When we first started to hike in earnest, the thought of using trekking poles seemed dorky and best left to the elderly. We just didn’t encounter many people using them, either.
A year later, we’re solid converts. Almost all the hikers we pass this summer seem to be using them now.
Here’s what we discovered:
Initially we thought we’d order just one pair so each of us would have a pole to use. In practice, we found that two are much better than one and lightyears better than none. Two poles also increases the odds that your movements will be more symmetrical than if you used only one. Using poles engages your upper body, forcing both arm and shoulder muscles to fire with each step. Going uphill seems easier because your legs are assisted by your arms. Going downhill, especially on loose footing is much steadier,too.
They’re a sure cure for “sausage fingers”- those stiff, swollen fingers and hands that one gets on an extended hike. The simple act of grasping poles also seems to keep hands warmer. To change it up on a long hike, I like to place the poles horizontally across the back of my shoulders and drape my arms over the ends.
Poles are incredibly helpful when crossing tricky areas like streams, logs, skinny tracks or rocky patches along a trail. We simply could not have finished the Mt. Defiance hike without our poles.
Before you buy, look for these features:
Adjustable: Adjustable poles allow you to retract or extend the poles depending on the activity. Recently when attempting a difficult river crossing, I extended my poles about six inches to compensate for the depth of water where I needed to plant my poles. You may find that you prefer a shorter length when going up hill and longer poles for descents. We especially like the quick and sure “Rock-Lock” adjustment clamp that Easton uses on their poles. It takes just a few seconds to change the length which can be done easily while walking. When collapsed, most poles are about 2 feet long and easy to strap to a backpack.
Wrist straps: Adjustable, padded wrist straps are a must because you’re putting a lot of strain on the strap, especially on a longer hike. Make sure you thread your hand upward through the loop, then grasp the grip, so the heel of your hand pushes down on the strap and locks your hand in place.
Grips: David’s Easton CTR 60 grips are made from natural cork while my Easton ATR 75 Ion poles use EVA extended foam. Both seem to breathe equally well. My grips have a reduced diameter and fit my smaller hands. Some grips are ergonomically shaped, some are not. Before buying online, be sure to try poles in a store. The hand grips and strap material is crucial since you may be grasping poles for the entire day. Eventually the grips will conform to your hands’ unique shape.
Baskets: Look for poles that include both snow and trail baskets so you can use them for in the winter, too. Be sure to check that replacement tips are available.
Materials: Poles can be made from carbon fiber, aluminum or a combination of materials, each of which affect the weight and durability.
Other uses: Poles can even be used to erect an emergency shelter from a tarp. You can also select a model that has a camera mount on the top or add your own mount, creating a kind of field tripod.