Trekking poles (or hiking poles) offer several important advantages for hikers. Trekking poles are especially useful for the following:
- When negotiating difficult terrain
- Reducing fatigue on long hikes with steep grades
- Maintaining balance (very good if your vision is not what it used to be)
- Reducing stress on the lower limbs, including the knees
- Burning more calories while not feeling like you are
- Fending off aggressive dogs approaching from the front, side or rear.
- Poking around where you might not want to put your hands, feet or fingers.
Trekking Poles Research
I’d never used trekking poles before although I’ve used poles for skiing and snow shoeing. And I was skeptical, to be honest. But they were highly recommended for a recent trek through the Andes . . . along with pants that could be worn under a bathing suit. Aside from being aggravating sometimes because you do end up having both of your hands full they seemed to work fine. A poke around the Trekking Pole-Hiking Pole scientific literature revealed the following:
- Trekking poles, along with keeping your arms engaged while moving under your own power, lets you better judge how far you have traveled (Harrison et al. 2013). Researchers found that blindfolded people were more accurate in returning to their original locations if both their arms and legs were engaged. They also discussed the possible importance of four-legged movement to spatial awareness. Maybe this is why I have a terrible time driving to a new location, but seem to be fine on foot.
- Using trekking poles burns more calories than hiking with out them. At the same time, people’s perception of effort is reduced. Trekking poles may let you work harder without noticing it (Saunders et al. 2008).
- Trekking poles can reduce the stress load experienced during downhill backpacking (Bohne & Abendroth-Smith 2007). That is a nice thing.
Trekking Poles: notes from the field
On our most recent expedition 7 out of 8 people chose to use poles. The one who did not refused to do so out of principle. He did not fall or complain about his knees at any point in our travels. The only hiker bitten by a dog was not using her poles at the time. However, a fellow-hiker with poles was able to intervene and fend off additional bites. Last note: Since this blog usually covers Crossfit-related topics . . . Two of our members were CrossFit athletes (CrossFit Hiking?) They did not seem to do any better than anyone else in adjusting to altitude or in hiking. The strongest hikers were those who were already good at it.
Harrison SJ, Kuznetsov N, & Breheim S (2013). Flexible kinesthetic distance perception: when do your arms tell you how far you have walked? Journal of motor behavior, 45 (3), 239-47 PMID: 23663188
Saunders MJ, Hipp GR, Wenos DL, & Deaton ML (2008). Trekking poles increase physiological responses to hiking without increased perceived exertion. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 22 (5), 1468-74 PMID: 18714242
Bohne M, & Abendroth-Smith J (2007). Effects of hiking downhill using trekking poles while carrying external loads. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39 (1), 177-83 PMID: 17218900