As a walker by necessity (I don't drive) I've tried lots of pieces of walking equipment over the years. Boots and good waterproof gear have always been on my 'need' list, but trekking poles didn't figure until about five years ago. At that time Hubby and I decided to join the local rambling group and that involved hiking in challenging conditions, and often struggling up steep, muddy hills.
Many other walkers had one or two walking poles, and, after borrowing one to try, I decided to purchase a couple for myself.
I've walked with both one and two poles, but I prefer walking with one as it means I still have a hand free to hold a bag, or grab something, or even to save myself if I fall over.
Due to health problems I had to give up rambling a couple of years ago, but if anything I'm using my trekking pole more than ever now. It gives me support and aids my balance in wintry conditions - it was a
lifesaver during last year's super-harsh winter - and also takes the strain off my right hip when it is especially painful.
There are many types of trekking poles out there. I have to confess I've only ever bought the cheaper ones, which cost around £10 each. Last time I needed to purchase one Mountain Warehouse had a deal where one pole was £10 but a pair could be purchased for £15. I bought two, and one is in storage until I knacker out the one I'm currently using.
My pole is made by Mountain Life and is of a very standard design. All poles I've ever used have these same basic parts, so this review should apply to most standard poles. There are several components:
(1) The main body - This is made of three pieces of black aluminium tubing which are slotted into each
other. There are plastic screw adjusters between each of the tubes allowing the walking pole to be made longer or shorter. In theory, this is an easy operation involving unscrewing the adjusters one way, extending/contracting the pole and then tightening up once more.
Unfortunately, as with all the poles I've tried this is easier said than done as the screws often refuse to tighten up once the pole length is changed. I've learned to adjust the pole to my height and then keep it there.
It's supposed to be possible to shorten the pole to around 80cm for ease of transportation but I forgo this as I now what battle I'll have at the other end!
(2) The grip - My pole comes with a soft black plastic grip attached to the top. This is contoured so that it
fits easily into the hand when held in a loose fist. While sturdy, the grip has some slight 'give' in it adding to the comfort. I find I can hold the stick for long periods of time with no trouble. Attached to the grip is a short nylon strap, designed to be put over the wrist for additional security. I never use it as I'd be
terrified of slipping over, not being able to drop the pole and breaking my wrist.
(3) Mudguard - At the base of the pole is a small disc, around 4cm in diameter, which acts as a mudguard. As the pole is placed into dirty or slipper ground this guard stops mud (or animal poo!) splashing up the pole. A useful little addition!
(4) The base - this is formed of two units, a rubber stopper which is used for urban walking on pavements and roads, and when this is removed, a metal spike which allows the stick to be driven into muddy ground, ice or snow. Last winter this spike was a lifesaver for me as it gave me a lot of grip when negotiating icy paths, and it saved me from slipping over on many occasions.
(5) Shock absorbers - This is the one area where poles can vary a great deal. Inside the main body of the pole is a sprung mechanism allowing the pole to absorb shock when it's struck onto hard ground. Many people swear by this mechanism to save their joints from a pounding. My pole has only a very slight shock absorbing quality which I only notice on the hardest surfaces. I can't say I've noticed it protecting my joints but it certainly hasn't hurt to have it.
I've used trekking poles for three distinct uses over the years: to aid balance and grip on steep hills when rambling; to give me extra balance on icy surfaces when winter walking; and to take the pressure off my right hip when it is especially painful.
For all three uses my pole has really helped. I often feel self-conscious using it - I'm in my late thirties but sometimes I think I must look like an old woman - but for comfort and safety it's a small price to pay. It also signals to others that I may need to sit down more than most people, and on bad days when I've been using my pole for 'normal' walking, kind people have given up their seat for me when there are no spaces on trains or buses. I know this is a privilege and I never exploit it, but these kindnesses have saved me from a lot of pain on several occasions.
In conclusion, a trekking pole can be a very useful bit of kit. For my specific situation it is a lifesaver and my pole gets a great deal of use. I just wish that the adjustment mechanism was more robust!
Trekking poles are a really useful piece of kit to have when going on a long walk, we often head up to the Lake District for a weekend of walking in the beautiful countryside and when walking up steep inclines I find a pair of walking sticks to be really useful. They help take some of the pressure and strain off my leg muscles and in particular my knee joints as you are making greater use of your arm muscles to take some of teh strain. In addition I find that I'm less likely to suffer from a bad back when using poles. I tend to use twio at a time however m other half only ever used the one pole as he does not like to have both hands occupied when walking and likes one free to check the map or get access to a drink.
My poles are fairly standard ones and were only £10 each, it is very important that before you start using the trekking poles that they are correctly adjusted so that you have an upright walking position with the top of the poles coming to just beloe your breast bone, this means that you arms are at 90 degrees when at rest. My poles have three parts and you twist to release the extendable sections and there are marks on the side with the height on them so that you can ensure they are both the same length, then you just twist them in the opposite direction to lock them in place.
The grips are imporatnt as they have to be comfortable and also there is a strap to slide your hand through so that you do not drop them while walking. In the recent cold weather mine have been really useful, they have a metal tip to help dig into the ice and hard ground and they certainly help with my balance when walking.
Some of the more expensive poles have something like a mini shock absorber in them that further cushions the impact when walking however these can be quite expensive, you also pay more for light weight walking poles as well that are still very strong and robust.
I would certainly recommend trekking poles for any serious hilers out there as they certainly take some of teh strain away from your knee joints.
Trekking poles are an essential part of my kit when I go trekking or walking in the countryside, I would tend to take them on any walk that is over three miles in distance or involves some ascents and descents. I have two sets of poles, a set of Craghoppers which I tend to keep in the car so that I always have a pair available to me, one of these has a slight bend in the middle section following a rescue lift that did not go to plan so does not fully retract and my pride and joy a set of Leki poles which are lightweight and I use for major treks and foreign travel, these are currently awaiting a Dooyoo product suggestion for a full review.
So why are trekking poles so important to me? Well after years of playing hockey on unforgiving astro turf pitches as well as squash and tennis and if you add into that equation my advancing years then my knees are not as good as they should be, in fact earlier this year after the ravages of a trek in the Andes I had to have knee surgery to remove some of the cartilage from my right knee. Add to the fact that I also get a little back pain and you might surmise that I'm falling apart at the seams. Well the poles help take some of the strain off your knees when ascending and in particular for me descending as you are exerting some force through your arms and shoulders rather than solely the legs. If they are set up properly then they can be a valuable aid in making your trekking a lot easier on your leg muscles and joints and thus allow you to walk further and higher than you would without them.
Another advantage is that they provide additional stability especially when carrying a heavy rucksack with all your kit. I tend to use two poles at a time; some walkers prefer just the one. I certainly find the stability of being able to plant a pole in the ground, particularly when moving across ice covered or slippery ground a real advantage, they are also very useful when completing a river crossing as well both for stability and also checking the depth of the water before taking the next step. I have also found my walking poles useful while in the jungle as a means of stopping branches flying back on you when the person in front is not being careful as they can act as a blocking shield and protect your body from cuts and abrasions. In addition my poles have been used to help pull someone out of a ditch and also to help form a makeshift stretcher with some tent material so all in all a very versatile item.
So what makes a good walking pole? Well the poles come essentially in three parts, a top section which is the main shaft and handle, there are then two extendable sections that are released by rotating them and then you extend them to your preferred length, there are distance markings on the side so that you can ensure that both poles are the same length however after a while the pole will get markings which makes them easy to adjust. The base of the pole there is a metal tip and also a round plastic disc a few cm's up the pole, this disk helps stop the pole going too deep in the ground however I usually remove it as it makes storage in a rucksack harder. Some come with a rubber stopper at the end to cover up the metal tip as well although some do not and you have to buy these as an extra. For me there are a couple of important features that make a good pole, firstly the handle is very important, it needs to be comfortable and not cause any blisters. Also a walking pole needs to be strong but as light as possible for when I'm travelling. Finally the amount of shock absorption it has is important. When using your poles you will feel them give a little as the inbuilt suspension device works to absorb some of the strain.
When setting up your poles it is important to have them at the right height and of course, even, if you are using two. If you drop your arms to your side and then bend your elbow bringing your forearm forward to 90 degrees then that should be the resting position of your arms when gripping the poles. I find that this is the ideal walking position for me over flat ground, I then make a slight adjustment when climbing or descending to the length of the poles, it is important though not to over extend them and to go beyond the maximum length of any section. Also on the handle there is usually a strap to slide your hand through to help secure the poles, ideally this will also provide support if you loop your hand through correctly and allow you to apply more pressure on the pole and less on your arms.
Are there any downsides to using poles? Well I only really have a couple. The first is storage in a rucksack especially when travelling as they are very rigid and as such take up space; you also have to make sure the tip is covered to avoid damage to your dry bag or the rucksack itself. Secondly they can get in the way a bit when scrambling, especially when climbing and it is a pain to have to keep stopping to secure them before starting, or you adopt my flailing arms technique and hope for the best.
There is a huge range to choose from and you can get some good quality poles for a very reasonable price, the Craghoppers for example were £20 for the pair however some makes like Leki can set you back £40 per pole. My advice is to tailor the pole to your needs and avoid any gadgets that manufacturers try to add in, I once had a pole which had a built in light, and needless to say it turned out to be rubbish and never really worked.
I hope this has contained some helpful advice, thanks for reading and rating my review.
I have divided this guide to choosing a trekking pole into 3 sections: 1) Why trekking poles are useful. 2) How to choose between the different styles of trekking pole. 3) How trekking poles should be used. WHY TREKKING POLES ARE USEFUL Particularly if you are a walker who spends a lot of time on steep terrain, trekking poles can be an invaluable aid to balance and support. Going uphill, trekking poles put some of the strain from your hamstring on to your arm muscles, making it less tiring on your legs to do those hill climbs. Going downhill, when there is much strain on the kneecaps to keep you upright, trekking poles again move this strain on to your arms, reducing the possibility of knee injury. My father, a keen hillwalker like me, found trekking poles a great help after he had severe cartilage problems with his knees. Walking around the flank of a hill, following a contour, trekking poles provide balance and help you to maintain a steady height. Trekking poles also have many other more minor uses. They are very useful in marshland for checking the depth of bogs, for balance when crossing rivers (as they are thin they do not add much to the water resistance and can be plunged into the bed), pointing to places on the horizon and attacking fellow hillwalkers when they get irritating. As for the debate as to whether to get one or two trekking poles, although I have two, I often find it is easier just to have one. I have a dog, and am also in charge of navigation, so that I usually need to have one hand free either to hold the lead or the map or the compass. However, if you know that two trekking poles are not going to get in your way, then certainly they will help your balance. HOW TO CHOOSE BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT STYLES OF TREKKING POLE The first major difference between the styles of trekking poles is whether or not they are antishock. This is usually clear in th
e name (e.g. Leki Makalu Antishock as opposed to Leki Makalu), but if not it is obvious from whether the top section of the pole moves down further when it pressed against the ground. Antishock means that there is a spring inside the pole. This is useful because without antishock, on hard ground, when you put the pole to the ground, the shock is absorbed by your shoulder instead of your legs, as explained above. With antishock, instead of your shoulder taking the strain, the spring takes instead, so that all your body is happy. Antishock is very useful, but it does tend to raise the price somewhat. Next, you should consider the length and the weight of the pole. For taller people, some of the smaller length poles, particularly some of the Brasher makes, are too short, so it is necessary to check that they are the right size before you buy. Also, the length when compressed may not be short enough to fit a particular rucksack. Secondly, if you are trying to pack as light as possible for your trip, it might be an idea to look for poles which are made out of a lighter material. This again adds to the price. The next thing that you should consider is the make that you choose. I have always preferred Leki to Brasher and Craghopper. This is because with Leki, the sections can be separated completely, meaning that they can be stored apart and there is no risk of condensation building up. However, they do not have the feature which some Brasher poles have of locking into position, so that sometimes I have found with Leki that a section comes 'untwisted' and I have to relengthen it. HOW TREKKING POLES SHOULD BE USED First of all, you have to set your pole to the right height. Move the bottom section to where it says 'Stop Max' and twist it to tighten it. Then move the top section to the height (usually marked) which is equal to where your elbow is. This is where you will be holding the pole when your arm is at r
ight angles to your elbow. Twist it to tighten. Walking uphill, shorten the poles, and when walking downhill, lengthen them. When walking along a contour, have the pole which is downhill from you longer. When you are scrambling, it is dangerous to continue using your poles. If they became caught in a crack then they could pull you off balance and you could fall. This also applies when walking next to steep drops. Compress your poles and place them in the trekking pole loop found on most (larger) rucksacks, until it is safe to use them again. For walking on roads or tracks, it is a good idea to get some rubber tip protectors for the ends of your poles, as the hard surface can damage the aluminium tip. When you are not using your poles for long periods (e.g. over the winter when you don't hike), separate the sections and store them in a dry place. It may be an idea to bind them together using elastic bands so that you don't lose one section of the pole, as I have done on a number of occasions. Trekking poles usually cost between £25 and £40 per pole. Some stores offer a discount when you buy two. I hope the information I have given is useful, feel free to ask any questions.
Go to any popular mountain nowadays and you will see a peculiar sight. Walkers, climbers, hikers, ramblers; call them what you want but they all seem to click their way along paths with expensive looking sticks flailing in all directions. This is the age of the trekking pole. The latest must have gizmo will cost you around £60 for a decent pair with suspension and shock absorbers. The science behind them is impressive, if you believe the manufacturers claims. By bringing your arms into use you reduce muscle fatigue on the way up and, more importantly, reduce knee damage on the way down. They take quite a bit of getting used to, but when you do they certainly help. On more difficult terrain and certain types of snow slope they are a useful saftey aid, but no substitute for an ice axe, crampons and the knowledge of how to use them. The poles are telescopic, enabling them to be adjusted to your height and stowed easily in your pack when you need hands. Make them longer when going downhill and shorten for uphill sections. The telescopic nature means that you can fashion an improvised traction splint to treat a broken femur- hopefully something you won't have to do too often. Sounds great, but they do have their drawbacks. Their tips produce compacted, round holes in exposed earth, e.g. on footpaths. These holes create whirlpools when rainwater flows over them and this greatly increases footpath erosion. So, if you do decdide to use poles, consider the terrain you are on; rocky and level paths are OK as is open grassland and heath but try to avoid areas where water flows down an earth path. Learn when to put them away. Many people have injured themselves whilst trying to cope with poles on terrain unsuitable for them, for example boulder fields. Lekki are the original makers but there are many different manufacturers now. If you keep an eye on the equipment pages of the outdoor press you will be able to p
ick up a second-hand pair quite reasonably. Happy Trekking!