Trekking Pole Science

Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Home Forums Gear Forums Gear (General) Trekking Pole Science

  • This topic is empty.
Viewing 25 posts - 26 through 50 (of 92 total)
  • Author
  • #1617268
    Scott Toraason


    Thanks for the study Chris, having said that, others appear to feel the American College Of Sports Medicine is a conspiracy organization that you personally fund because they conducted a scientific study that rubs them the wrong way. Use of hiking poles is a personal decision not that they might be effective or not effective in certain situations. OMG I’m going blind, no actually double blinded.

    Ron Bell / MLD
    BPL Member


    Locale: USA

    Trek Poles and Trail Running…It's about to take off in the US??? Looks like it…

    June 2010 Issue of Trail Runner mag (a good mag I always read) has a story on the rise of trek pole use by LD trail runners. Karl Metzler just won the Hardrock 100 using poles most of the way They've been popular in EU trail races for years.

    The June issue also has the annual gear guide with a ection on fast packing gear.

    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mojave Desert

    All of you "trekking pole doubters" out there must be in your 20s & 30s because in your 40 & up you'll soon find that trekking poles reduce knee/ankle joint soreness, maintain upper body strength and reduce falls.

    Don't knock trekking poles 'til you've thoroughly tried them.

    Doug Johnson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    This is all very interesting to me. There is a great deal of qualitative (experiential) evidence both for and against the efficacy of trekking pole use. It certainly is tricky to gather conclusive quantitative evidence and many good points have been brought up here.

    Nick brings up some points here that bring up not just IF one uses poles but HOW they are used.

    There are three basic pole techniques that I call Trekking, Nordic Walking, and Pacer Pole (the last requiring specific poles and with a technique similar to Nordic Walking).

    Most hikers seem to use the Trekking technique where the poles are planted generally in line with the foot and used primarily for stability, taking pressure off the knees, technical terrain, etc. The fact that Nick holds his poles unused on the flats tells me that he probably uses this technique for the most part, possibly using Nordic Walking on the uphills.

    the Nordic Walking technique comes from the sport of the same name. This technique is similar to cross country skiing in that the poles are planted well behind the body and are used to intentionally push off. To be done well, the poles have to be longer than for Trekking technique. Using this technique, I've found my speeds increase but would guess that my heart rate has also increased. I have no idea what I would find for overall efficiency but my perception is that my efficiency increases when using poles in this way.

    So it would be interesting to do a study that calls these differences out- a group with no poles, a group using Trekking technique, and a group using Nordic Walking technique. Certainly the two different techniques of pole usage would have differing results.

    Thanks for the conversation everyone- the debate rages on!


    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    > All of you "trekking pole doubters" out there must be in your 20s & 30s because in
    > your 40 & up you'll soon find that trekking poles reduce knee/ankle joint soreness,
    > maintain upper body strength and reduce falls.

    Ah … not quite. There are a LOT of Australian bushwalkers well over 60 years of age who have never used trekking poles. In fact, up until about 10 years ago they were relatively unknown in Australia.

    It's only the young novices who buy them here in Australia. They fall for the marketing spin. The older walkers (with 40 years of experience) know they don't need them. Anyhow, you'd look rather silly in our scrub with poles!


    Chris Townsend
    BPL Member


    Locale: Cairngorms National Park

    "The older walkers (with 40 years of experience) know they don't need them"

    Until their knees, hips, ankles, back fail. Then they'll realise they've made a mistake.

    Trekking poles make a huge difference to me especially on rough terrain and with a big pack.

    Trekking poles developed because mountaineering guides started using their ski poles in the summer not because companies decided to market them. In fact it took a while for ski pole makers to catch on to what was happening.

    Of course many people don't know how to use their poles properly, rendering them ineffective, but that's another matter.

    Ken Helwig
    BPL Member


    Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA

    I hike quite a bit in The Sierra's. With trails that vary in useage going up and down passes they are a must for me. Keeps my balance which in turns keeps me from falling. Alot of trails have these large granite steps and let me tell you, using your poles to help "lift" you up or by placing the poles in front of you like a downhill skier helps keep your balance. This keeps my knees from swelling during the day. I always have poles with me on my hikes. Oh and one last thing. Stream crossing where you are using a little rock bridge to cross with, poles keep you balance and keep you from getting wet.

    Doug Johnson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    I've used trekking poles all the time since I was in my early 30s. I know that I don't "need" them but I do choose them consistently.

    The one place where I could say that I need them is on extreme mileage days. When covering over 20 miles, they increase my speed and share the workout with my upper body. On my longest day (47 miles and 9000 feet of climbing) I can honestly say that it would not have been possible without my fixed poles. My base pack weight was 4 pounds for that trip.

    My point is that trekking poles are not just for older folks, young people who are easily misled, or those with heavy packs. There are many intelligent and athletic ultralighters who love poles.

    I also use mountain biking techniques with poles, leaping down small cliffs or vaulting creeks and boulder sections with them. They are a dynamic addition to my hiking.

    When I'm going slow with my family, I usually leave them home.


    " have no idea what I would find for overall efficiency but my perception is that my efficiency increases when using poles in this way."

    Perhaps another way of looking at this aspect of pole use is that you are using your arms to generate part of the force for forward motion, thereby reducing the portion generated by your legs. This delays the onset of muscle glycogen depletion in the legs, enabling you to go further without either: 1) stopping to replenish glycogen stores or 2) switching to muscle protein metabolism to replace the glycogen(glucose) required to metabolize dietary or body fat. You could rely on dietary carbohydrate for a while, but sooner or later that would be exhausted and you would still be faced with the situation described above, temporarily delayed by the availability of dietary carbohydrate(or protein).

    This is how I see the situation, based on a rudimentary knowledge of exercise physiology and my own before and after perceived experience with trekking poles.


    "Until their knees, hips, ankles, back fail. Then they'll realise they've made a mistake."

    +1 I didn't start using them until I was 60, and I can tell you they've made quite a difference, given the kind of terrain I frequent. I don't care how fit you are, as you get older you slowly, ineluctably start to lose strength and flexibility, cartilage deteriorates, tendons lose their elasticity, etc; trekking poles can buy you a few extra seasons by reducing the pounding your legs take in the mountains, with the associated wear and tear on already deteriorating body parts.

    Trekking poles make a huge difference to me especially on rough terrain and with a big pack.

    +1 Even with a light pack, IME


    "Anyhow, you'd look rather silly in our scrub with poles!"

    You'd look silly in anybody's scrub with poles. ;}

    Dont Wantto


    So much for talk of 60s!

    I'm 27, reasonably fit, 5' 11" and 145 lbs.

    I can't imagine why I would go downhill without poles. Sure, I could do it for an entire day perhaps.. and groan all the way back during the car ride. But if I seriously want to hike for several days in a row, hiking poles a must for me.

    My knees, calves and thighs (in that order) just cannot take arresting the fall down the mountain. I use the straps of the trekking poles to load it to perhaps 20 – 30% of my weight (just a guess).. as hard as I can until my hands hurt.

    Just came back from a 30 mile 1.5 day round trip and a heavy pack (~26 lbs for training purposes).. wouldn't be possible as a biped. With the poles, I'm a quadriped.

    Tony Beasley
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pigeon House Mt from the Castle

    Hi Roger,

    >It's only the young novices who buy them here in Australia. They fall for the marketing spin. The older walkers (with 40 years of experience) know they don't need them. Anyhow, you'd look rather silly in our scrub with poles!

    While you are correct that walking poles are not used by many people here in Australia, I have noticed that they are becoming more popular even amongst older experienced walkers.

    I always take one pole with me and I find it very useful in thick scrub where if I cannot see I can test where the ground is in front or I can protect my arms when pushing through very thick scrub especially through post fire eucalypts, poles can also very helpful going down very steep terrain. Poles can be very useful to smash through blackberries. If walking in creeks which I do a lot of a walking pole in essential.


    Don Miller


    Locale: IOWA

    I bought a pair too this year, and can't believe it took me all of these years to discover them. Great fro climbing rugged terrain, stream crossings, and now I have bought tarps too, so another use for them. Using treeking poles and not using them is comparable to using 2 wheel drive in a truck or 4 wheel drive in a truck when climbing a hill.

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Hi Tony

    > I always take one pole with me and I find it very useful in thick scrub
    >Poles can be very useful to smash through blackberries.
    Dallawang Spur
    I prefer a 2" thick bit of dead gum (heavy hardwood) for that!


    Clint Wayman


    Locale: East Tennessee, US

    I'll give a +1 for the young trekking pole users.

    I'm only 20, reasonably fit (6' 170-175lbs), and I just started using poles–actually bought them in the Gear Swap a few months ago. I just got back from doing a 48-hour, ~32 miler, and I KNOW those poles helped reduce the strain on muh knees. Scientific… no… but a person, whether registered scientist or not, is able to tell a difference in the impact strike of his foot both with and without trekking poles.

    I DO like what someone mentioned earlier about people NOT knowing how to use poles, and after reading the descriptions of the different pole-usage-styles I believe that I utilize BOTH styles- support in front on both up/down hill, and angled slightly behind me helping push off when on level ground.

    As well, it seems more studies have been put out lately concerning the impact force of running/walking, insert cool link to barefoot running here =). Now, while it may not be that trekking poles exhibit this magical pressence of power in themselves, it's fairly easy to realize that if a person has something to use as support, he is going to be able to step with a lighter impact strike, resulting in less joint/muscle stress.

    As for the study, yeah there are plenty of coulda's and shoulda's to be said, but I think it helps make a pretty simple concept even more… well… simple =)

    btw, say the title with an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice

    Thanks for reading,

    Miguel Arboleda
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan

    Well, I don't know this way or that about the measured efficacy of trekking poles. I only know that I don't like carrying them, especially on very steep terrain because they always get in the way and knock into things. However, I do find that they actually do impart benefits. One time after a very long, rocky climb and descent (about 14 hours), my right knee began to hurt so badly that I couldn't bend my leg. Just putting weight on my leg sent excruciating stabs of pain up my leg. If I hadn't had a hiking pole to bear my weight with each step I wouldn't have made it down the mountain. When your legs are doing well and they are strong from conditioning probably you don't use poles to bear that much weight, but there must be some less perceived weight bearing going on. And it's not just weight bearing, it's also the third and fourth leg advantage that you get from added "appendages". I do find, though, that I get more careless when I walk with poles; instead of, when I descend, keeping a very careful eye on the rocks and placing my feet carefully, I tend to project my balance onto my poles and allow my bodyweight to under-compensate. I tend to slip more when I use poles.

    Dean F.
    BPL Member


    Locale: Back in the Front Range

    Wow. Yeah. Some of the earlier comments about how to design scientific studies were a bit… unorthodox.

    There is no way to do this study in a true double-blind fashion, unless you could hypnotize people into thinking they used poles when they didn't. Also, the crack about how any study that isn't a twin study done in a laboratory is invalid displays a fundamental misunderstanding about the statistics involved. (Sorry to sound peremptory, but it does.) That's why we test populations, not individuals. With a large enough N the variables fall out. Of course you CAN argue that 37 isn't a big enough N. I'd have to see the real study to know. It sort of depends upon just how big the difference in results is between the two groups. Generally, you need a larger N when testing for smaller differences whereas a small N will demonstrate greater differences adequately.


    Anyway, I think it'll be an interesting paper, if I can get my hands on a copy. And I probably can- I can get it through my hospital library, though it may take me a week or so.

    The hiking community in general seems to have strong opinions on this subject, bordering on theology. I don't understand why. If you don't want to use poles… don't. Why try to convince everyone else that they don't work? Some perverse need to justify that you're "doing it right", or something? That's kinda pitiful.

    And, if you don't like the results you are free to cite a study that shows different results. Or, do your own study. Right now, this is the best we got, IIRC.

    On to the opinion portion of this rant…

    Personally, I think it is obvious that they help SOMEHOW. When you're on the verge of muscle failure and you're trying to get up those last few steps what do you do? You push down on your knees with your hands. It makes it easier. Also, when the going gets steep enough to qualify as a "scramble" rather than a "hike", it is definitely easier to climb using your hands in addition to your legs, right? Obviously, being able to apply force with your arms will unload your legs to some extent. I mean, that's simple physics. If you stand between two tables and exert a force downward with your hands, your legs get unloaded. Likewise, if you push backward with your poles, that's less force that your legs need to exert to propel you forward, however trivial it may be.

    But I understand that biomechanics isn't just simple physics, so: what isn't so obvious is exactly how MUCH this helps. It may be trivial. But when we're talking about what is, essentially, an athletic activity sometimes incredibly small advantages make a difference. And it still in no way invalidates the "purity" of those who hike without poles- this is NOT an attack on you people, so calm down. This isn't theology. Some times I use poles and sometimes not. Generally, I use them on days with a significant elevation to climb- for balance aids if nothing else. (But, incidentally, if you aren't constantly struggling to keep your balance you're using less energy, aren't you?) On flatter terrain I may go without them or, more commonly and purely for aesthetic reasons, use a single staff. (I'm the kind of guy who has to keep his hands busy…) On flat terrain I think they probably can help you go faster for longer using Nordic technique, but if I just wanted to go faster and get a workout I'd run. And I do trail run on occasion, but when I'm walking I just want to walk- you know, stroll a bit. So the poles are just a nuisance to me. If you're just walking a normal pace (i.e. not Nordic-ing for exercise purposes) on flat terrain I doubt they help much. (Thus, likely Roger's experience in the Australian bush.) After all that's what humans were designed to do. We're endurance plains pack predators.

    So… NOT theology. Calm down. You know who you are.

    Big hug.

    I will now wait for mention of Nazis, guns, global warming, or internet censorship.

    tommy d


    My university has access to this journal, so I looked up the article. Based on the original article, it appears to have been funded by an internal grant from "St Mary’s University College Research Support Fund." We have similar sources of funding at my university. So, regardless of the merits of the study, it does not appear to have been "industry funded." It seems to have been publicly funded. The actual trekking poles were donated by a trekking pole company.

    In the methods section of the paper, the subject selection, study protocol, and group assignments are clearly stated and well described. They did use a "posttest-only control group" design, which is a "true" experimental design and completely legitimate. Of course, there are several things that I would have done differently if we were assisting the study, but it seems like a decent preliminary study.

    The researchers do state that: "It is possible that the TP participants assumed the poles afforded a benefit when ascending…" And, in their conclusion, the researchers write that "this is the first investigation to examine the efficacy of trekking poles on indices of muscle damage; furthermore, to our knowledge, it is also the first documented study to use an ecologically valid environment to test this type of equipment." (Note: I can't give the page numbers, because this is a pre-release copy.)

    So, overall, from reading the actual paper, I'd say this study does have a few weaknesses, but is generally a good start.

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    So as they say on Mythbusters, "Plausible."

    Jeff M.
    BPL Member


    Well, like others, I find that trekking poles help my knees a lot. I'm pretty young (29) and I have an old soccer injury that flares up when hiking downhill. Though I would prefer to not carry them, I find them invaluable for my knees. I have to say that I do like the fact that the University conducted an interesting study relating to backpacking/hiking.

    Ankar Sheng
    BPL Member


    Locale: The Canadian Shield

    Whats there to doubt? They obviously burn more calories, if for no other reason than you're carrying more weight, and yes they reduce strain on your lower body; any force exerted by the poles is pressure no longer on your feet. As far as exact numbers and percentages, who cares? There's so many variables that it wouldn't tell me anything relevant, or anything that I wouldn't better understand just by picking up a pair of poles and using them.

    I'm 24, 6'0", 180lb, just started using trekking poles and I'm never going back! I did my first hike in vibram 5 fingers a few weeks ago (63km + ~20km back while hitchhiking) and there's no way I would have made it without trekking poles. When my feet were sore and tired they saved me from losing my balance many times. When I had to climb down steep parts of the trail they let me put my feet down as light as I would on flat ground saving them the unbearable impact (my feet were really tender and bruised, new to minimalist footwear!). They also saved me from slipping on wet logs and falling in bogs and beaver ponds!

    They're well worth it for the safety reasons alone.

    Lynn Tramper


    Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna

    I find it hard to believe that there are still folks who wish to claim that trekking poles are of no benefit. I, like many older folks, hiked quite happily for decades without poles. So yes, you don't NEED poles. However, they have clearly helped me and my long time hiking buddies in that they make it all a bit easier, up hill or down, crossing streams and boulders, and to push nasty scrub and spider webs out of the way. I agree the biomechanics of it are pretty obvious…less weight on your legs and more points of stability are hard to deny. Doesn't mean you have weak legs just because trekking poles are helping you.

    Rakesh Malik


    Locale: Cascadia

    I'm with you. I don't always use them, but I usually carry them, and use them on steep and/or rough areas. Having been through a blown and re-constructed ACL, I'm very careful about my knees, in spite being very strong. Trekking poles help a lot with that.

    Larry De La Briandais
    BPL Member


    Locale: SF Bay Area

    "I find it hard to believe that there are still folks who wish to claim that trekking poles are of no benefit."

    There are, I'm one of them. If I manage to put enough pressure on the pole(s) to help my legs my neck/shoulders hurt. They cause pain for me. But a single staff for crossing streams is useful.

Viewing 25 posts - 26 through 50 (of 92 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Get the Newsletter

Get our free Handbook and Receive our weekly newsletter to see what's new at Backpacking Light!

Gear Research & Discovery Tools