If you’ve been considering if hiking poles are right for you, but still are not sure, you’re in good company. It is easy to get overwhelmed. There is a plethora of hiking poles to choose from. In sharing my personal experience, I hope you gain some insight.
Let me begin by giving you a bit information about me. I am in my 40’s, and have had knee issues for about seven years. These issues include audible cracking in my knees, knee pain, and enough discomfort to wake me up at night. I am losing weight, but I have not yet reached my goal weight, which has resulted in pain and discomfort in my hips, especially when I hike hills!
I kept hitting the trails, and the hills, accepting that I would be awakened with pretty severe hip pain after these hikes. I had to train for our upcoming trip to Utah, and needed to condition before I got there. When I was on the trails, I noticed lots of people using hiking poles. This piqued my interest. I started researching them, and discovered that they help with a lot of my issues! They take pressure off knees (score!), add assistance when climbing hills (score!), and have many additional, versatile uses. A good friend equated using walking poles to walking in 4-Wheel Drive. Well said!
I did my research and found these High Trek Trekking Poles [ Pair ] Hiking / Walking Sticks Ultralight – EVA Grips & Easy Flip Locks on Amazon. I got two pairs for $34.97 each pair. I knew this was a very good price, and these poles had positive reviews. I also didn’t want to spend too much in case they didn’t turn out to be right for me. I purchased two pairs of trekking poles so that way when we were hiking in Utah, or anywhere else, we would each have one pole to use.
I practiced using them prior to the trip, which I recommend doing. They take a bit of practice to feel comfortable, so keep that in mind. After my first hike with the hiking poles, the first thing I noticed was that my knees were not screaming! There was no noticeable knee pain or hip pain. This was good!
That night, my hips had begun to hurt, but not nearly as much as they would have after hiking a hill without poles. What was even more exciting, is my knees still were not hurting! I deemed the hiking poles to be a good purchase, even though my son and husband both accused me of blindly spending money on a useless item that would never get used.
Trekking poles are actually helpful in a variety of situations, some of which could potentially be a reality in Bryce Canyon. While researching our trip, I discovered to my dismay that mountain lions attacks happen occasionally in Bryce Canyon. Occasional or not, I am not exaggerating when I say that this terrified me. I was taking my family to a beautiful national park, and now I felt like I was putting them directly in harm’s way. I worried, I researched, I planned, I took the kids to Cabela’s so they could see the mountain lions and hear their terrifying roar. I needed them to know what these animals looked and sounded like, and I needed the kids to also see and hear them.
Why am I telling you about my newly acquired extreme fear of mountain lions in an article highlighting trekking poles’ benefits? It turns out that if you encounter a mountain lion, you want to appear larger than you are, so as to give the illusion that you would be a formidable adversary. When a mountain lion attacks, they do so with stealth and speed. If you do encounter a mountain lion, wave your arms, remain calm, and speak with authority, to give the impression that you would not be a good victim. If you have hiking poles, you can attach a jacket or scarf to them to make you appear larger. If, God forbid, the mountain lion still attacks, you can also use the hiking poles to help fend off the mountain lion. In the event of an attack, experts advise using anything as a weapon. If you are hiking with poles, you already have potential weapons. Hey, it’s better than nothing, right? Enough about mountain lions. You get the point.
When hiking, you can use hiking poles to check unfamiliar terrain. In autumn, leaves can camouflage a path, and hide potentially harmful situations. When we hiked at Fort Amanda in Lima over Thanksgiving weekend, I didn’t realize until we were there that I should have packed my poles!
Leaf cover was very thick, paths were slippery and hard to traverse. Luckily Jeremy happened to be pushing leaves over the side of a bridge. He uncovered a huge hole in the bridge that was not visible prior! The wood had rotted away and if someone was not aware of it, they could have been seriously hurt, with a twisted or possibly broken ankle.
Hiking poles can be treated as an extension of yourself. During our very cold Thanksgiving weekend hike, they would have offered some much needed stability walking through the wet leaves. Even in this small park, the pathways were more slippery than I expected.
Hiking poles can also help you cross streams. Please don’t take this statement as a green light to blindly cross dangerous waters because you have hiking poles! The best hiking gear in the world does not replace common sense! Say it with me – safety first! If you know the water way is safe to pass, you can use hiking poles to help you find the best place to pass. If the body of water is not safe to cross, hiking poles are not going to change that situation. Use common sense.
Hiking poles can also help you navigate unfamiliar terrain. While mountain lions became my new nightmare, it turns out that rattle snakes are also common in Bryce Canyon. Hiking poles can help you keep your distance from snakes by using them to explore unfamiliar or unseen areas. The poles give you some distance between something dangerous.
Hiking poles are my go-to gear when traversing hills. On downhills, they offer stability. In extreme hills, they give much needed traction, and allow you to control your speed. When Jeremy and I were hiking down Graveyard Hills in Asheville, North Carolina last year, it was not easy to go down the hill and control your speed! I saw many pole marks from previous hikers, and was wishing I had poles to help me get down the steep hill at that moment!
When making the ascent up hills, hiking poles once again offers some much needed leverage. It is always easier to hike into a valley, than to climb out of it after a couple hour hike. At that point, you are more worn out, your legs are not as strong as at the beginning of your hike, and if you have children, they may have reached the whiny stage of the hike. (Yes, I am speaking from experience on all of these examples.) Poles give you leverage, and help you tackle those switchbacks like a pro. I used mine in Utah when we hiked the Sunset Point loop in Bryce Canyon as we got to the top. The combination of high altitude, too many switchbacks, and very high heights started to mess with my brain! I knew I had to keep going, and positioned my pole to the outside so that, if anything else, it gave me a mental barrier to stop me from falling down the rows of switchbacks.
When we hiked in Bryce, everyone used a hiking pole. The kids and I used our poles for the entire hike. Jeremy used his for part of the hike, then we attached it to my pack, so it wasn’t a big deal. For me and my family, hiking poles were a very smart purchase. I bring and use mine every time I hike.
If you have a store near you, I highly recommend trying out different poles to see what is most comfortable to you. I am lucky because we have many outdoor stores to choose from. REI offers a huge selection. Cabela’s has a smaller selection, but it still gives you an option to try out the hiking poles to see what works and what doesn’t for you. Sporting goods stores should have a hiking pole selection also.
Here are some important items to consider when shopping for hiking poles:
- Adjustability – Being able to adjust the height so your poles are the most comfortable for you is very important. Hiking poles are also easier to transport when not in use. You also want to consider how to adjust the poles. Mine use a lever lock that retracts into themselves and locks into place. There are also the kind that twist apart, with a spring loaded rope inside. I have heard that the spring loaded type eventually fails.
- Weight – If you are backpacking, you do not want heavy items to lug around with you. Lightweight, but sturdy is the way to go. There are many lightweight options to consider.
- Shaft material – There are many type of materials to choose from, such as aluminum or carbon fiber. Consider the terrain you will be traversing, and your individual needs when deciding which material is best for you and your needs.
- Grip material – When considering which grip is best for you, take into account the season you will be hiking (sweaty hands are better stay drier with cork or foam, while rubber is best for cold weather hiking.)
- Pole tips – My poles I got have various tips that can be used depending on the weather and the terrain (Use baskets in the snow, carbide tips in ice.) Rubber tips protect your poles, and also give less impact on the environment they are being used in.
- Wrist straps – Mine came with wrist straps which I found useful. When I wasn’t using them, I could hang it off my wrist to do something else with my hand, like take photos, or drink water. But it wasn’t necessary to always use the straps if you prefer not to have them.
I hope this article offered you some useful information. If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments. If you use hiking poles, what has your experience been? Which brand(s) do you use? Do you use one, or two?
Whether you use poles or a hiking staff, or not doesn’t matter. It’s completely a personal choice. Above all else, remember #HikingIsFun and #AdventureAwaits.