Poles or no poles that is the question. We have all seen those hikers on day hikes who have trekking poles or a walking stick. I don’t know about you but I have always asked myself what is the point? Why would I bring a ski pole hiking? Being young and a natural hiker, I have never used poles before because I think they are useless. I have recently been told by a few thru hikers that poles are a necessity for hikes like the PCT and the AT. So I have decided to do my research and give them a try.
First what I have gathered so far there are many positives for using trekking poles but these positives don’t come at a cost. Trekking poles mainly help improve balance and reduce strain on knees during your descents. They also help create a rhythm while walking and can be used for bushwhacking. For a person who has bad knees, like me, and who hikes in mountain enviroments, also like me, these seem to be a great tool. If used properly they have many advantages for a hiker and can increase the distance you travel per day.
Now for the negatives. Just as I thought they are a unneccesary, they add extra weight, and consume more energy. Although poles can increase the distance you travel they will cause you to use more calories because they involve your upper body muscles. In addition, poles can be dangerous if aren’t used properly especially when hiking uphill. Many hikers who use poles when hiking up hill lean over on their poles thinking this will make it easier. It actually takes your legs , your stongest muscles, out of it and makes the suspension system in your pack worthless.
I still was not satisfied with my research and decided I had to try them out for myself. I used them on a quick 7 mile round trip hike in the Galena Forest. This trail had sections that were uneven, flat, uphill, and downhill. I used a pair of collapsible Black Diamond trekking poles during the entire hike with a 40 lbs pack on. I found during the downhill sections of the hike, these were amazing. My knee felt no pain and had no soreness after the hike. They were also great to use while crossing a large creek on the hike. I however did not see a benefit to use them while hiking on flat uneven ground or while going up hill.
I am still unsure if I will purchase or use trekking poles on the PCT but I have developed a new appreciation for them. They serve as a great tool when traveling downhill for a long period of time. If I can find an efficient way to grab and store them on my pack without stopping I will probably use them. I will definitely keep testing them out before I come to a conclusion. Let me know whether or not you use poles and if you think they are beneficial or not.
Photo attributed to Active