Outdoor professionals love to debate the usefulness and necessity of gear. High-ankle hiking boots or trail running shoes? Inflatable sleeping pad or lightweight foam? Two trekking poles or none? A recent Outside Magazine article delves into the pros and cons of that final question, citing recent research and objectively debating whether the ergonomic benefits of trekking pole use outweigh the freedom of empty hands while hiking.
At Adventure Treks, we love trekking poles! You’ll find them on your packing list for next summer; here are a few reasons why.
Four legs are better than two
Have you ever heard anyone say “use three points of contact” when you’re hiking somewhere steep? That means use at least one of your hands (along with your feet) to keep your balance. Trekking poles are the high-tech version of this concept—with one in each hand, your points of contact with the ground are doubled. Studies have shown that hiking with a pair of poles increases your ability to balance with a heavy backpack, making stumbles and falls less likely. For students and instructors alike, trekking poles add stability, especially when traveling downhill or on loose or rocky terrain.
Trekking poles also allow for creative resting at packs-on breaks! If you hinge at the waist and rest your pack on a trekking pole at each shoulder, you can take a lot of weight off both your shoulders and feet at once. It looks a little ridiculous, but try it out once and you’ll never go back!
Higher, further, faster, baby
Another perk of having four legs and increased balance? Speed! Once you know how to properly use them, a pair of trekking poles helps you hike faster and longer. On a steep climb, using your arms to help push the weight of your pack up each step gives your legs some much-needed support. Trail runners and ultra-marathon runners often use poles to help keep them going over long, hilly distances.
Many people also choose to use poles while hiking because they can help reduce stress on your joints. Your ankles, knees, and hips (and the surrounding muscles) work especially hard while backpacking and absorb more impact than usual because of the extra weight of your pack. If it has been a while since your last hike, using trekking poles can help reduce any soreness you might feel on day two.
No party like an AT party
Most of the benefits of trekking poles pertain to hiking, but not all. In a pinch, tents and tarps can be propped up or hung using poles, and there is no better tool for fishing a dropped water bottle out of a river. Two trekking poles with a string tied between them make a great drying rack, limbo setup, or spot to hang homemade birthday banners. Many campsite games revolve around creative trekking pole use.
If you’ve ever been on a beach backpacking trip, you know how valuable trekking poles are for making sand art. Drawing, writing, and leaving messages for other groups are all possible without even setting down your pack. Of all the perks of carrying poles, this might be the most important!
Trekking poles are versatile tools with both fun and functional uses. It can be a little tricky to get used to walking with them, so we recommend practicing as you break in your hiking boots before the summer.