Selecting a Hiking Pole:
Hiking poles are very useful and should be considered must have equipment for any hiker. Unlike a walking stick, a pair of hiking poles provides you with greater stability and balance. Even more important, they help to distribute the stress on your knees and ankles to your arms and back. If haven't used trekking poles, we suggest you give it a try – your knees will be much happier the next time you hike.
There are several manufacturers of hiking poles, some making high end carbon fiber anti-shock poles while others make more simple, aluminum poles. No matter which you choose, you'll feel the benefit on your first hike.
Some features you should consider:
- Two sticks or one? Two sticks are better than one on the trail. Using a pair of hiking poles or trekking poles gives you balance and takes more stress off the lower body joints. The grips and straps are designed so you can push down on them to assist yourself on the trail, but also for quick release to prevent you from falling if the pole gets stuck between rocks or roots. Because I often hike with a camera, gps unit, voice recorder, and write data notes along the way, I often hike with only one pole which is easier to manage with all the equipment around me.
- Weight. Are the poles made of aluminum or carbon fiber? Carbon fiber poles are much lighter than aluminum ones, so this can be an advantage in lessening the fatigue on your arms in a long day hike. However, carbon fiber poles are generally more expensive, but can be worth the extra expense for some. Unfortunately, they are slightly more fragile than aluminum ones, but most users claim they have no problem with them.
- Fit. Most trekking poles have shafts that can be adjusted for short or tall hikers. On flat terrain, your arm should be at a 90 degree angle when you’re holding the poles. Adjusting the length as you go uphill and downhill allows you to keep the correct angle. For travelers and hikers, poles that collapse down to store or carry in your luggage or in your pack on the trail are very handy.
- Grip. Cheap aluminum trekking poles tend to have plastic grips. While this is okay if cost is a concern, it's worth spending a few extra dollars to get a pair at a quality outdoor retailer like MEC that have either foam, rubber, or cork grips. Foam is a good choice because it will absorb sweat. Cork will also absorb sweat and over time conform to the shape of your hands. Rubber is good for cold weather use when you’re wearing gloves, but it can irritate the skin after a few hours on the trail. A quick-release mechanism for the strap is very handy.
- Locking Mechanism. The shafts of trekking poles usually have 2 to 3 sections which are locked together by some mechanism. The most common ones have a twisting lock, that applies pressure to secure the shaft. A second and preferred locking mechanism is the flip lock. Flip locks are great because it is easier to extend or collapse your trekking poles if you’re wearing gloves and you don't have to worry about how to rotate the poles to lock them. While these can be a bit pricier, I feel they are worth it. My hiking poles are the Black Diamond (BD) flip lock type and they work fine for me.
- Anti-shock. Some trekking poles have built in anti-shock devices, so more pressure is absorbed, especially on downhill hikes. My pair are not anti-shocks, but if you have knee problems or sensitive ankles, you should definitely consider these. While these cost more, they will benefit some people. Some poles use cork or springs to act as shock absorbers. These systems generally add more weight to the poles, but can increase your comfort in using them.
- Women’s Specific? Manufacturers now make women’s specific trekking poles. They tend to be lighter weight, and slightly smaller than unisex poles. If you have small hands, I’d recommend women’s specific poles, otherwise a unisex pair should be fine.
Hiking Pole Accessories
Mud Baskets: Most hiking poles come with mud baskets to prevent the pole from sinking deep into the mud in wet ground. They also help to keep the mud from splashing up onto your clothing. If you lose them, you can readily buy a replacement pair.
Snow Baskets: These can convert your hiking poles into snow poles. Snow baskets prevent your poles from sliding way down into the snow. They provide floatation to the poles and only allow then to sink a few centimetres into the snow. If the snow is powder-like and soft, then you may need to switch to a larger size but one size will do for most people.
Rubber Caps: These are good for rocky terrain along parts of the Bruce Trail. Trying to descend rocky slopes without rubber caps will cause the metal of the hiking pole tip to slide right off the rocks and this could be dangerous.
The disadvantages of hiking poles
Although the use of hiking poles has a number of benefits, there are some disadvantages:
- Greater Overall Effort – Some experts believe that the use of poles could increase your overall energy usage. This is because your hands are now acting like extra legs, and is a purpose for which they were not designed.
- Get In The Way – Your often need your hands for various tasks during hiking such as: opening up your map; drinking water; eating your food, taking photographs; or moving branches aside in dense undergrowth; etc. Hiking poles make it more difficult to do these tasks.
- Dangerous – Poles can be a danger to other hikers, especially when used by hikers that haven’t taken the effort to learn how to use them properly. Never walk close behind a hiker with hiking poles or else be prepared to be jabbed. Also, to avoid lightening strikes during a storm, drop your poles with metal parts on the ground at least 30 m away.
HIKING POLES VIDEO: