Podcast Episode December 17, 2018

Episode 7 | Trekking Poles




This podcast is about trekking poles.

Trekking poles are a surprisingly contentious piece of gear in the UL world. Their utility and usefulness is endlessly debated, and the science that backs up manufacturer claims is all over the map. It’s a murky world, but Andrew and Ryan jump in with both feet (and two poles each) to help you make some sense of it.

The guys kick things off by interviewing Rob Shaul, founder and owner of the Mountain Tactical Institute. Rob makes a living training mountain athletes and military service members deployed in mountains regions, so he knows his stuff. MTI has conducted a few studies that measure the effectiveness of trekking poles on athletes under load. The interview covers those studies: how they were constructed and what they ultimately prove (or don’t prove).

In the second interview,  Ryan and Andrew chat with James Marco, a longtime Backpacking Light member and experienced UL backpacker. James provides some context to some of the most well trod trekking pole questions and shares his tips for MYOG poles.

After the interviews, Ryan shares six or seven scientific studies in an attempt to shed light on the big trekking pole questions: do poles make you faster? Improve your balance? Save energy? Reduce strain and impact?

Next the guys chat about the most contentious trekking pole statements the internet has to offer. If you’ve ever been in a forum fight about trekking poles, chances are you’ve heard a few of the things they cover in this section.

This episode’s Gear section is a brief overview of BPL’s recent Trekking Pole Gear Guide. Ryan shares a few of his favorite poles, including a few that surprised him!

In the Hiker Hack’s segment Ryan talks trekking pole field repair, and Andrew has a question for listeners concerning a common thru-hiker trekking pole breakdown.



Ryan and Andrew introduce the topic: Trekking Poles!


Andrew introduces the first guest: Rob Shaul from Mountain Tactical Institute. Rob is the founder and head coach at the Mountain Tactical Institute in Jackson, Wyoming, where he trains and coaches mountain athletes of all kinds, as well as military service members deployed in mountainous areas.

Ryan introduces the second guest: James Marco. Jim has been a Backpacking Light member since November of 2010 and has been a frequent and valuable contributor to our forums through the years. He has several decades of hiking experience in the Adirondacks of New York among other places and has probably seen more trends come and go in the outdoor industry than most of us.

  • Jim’s backpacking experience
  • The terrain of upstate New York
  • Where does Jim fall on trekking pole use and why?
  • Jim uses a fixed length MYOG  trekking pole with no grip and very minimal straps: why he does this, how he made it, lessons learned.
  • Anti-shock poles: useless?
  • Shelter use with trekking poles and what to do if your pole breaks (if you are in the woods…)
  •  Who can benefit the most from using trekking poles?
  • Minimalist trekking pole technique.

Scientific studies: Ryan and Andrew discuss some of the available trekking pole research to determine what, if anything, can be said (definitively) about the physiological benefits of trekking pole use.



  • There’s a “right” and a “wrong” way to use trekking poles
  • Trekking pole straps are useless
    • Not if you are in rough terrain, crossing streams, etc…our take: they are probably worth the weight.
  • Trekking poles were invented by gear companies to make money
    • Nope. Trekking poles are an adoption of useful techniques from the skiing and mountaineering-staff-toting worlds and are in fact an optimization of the single walking stick.
  • There are some situations where trekking poles are more useful than other situations
    • Useful trekking pole situations
      • Fording fast rivers
      • Heavy loads
      • Downhill or uphill (depending on what you like)
    • Non-useful trekking pole situations
      • Talus (or maybe not…)
  • Cheap trekking poles are just as good as expensive trekking poles and or / if you don’t spend a hundred bucks on trekking poles you are going to regret it.
    • Find the middle ground
    • For extreme or long-term use, spend the money on quality materials and construction.
  • Trekking poles are most useful for aging hikers who need the extra support / balance.
    • Trekking poles are indeed very useful for hikers in this group
      • But…it isn’t a zero-sum game. Trekking poles can help even fit young hikers go faster.
  • Trekking poles are most helpful when using a heavy pack (30 lbs+)
    • Maybe. But they might also help you more with a lighter pack…
  • Trekking poles are a must when fording rivers or rock hopping across creeks
    • Depends on your style / preference. But don’t put yourself at risk of injury because you don’t want to get your feet wet…
    • Some stream crossings are actually hampered by trekking pole use!
  • Some trekking pole “technology” (locking mechanisms, folding vs telescoping) is better than others
    • We need to get away from plastic locking mechanisms and other components
    • The strength of a carbon pole depends greatly on the thickness and design of the shaft. Not all carbon is created equal…



  • How do you fix a broken trekking pole locking mechanism in the field?
    • It takes carving, cordage, and glue!
  • How about a snapped pole or sheared-off tip?
    • See above. It’s all about protecting the tip so the carbon doesn’t continue to shear and break…
  • Thru-Hikers in the crowd – have any of you ever worn down the plastic around your pole tip to the point that the carbide tip falls back into the pole itself and rattles around? If so, do you have a fix or suggestion that can be implemented in the field? Let us know! Shoot us an email to [email protected]

Feedback, Questions, Tips?


  • Backpacking Light – Executive Producer
  • Ryan Jordan – Director and Host
  • Andrew Marshall – Producer, Host, and Editor
  • Rob Shaul, James Marco – Guest Interviews
  • Look for Me in the Mountains – Music

Sponsors: Help us Keep the Podcast ADVERTISING-FREE!

  • This episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast is supported and kept advertising-free by Backpacking Light membership fees. Please consider becoming a member which helps support projects like this podcast, in addition to a whole slew of other benefits!
  • In addition, some of the links on this page may be affiliate links that refer to our partner merchant retailers. If you follow a link and then make a purchase, we receive a small commission which goes a long way towards helping us pay for podcast production, hosting, and bandwidth fees! Thanks for supporting us in this way!


You can contact us at [email protected], or follow us on social media –


  • We do not accept money or in-kind compensation for guaranteed media coverage: Backpacking Light does not accept compensation or donated product in exchange for guaranteed media placement or product review coverage.
  • Affiliate links: Some (but not all) of the links in this review may be “affiliate” links, which means if you click on a link to one of our affiliate partners (usually a retailer site), and subsequently make a purchase with that retailer, we receive a small commission. This helps us fund our editorial projects, podcasts, instructional webinars, and more, and we appreciate it a lot! Thank you for supporting Backpacking Light!
Free Handbook

Get ultralight backpacking skills, gear info, philosophy, news, and more.

Home Forums Episode 7 | Trekking Poles

Viewing 2 posts - 1 through 2 (of 2 total)
  • Author
  • #3569199
    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to: Episode 7 | Trekking Poles

    This podcast dives into the science to answer the question: are trekking poles worth the weight?

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Thank you, guys! I was flattered that I was included. Good info all the way around…  I would apologize about the mic settings on the computer and am grateful you gave me the time to set up the other computer.  Interesting to hear we mostly think alike.

Viewing 2 posts - 1 through 2 (of 2 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.

Join Our Community

Become a Backpacking Light Member

Forum Access

Unrestricted access to all forums, plus the ability to post and start new threads.

Premium Content

Unrestricted access to all 2,300+ articles, gear reviews, skills, stories, and more.

Community Posts

Post new content to the community including gear swaps, reviews, trip reports and more!

Online Education

Get unlimited access to all our online education (*Unlimited membership required).

Pack less. Be more. Become a member today!

Get Started