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A case for trekking poles?
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Brian UL
(MAYNARD76)

Locale: New England
A case for trekking poles? on 01/09/2009 20:34:31 MST Print View

I have been a vocal nay-Sayer against trekking poles. Mostly just because there are so few of us that dont use them that 'our" side of the story would almost never be heard if I didnt open my big mouth to make it. Its not so much about being "against" them as just making the case that -hey I dont need them, please stop asking me why I dont have them on the trail. And didnt you notice Im passing you and my knees are fine?
Its hard to convinced me of there effectiveness when -excuse me- a guy whos leg muscles are weak and stagnate from under use at his desk job tries to use those legs to power a beer belly up a mountain and then tries to tell me knee aches are a "natural" part of hiking.
Im usually the one passing others on the trail, not that Im bragging or that Im even particularly fast but Im not using poles and most others are and my thighs and calves will burn and ache -but not my knees. And I attribute that to being in shape -eating right and regular work outs.
I know, your saying to yourself -but dont you know that the trail runners and record speed holder freaks use them and claim they couldn't do it without them?
OK true. But there is the case of Francis Tapon. Besides- I will counter, Im not a trail runner just a happy-go-lucky hiker.
Then there is the matter of philosophy. My love of K.I.S.S. principles. If their usefulness is questionable and my knees and balance is all good -well Im not bringing them.

But today I read about man who actually makes a case for them-in a round about way.
Leonard Schwartz (M.D.) Author of "Heavyhands" a book that started a short fad in the 1980's. I wont go into detail on his science and I havnt yet read the book. I know of him now through another author an Olympic champion trainer. But, here is his case in a nut shell;
"One day the proverbial light bulb went off in his[leonard's]head as he was investigating athletic VO2 maximums. The highest VO2 maximums ever recorded by a group of athletes were not registered by endurance runners,which is what he logically presupposed before his investigations, but rather by Russian and Norwegian cross country skiers. Why was this? He wondered. It didnt take long for him to come up with the answer: skiers generated propulsion using all four limbs. the runners used only their legs" -Marty Gallagher
AND:
"the elite marathoner runs at approximately 75% of his maximum workload capacity. A Heavyhand user can generate 50% of leg capacity, 50% of arm capacity and exceed the marathon runners 75% of maximum capacity using legs only. This is why Heavyhands feels easier. Lots of units, each doing less, add up to more" -Len Schwartz

Just to clarify Heavyhands is basically running with weights in your hands, at different levels and weights. Its not the same as carrying trekking poles especially UL ones, but it makes a case nonetheless. So, am I a convert? Not quite -we'll see maybe, how much for CF poles at REI?

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/09/2009 21:17:15 MST Print View

Lots of different issues here, Brian. For starters, what ever gave you the idea that most pole users are desk jockeys with a beer belly and sore knees? I can assure you that is not the case and, further, that there are a whole bunch of them out there whom you are not going to be passing and who could give a rat's a$r*s%e whether you are using poles, or not. Since you are reconsidering your position after reading about old Leonard's epiphany, I won't try to list the benefits of using poles here, but rather leave you to draw your own conclusions. On second thought, I will mention one, which is exactly what old Leonard figured out: Using poles is a great full body cardio workout and training tool, which can be varied infinitely in duration, terrain, weight caried, and intensity to improve VO2 max. I would highly recommend you investigate that area if you do end up acquiring a pair. As one who pays attention to training, I think you'll immediately see the possibilities. Keep an open mind and have fun!

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Trekking Poles-VO2 is one reason I rejected them. on 01/09/2009 21:25:53 MST Print View

Man existed for a long time without trekking poles. Maybe a staff, but not dual poles.

I'm 43. I did a huge amount of hiking 20+ years ago and a fair amount till 10 years ago, then no backpack trips until last summer. As I planned to get back into it my research told me that trekking poles are now pretty standard. I read about the pros and cons and decided not to bother. Note- I am a desk jockey who last got regular exercise before my daughter was born 8 years ago.

One big reason was that all of my training was my walk from the train station to work in downtown LA. My ego prevented me from considering walking across the city with ski poles.

Fast forward to halfway through my 220 mile John Muir Trail hike. Not only was this my longest trip ever, it was my highest daily mileage ever and I was 10 years older than my last trip. The flats were fine. The uphills were do-able. Downhill was another story. My poor, out of shape, aging knees were not entirely happy. Not bad but 15-20 miles a day was taking a toll.

At my midpoint resupply I eyed a pair of trekking poles leaning against a post near the hiker buckets of extra food (Muir Trail Ranch). Jokingly I asked if they were surplus. The owner (Andrew, a BPL participant)looked at me and after ascertaining that I was planning to finish the trail without poles, offered them to me. Granted he was leaving the trail, but still quite a generous offer from a complete stranger.

One the next downhill I was convinced. Certainly before the successful completion of the trip I was sure that I would never do a mountain trip without hiking poles.

Back to VO2. My heart/lung/digestive machine doesn't provide enough energy for legs AND arms to pump uphill. My technique evolved so I would mostly carry the poles uphill except for big steps. On the flats I carried the poles on hardpack and used them on sandy/pumice surfaces. Downhill I used them to great benefit.

The JMT is well built, but the stone steps designed for mules are killer on the knees. 18 inch step downs are no fun without poles. With poles they're just a minor pole vaults.

Thanks again Andrew.

Jim

Edited by jimqpublic on 01/09/2009 21:27:17 MST.

Brian UL
(MAYNARD76)

Locale: New England
Re: Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/09/2009 21:33:30 MST Print View

'what ever gave you the idea that most pole users are desk jockeys with a beer belly and sore knees?"
-Well first off, its hyperbole, an exaggeration to make a point -though based on truth. My experience is that most hikers are middle aged and a bit out of shape and their biggest argument for trekking poles is to "save their knees"

- "that there are a whole bunch of them out there whom you are not going to be passing and who could give a rat's a$r*s%e whether you are using poles, or not"

- You completely missed the the point on this one! Since the point was that people DO indeed ask me why Im not using poles and I pointed out that I pass most people only to point out that if they are correct I SHOULDNT be able to and yet I do- all the time. Not that I give a rats a@@ either but it nulls the argument dont you think?

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/09/2009 22:43:40 MST Print View

"You completely missed the the point on this one! Since the point was that people DO indeed ask me why Im not using poles and I pointed out that I pass most people only to point out that if they are correct I SHOULDNT be able to and yet I do- all the time. Not that I give a rats a@@ either but it nulls the argument dont you think?"

Nope. But it does make me wonder about the hiking culture back east. I've been backpacking/hiking for over 30 years out here on the West Coast and didn't start using poles until about 8 years ago. During my pre-pole period, I passed, and got passed by, lots of different people. Many used poles, many did not. Most were reasonably to plenty fit, some not so fit. None of 'em seemed much concerned with whether or not I was using poles, or whether or not I was passing them and vice versa for me. Same goes for after I started using poles. Different culture? Also I am curious how you know you pass "most" people. You only know about the people you pass, not the ones ahead of you that are moving faster than you.

Brian UL
(MAYNARD76)

Locale: New England
Re: Re: Re: Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/09/2009 23:08:06 MST Print View

Your twisting my words into 'I pass everyone on the trail Im so cool." When clearly Im making a point about trekking poles use. If people argue to me that trekking poles make you faster and save your knees, can I not then counter that I go as fast if not faster than most people on the trail and I dont have knee issues at all? Or does that mean I want a race in your trail "culture"?

And people out west most certainly do ask about whether I have poles or gently recommend them, as well as doubting I could do 15 miles a day " good luck" one westerner said sarcastically. 'nothings wrongs with being dirty" said another angrily after I recounted how refreshing the one shower I took in 2 weeks was. -People are the same all over.

Brian UL
(MAYNARD76)

Locale: New England
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/09/2009 23:12:28 MST Print View

"Also I am curious how you know you pass "most" people. You only know about the people you pass, not the ones ahead of you that are moving faster than you."

If they started before me and remained ahead of me -then ya they havnt passed me have they?

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re A case for trekking poles on 01/10/2009 00:11:17 MST Print View

I get you Brian. ;)

I don't know if they are needed by healthy folk. As a 40 something ex-ultra distance runner whose legs are pretty beat up, i use them now, because i have to. I never bothered before for running/racing/backpacking.
If i had always used them would my legs be in better shape? Who knows. I would say that carrying too much personal weight can't be helping a lot of folks knees.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/10/2009 02:15:24 MST Print View

I don't use trekking poles either, except when XC skiing or snowshoeing.

> It didn't take long for him to come up with the answer: skiers generated propulsion
> using all four limbs. the runners used only their legs
Lousy argument, based on a couple of fallacies.
The first reason for using ski stocks while XC skiing is that the snow is very slippery. The second reason is that while you can move your foot sideways slightly while walking, it is much harder to do this with skis on, so poles help your balance. In fact, both reasons are to do with balance, not propulsion.

But a major flaw in his argument is one of efficiency. Yes, you can generate propulsion using either arms or legs, but your arms are far less effective and efficient at doing this: they did not evolve for it like your legs. So if you are working at the limit of your capacity, it makes a lot of sense to put almost all your power output into the the strongest and most efficient body muscles - your legs.

However, if you are having trouble with dynamic moves or balance, then you may be able to use your legs more efficiently if they don't have to provide all the balance. That's why people with poor or injured knees find poles useful going downhill. But this is a very different case from nordic walking.

> A Heavyhand user can generate 50% of leg capacity, 50% of arm capacity and exceed
> the marathon runners 75% of maximum capacity using legs only.
If the original author of this statement actually understood what he was talking about he might not have come up with this drivel.
Let's assume, for the sake of the argument, that your legs are 4 times stronger than your arms. (The ratio may be higher.) 50% of 4 (leg power) is 2, and 50% of 1 (arm power) is 0.5. Total: 2.5. On the other hand, 75% of 4 (leg power) is 3, which is greater than 2.5. Not to mention the fact that your legs have greater endurance than your arms.

> The highest VO2 maximums ever recorded by a group of athletes were not registered
> by endurance runners,which is what he logically presupposed before his
> investigations, but rather by Russian and Norwegian cross country skiers.
Yeah, and if you look into the medical details you may find that many of those top Nordic skiers have a phenomenal VO2 capacity, well above that of the average athlete. They are just built that way.

Just because someone has an MD does not mean they have any understanding of Research methodology or of Physics. Some of the wildest crap I have heard has come from MDs operating outside their bedside field. (I am talking here about papers given at science conferences.)

Cheers

Edited by rcaffin on 01/10/2009 02:17:23 MST.

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/10/2009 08:11:03 MST Print View

It's simple: if you want to distribute a small percentage of the work from your legs to your arms, use trekking poles. If you want your legs to do all the work: don't use them. Weak knees are not a requisite for using them, just as a sense of pride or persecution are not a requisite for not using them.

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
A case for trekking poles? on 01/10/2009 08:59:20 MST Print View

I do use trekking poles and I find them beneficial. I haven't always used them and did the PCT and the CDT without them (and with very heavy loads. I started using one pole some 20 years ago and found it useful for balance on rough terrain and on stream crossings, for probing bogs, for pitching tarps, for turning my pack into a backrest, for holding up the tent door as an awning, for retrieving bearbagged food and for holding back spiky and stinging vegetation.

I began using two poles due to my experiences ski touring when I often had to carry my skis to the snow (a feature of Scottish skiing) and discovered that with two poles I was far more stable on rough and steep ground and moved faster. My legs also felt less pounded on long downhills.

I now use poles on all backpacking trips though not on day hikes when I carry one pole just in case it might come in useful.

Of course poles aren't essential. I just find them very useful.

Brian UL
(MAYNARD76)

Locale: New England
A case for trekking poles? on 01/10/2009 10:44:07 MST Print View

Ha, I didnt mean give the impression that I felt persecuted. Just that people feel they were important enough the suggest them or inquire about them but I remained unconvinced. I guess it does come off like that though.
The light-hearted spirit of my posting seems to have been lost in translation and Im stuck with having my meanings deconstructed.
My point was just that this was the first argument that caught my attention.

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
interesting.. on 01/10/2009 11:16:32 MST Print View

Brian, its unfortunate that someone would harass you for being pole-less. Is there a "soup nazi" pole using club in NE? sheesh.
Sometimes I use mine, to do numerous tasks, like spreader bars for my hammock, porch poles for my tarp, but rarely to hike faster/farther/reduce knee stress... I think the argument could be stunted by a simple "its nunya, pal"
:)

(then again, if you hike in the lower AZ deserts without poles, your gonna get your @$$ handed to you by a cute little plant called "catsclaw", so they help for dat)

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/10/2009 11:43:39 MST Print View

The first time I couched the idea of using trekking poles wasn't hiking the Grand Canyon and seeing 80% of the other backpackers using them... but when talking to a backpacker friend of mine about a friend of his who had just completed a college research project on walking efficiency with and without poles. Of course any project like this will have its limitations (and the example for my purposes is basically anecdotal), but what he found was something along the lines of... most people involved in the study took an average of 11 fewer steps in walking a thousand feet (or something like that...it could have been 11%, but I'm not sure). Basically the idea is that the effect of trekking poles is slight, but consistently measurable. For people who are very in-shape, this just won't be noticeable on "normal hikes," but I believe it can definitely pay off when pushing yourself.

When I got into mountaineering a few years ago, I was completely sold on trekking poles (first time I'd used them). Since then I've found that they're most useful in long distance hiking, such as trying to hike 20+ miles in a day, or whenever elevation gains are involved. Using trekking poles can make a more extreme hike feel like a more normal hike to my legs and feet. I still use them for shorter hikes with flatter terrain because they're useful for setting up a tarp, although often when I'm doing a <5 mile overnighter with trekking poles, I'm usually just using them lightly for balance (insurance in case I am careless and twist an ankle) or else I'm often simply carrying them at my side. It's a bit of extra weight for the shorter hikes in this sense, but being able to have a shelter that doesn't weigh 3+ pounds is a bigger plus to me.

John Whynot
(jdw01776)

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/10/2009 12:00:12 MST Print View

Brian:

I've always used a pole or poles when backpacking, for the reasons that Chris Townsend described in his reply. I find them useful, but I don't believe they help with propulsion along the trail. I will say that on some very steep New England uphills/downhills, my poles are stowed on my pack (example: Carter Dome trail out of Carter Notch).

As for other hikers feeling that you not using poles is worthy of a trailside lecture or comment, maybe they should spend more time hiking, and less time talking.

Angela Zukowski
(AngelaZ) - F

Locale: New England
Re: Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/10/2009 13:04:52 MST Print View

I really have noticed my speed increase with pole use. Now, maybe because it also coincided with me running more... but I've hiked the same areas of trail, both with poles and without, and my speed is more rhythmic and I do notice my arms help propel me forward when using poles. Essentially, I find it far easier to get into a stride almost like running, with a full pack, when using poles.

Also... I'm in my mid-twenties and definitely not someone who looks like they "need" poles. I did not use them for quite some time. But picking my way slowly down a steep trail while watching my fifty year old uncle cruise down with his trekking poles finally sold me on the concept!

You can get poles at REI for fifty bucks right now. Give them a try - I'd be really interested in seeing what you thought. If you hate them, you can always return them.

Not that I'm saying you HAVE to use them... but just that it'd be interesting to at least try it! :) My experience definitely correlates with your theory.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
A case for trekking poles? on 01/10/2009 13:26:05 MST Print View

For me, trekking poles have been a Godsend. They save my knees (one of which had major surgery 20 years ago so is not 100%) on downhills and help considerably with stability. They have saved me from several potentially serious falls. In addition, using them for exercise walking around home (with rubber caps on the tips) turns walking into a full-body exercise with strengthening of core body muscles added to the mix. OK, let's call it Nordic walking, similar to Nordic skiing although not as much fun.

That being said, the decision to use poles is a personal matter. If you don't like them, don't use them! Don't criticize me for using them and I certainly won't criticize you for not using them.

I suspect that the poles might possibly have some preventive value in that they relieve some of the stress on lower body joints, but I doubt that any pole-makers would want to pay for the extensive long-term double-blind studies that would be required to prove or disprove this supposition.

Funny, although I've gotten quite a few stares from the tourist types near the road in the Columbia River Gorge, nobody has ever asked me about using trekking poles or where my skis are. And I wouldn't think of asking another hiker why (s)he doesn't use trekking poles. I wouldn't even suggest the idea unless (s)he is obviously uncomfortable going downhill.

I do get a little miffed when folks try to turn hiking into some kind of a contest. It isn't about getting from point A to point B in 3 hours flat, or how many people you pass on the trail. It's about getting out in the open air and enjoying yourself!

Edited by hikinggranny on 01/10/2009 13:32:27 MST.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/10/2009 16:57:40 MST Print View

"The light-hearted spirit of my posting seems to have been lost in translation and Im stuck with having my meanings deconstructed."
OK, OK, Brian. I was just jerking your chain a little. It seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up: I apologize if I overdid it and caused hurt feelings.
Bottom line is that it's pretty much an individual choice and devil take the "Trail Nazis". Lots of people swear by poles and approximately an equal number feel they're an expensive waste of time. Who knows? I have yet to see any double blind studies published to resolve the issue, one way or another. Personally I have never had knee trouble, but decided to use them prophylactically to keep things that way as I got older. As time went on I found other benefits, like stability on rough terrain, as a power assist on steep step-ups when carrying a fully loaded backpack, as tarp poles, fending off night time raids by the deadly North American Chipmunk, etc. One less obvious, but very real, benefit came to me later: I now use them as a training tool to help propel myself uphill with a weighted pack. I can sustain a faster pace longer this way than without and get a good upper body workout at the same time. It's as close as I can come to duplicating the interval workouts I used to do when I was a serious runner. My hypothesis is that training at the anaerobic threshold helps prepare me for backpacking at higher elevations. Lots of controversy on this to be sure, but I feel it has paid off for me(better performance than before I trained anaerobically). Most important of all is that it's FUN to push myself up into the twilight zone and hang around there for a while.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/10/2009 18:04:01 MST Print View

"But a major flaw in his argument is one of efficiency. Yes, you can generate propulsion using either arms or legs, but your arms are far less effective and efficient at doing this: they did not evolve for it like your legs. So if you are working at the limit of your capacity, it makes a lot of sense to put almost all your power output into the the strongest and most efficient body muscles - your legs."

Efficiency is one thing, developing VO2 max quite another, methinks. Increasing the demands on your cardio vascular system, however achieved, will result in an increase in your VO2 max up to the limits of your genetic potential. If you don't break yourself in the process, that is. Even inefficient means will work. That said, some ways are better than others, but that's another discussion. Efficiency really comes into its own when you are putting that increased VO2 max to work to achieve a specific goal, usually a competitive event.





"Yeah, and if you look into the medical details you may find that many of those top Nordic skiers have a phenomenal VO2 capacity, well above that of the average athlete. They are just built that way."
They may well just be built that way, but so are lots of other folks. The top ones have invariably worked very hard to maximize the potential they were born with. Case in point: Long ago, an Olympic class runner who occasionally let me run with him on his easy days once observed, "When you get to a certain level, everyone is gifted. The top ones are those who work the hardest".

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Re: A case for trekking poles? on 01/10/2009 18:30:35 MST Print View

Ken raises his hand and says....Yes, I am a pole user. Why?? Well there are many reasons. One, when going downhill and stepping down steps, I plant those puppies and have complete stability as I step down. Two, when going downhill, I use them as if I were skiing and I have a nice gliding motion going downhill. Over eneven terrain, they help with balance. When going uphill I use the poles to basically "pull" myself up hill. Esential to my hiking.

Oh and one of my poles hold up my Tarptent!