Apr 8, 2007 at 2:48 pm #1222721
I was wondering about the usefulness of using trekking poles with lighter and ligher pack loads. Using poles with heavier loads (with slower hiking speeds) makes sense for a range of reasons, but are some or even most of those reasons negated with super light loads? What do you think?Apr 8, 2007 at 4:33 pm #1385242
@aroth87Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Well, maybe they don't seem as useful for hiking, but we still need them to set up our shelters! I like trekking poles for keeping balance when crossing creeks, logs, or the like. Even with a light pack (or none at all) I still need a little help with balance sometimes, maybe I'm just clumsy… It gives my hands something to do while I'm hiking too.
I think since most of us use our poles as shelter support we'll continue to use them. Unless someone comes out with a set of tarp poles that are nearly weightless.
AdamApr 8, 2007 at 4:47 pm #1385244
I agree with Adam. I use poles even with just a tiny fanny pack unless I'm hiking only in flat areas.Apr 8, 2007 at 5:03 pm #1385246
Ben 2 WorldParticipant
@ben2worldLocale: So Cal
For me, poles are helpful when going down steep/uneven slopes — a great help for maintaining balance and taking some pressure off my knees and ankles. Remember, even after we eliminated 20 or 30 lbs of pack weight, there's still 180 or 250 lbs of body weight.Apr 8, 2007 at 5:14 pm #1385247
@dondoLocale: Colorado Rockies
I like poles even for a quick two hour hike in the local foothills while carrying nothing. For me, it's just more fun using poles.Apr 8, 2007 at 5:23 pm #1385248
Without poles, even with a light load, my weak ankles are too vulnerable, so I use them ALWAYS.Apr 8, 2007 at 5:41 pm #1385250
@florigenLocale: South East
Always carrying them, was out today on a day hike up a steep pile of granite covered in ice & snow, a guy without them rolled past me at one point on the way down.Apr 8, 2007 at 6:32 pm #1385251
@djohnsonLocale: Washington State
I'm also a full-time pole user (and I'm the Trekking Pole Editor at BPL). Even when out for dayhikes with almost zero pack. But there's another reason why they're great that hasn't been mentioned yet.
There are basically two styles of trekking pole usage: Trekking and Nordic Walking styles. When using the Trekking style, the poles stay to the side and are used for balance, stability, and absorb shock. With what I call Nordic Walking style, the poles are planted behind the body and are used to propel the hiker forward. While this provides some stability, the main point is engaging the upper body in forward progress. This can be used for traction (mud, sand, etc.) or to increase speed or mileage.
Most hikers use a combination of the two styles when using poles. For example, I typically use the Nordic Walking style but switch to trekking when descending technical terrain, during creek crossings, etc. My wife typically uses Trekking style except when hiking sandy washes or during extended uphills. My buddy Frank uses them Trekking style nearly 100% of the time due to tricky knees.
So trekking poles are your friends- not just for stability and saving the knees, but for traction, mileage and to give the leg muscles a break as well!Apr 8, 2007 at 7:22 pm #1385255
@kdesignLocale: Mythical State of Jefferson
I always use 2 trekking poles when bringing a tarp on my SUL trips—- but when off the trail (which is as often as possible) I tend to put one or both away. Day hikes or summiting, I leave them behind. I'm using my hands more for handholds and camera manipulation. Tent camping, I will bring one pole, at most, unless it's ski camping, of course. As my knees deteriate w/ age, I'm sure this will change.
Can always relying on trekking poles actually act as a crutch (no pun intended) which could make one's balancing skills atrophy? I sometimes wonder.
Pole use tends to aid me in cadence on a long trail slog and I do tend to go a little faster.Apr 8, 2007 at 8:02 pm #1385259
It looks like I'm alone in this thread (so far), but I've recently stopped using them up and feel very liberated. I almost feel like I'm doing more work when I have them. I think they encourage an overly aggressive, unnatural stride (stab-step-stab-step), with too much emphasis on the upper body. When I'm going out with lighter loads (sub 20) I also like to run- they definently interfere with my rhythm.
I feel MUCH quieter and smoother without them.
As for shelter, my tarp poles weigh like 2 oz.
They do have their merits on snow/ice, but I'd much rather carry an axe for the weight.
Regarding the OP's question, no, I don't think they're necessary at all, especially with a pack under 30lbs.
All this, of course, totally depends on style…I'm not trying to start a pole vs. no-pole war here, just sharing my take on it. If they do the trick for you, right on.Apr 8, 2007 at 8:08 pm #1385260
Ron, IMO, poles become useful when the terrain becomes difficult, not at all based on pack weight.
Poles reduce the chance of a fall where that could be dangerous. They are even gaining popularity on steep alpine routes in lieu of an ice-axe; idea being, self belay with poles instead of self arrest with an axe.. prevent the fall before it happens instead of trying to stop it with an axe.
I do find poles useful on moderate terrain as well, and recently upgraded from Aluminum to Titanium thanks to a deal at REI-outlet. I expect I will always carry at least one now that they are so light (216g strapless)Apr 8, 2007 at 8:49 pm #1385267
@naturephoto1Locale: Eastern Pennsylvania
I use trekking poles as well. But, I carry a much heavier pack because of my photo gear. Though my backpacking gear is light or UL, my camera equipment particularly 4" X 5" is heavy. The only time I may not carry 1 or 2 poles is if I am using an Ice Axe.
RichApr 8, 2007 at 9:32 pm #1385271
@verberLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
I was a dedicated pole user for many years… but I had found that I am using my poles less frequently, especially on the lighter weight trips. In the last two years the poles seems ro have spend the majority of their time lashed to the outside of my pack, and come out sometimes where the terrain is treacherous such as river crossings and each night to set-up my tarp. For Xmas my wife purchased me a 3oz set of poles which are made for setting up my tarp. Since I got the tarp poles I am often not taking my hiking poles anymore.
I have been finding that I feel a lot more free without the hiking poles, especially on the SUL trips I sometimes take.
–MarkApr 8, 2007 at 10:16 pm #1385275
@jjpittsLocale: Midwest US
When used properly I find trekking poles to be a tremendous help… used improperly they are dead weight in ones hands in my opinion. I see a lot of people "hiking while carrying trekking poles" rather than hiking using trekking poles, if you catch my drift. The most common errors are improper pole length and hands not being properly positioned in the strap. After that it's poor or incorrect cadence/pole placement. Yes, I know… it's very much a "whatever works for you is a good thing" sort of area but there is a proper way to use them based on the intent of the design.
This last year I left the poles behind a few times, once on a trip where I would have really wanted them (the Grand Canyon). I found that I did miss them, however I also loved the freedom of having my hands empty.
I have tried hiking with a single pole or a pole with an EVA handle and no strap and, frankly, I just don't see the point.
I am very intrigued by these "pacer poles" and want to try them but don't want to pop for a set just to discover that I don't like them. It takes me a few hikes to really decide if something is for me or not.Apr 8, 2007 at 10:17 pm #1385276
I was never comfortable carrying two poles. They just felt too cumbersome and they seemed like overkill for about 90% of the terrain I've hiked. For hairy uphill terrain, I feel more secure and expend less energy using my hands. However, they can help on the hairy downhill terrain. In any case, I like having at least one hand free to grab a snack, water, camera or a map. The compromise for me has been using 1 pole…a walking stick, if you will. Its especially useful and comfortable (especially in the warmer months) when you just want to sling your backpack over one shoulder: one hand is holding the shoulder strap and the other hand has the stick.
BTW, I would never substitute poles for a trusty ice axe on anything bordering mountaineering. Sure, they may cut down the chances of falling, but once you do, you have no chance to self-arrest. In that regard, I remember the Black Diamond Whippet, which was a hybrid trekking pole handle/pick (sadly, no adze) that could be used with many of their existing flick-lock poles. Again, that would be a great addition to a one-pole/walking stick configuration.Apr 8, 2007 at 11:24 pm #1385281
>I remember the Black Diamond Whippet, which was a hybrid trekking pole handle/pick
A similar product is the Grivel Condor handle (9.2 oz), also available as a pole top section that is Leki-compatible. Unlike the BD Whippet, the pick can be retracted when not needed. (For obvious reasons, neither version of the Grivel Condor is rated as an ice axe.) For comparison, the (B-rated) C.A.M.P. Corsa 70cm ice axe weighs 9.9 oz.Apr 9, 2007 at 12:22 am #1385285
@brianleLocale: Pacific NW
I'm with the majority in having switched last year to be a two-stick hiker. But when the trail is pretty good and relatively flat, I really enjoy just carrying them both in one hand — swinging my arms I can get a good stride and feel more, I don't know, "liberated" I guess. For me, this is a good compromise; keep them handy and use them for any significant up or down or rough terrain.
BrianApr 9, 2007 at 12:31 pm #1385331
@ewolinLocale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
If you are like me and my wife, over 50 with weakened knees and ankles, using two poles is essential. They both allow us to relieve stress on ankles and knees, and help keep us focused on where we are placing our feet (when I stop paying careful attention the chances of rolling an ankle or twisting a knee go up dramatically). I don't think we could hike safely on anything other than flat terrain if we didn't use poles.
We tried using one pole each for a while, but found two poles each works much better. We take them even if we are not carrying packs.Apr 9, 2007 at 5:29 pm #1385380
@don-1-2-2Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
Well, I join Brett and a couple of others and say that I'd prefer not to use poles at all. It's simpler without them. And simpler is better. So when possible, I don't use them. Walking the natural way, sans poles, I make less noise and pay more attention to the surroundings and less attention to where I will place my pole every 0.3 seconds.
That said, I do use them on long hikes. I do like them on summer snow and stream crossings. Although I think they help my knees, I don't have any real evidence to suggest there is a difference. When I do a long day without poles, my knees don't feel any different than with poles.
I'll avoid poles when I can. In the meantime, I'm experimenting with reducing my dependence…..
DonApr 10, 2007 at 7:08 pm #1385515
@oystersLocale: South Australia
I am also in this seemingly exclusive club of no poles.
I agree with the simplicity aspect that Don points out.
In thick scrub poles are a plain nuisance and on rocky terrain I have a hard enough time concentrating on where to put my feet let alone poles aswell-that would slow me down considerably and probably make things harder-on small boulders momentum is often key.
Poles increase the oxygen demands of the body as more muscles are engaged-this means more calories are needed and overall you will be more fatigued at the end of the day. Thats probably the main factor against my use of poles for long distance and heavy hikes. I have dodgy ankles (one has a tendon conveniently ripped off which allows it to roll very easily), and I find that it is when I am not concentrating on foot placement that I roll them-every single time! If I have to concentrate on poles as well I feel that I am more likely to roll. It would take remarkable upperbody strength and balance for me to support a heavy pack and my weight on two poles to stop an ankle rolling. I can do 10 full body dips (a waste, dont need to) but there is no way I can support myself on two poles alone, let alone lift myself up, and with a pack.
I have too much upper body muscle mass in my chest and arms as it is, which really isn't used at all, even with extremely heavy training packs (120-130lbs). If I was to use poles, then oxygen demands would skyrocket beyond my anaerobic threshold and I would hardly move-I have noticed that the demands increase susbtantially when I also carry a 2.2lb dumbell (very little) in each hand as well as close to maximal training loads.
I can certainly understand the use of poles on slippery/unstable terrain, such as sand and snow, where the ground moves substantially under your feet, wasting energy with each step. Here, the addition of two more pressure points will no doubt reduce energy wastage (I hypothesis that as the pressure increases on a ground impact point on eg sand, that energy efficiency decreases exponentially) and therefore be more energy efficient. On hard, normal ground, and particularly trails, I cannot see there being an energy efficiency gain with poles. I can see some possible speed gains, although that is perhaps also debatable-most people probably dont have the VO2 max to fully use their leg muscles to their potential anyway, let alone their upper body aswell-elite runners included.
Note: in South Australia, very few people use poles bushwalking. It nice to take part in a discussion like this :)Apr 11, 2007 at 5:49 am #1385542
@jjpittsLocale: Midwest US
I think the harsh reality is that most people I see on the trail or have hiked with simply do not use trekking poles properly. Used improperly they are basically just dead weight in your hands and by all means leave them at home.
I send the following web site to people that get tired of carrying poles and want to actually start using them:
The difference between hiking while carrying trekking poles versus hiking USING trekking poles is immense. Sadly, this is a fact of hiking that has been "wiped out" in the backpacking light world. Poles with no straps or non-functional straps are a huge loss in my opinion. They are in fact light but also largely non functional.
All in my opinion.Apr 11, 2007 at 12:42 pm #1385582
I don’t use them either. However several years ago knee pain was plaguing me and an engineer I had been working with suggested I try Biogrips/ e3 grips. They are molded plastic designed to lightly hold for the purpose of giving shape to the grip which causes symmetrical alignment of the muscles and ligaments. I don’t pretend to understand this and thus won’t begin to explain it, but my knee pain resolved not long after beginning use of them. http://www.biogrip.com has a pretty good explanation of how they work. I just toss this up for anyone who may be interested.Apr 13, 2007 at 6:36 pm #1385926
>Poles with no straps or non-functional straps are a huge loss in my opinion.
Oddly enough, I find I can still use the Nordic-walking technique (essentially the same flat-terrain technique in the web site mentioned) with strapless ultralight poles (Adapt Gear Bison), as well as the same uphill and downhill techniques. The poles are so light that it only takes a two-finger hold while they swing forward, so rather than a death-grip my grip tends to open and close on each plant.
I had been using 19.8oz/pair REI/Komperdell Traverse poles with straps (properly), and prior to purchasing strapless UL poles I put in a few 20-mile days using the Komperdells strapless. They were neither as comfortable nor as effective as when using straps but they did work, so I figured the UL poles were worth trying. I found that the UL poles worked much better strapless than the heavier poles, and after a 27-mile day on the Wonderland Trail I had no hand or wrist pain. (I have had wrist inflammation in the past from poor bicycle fit, so excessive strain from pole use would have been obvious to me.) I had planned to add straps, but after 150 miles with the Bison poles it is clear to me that straps aren't a requirement for proper technique with UL poles.Apr 14, 2007 at 10:55 am #1385962
I used to hike without poles but learned to love them on several day hikes I did in the last two weeks.
1. The fitness aspect. Using poles means you train the whole body, not just the legs.
2. The health aspect. Of course overall work increases if you use poles, but most people (including me) will tell you that work and stress for the knees decreases, both when ascending and descending. Even in the flat you will feel a positive effect if you use the poles correctly!
3. The safety aspect. Safety in steeper terrain definitely increases when using poles, especially in snow or slop. And poles can be very useful in conditions where an ice axe would be of very limited use (in slop, for example).
4. Poles save you the time you'd otherwise spend on searching sticks stout enough to set up your tarp. And you won't have to carry extra tarp poles when hiking above treeline.
They add weight to your total skin out weight when carried and to your pack weight when on the pack.
It's been mentioned here that poles without straps are of limited use. It's true at least that poles w/out are not as useful as poles w/, but they are still useful. And when descending, you're better off to have poles w/out: it's simply more comfortable. In some situations, you couldn't use the straps either as that could be dangerous if you'd stumble and fall.
Personally I prefer poles that can be divided into two pieces, as there are situations here in the Alps where you have to carry them on your pack and that's not the most comfortable thing to do with one-piece poles. Also nice if you're using public transport to get to the trail! And, of course, I prefer to have the lightest poles available, because that's just light enough…Apr 15, 2007 at 7:22 pm #1386094
@ouzelLocale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Advantages: 1) Great for descending steep terrain, on or off trail, especially if moving fast where they can be used almost like ski poles. 2) Eases strain on knees going either up or down. 3) Good for an assist on high step-ups to ease strain on quads/knees(plant one pole low and one pole high for a smooth transition). 4) Excellent workout in Nordic mode when training. I have some reservations about using this technique in the backcountry due to increased calorie expenditure, ever since I read an article in Backpacking magazine. They did some testing on a treadmill with several subjects of varying age/fitness levels, using respiratory exchange ratio analysis and found that it used ~300 calories more/hour. Sorry, I don't remember the issue the article appeared in. But it made intuitive sense to me. 5) Can be very useful on talus fields, especially when fatigue sets in or the talus gets weird and starts shifting. 6) Can provide a decisive edge in fending off surprise attacks by the deadly North American Chipmunk. Disadvantages: 1) Extra weight. 2) Tendency to develop a dependency.
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