How many Trekking Poles do you use?

Way back in February/March 2002 we asked:

"How many Trekking Poles do you use?"

The results were:

One Walking Pole - 28%
Two Walking Poles - 44% and
No Walking Poles at all - 28%

However, we also received a number of comments - such as . . .


“I usually walk with a single trekking pole, for balance and propulsion, but it is very helpful in moving brambles, nettles and branches out of the way. As a young boy scout we each made a 2 meter scout stave (scout staff), which had multiple uses. A trek pole is a more socially acceptable form of a scout stave, with almost as many uses. Some of these include: self-defence, tent/tarp pole, emergency splint, binoculars/camera monopod, shadow stick (direction finding), flag pole (to gain attention). Hopefully now you will look upon your trekking poles as much more than just a walking aid.”

Dorset Limpet Muncher, Bridport


“The pro and the cons listed in the 'Walking and Trekking Poles Gear Guide' are both correct, but there is no conflict here. Simply use the poles in the 'pro' situations and put them away in the 'con' situations.

I live in the flat south of the UK, so rarely need poles for local walks. However I use a pair in three particular situations:

(a). When going somewhere with significant hills - I find them a great aid to propulsion when ascending and stability when descending.
(b). When on carrying a large rucksack - i.e. anything larger than a daysack. Taking some of the weight on the arms rather than the knees and feet really does help reduce stress on the lower limbs.
(c). When undertaking endurance walks involving long distances or high speed - they were essential when I walked 100km in less than 21 hours.
My experience of walking ranges from single and multi-day walks in the UK and abroad to a 3-month John o'Groats to Land's End trek, the latter carrying 20kg of gear including a tent and cooking. I took lightweight Leki poles with shock absorbers with me on the latter trek, but found the movement of the shock absorber mechanism rubbed against the tubing, thinning the tube wall so much that the poles bent and collapsed after about 600 miles. Cotswold Outdoor sent the poles back to Leki with a report, but they never responded. I am no great fan of the rotary locking mechanism for poles either - neither Leki's nor anyone else's. They often fail to tighten when you need them too, and often you can't undo them.

I replaced my Leki poles with Black Diamond Trail poles with external locking mechanisms and no shock absorption and have found them excellent over the past 4 years and several thousand miles of use. The external locking mechanisms mean that you don't need to tightly grip the shaft of the poles to lock/unlock them and they are easily operated even with thick gloves on. I have also come to the conclusion that shock absorbers are an unnecessary complication (and weight).

It is noteworthy that Leki now make poles with external locking mechanisms.

Since my John o'Groats to Land's End trek I have learned how to manage with less gear, so my typical rucksack weight on multi-day camping trips is now about 15kg. The relevance to the above is that I can fit all my gear into an Osprey Exos 42 rucksack which has handy attachments on the left hand side to stow the poles when not required (i.e. in the 'con' situations) without having to remove the rucksack.

Happy walking.”

Steve Hughes, Southampton


“Years ago I thought walking poles were for wimps - not anymore:

- obviously, they can aid ascent & descent
- they are an aid if clambering over / under electric fences
- if you are wary of farm animals (cows, bullocks etc), all farm animals know what a stick is & what it can do!
- if you are going thru' deep puddles, streams, mud etc, you can use them as a prod to test the depth & find the shallowest way thru.
However, I can never find an easy way of getting them off my rucksack & into my hands when I need them quickly!!”

Capto Kirk, Newcastle Under Lyme


“Walking poles were something I was always sceptical about needing, but I eventually bought a top quality pair of fully damped "Black Diamond" & could feel the difference immediately. With a heavy pack on it certainly improved the power in my step & also helped to remove some of the weight from my heel area too. Certainly worth paying a bit extra for a decent set & glad I did.”

Steven Gill, Leeds


“One. Enthusiastic but inexperienced / nervous walkers do tend to over-accessorise and most shops will happily relieve you of your money. I know I did but it's also condescending to state that they are unnecessary for Lakeland walking and should be the preserve of Alpine climbers. You do see folk using a pair on the pavement around Ambleside - which is highly unlikely to be warranted. I tend to only use it on descents. Recently I carried it but didn't use it initially - thinking I didn't need it. And whilst I didn't 'need' it, when I did decide to use it, there was absolutely no doubt that it made the descent easier. The trouble though is it can give a false sense of security and cause you to speed up. Using two can also lead you to put too much weight on them and if they give, you're a gonner. So you do need to learn to use it - strange as that may seem for what is essentially a stick! I'd say that for descent use like me, I'd only recommend a single pole. It keeps the emphasis on weight distribution where it needs to be and I feel better keeping one hand free to grab things. Having poles strapped to both hands can interfere with what you can instinctively grab/reach for during a slip.”

Talman,


“My wife and I recently walked the Coast to Coast Path. After leaving the Lake District my wife was suffering badly from a painful knee which had been causing her trouble on and off for sometime. She struggled on to Richmond where we purchased 2 walking poles with built-in shock absorbers. They were an instant success reducing her knee pain almost to nothing even across the North York Moors.”

John Matthews, Salisbury


“I am a pole convert. Up until a year ago I viewed them as unnecessary. Then whilst walking Offa's Dyke I pulled a muscle in my leg and the pain was severe. After finding a stick to use as a support, the pain was instantly relieved and I suddenly realised the effectiveness that poles could have in redistributing the weight and placing less strain on joints.

ow I only use one and not constantly. I accept that perhaps they are used excessively, however I value them for the hillier sections and think they're better for your body no matter what your fitness level.”

Paul,


“I was just reading some of your past discussions when I read an interesting and slightly ignorant view expressed by Stuart Bainbridge of Darwen.

1. Who is he to know when and when not people require trekking poles. Does he take a comprehensive medical history from everyone he passes to see if they qualify for poles?

2. There is plenty of scientific evidence that they reduce the strain on the knees. Also they do help in using the accessory muscles of respiration, enabling people who may not be blessed with the supreme fitness levels of stuart to enjoy the great outdoors.

3. It doesn't make any difference where a gradient is, whether it is in the Alps or North Wales.

4. See how many people use them on the mountain marathons this year.

5. Its important not to let our own petty irritations and intolerance cloud judgement . . . I could go on”

Jeremy Dainton, Truro


“Perhaps hiking poles can double up as a form of self defence against aggressive dogs and thoughtless owners?

We went on a guided walk on dartmoor and giggled and asked the usual question - "Where's your skis then?" at a couple who struggled with their walking poles.

I thought they looked cumbersome and useless until being frightened by an aggressive dog while out walking one day. It growled and grumbled at us and we stood still quivering until the owner caught up with it and said the immortal words "He wont hurt you his barks worst than his bite!!"

A week later on the same walk we met the same dog and owner - and suffered the same indignity with little apology.

Next time we will be armed to the teeth with poles and intend to use them in self defence.”

Sheri Ahmet, Bridport


“I've been walking in the hills for most of my forty years and climbing for some, I started out reading hand me down books from the 50's and still agree with many of the points put forward in them.

Trekking Poles or Alpine Stock, are for use in the Alps, not for use in the British Hills, there's no need for them unless you have or have had a serious injury.

The droves of young and not so young people clattering around making one hell of a noise on the flat or in the foothills, often just swinging them about, drives me nuts.

Trekking Poles and other such accessories should be discouraged as mere ways of getting more money out of inexperienced walkers.”

Stuart Bainbridge, Darwen


“In your article about the new innovations for 2003 on Leki Trekking Poles, and Tom Brown's comments (below). Leki respond:

Technical information available on the Gabel poles website is not sufficient to be able to compare antishock systems with Leki's technology, however as far as Leki is aware, Gabel poles use a basic foam rather than spring system, which gives no elastic travel and virtually no shock absorption.

Leki use a triple spring system (which was patented in 1999) and an EVA and spring combination. Easy Lock System (ELS) and Soft Antishock System (SAS) technology, which were introduced in Spring 2003 are further developments of Leki's existing shock-absorbing technology, with SAS being patented in May 2002. SAS comprises a steel spring with elastomer at the top and bottom, which, due to the improved dampening afforded by the elastomer, means that less shock travels into the upper body.

In addition to improving the shock absorption, the spring/elastomer combination also reduces noise. Leki would have been unable to patent this technology had it already existed.”

Leki,


“In your article about the new innovations for 2003 on Leki Trekking Poles, these innovations aren't really new (except to Leki they may be) The Gabel models: Summit, Explorer, and Carbon Force all have a "dampening" anti-shock system ( Double-damped Anti Impact Cushion System (A.I.C.S.) - [patented]. )

They also have a 1/4 turn locking system which I'd bet have a similar lock to the new Leki one based on the strength of the poles. Never found a picture of the locks (but from look of the drawing on the specs page, it may be a lock with screw in center.)

These poles are on the Gabel website with a 1999-2001 copyright (which means they had it for awhile, hence the patent I take it).

In the UK you have access to Gabel poles. In the U.S. the shame is with a poor business reputation (and salesmanship) from their North American branch in Canada (plus lack of information and pole accessories on their website). Gabel never made a dent in the trekking pole business here. They would have had the best poles and at a 1/3 less the price tags of Leki poles.

Another pole with "dampening" anti-shock is the Komperdell Vibra Stop Hiking Poles (Our Price US$101.00). This revolutionary hiking pole features Komperdell's newest innovation known as Vibra Stop Cushioning.

This pole absorbs and dampens all vibrations instead of transferring them to your body, lowering re-occuring vibrations down to 2% of intensity.

Vibra Stop poles are sold by the pair. Max length 145cm (58 inches) Contour Compact Grip Antishock strap Trekking Baskets Vario Tungsten Carbide Tip Vibra Stop Cushioning Length 25.5"-55" (65cm-145cm). Weight each 9.5 oz. (270 g).

In closing Leki's "new innovations" are actually just catching up on technology when you rest on your laurels as the leader of that said technology.

I hope this proves enlightening (and hopefully entertaining too.)

Good hiking to you from across the pond.”

Tom Brown,


“1. There have been scientific studies that have shown using a pair of poles reduces the load on feet and knees: see the article in TGO June 2000 for example. If you have dodgy knees they can help: that certainly fits in with my experience.

2. They are a useful aid in crossing streams & rivers: this is particularly relevant in the Highlands. You have four points of balance instead of just two. Again this is from personal experience. I always make sure they are not about to collapse on me before I cross a stream though!

3. They are a pain when you are trying to use your hands for something else, e.g. map reading or taking notes.

4. They can be dangerous on steep scrambly ground: there is always a danger of tripping over one or catching one against rocks, overbalancing & being unable to recover because your hands are strapped to the poles. I put mine away on the descent from the Falls of Glomach last year for this reason.

5. They won't stop you once you've starting sliding down ice or steep snow: they are no substitute for an ice axe.

6. Outside hardcore walking areas you soon get sick of being told you've left your skis behind.

I'm off walking from Land's End to John O'Groats along long distance paths and through the Highlands in a month's time: I'm taking a pair of poles to reduce the chance of my knees packing in, and to cross the rivers in the Highlands. I'll still curse them from time to time, & I'm sure I'll curse a few smart-arses cracking ski jokes as well.

Incidentally I've also tried them out once on a long run (40 miles in the Peak District). They seemed to help then too, although the rhythm I used only placed each pole on the ground every other step, rather than every step. And no, I don't use poles all the time: just when I can see a significant advantage in doing so.”

Andy Robinson,


“I am the leader of a Scout Group and while I do appreciate that as we get older our joints do not work as well as they used to I for one am anti trek poles.

As a fashion accessory the dreaded trek pole seems to have made its unwelcome appearance amongst the youngsters in my troop. While I am sure that they are not as fit as I was at their age (or for that matter even now) I really do not think that they are in need of these awful devices.

Teenagers have just enough coordination to be able to put one foot in front of another with out falling over let alone having to contend with two flailing poles.

My solution has been to banish their poles to the ice axe loops on their sacs where that can be seen but do no harm.”

Ben Thomas,


“At one time, I really didn't think that Trekking Poles had many merits, being more of a fashion accessory than a useful aid.

However, I was bought one for a present and felt I should be seen with it now and then - lol - what I did find was that it can be very useful and worth taking with you when climbing or descending steep routes (and specifically those that are not on nice clear paths). They are very useful for keeping balance and providing thrust and anchor.

I don't take one with me on all occassions but if I know I will be climbing high and over rough terrain, then I do”

Tom Fleck,


“Hi

I bought a pair of Kohla alpine-top poles a couple of months ago. the first time I used them I found that on rock the tips did not grip (my old cheap ones did grip).

The Kohla ones have a convex tip were my old ones have a concave tip. So I went back to the shop where I bought them. they agreed with me and said they had other people saying the same thing.

They contacted the supplier who have now said that the old type were dangerous because of the concave tip.

I would sooner have a pole that stopped me falling than one that could cause me to have a fall that could end with a broken bone or even worse.

May I add that the shop is being very helpful.”

Bill Green,


“Hi I'm in the US and planning a trip to England to do some fell-walking in June. I love trekking poles.

I began using them several years ago in the Grand Canyon, where I frequently hike. I find one is plenty. I packed along a pair once and found the second pole gets in the way.

Going uphill in steep areas, a pole gives leverage. Going downhill, it helps with balance and saves wear and tear on my knees. Also good for pushing brush aside, and innumerable other uses.

Happy Hiking!”

Firefly,


“Hi, I had always opposed poles, and I was WRONG!

I started with one (a present) and now I wonder how I EVER got by without them?????

I use two now, not always, but if the walk includes steep ascents, I take them. I used them in the Pyreneees last year and found them invaluable.

My advice? try them - then try to do without!”

Les Singleton,


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