When I first started hiking, I thought that trekking poles were only for old people. But then as I pushed myself harder and took on the harder trails, I realized they definitely had their benefits. In 2019, while hiking the West Coast Trail during the rainy season, I realized, that in some cases, they are down right necessary. But now, this leaves the question; did I realize their value because I was maturing, or did I need them because I was getting older?
Either way, everything has Pros and Cons, so let's look at Trekking Poles!
I’m a big fan of trekking poles for hiking because they help reduce the strain on my knees when I walk downhill, they improve my balance when I’m hiking over rough ground or crossing streams, and they are useful for establishing a good walking rhythm when synchronized with your arms. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch and before you run out and buy a pair of hiking poles, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of using them and how to use them properly for the greatest benefit.
Reduce strain on knees during descents
Improve balance when walking across rough terrain and stream crossings
Help establish a walking rhythm
Multi-purpose item that can be used to pitch ultralight shelters
Arm motion increases amount of energy required
Leaning forward on poles reduces biomechanical efficiency of carrying a backpack
Improper reliance on straps can lead to injury on falls due to wrist entrapment
Poles can catch on trees and brush while hiking on narrow trails or bushwhacking
Steel carbide tips can be potentially damaging to rocks and fragile plants
Care must be taken when walking across scree fields to prevent poles from snapping
First off, trekking poles require more energy to hike with because they involve your upper body muscles (arms and shoulders) as well as your lower body muscles. So, while trekking poles may reduce the level of perceived exertion you experience, you are going to burn more calories if you use them.
There are also times where trekking poles can be more of a hindrance than a help. For example, how many times have you seen someone climbing uphill who is hunched over so that their upper body is nearly parallel with the ground. Invariably, they’re leaning over their hiking poles in an effort to offload their leg muscles while holding up their upper body and backpack with their poles.
Trekking poles provide no benefit in this situation because the weight of their upper body has been transferred away from your legs – which are the biggest and strongest muscles of your body – to the arms which are far weaker and get tired more quickly. It’s even worse if you’re wearing a backpack, because the work of holding it up is done by the arms and not the hip belt which is designed to transfer the load to your legs.
When hiking up hills, it’s important to stand straight and keep your torso as errect as possible so that your big leg muscles do all the work. Trekking poles can be used for balance or to help lift your torso up using your arms, but only if they’re help close to your sides, not out front of your body.
Leaning forward actually requires even more energy because the tops of your trekking poles are pushing against you – so that you almost need to vault over them to get past. That’s another reason to keep the poles by your sides. Standing up straight and taking smaller steps is the key to getting up steep hills, not leaning forward on your poles.
Trekking poles can be be very advantageous for hikers, paricularly because they reduce the strain and force of gravity on your lower extremities when hiking downhill. But used incorrectly on uphill climbs, they can result in increased caloric demand and perceived effort. Like any piece of hiking gear, the efficient use of trekking poles requires proper technique and an awareness of the pitfalls of incorrect usage.
Featured on Section Hiker, written by Philip Werner on July 1, 2016
(Sunday, October 10, 2021)
Today we are heading out on one of my favorite hikes along the Bruce Trail, a hike I call "The Waterfalls of Lincoln" hike. We will be visiting 3 conservation areas each with it's own waterfall(s). Starting in Shorthills Provincial Park we will pass two waterfalls, Terrace Falls and Swayze Falls. Next we will continue along the Bruce Trail until we reach Rockway Conservation Area and Rockway Falls. After enjoying the area, and having lunch, we will then head off to Louth Conservation Area to enjoy Louth Falls before heading to the parking area to finish our hike. With a little luck, all 4 waterfalls will have some flow. We will have our final hike of October on the 24th, after which time, there will be a two week gap in the hikes. During this time, we will make the transfer to the new, much more modern NAC website! The www.NiagaraAdventure.ca URL will automatically take you to the new site, so you won't have to do a thing. Unfortunately, I can not move your Site Member accounts over, so everyone will have to create a new accont before registering for events. I will move as much information over as I can. The web site will not be fully complete, but everything you will need will be available to you. For 2022, there will no longer be a paid membership option, rather, there will be season passes. These will have all the same benefits as Membership had in the past. The reason for the change is to minimize the confusion between site membership and club membership.
That's all the news for this week. As always, stay safe, and happy hiking! Lenny Burch Niagara Adventure Club