Trekking poles offer these advantages:
Trekking poles are most helpful to those with weak or damaged knees or ankles, particularly when going downhill, because the poles absorb some of the impact that your body would normally sustain. According to a study in The Journal of Sports Medicine, trekking poles can reduce compressive force on the knees by up to 25%. This translates into literally tons of weight that your body will not have to support during the course of a regular hike.
It should be noted that using trekking poles will not decrease your overall energy expenditure since you'll be using your arms more than you would when walking without poles. They do, however, help distribute your energy usage in a way that can help your hiking endurance.
To start shopping, consider the health of your ankles, knees and hips. Keep in mind, too, whether you'll be using your poles on rugged or relatively flat terrain and the amount of weight you typically carry in your pack.
Poles can be categorized as follows:
Antishock poles: These offer internal springs that absorb shock when you walk downhill. With most poles, this feature can be turned off when it's not needed such as when you're walking uphill. The antishock feature is recommended if you have weak or damaged ankles, knees or hips. It adds a bit to the cost of the poles.
Standard poles: These do not have the antishock feature and are lighter and less expensive as a result. While they don't absorb as much impact as antishock poles when going downhill, they do provide a similar level of balance and support.
Compact or women's poles: These are shorter and have smaller grips for hikers with smaller hands. They are easier to swing because they weigh less and are also simpler to pack. Youth poles for kids are also available.
Hiking staff: Sometimes called a walking staff or travel staff, this is a single pole that's most effective when used on relatively flat terrain and with little or no load on your back. Hiking staffs are adjustable and some include the antishock feature. They may also include a built-in camera mount under the handle that can be used as a monopod.
Nordic walking poles: Long established in Europe, Nordic walking is gradually becoming popular in the U.S., too. It's a social activity that offers a total body workout. Nordic walking poles are a modified version of trekking poles. REI does not currently carry poles designed for Nordic walking.
Shop REI's selection of trekking poles and hiking staffs.
Typically the less poles weigh, the more they cost. Lightweight poles offer the advantage of less swing weight, which makes them easier and quicker to move. Over the course of a long hike this means less fatigue. Lighter poles are also easier to pack.
The makeup of the pole shaft is a key determinant of its weight and price.
Trekking poles are identified by their 2 or 3 interlocking sections. This adjustability (which typically ranges between 24 to 55 inches) lets you adapt the poles to your height and the terrain. If you're exceptionally tall or short, check the size range of each model to make sure it suits your body.
Most poles use a twist-and-lock system in which you find the desired length and then twist the pole hard to the right to hold. Some popular varieties:
The shape and feel of a pole's grip varies from brand to brand, so it's best to try several models. Some grips are angled or positioned into the upper pole section to be ergonomically neutral. Others feature grips that extend down the shaft, allowing you to grasp the poles more easily on short uphill sections. Note that many brands designate left- and right-hand poles on either the grip or the strap. Several materials (or a blending of materials) are used:
Wrist straps: Most poles allow you to adjust the length of each strap in order to get a comfortable fit. Models with padded or lined straps can prevent chafing.
Baskets: Trekking poles usually include a small, removable trekking basket. Larger baskets can be substituted for use in snowy or muddy ground.
Pole tips: Carbide or steel tips are commonly used to provide traction, even on ice. Rubber tip protectors extend the life of the tips and protect your gear when poles are stowed in your pack. They are also good for use in sensitive areas to reduce impact to the ground. Angled rubber walking tips (usually sold separately) are for use on asphalt or other hard surfaces.
Most trekking poles adjust in length from about 24" to 55". Those in the compact pole category extend to a maximum of 49". All trekking poles feature numbers on the shaft to help set length. The sections should be easy to adjust and not come loose once you've selected a length.
Just loosen the locking mechanism and slide each section to the desired length. Your elbow should be at a 90º angle. For maximum strength, be sure to keep each section about the same length and avoid extending any section all the way to the end as this can stress the pole.
Tip: If the pole sections are not locking together, pull the pole completely apart, wind the expander nut to the widest setting you can while still allowing the nut to fit back into the pole cavity, and then reinsert the pole and twist to lock.
Proper pole length varies by the terrain:
Since wrist straps bear much of the load, it's important to use them correctly. Put your hand up through the bottom of the strap, not down from the top, before grasping the grip. Adjust the strap so it fits snugly around your wrist.
The antishock system helps absorb stress when going downhill, but it's best to turn it off when walking uphill or on level terrain. To do so on most models, simply push down to compress the spring and then turn the pole to lock it in place. See your owner's manual for specific details.
The most common complaint about trekking poles is that the locking mechanism will sometimes slip during use. This can usually be prevented with regular cleaning and drying of the locking mechanism. This maintenance also helps to add significantly to the lifespan of the poles by preventing internal corrosion.
Here is the general procedure for most poles (check the manufacturer's instructions to confirm the procedure for your model):
Q: Can I use trekking poles for backcountry skiing?
A: It depends. Sectioned poles are a great choice for backcountry downhill skiing with some models designed with that use in mind. On the other hand, classic cross-country ski touring requires a more aggressive pushing motion, so a standard one-piece skiing pole is usually better for that. Also, ski touring poles should be a bit longer, so taller people might find that trekking poles won't extend far enough to suit them.
Q: Do trekking poles negatively affect trails? How can I reduce my environmental impact?
A: Much like hiking boots, trekking poles can cause at least some impact to a trail. They can scratch rocks, erode trails and potentially even harm vegetation alongside the trail. To minimize your impact, follow these practices:
Q: What are the downsides of antishock poles?
A: The antishock feature is especially helpful for those with weak ankles, knees or hips, but it does add somewhat to the weight and price of trekking poles. If you primarily want trekking poles for balance and support, you can probably do without the antishock feature.
Q: Any other uses for trekking poles?
A: Yes, trekking poles offer multiple secondary functions.
By Shawn Carkonen
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Last updated: Wed Nov 28 14:22:44 PST 2012
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