Trekking Pole Science

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Viewing 17 posts - 76 through 92 (of 92 total)
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    Rakesh Malik


    Locale: Cascadia

    "Poles clearly fill this need for many hikers."

    Exactly — and since "many" != "all" it's a true statement ;)

    "Even if the research said that poles were a waste of time, had no benefit on joints and didn't reduce leg muscle fatigue, I would still use them as I personally find them beneficial."

    Same here.

    Sunny Waller
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southeast USA

    Whew…all this bruhaha over trekking poles. Reminds me of some of the intense responses I got after I started posting (on another site) about the wonderful ideas I was reading about in this book written by Ray Jardine. That was a long time ago but I am sure some of you can remember how bad the lightweight backlash was. I think I found out about this website from a rant/response I got to one of my posts. Once I found this place I stayed here. This is my favorite site because the information is learn about the new ideas and you don't have to read through all the ranting, ravings and trashings of peoples opinions. I would hate to see us go there. Yes I confess..I do use trekking poles..they are fantastic and I would not leave home without them because they work for me. But hey just because I love em doesn't mean they are right for you. Tell me about something in your kit that you think is fantastic and I may learn something new :)

    Lynn Tramper


    Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna

    "Tell me about something in your kit that you think is fantastic and I may learn something new :)"

    I really like my new cuben quilt and balaclava ;)

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Hi lynn

    > a) Folks have hiked for millenia without them just fine, so they are clearly not necessary

    Close but not quite. Change that to 'so they are clearly not essential' and you would be right.

    > c) using poles takes more energy, so they are actually detrimental

    Again, close. Change that to 'so they may be less efficient, all other things being equal', and you would be right.

    I have said (many times) that poles are very useful when the footing is unreliable, as on snow and steep rough downhills, and that poles can save a huge amount of stress on knees and other joints, especially when these have suffered from injury or just old age.

    I am not criticising 'pole use'; I am criticising 'pole misuse' and various claims that they are 'essential'.


    Miguel Arboleda
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan

    I actually find this a very tame thread. People are being civil, the discussion is stepping back and forth between opinions without rancor, and people are raising interesting points… I'm not sure where the sense of people being upset is…

    Rakesh Malik


    Locale: Cascadia

    "I am not criticising 'pole use'; I am criticising 'pole misuse' and various claims that they are 'essential'."

    Your post just about summed up my view :)

    I think you're right… as far as energy goes, they ARE less efficient, which is why Lynn just carries extra munchies. It is for me worth the trade-off because I've managed to develop a lot of upper body as well as lower body strength, and I have sustained major knee injuries from volleyball (I now avoid dangerous sports like volleyball and stick to safer ones like martial arts and backpacking for that reason :)).

    Lynn Tramper


    Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna

    "Change that to 'so they are clearly not essential' and you would be right."

    Well then, who's gonna tell those old timers that they heavy hiking boots and packs and tents and white gas stoves are clearly not essential?

    "I am not criticising 'pole use'; I am criticising 'pole misuse' and various claims that they are 'essential'."

    Misuse is rampant IMHO, I don't think (without re-reading this entire thread) that anyone here claimed poles are essential, merely beneficial for many.

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    > who's gonna tell those old timers that they heavy hiking boots and packs and tents
    > and white gas stoves are clearly not essential?

    Ssshhh! Leave them saddled with huge loads: they won't get as far as we do!


    Rod Lawlor
    BPL Member


    Locale: Australia

    I know I posted this before, but I think of poles as being like a stair banister. Try any of these with or without a stair bannister to see what I mean.

    I don't need one if the stairs are flat(!), even if I'm carrying a huge load.

    I don't need one if I have all day to walk up with a light load.

    It's kind of nice if the stairs are a bit rough, steep, wet or slippery. (or a combination)

    It's pretty good if I'm in a hurry or tired, either up or down.

    It's great if I have a big load.

    I REALLY REALLY like it if I have a combination of rough, steep, wet, slippery stairs, and I'm tired and in a hurry with a big load.

    Sean Griffin


    Such a silly argument.

    Any load transferred through the poles will undoubtedly cause less DOMS during eccentric movements and reduce muscular fatigue during concentric movements.

    Misuse != no use. If you are loading the poles so heavily that is is causing upper body issues… then load them less. As long as you load them, at all, it will help.

    While I applaud anyone who gets outside and moves, it's silly to consider efficiency on such a small scale (comparatively) when most people are carrying an extra 5-10 (or more) lbs of fat on them.

    Dean F.
    BPL Member


    Locale: Back in the Front Range


    I don't think ANYONE said that poles were "essential." You're back-pedaling pretty vigorously, now… :o)

    But more seriously, I'll disagree with your contention that because your leg muscles are larger that your "energy" is better expended in your legs. Because you can, if you so desired, still run your legs at full capacity, but expend even more energy by adding your arms and trunk into the mix. Thus the poles simply let you use more muscle mass to do the same job.

    So, what's worse- having slightly sore legs and arms, or perfectly fine arms but your legs are killing you?


    As an example, consider drawing a bow. Say, for the sake of argument, that a man can draw a 50-lb bow, but he wants to draw a 70-lb bow. His technique is horrible- he draws totally with his arms. You would propose that he work out to make his arms stronger, and in a few months he can draw the 70-lb bow. I would propose that he use proper technique, using his back muscles, and go draw that 70-lb bow today.

    All of that said, your point about how most people misuse poles is well taken. It's one of my pet peeves, too.

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    I am not completely a trekking pole advocate, but there are times when they truly help. Of course the better one's physical fitness, the less poles are needed. And for those with old injuries or joint problems, they are probably necessary.

    Wisner and I recently did a long hike, and on day 1, we climbed 9,000+ feet in 14 miles. Craig really did not need poles, but they sure helped me on some steep sections (I am about 25 years older than him). I would guess that poles would benefit at least 90% of BPL members on this trail.

    On the morning of day 2, my arms were a little sore, but my legs felt great. So I attribute that to the poles. On day 2 we did 26 miles. At about mile 20, we had a significant climb up some seemingly never-ending switchbacks. The poles helped me, especially since I had injured my foot the day before. Craig probably didn't need poles. But keep in mind, Craig does a huge amount of running to include some 50K races. Most of use are not in that kind of shape.

    Last day my arms and leg muscles were fine; no soreness at all. We descended 6,000 feet in 11 miles, in the heat of the desert, on some very rocky trails. The poles helped in some sections, but were not essential. But my legs probably appreciated them the days following the hike, as I had no soreness.

    During this hike, we did several miles on steep, snow covered slopes, where the snow was at least 3' deep in sections. The poles helped both of us.

    Both of use took trekking poles on this trip. Craig often carried his on the outside of his pack. I always carried mine in my hands. Since these are LT4's and very light, I frequently just carried them parrallel to the ground, or just used them lightly, in cadence to my steps, not to propel me on the flat sections. Sure, not the most productive way to use them, but I didn't feel like attaching them to my pack. On these sections, the clickity-clack of the poles probably annoyed him :( — although he did not complain.

    So, I think poles are appropriate when physical fitness, terrain, and elevation are factored in. Not essential, but helpful in certain situations. For some people they are probably essential in any situation.

    I almost never take trekking poles on day hikes, even if I am doing close to 20 miles… extreme elevations might be the exception. I often take a hiking staff out of habit. The staff is an old friend of over 20 years. Its main function is to move rattlesnakes off the trail, and it is nice to lean on when taking in great panoramic views. Plus the staff compliments my almost white beard, for that mountain man look :)

    So again, if you think they help you, use them. If you do not need them, you just saved some money and weight. But we cannot say they are not useful for some people.

    John Nausieda
    BPL Member


    Locale: PNW

    From an article today
    Where Hummers Fear to Tread

    Rugged terrain is tough slogging for foot soldiers, even when they're not fighting. The average equipment load for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, ranges from 97 to more than 135 pounds. Humping those kinds of loads takes a toll. The Imperial forces in "Star Wars" had the AT-AT (All Terrain Armored Transport) walkers to ferry its troops. Not to outdone in our galaxy, DARPA and the U.S. Marine Corps have awarded a contract to Boston Dynamics to develop a prototype for Darpa's Legged Squad Support System (LS3). The L3 will be a walking quadruped that will augment squads by carrying traditional and new equipment autonomously and will be able to cover complex terrain where tactical vehicles can't go. It will be able to carry a payload of 40 pounds over as much as 20 miles and provide 24 hours of self-sustained capability.

    Ben Crowell


    Locale: Southern California

    I wouldn't want to let an excellent religious smackfest like this taper off with a whimper, so …

    There have been two scientific papers that people have referred to so far:

    Howatson: Subjects reported less muscle soreness after climbing Mt Snowdon if they used trekking poles.

    Bohne: Using trekking poles reduces strain on joints when going downhill.

    Here is a third paper: Saunders et al., "Trekking poles increase physiological responses to hiking without increased perceived exertion," J Strength Cond Res 2008 Sep; 22(5): 1468-74

    The Saunders experiment found that using trekking poles caused hikers to burn calories faster, as measured by VO2max. The authors spin this as a way of saying that using the poles gives you more exercise.

    Looking at these three papers all together, it's kind of a mixed bag. Using trekking poles increases your exertion, but decreases muscle soreness and makes hiking easier on your joints. The Bohne paper seems awfully unsurprising to me; isn't it pretty obvious that putting part of your weight on the pole takes some weight off your legs? I would tend to believe the Saunders experiment more than the Howatson, since the design of the Howatson experiment is so vulnerable to a placebo effect.

    Since I don't generally experience muscle soreness from hiking, and my usual goal is to reduce my exertion when hiking, not increase it, I feel confirmed in my preexisting religious opinion that trekking poles are stupid, plus they make you look stupid. And they cost money. And they add 15-20 oz to your packweight. Not that I'm biased or anything.

    David Ure


    Reduce fatigue and soreness in the lower extremeties. Yes. Potential soreness and fatigue and repeated bout effect on the shoulders, elbows and triceps. Yes.

    dan mchale
    BPL Member


    Locale: Cascadia

    I don't know if this has been brought up, but the primary benifit to the legs may come from the legs being able to relax far more as they do their job when using poles. This may be more important than the shared work theory. A person can use the poles as much or as little as they want. It does not take much assistance to get the relaxation effect, that comes from the added stability, but that depends on a persons balance to start with. I would imagine people that like poles the most are people that don't have the best balance and have weak joints etc. Personally, I have great balance, good knees, but still like poles. I do have an ankle problem, though, so I don't have the need to be too aggressive with speed. I think the poles offer much psychologically going uphill, especially off trail. They seem to help with pacing. I like the measured steady progress they promote. I like the shared work load and the extra arm workout. For me, it turns me into something of an all-terrain vehicle, with gears and everyting. When the going gets tough, the poles make it easier to slow down and not loose the stability that usually comes with momentum. As far as extra calories burned – who cares? I don't care about the studies either, since it's so hard to control the variables. It's can't be that great since there is a trade off with calories saved because of relaxation – unless you just like to play with them like I do.

    I was once like the poster above that was irritated by people that used poles, or irritated by the notion that we are 'supposed' to use them, as pawns in a marketing scheme. I felt the same way about bladders, and still do. Maybe I'll get over that.

    In general, they help with the relaxation and extra stability which conserves calories. Whatever gets old farts out on the trail ( or anyone else ) and keeps them out there is good.

    Michael L
    BPL Member


    Locale: NoCo

    "I would tend to believe the Saunders experiment more than the Howatson, since the design of the Howatson experiment is so vulnerable to a placebo effect."

    The Howatson doesn't seem so vulnerable considering they didn't just ask for feedback, they also took several measurements. "Indices of muscle damage; maximal voluntary isometric force (MVC), muscle soreness (DOMS) creatine kinase (CK), and vertical jump (VJ) performance were measured before, immediately after (except CK), 24 h, 48 h and 72 h post trek."

    It would appear you have just as likely a chance for placebo effects in either test.

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