Jun 9, 2009 at 3:54 pm #1236947
What Good Are Hiking Poles?
Double hiking poles, held like ski poles, are becoming a common sight on the trail. Do they really make hiking easier?
Or, with their added weight, will they help you intensify your workout and burn more calories?
Researchers at Oklahoma State University tested these poles, not with vigorous arm swinging on a flat surface (which another study found increased exertion), but as a prop in walking uphill.
Twenty men were fitted with 33-lb (15 kg) frame backpacks, and walked uphill at 1 ½ mph at a gradually increasing grade for 5 minutes, then continued for 10 more minutes at a peak grade of 25 percent.
Whether they used hiking poles or not had no significant effect on their heart rate, breathing, oxygen consumption, or calories burned.
It did, however, affect the hikers' perceived exertion (RPE), which was lower when using hiking poles, especially towards the end of the 15-minute hike.
The stabilizing effect of the poles may have made the hiking seem more comfortable and therefore, easier, even though physiologically, exertion was the same.
Source: International Journal of Sports Medicine, July 2000; 21, 5, 356-359Jun 9, 2009 at 4:00 pm #1507052
Chris WBPL Member
Kind of a limited study. Where's the downhill testing?Jun 9, 2009 at 4:04 pm #1507053
Jim MacDiarmidBPL Member
What about your knees? Does the study mention whether or not hiking poles take stress off your knees, especially going downhill? That was my thinking in getting trekking poles.
When I use my poles, I feel like I can go longer, because I can shift back and forth between how much I just rely on my legs and using my poles more to propel myself uphill. Of course, this is just a 'feeling', and could be all in my head.Jun 9, 2009 at 4:08 pm #1507054
This is the worst study I have ever seen. You are correct, no downhill testing which is where they come in handy for me. What about stream crossings or using them with glacier travel….I could go on.
Who pays for these studies?Jun 9, 2009 at 4:12 pm #1507055
Chris WBPL Member
I concur with both of you. I think most of us use them to save knee stress downhill and for help with agility. I use mine some when I power up hills too but I think I'm pretty unique in that I speed up when I see a hill. I tend to get yelled at for it though.Jun 9, 2009 at 4:13 pm #1507057
Cayenne RedmonkBPL Member
@redmonkLocale: Greater California Ecosystem
One group burned more calories with their upper body than the other group.
Both groups burned the same amount of calories.
Seems like one group might be feeling better because they have legs which have performed less work.Jun 9, 2009 at 4:37 pm #1507058
@cbertLocale: N. California
i think it results in a more even distribution of work
a 200lb quadruped travels faster and easier than a 200lb biped – but the calories required to move a 200lb mass from point a to point b are the same
i sometimes use no pole, sometimes one staff, sometimes two poles & my experience seems to match up – the overall effort doesn't seem less, but my legs are definitely less impacted when i use the staff or the poles & the downhill jarring is significantly reducedJun 9, 2009 at 5:04 pm #1507062
JAMES CALLBPL Member
@conductorLocale: Sierra Nevada
Good points all.
So let me get this straight, according to this study the poles that I use to-
Power up hills
Come down steep hills
Save my butt when I stumble
Support my shelter
Hold my bivy hood off of my face when there is no over-head tie offs
Dig cat holes
has no metabolic cost for their use—cool!
Also I don’t think they had sub 4oz poles in 2000.Jun 9, 2009 at 5:05 pm #1507064
@retropumpLocale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
There was an exhaustive thread here which is worth reading and digesting before drawing any conclsions based on one poorly designed study from almsot a decade ago…Jun 9, 2009 at 6:19 pm #1507089
"Who pays for these studies?"
The College of Orthopedic Surgeons.Jun 9, 2009 at 6:21 pm #1507091
"One group burned more calories with their upper body than the other group.
Both groups burned the same amount of calories.
Seems like one group might be feeling better because they have legs which have performed less work."
Spot on!Jun 9, 2009 at 7:14 pm #1507106
All I am saying is in the years of using trekking poles my falling down has gone down maybe 95%? So many times I have that extra second to grab myself instead of butt/face planting.
And my knees. I don't know where I'd be without them to take the stress off of them.
And crossing rivers, poles are priceless.
I could care less about burning more calories…..not having swollen ape hanger hands at the end of the day is yet another reason to use them!Jun 9, 2009 at 7:31 pm #1507111
@anywayoutsideLocale: South East
"It did, however, affect the hikers' perceived exertion (RPE), which was lower when using hiking poles, especially towards the end of the 15-minute hike."
My LT4's provide vivid hallucinations of increased stability. I don't hit a trail without them. Anyway isn't perception 9/10ths of reality?Jun 9, 2009 at 7:41 pm #1507113
"Anyway isn't perception 9/10ths of reality?" Maybe, but the other 1/10th, gravity, is the one that really counts. ;)Jun 10, 2009 at 5:30 am #1507184
"All I am saying is in the years of using trekking poles my falling down has gone down maybe 95%?"
Sarah, great point. On a 6-day wet and rugged trip someone in our group slipped, caught himself and spontaneously yelled out "pole save". That was repeated a number of times that trip. It's in our lexicon now.Jun 10, 2009 at 7:21 am #1507200
It was my husband who got me to go to 2 poles way back when. It was our first hike together, going back even before dating. He watched me do the two footed whoopty-whoop slide on a slick mossy bridge in pouring rain. I landed on my back/butt. This was pretty normal for me – and in as well, it seemed for many people I hiked with at the time. No one used poles.
He gave me his to try.
I was hooked.Jun 11, 2009 at 5:15 pm #1507634
@robertm2sLocale: Lake Tahoe
“Compared to regular walking, Nordic walking involves applying force to the poles with each stride. Nordic walkers use more of their entire body (with greater intensity) and receive fitness building stimulation not as present in normal walking for the chest, lats, triceps, biceps, shoulder, abdominals, spinal and other core muscles. This extra muscle involvement leads to enhancements over ordinary walking at equal paces such as:
• increased overall strength and endurance in the core muscles and the entire upper body
• significant increases in heart rate at a given pace 
• greater ease in climbing hills
• burning more calories than in plain walking
• improved balance and stability with use of the poles
• significant unweighting of hip, knee and ankle joints
• provides density-preserving stress to bones
Nordic walking can be done year round in any climate and anywhere a person of any age or ability might otherwise walk without poles. It combines simplicity and accessibility of walking with simultaneous core and upper body conditioning similar to Nordic skiing. The result is a full-body walking workout that can burn significantly more calories without a change in perceived exertion or having to walk faster, due to the incorporation of many large core and other upper-body muscles which comprise more than 90% of the body's total muscle mass and do work against resistance with each stride. "Normal walking" utilizes only 70% of muscle mass with full impact on the joints of the legs and feet. Nordic walking produces up to a 46% increase in energy consumption compared to walking without poles. It can also increase upper body muscle endurance by 38% in just twelve weeks.”Jun 11, 2009 at 5:31 pm #1507639
@maynard76Locale: New England
I question whether there is much impact on the joints themselves. Joints are designed to move smoothly and efficiently -but are they designed to take the full impact of walking/moving?
Im highly skeptical. It seems like a bad idea to expect the little bit of cartilage to adsorb all that impact, I would think that cartilage is there to separate the bones and create low friction not to absorb impact. Ive never had pain in my knees from walking/hiking but Ive beat the hell out of the leg muscles until they twitched involuntarily. It seems to me that the muscles take the brunt of the impact with the bones only indirectly.
and man people sure fall down a lot!Jun 11, 2009 at 6:55 pm #1507665
Huzefa SiamwalaBPL Member
>Joints are designed to move smoothly and efficiently -but are they designed to take the full impact of walking/moving? Im highly skeptical. It seems like a bad idea to expect the little bit of cartilage to adsorb all that impact, I would think that cartilage is there to separate the bones and create low friction not to absorb impact.
You are right, Brian.
>I question whether there is much impact on the joints themselves.
There is – when you walk with heel strike which results in locked knees taking the impact. it is your arches that are evolved to take the impact not your knees.
Walking barefoot, most of us naturally adopt a very different step: the knees are bent, rather than locked; the outside ball of the foot touches the ground to test it first, before applying any weight; then, if it’s safe, we roll the rest of the ball in and flatten the heel; only then does the weight come down.
For reference see this thread:
Discussion on Pack theory, poles, and shoesJun 11, 2009 at 8:58 pm #1507695
@maynard76Locale: New England
Thanks for the links Huzefa,
I may try out those Huarache Running Sandals.
I like that you can buy the kit and fit them custom.
Also the price is right, most barefoot inspired shoes are out of my price range this is a good alternative.Jun 11, 2009 at 10:21 pm #1507704
Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
I have been using trekking poles for about 3 months now. For me the jury is still out. I have the GG Lightrek 4's so the weight is minimal. To be honest, I think they slow me down. But some of that maybe the technique. There is some more reading and research I need to do, especially on the Nordic Hiking method I have seen posted here recently.
However they are handy for setting up a tarp, and often there are no trees for me to use for this purpose.
Prior to my trekking pole experiment, I had used a hiking staff for decades. I don't feel the staff assisted me that much either. But out of habit, the staff really helped my rhythm while walking, and I liked the fact I could switch it from hand to hand. Plus the staff has a camera mount. I feel much more comfortable hiking with a staff, because I have been doing it for 40 years or more. But it really isn't an aid to help me hike in most situations.
Both the poles and the staff are nice for leaning on when momentarily resting on steep elevation gains.
Now for how much they help on downhills. First, if you have problem joints, I suppose they would be helpful. But maybe they are just a band-aid covering a root cause for many hikers.
Some joint problems probably cannot be repaired without serious intervention, such as surgery. On the other hand, maybe conditioning and other factors play an important role for many hikers. Over the years, I have found that the heavier the footwear, the more likely I am to slip, trip, and have other problems. Of course the heavier your pack, the heavier your footwear needs to be.
For the past year or so, I have been experimenting quite a bit with some extremely light shoes, which have almost zero support. These are racing flats. We are talking about shoes in the 6 oz range. But they do not last as long as trail runners or boots.
I have also been running and hiking in a barefoot shoe, the Vibram five-fingers which are expensive. I have pretty much decided the five-fingers or other barefoot footwear is not my solution for hiking with a pack in varied terrain. However they are a good solution for training runs. If I had a grassy park to run in, I would probably run barefooted for my training.
The barefoot shoes (or you could run barefooted), force your brain and body to run on the balls of your feet. Heel strikes become too bone-jarring and painful. This switch is not conscious. Now when you start running or hiking on the balls of your feet, the arches and other parts of the foot start to absorb the impact, and the calf muscles are doing more work, taking on some of the work the upper leg muscles had been doing. Actually landing on the balls of the feet shouldn't be called impact, because it is morelike using your legs as springs. This is obvious after running for awhile, because the arches and calves are sore after running or walking a lot in barefoot mode; even if you are in good running shape. But after a while the soreness goes away as you get your feet and calves into shape. Also the impact of striking the ground feels "springy" and lighter, than with a heel strike. All of this takes time.
As a result of all these 'quasi-scientific' statements I have made, hiking in extremely light shoes and training as I have, has made me as surefooted as a mountain goat. I never trip or slip any more. Going down hill I feel agile and comfortable, and I move much faster now. The trekking poles get in my way, so I just carry them parallel to the ground most of the time.
They last item we should probably consider is our overall physical conditioning. Genetically, I am fortunate that I have a higher metabolism than most. I also have a lifestyle that allows me to make time for physical exercise several times a week all year round. So I am tall and skinny. That means I can carry lighter clothes, a smaller sleep system, less water, and less food than most people. All of this is conducive to lighter packs and lighter shoes.
I am going to continue to use the trekking poles the rest of this year. Maybe they will prove to be helpful. Maybe dialing into hiking technique will prove them to be a real asset. But right now, I feel that regular exercise and lightweight shoes are more important. Who knows, maybe in December I will dump the trekking poles and get a couple carbon fiber poles for my poncho/tarp.Jun 11, 2009 at 11:41 pm #1507713
Matthew SteingassBPL Member
I use my poles in nordic mode for their fitness benifits and stability when trekking fast and stream crossings. I also have runners knee and trekking poles are someitmes the difference in me walking in the morning or not. For me their pretty much a necessity but I'm still not sure if they improve my efficiency.Jun 14, 2009 at 5:27 pm #1508148
I use my trekking pole as a spider web remover… As a matter of fact I think I'm switching from a pole to an umbrella.Jun 14, 2009 at 7:55 pm #1508170
I don't know, Nick, us short women have it better than you tall men. Our clothes are smaller, lighter and we can sleep in bags that are tiny compared to a tall man's bag ;-)
Just saying.Jun 15, 2009 at 1:27 pm #1508316
@retropumpLocale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Hey Gary, I use my poles for that a LOT too.
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