Forum Index » General Lightweight Backpacking Discussion » Trekking Poles – I need advice… or convincing…


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Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Trekking Poles – I need advice… or convincing… on 11/22/2007 12:48:13 MST Print View

I’ve been struggling with this one for several years now and just haven’t been able to convince myself that I need them or that they will help my knee problems. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read tons of literature and forum comments that discuss the benefits of poles and my hiking partners are long time converts and have let me try their poles on many occasions. I love buying gear and in fact, I think I know what poles I’d get if I can just convince myself that I need them but I keep getting hung up on the “excess gear” thing that light weight packers become obsessed with. I would guestimate that for my type of hiking/backpacking (non-technical), that poles are only really required about 10-20% of the time and the rest of the time they are excess baggage. I found that when I borrowed my friend’s poles, I carried them in my hand most of the time and only used them for the ups and downs that are obviously made easier with the use of poles (this was the 10-20% I mentioned). I also found that when scrambling or bushwhacking, they were just in the way and would end up attached to my pack. The knee problem that I was hoping the poles will help me to resolve is very specific. When I hike downhill for extended distances (steep but smooth), my knees really suffer. I never have knee problems going “up” steep trails only on the descent. I’m reasonably fit (stretching, weight training and stationary rowing several times per week as well as bike riding everyday… and obviously, lots of hiking) so I don’t think it’s a conditioning issue. I’ve been extremely active for the last 40 years and I know my knees are well worn but the fact that I’m not having problems with distance or when hiking “up” significant elevation gains makes me think (hope) that it’s not just age. If I could figure out a way of easing the downhill pounding with the trekking poles, I’d be using them in an instance but having experimented with them I’ve not found they help on smooth, steep downhill trails. Is this just bad technique on my part or am I right in assuming that poles won’t help much in this situation?

Roger B
(rogerb) - MLife

Locale: Here and there
Why I use poles on 11/22/2007 12:59:28 MST Print View

Mike

I use poles exactly for the reasons you mention. Specifically down hill, my knees ain't what they used to be and I find the support provided helps to relieve the strain on my knees at the end of the day. My wife now uses poles all the time because she sees the benefits when going up hill.

Now that I have poles I use them as part of my shelter set up, when solo I use them with a MLD tarp or poncho, with my wife I use a BD Betalight.

I suspect that as we get older poles may become an important and useful accessory in ensuring that we continue to hike our own hike.

R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: Trekking Poles – I need advice… or convincing… on 11/22/2007 13:18:43 MST Print View

I gave up trekking poles, I agree that conditioning is the key... Never needed them when I carried a "heavy" pack certainly don’t need them when going "UL" as far as using them as a poles to support my tarp its not that hard to find a branch/tree to fulfill that function. Perhaps someday when I get old and the legs start to give out I'll reconsider.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Trekking Poles – I need advice… or convincing… on 11/22/2007 13:33:51 MST Print View

> I’ve not found they help on smooth, steep downhill trails. Is this just bad technique on my part or am I right in assuming that poles won’t help much in this situation?

It always helps to remember that many years ago no-one used trekking poles because they hadn't been invented. Funny about that.

And also remember that in some countries very few people use poles even today - Australians generally don't bother with them.

But by not buying them you are being very selfish and not transfering money from your pockets to the vendors' pockets. Very mean of you.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Trekking Poles – I need advice… or convincing... on 11/22/2007 15:57:54 MST Print View

>> It always helps to remember that many years ago no-one used trekking poles...

Many years ago I did the same thing that I do now... if I need a stick to help me cross a stream or an icefield I pick one up... that said, years ago I didn't have worn out knees. If poles will help me solve my specific knee problem then I'd gladly part with the cash... if they won't help, then they are just excess baggage.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Trekking Poles on 11/22/2007 16:03:13 MST Print View

"It always helps to remember that many years ago no-one used trekking poles because they hadn't been invented."

True enough. Folks used hand-carved hiking staffs or a convenient stick instead. Then someone got tired of having to find a decent stick, got smart, and invented trekking poles. Someone smarter - probably travelling by air - got smarter and made them collapsable/adjustable. End rant.


Buy them at REI. Keep the receipt and write the purchase date down somewhere safe.

Try them out on several treks.

If you discover they don't work for you, return them for a full refund (or a different type). There is no time limit on returns, but you will need the receipt or at worst, the purchase date so they can look up the sale under your REI number.

If you decide you do like poles, but want a different brand that REI doesn't carry, use your refund to buy that brand.

Edited by wandering_bob on 11/22/2007 16:09:08 MST.

Steven Bergeron
(TheTurk)

Locale: SF Bay Area
Re: Trekking Poles – I need advice… or convincing… on 11/22/2007 17:50:43 MST Print View

> but having experimented with them I’ve not found they help on smooth, steep downhill trails. Is this just bad technique on my part or am I right in assuming that poles won’t help much in this situation?

It could be a technique issue. How many times did you use them and for how many miles?

The more you've used them the less likely I would think that it was technique. That's making assumptions on my part. But there is a learning curve (as with anything) so the more you've used them the less likely I would think that it's technique. (What do your friends say about your technique?) My hiking buddy and I started using poles at the same time and we definitely went through a "spastic spider" phase (his term for our flailing) at the start.

Do you use them on the uphills too?

Most of my knee problem is with uphills. But if I don't take care of my knees on the uphill - or are very tired - I have problems on the downhills too. You may need to use the poles just as much on the uphill portions of your hikes in order to have your knees less abused (or your legs less tired, or both) on the downhill portions.

Do you feel it in your arms when you use the poles?

By the end of even a day hike, my arms have had a workout. If they don't feel like they aren't being worked, my knees don't get the benefit of using the poles.

As a final note, I find I either carry my poles or lash them to my pack for most hikes (day or otherwise) too. But I wouldn't be backpacking any more without them.

Good luck,

Steve

Brian UL
(MAYNARD76)

Locale: New England
Re: Trekking Poles – I need advice… or convincing… on 11/22/2007 19:30:41 MST Print View

This seems more like a medical question to me, but I wouldnt hold my breath for any independent scientific studies.
People love thier poles! I mean really get attached, they become an extention of themselves and so they will defend using them.
I myself dont use them.
I just hike for fun and the love of being out there. I wont bore anyone with why I stopped using them- its on an older thread.
But- I dont miss them. Without poles I feel like Im just taking a walk in the woods, with them I feel like Im on some more serious endeaver -Im 'hiking"
Thats totally subjective though.
Some ways to improve bad knees that I can think of-
stay well hydrated, find a diet that helps build collegen in the joints, slow down on big inclines/declines-move more purposly w/ good posture and build up the supporting muscles in the joints. Oh, and lighten your pack !

Edited by MAYNARD76 on 11/22/2007 20:41:21 MST.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Trekking Poles – I need advice… or convincing… on 11/23/2007 00:43:51 MST Print View

>>What do your friends say about your technique?

My friends wonder why I carry the poles instead of using them... perhaps you are right that I'm not giving them a chance. Maybe the cumulative effect of continuous use of poles would make a difference to my knees over the course of the trip.

>>Oh, and lighten your pack!

Backpack weight is not an issue, I get the same knee pain on day hikes with virtually no pack weight.

>>Without poles I feel like I’m just taking a walk in the woods, with them I feel like Im on some more serious endeavor -I’m 'hiking"

I agree, I think this is really why I've avoided using poles, it just seems like a lot of extra gear to think about. I like to be able to concentrate on the scenery. I found that when I tried my friends poles, I was spending most of my time thinking about how best to plant them rather than sitting back and enjoying the ride... again, maybe that's just lack of experience.

Thanks for all the comments, and it's good to know that I'm not the only one out there that has not taken up poles (it sometimes seems like it when I read the forums). I suspect I'm just going to have to give them an extended try and see if they help the knee pain once I really get the hang of them. If not, I'll just file them away with the rest of the extraneous gear I've collected over the years.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Benefits of trekking poles on 11/23/2007 03:07:18 MST Print View

I've found that trekking poles help me lift going up and add stability going down. Much of the hiking I do is on rough trails with rocks and root "ladders" and the poles are a huge help in those areas. On the smoother sections, I think practice will make for less need for close attention and distraction from the scenery.

My technique going down hill is basically planting the pole and walking to it. The pole helps stabilize, adds control, and some braking, which should help your knees.

They certainly take some load off going up hill as you can lift using your upper body strength. I find them a huge help where you need to take a larger step up than is comfortable.

I would check with a trainer or physical therapist to see if some specific exercises will help with your steep/smooth/downhill issues. You mentioned biking and rowing and it maybe that some of that activity is adding stress to your knees or may need some balanced exercise. I'm no expert, but I do know that things like seat height and using too low a gear while biking can add knee stress, and I suspect there may be other, more subtle issues that an expert might help.

Michael Reagan
(MichaelReagan) - F

Locale: Southern California
Personal experience with bad knees on 11/23/2007 10:06:10 MST Print View

I too have had knee issues that used to cause considerable discomfort on long or particularly steep downhills. I did the following three things:

1. Lost weight. Now my knees have to carry less of me and boy are they happy about that!

2. Began taking a Glucosamine/Chondrotin suppliment at the advice of my family doctor. He has patients that have avoided knee surgery because of this stuff, so he highly recommends it. I have found that if I take it regularly for a month or more I can really begin to feel a difference in my knees.

3. Switched from a single hiking staff (an ancient and honored device) to trekking poles (new-fangled and kinda sissy-lookin'). I have to say that the poles have utterly transformed my hiking. Now I actually look forward to steep descents on the trail. The poles take a huge amount of stress of my knees, sharing that with my arms and upper body. They also provide me with greatly improved stability (avoiding falls and twisted ankles!) and allow me to make tricky descents much more confidently and with greater ease.

Poles are also very helpful on uphills, and have saved me from several stumbles that otherwise might have resulted in falls on rocky trails. So yeah, I like my poles and recommend a set if you have bad knees or are an older hiker like me.

Hey, this is my first post! Thanks for letting me in!

Michael

Joe Westing
(pedro87) - F
other benefits of poles on 11/23/2007 11:31:07 MST Print View

I also have knee problems like many of you, but I would probably use poles even if my knees were perfectly healthy. Using poles as supports for creaky joints is important to me, but I also use poles on all trails (flat, uphill, downhill) to increase my speed and endurance. I use a "nordic" style to push off from behind to propel myself forward.
Doug Johnson explains it best:

"First, in my opinion and experience, using trekking poles can be easier on the body and also more efficient over long mileage. I started out a naysayer but converted after using my wife's poles on some long days and through deep Utah sand. Now I use poles for every hike.

Second, there are two main styles of pole usage:
"Trekking style" mans you use the poles for stability and balance. The tips are place beside the feet as you walk and they take weight off the knees and offer additional security. These poles tend to be shorter typically fit the 90 degree rule mentioned above.

"Nordic Walking style" means that the poles are used for forward propulsion, much like a XC ski pole. Sized for this style, the poles are usually a bit longer (mine are about 5 cm longer). Here, the poles are place behind the feet and you push off for increased speed or forward momentum.

That said, you'll likely develop a blend of the styles, although you'll typically fall into one camp. For example, my wife uses trekking style 90% of the time but uses NW style when climbing steep sections. I use NW style primarily but switch to trekking for stability through really rough sections or when descending sketchy or very steep parts."

Mark Regalia
(markr) - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz
No longer carry a pair on 11/26/2007 15:59:19 MST Print View

I can't speak to your knee problems. I have had my share but back before poles. I did try a hiking staff, but never found it to be much help. I tried modern poles for awhile and decided that I really disliked them. I felt like some sort of four limbed robot, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack - the mechanical man. Not my idea of an wilderness experience. I ended up carrying them more than using them. And when I carried them I had to worry about poking my poor dogs in the face with them. I now carry one pole which has use in stream crossing, loose rock and tricky descents. That's about it.

Andrew :-)
(terra) - F

Locale: Sydney, Australia.
Fix the cause. on 11/26/2007 23:43:13 MST Print View

Perhaps the poles are a bandaid fix for the problem. You sound like you are active and exercising but still experience problems during certain functions (downhill etc). Perhaps your training has left you with a joint/muscle imbalance. I'd seek a solution, via professional advice/therapy from a Chiro/physio etc then do rehab to remove the 'cause' of the problem.
Personal experience has shown me that my knee problems were due to incorrect biomechanics due to imbalanced musclegroups, posture etc. Even though very fit certain muscle groups weren't balanced.

Either way, good luck with it mate.

Edited by terra on 11/26/2007 23:43:59 MST.

Dave T
(DaveT) - F
knee pain. on 11/30/2007 00:49:07 MST Print View

i'd echo other suggestions to focus on the knee pain and what the cause of that is. trekking poles can alleviate some of that, especially on downhills, but getting to the bottom of it is the best. i've intermittently had some kind of IT Band (or otherwise related issue) that turns into patella pulling and knee pain on the outside of the knee. especially with long days and lots of miles, or road walking, or tough sections. that can be zero pain going on flat or uphill, and mild to excruciating pain on steep downhills. a knee brace, esp. with a patella cutout, helps that, as do trekking poles to take some of the jarring out. but the main issue is conditioning, stretching, etc.

that said, i'd NEVER do a hike longer than a day or two without poles. there are just too many reasons for me. downhill support, nice pacing on flat ground, critical to drag me up long uphill sections, stability to reduce possiblity of injury, stream and snow crossings, tarp or tarptent support, etc.

Edited by DaveT on 11/30/2007 00:50:25 MST.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Trekking Poles – I need advice… or convincing… on 12/01/2007 02:08:51 MST Print View

Thanks for the posts folks, it's helped me to develop a plan to try to resolve (or ease) the problem I'm having with my knees. I think I'll buy some poles and give them an honest try (use them instead of carry them) although I must say I agree totally with the "spastic spider" reference... it just seems unnecessarily complicated, especially for ultra lighters (I still think they are very heavy tent poles, even if they are dual purpose). I'm also going to look into the physical therapy thing since my dedication to another sport has definitely left me with a muscle imbalance in my legs (that's one of the things my weight training is focusing on). I hadn't really thought about a knee brace since I don't have unstable knees but if it can help reduce my downhill problem then it's worth a try as well. I keep hoping the downhill issue isn't just an "over-the-hill" issue as I'm quite aware that my knees are well worn (I've had both knees scoped in past years) but I still think I've got quite a few miles left in them!

I'll update this thread in a few months and let you know if the poles actually helped with my downhill problem but it will probably be spring before I'm doing any significant mileage.

Thanks again for the comments.

Jaiden .
(jaiden) - F
cheap poles on 12/01/2007 09:56:58 MST Print View

If you can't borrow some, the cheapest poles to buy are at Walmart. There are two kinds, the red ones (which are sold singularly) and a pair of blue ones. Both are branded Swissgear, but I'm guessing they're komperdells. EDIT: correction: "swiss gear is made by Wenger" (thanks Andrew.... but I still think they're just fine if admittedly heavy)

The pair is about $16! They've worked great for me and my wife. Also they're anti shock and have a compass on top of each.

Much cheaper than the super lightweight versions, but still not too terrible, IMO.

Edited by jaiden on 12/01/2007 20:52:47 MST.

Andrew Richard
(fairweather8588) - F

Locale: The Desert
not komperdells on 12/01/2007 10:11:31 MST Print View

komperdells! now thats a stretch!
swiss gear is made by Wenger. (Walmarts version of Target's Greatland stuff.)
they are good for trying poles - youre not out much but a return trip to walmart, however you should realize that they are low quality and high weight. should you enjoy using poles, once you switch to a better quality version you will immediatley feel a difference.
the only convincing you need is to try them yourself.