poles, nor am I convinced that screw-type mechanisms are any better than flick-locks. But, they work at least as well, in both cases, and that's good enough for me to quit worrying about them and enjoy the hike. And, despite all the debates we have about cost versus function and high-end versus bargain we have on the forums, it all comes down to that: your gear should be so worry-free that it stays in the background of the hike, leaving you free for the important stuff.
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