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Poles are a burden?
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Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Poles are a burden? on 06/15/2011 17:57:37 MDT Print View

I've noted that Ryan Jordon "rarely take(s) them anymore", and I only use them when I need balance or I'm going down a steep hill. Otherwise they are strapped to my pack or supporting my Trailstar. Then, I see reference to this study that suggests we burn up more calories using them, and their support going down hill is limited.

Anybody leaving their poles at home?

Bradford Rogers
(Mocs123) - MLife

Locale: Southeast Tennessee
Re: Poles are a burden? on 06/15/2011 18:27:45 MDT Print View

I don't leave them at home but I find myself carrying them more than I use them hiking. I do use them for shelter supports and they are a must have for creek crossings.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Not Nordic walking! on 06/15/2011 19:02:43 MDT Print View

Nordic walking, which is the exercise these "studies" are drawn from, is NOT the same as hiking on trails or cross-country with a pack. I seldom find myself on a trail that is wide, smooth and flat where the Nordic walking technique could be used. thus I seriously doubt I'm burning even 10% more energy with them, let alone 60%!!!!

I use my poles as balance aids when a rock rolls under foot, I use my arms with them to help get up a higher step in the trail, and as outriggers when descending.

And of course, to support my tarp or tent!

I really don't see much connection between Nordic walking studies and the use of trekking poles in backpacking.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Poles on 06/15/2011 19:19:14 MDT Print View

Missed them on my May backpack and will probably go back to them to relieve knee discomfort.

Edited by hknewman on 06/15/2011 21:32:04 MDT.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Poles are a Burden? NOT!!! on 06/15/2011 19:32:32 MDT Print View

The only burden I see with trekking poles are the locking and screwing devices. I think over the years I have gone through 7 pairs of trekking poles and "ALL" have failed do to the locking device. So I have gone to the GG LT3C fixed length (120cm) permanently. Poles have added to all my journeys plus the ups and downs of mountain passes. Bonus: Tarp set up,Tarptent set up and plus the occasional rattle snake on the trail to shove off the path and don't forget creek and river crossings.

Edited by Creachen on 06/15/2011 19:48:00 MDT.

Todd T
(texasbb) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Not Nordic walking! on 06/15/2011 21:15:31 MDT Print View

"I really don't see much connection between Nordic walking studies and the use of trekking poles in backpacking."


Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Poles are a burden? on 06/15/2011 21:19:02 MDT Print View

@ Jay:

Just curious, how tall are you and whether you are happy with the 120cm fixed length both for you (hiking uphill and downhill) and for setting up your tarp?

Randy Martin
(randalmartin) - F

Locale: Colorado
Really helpful on uphill sections on 06/15/2011 21:49:12 MDT Print View

I hear people talk a lot about downhill protection of your knees but I find trekking poles are a huge difference in my performance going uphill by deferring some of the effort to my arms and triceps in particular.

Todd T
(texasbb) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Poles are a burden? on 06/15/2011 22:30:02 MDT Print View

"@ Jay:

Just curious, how tall are you and whether you are happy with the 120cm fixed length both for you (hiking uphill and downhill) and for setting up your tarp?"

I'm not Jay, but I'll chime in. :-) I also use 120cm fixed-length poles. I'm 6'5" and the poles are slightly too long (I'd rather they were about 117cm). For me, the same length works for all situations--uphill, downhill, and flats. The key is make sure the poles are not too long. The standard advice (forearm horizontal when pole is resting vertically) is, IMHO, way too long for most people. The poles need to be well "under you" or they can't take much load without tiring your arms.

I don't use trekking poles for my tent because sometimes I may want to dayhike after setting up camp. (Love my Tarptent Rainbow.)

Heath Pitts
(heathpitts) - F

Locale: Nashville
RE: Poles are a burden? on 06/16/2011 06:20:07 MDT Print View

Randy, that is the same way that I use my hiking poles. Definitely seems to make a difference for me on uphill sections

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Really helpful on uphill sections on 06/16/2011 06:40:18 MDT Print View

There were 3 of us on a section hike last year. I was using trekking poles and the other two hikers were using single bamboo hiking staffs. On an uphill portion my two fellow hikers took turns trying the trekking poles on the short uphill stretch. One of them made the comment, "This is cheating!";-)

+1 for the use of trekking poles.

+1 for adjustable length since I use them for my tarp/shelter support system.

+1 for the "flicklock" trekking pole adjustment.

Party On,


Aaron Benson
(AaronMB) - F

Locale: Central Valley California
Re: Re: Really helpful on uphill sections on 06/16/2011 07:10:30 MDT Print View

Among the other uses--whether I'm going up or down--poles help my knees. I'll not be leaving them at home.

Clint Hewitt
(WalkSoftly33) - F

Locale: New England
Poles and Muscle Development on 06/16/2011 07:15:08 MDT Print View

Hiking the AT, I religiously used my poles, they would help me tear up the uphills and safely make it down the downs while saving my knees. About a two thirds of the way through my hike I noticed that I had become dependent on them to an extent. Hiking with out them my balance was not as good as it had been previously with no poles. I also felt that my leg strength was not what it could have been, since I had been supplementing them with my arms. My arms did not get all super skinny as I thought they would because of the extent to which I used them.

I began to carry my poles on the up hills focusing moving nothing but my legs conserving energy and measuring my breathe and energy output. Strength improved balance improved in some ways it felt easier.

Then again in my book sometimes the easiest way to get up a hill is to get up it fast, when speed is wanted poles defiantly help get your entire body into the effort, %60 more im not sure of I wouldn't be surprised at 30%.

I also remembering hearing about a study saying you travel 20% faster with poles, so if the energy expended is over twenty percent and slow and steady wins the race is your motto no poles might be the way to go.

I guess what it comes down to is balance. Not using poles puts the strain on your legs, you will become stronger and better balanced hands free. Using poles will give you better balance, develop arm strength, but weaken your legs comparatively. I think it might be a fact of alternating between no poles and poles on some up hills and flats, giving your body a balance.

I have seen people carrying one pole for the downhills. Best of both worlds in a way. I use my poles for my tent, If I can a get of tent poles from gossamer gear, might try the one pole thing for a few trips.

Edited by WalkSoftly33 on 06/16/2011 07:25:00 MDT.

John Jensen
(JohnJ) - F

Locale: Orange County, CA
120cm on 06/16/2011 07:48:43 MDT Print View

I haven't used my poles that much yet, but I set them to 120, even being 6'

I grip the handle low though, and only use thumb plus one or two fingers most of the time. That lets me give a push, and is plenty to catch myself. Well, I try not to catch myself fully on carbon poles (REI).

kevin timm
(ktimm) - MLife

Locale: Colorado (SeekOutside)
Rarely on 06/16/2011 08:08:26 MDT Print View

Some Ultra runners use them and I can see a benefit on long races. However, if I gain anything going uphill it's minimal and downhill they are a burden. The best way to save energy and joints downhill is by letting gravity do it's thing. I'm a good downhill runner though, so I'm used to it.

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
trekking poles on 06/16/2011 08:11:43 MDT Print View

In addition to points and observations that have already been made about the benefits of trekking poles, I'll add that I find poles most helpful on the mixed terrain trails that I encounter and a little less important on well-groomed AT-type trails. On these types of trails, having four points of contact with the ground, instead of two, allows me to keep a more consistent pace. When you go from a groomed trail to stream, wet slab, mud, groomed, rocky trail, snow, rock slab, icy slab, etc. punctuated with blow-downs and piles of rocks.

Also, although I have several dependable hiking/backpacking partners, the last few years I've found that 2/3rds of my trips are solo. Sometimes while solo hiking without poles, I've found myself "spacing out." With poles, taking care with placement from time-to-time has helped to keep my mind a bit more active.

Overall, I don't find poles to be a burden. If one day I do find them to be a burden, I'll leave them at home. So, I'm not really too worried about it.

Kevin Babione
(KBabione) - MLife

Locale: Pennsylvania
Poles are required! on 06/16/2011 08:12:09 MDT Print View

I get out on just 3-4 trips a year and am admittedly out of shape. Using my poles (LT4's that I set once each trip and never adjust) makes the difference for me between having an enjoyable trip versus a miserable one.

Two weeks ago a group of us hiked a section of the Mid State Trail in PA. Most of the trail was either on rocky ridges or going straight up or down rocky mountains (not too many of those switchbacks). We all agreed that we would have slipped and hurt ourselves if not for the poles on the downhills. Granted, having one pole probably would have been sufficient, but we were all grateful to have two.

Now - with that said...There were portions of the trail where the mountain laurel encroached so much on the trail that you simply put your poles in your hand and carried them until it widened again. That's where the lightness of the LT4's was nice for me.

I do use my poles on my tarp, but I sleep in a hammock and simply use the poles to hold up the side of my tarp facing camp and my friends' tents. Therefore I don't bother adjusting them while I'm on the trail.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Poles and Muscle Development on 06/16/2011 15:49:44 MDT Print View

I noticed the same things that Clint did while I was hiking the PCT. I got dependent on the poles, felt like I was losing my ability to balance myself without them and my upper arms actually got some muscle definition.

I purposefully stopped using the poles for a while when I got home, or only used one pole if I thought I might need a stick for difficult trail. Eventually I got back into using both poles. There's always some struggling beginner on a Sierra Club hike I can loan one to.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Poles are a burden? on 06/16/2011 16:09:32 MDT Print View

Poles haven't come with me on any recent (3) trips. They won't be going on my next one.

I'm really not sure at this point if they do anything positive for me or not. I used to feel they helped me keep a better uphill pace, but I can also keep a good uphill pace without them...
As for downhill, I'm not sure they give me any advantage over going without.


Personally, I've never thought of them as an aid for balance, mainly just for pace.

I will say they're really helpful if trekking on snow a lot...

I sort of feel like they take too much attention.

But basically, I'm just tired of having stuff in my hands all the time.

At the end of a 20-30 mile day, with or without poles, I'm tired.
I can identify no quantifiable difference in my why bother?

Also, coming from a running perspective, they're beginning to make little sense to me (especially when carrying a really light pack). As a distance runner, I want my arms loose, relaxed, moving naturally with my stride...not pumping and pushing with my hands clenched/gripping something. Why should it be different for hiking efficiency?

To each their own.

Edited by xnomanx on 06/16/2011 16:14:14 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Poles and Muscle Development on 06/16/2011 16:31:11 MDT Print View

I have to agree with all the comments about pole use destroying one's ability to really balance properly. I found the same thing happening when i experimented with them.

But it goes further than that: on extreme terrain like big scree, tricky rock-work, etc I find I just don't have the time to find a safe placement for the pole on each step. Often there is no place to put the pole tip safely anyhow. And that is exactly when I need my balance to be at its best. It is not worth the risk.

Where I do use poles is on snow shoes and in the snow. There I know that they can be of use, plus pole placement is dead simple.

My 2c.