In some circles, trekking poles are considered “Nerdy”. The fact is that they can help make your hiking or backpacking safer and easier on your body.
Why You Need Trekking Poles
- More stability on ice, snow, mud, wet leaves, loose sand gravel, scree.
- Added power going uphill.
- Safer when descending hills, steps, and drop-offs.
- They can reduce impact on your knees and ankles by helping reduce impact on descents.
- They can help clear an overgrown path, brush thorny bushes aside, clear away spider webs.
- You can probe into puddles to see how deep they are to decide if you can safely walk through or if a detour is warranted.
- Help you cross streams safely. I recommend that you don’t use the wrist straps while fording streams or rivers as a precaution as to prevent any potential entanglement or entrapment.
- They can be used to support a tarp or as tent pole. Some shelters are even designed to be used with trekking poles.
Trekking poles come in a variety materials, designs, and price ranges. I personally prefer adjustable poles so that I can change their length based on the terrain. If I’m doing a long sustained climb, I prefer to shorten them so my reach is more natural. On long descents, I lengthen them so I have a bit more reach. My Black Diamond poles have an extended foam grip below the regular hand grip. This lets you switch to the lower grip position easily when the terrain gets steep without fiddling with shortening the pole.
Adjustable poles commonly use either a cam lock or twist lock for adjusting their length. My experience has shown the cam lock style to be easier to use and more reliable. With either choice, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Fixed length poles can save weight but you should be sure what length you prefer before committing to your purchase. The Black Diamond Z series poles are a fixed length pole that can be folded into thirds for easy storage when you aren't using them. They fold up similar to a tent pole.
Another feature that some poles have is shock absorbers. I don’t care for them because of extra weight, complexity, and cost. I also don’t really see the need. It’s not as if you should be pounding the ground with your pole or sustaining your weight on them.
Another feature to consider is rubber tips. Most poles have a carbide tip (like a ski pole) for traction. In some cases, you may wish to use an add-on rubber tip. These can be nice if you are on pavement or on extended hard surfaces like some of the granite that I've encountered around Killarney National Park and the islands near Philip Edward Island in Ontario.
The Verdict on Trekking Poles
Overall, I find trekking poles to be indispensable. On my first extended trip to the Smoky Mountains, they proved valuable in reducing impact to my knees on descents and made navigating rocky trails much safer.
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