Pros - Advantages of Trekking Poles

  • Reduce impact on knee joints and leg muscles - Arm and shoulder muscles take some of the load off the leg muscles and joints. 1
  • Increase hill climbing power - Legs and arms can contribute to the climb.
  • Reduced swelling in hands - Hands-above-heart position and arm motion used with poles prevents blood from pooling in the hands.
  • Aid balance - When balance is thrown off due to terrain or middle ear problems.
  • Regular breathing and increased stamina - Because using poles creates a consistent, steady walking rhythm.
  • Useful for testing areas for snakes, stability, etc.

1 Study by Dr. G. Neureuther (1981) showed walking with "ski poles" reduces pressure on the opposite leg by approximately 20%. When walking on level ground, poles reduced the weight carried by the legs by approximately 5 kg every step. When walking on an incline, that reduction increases to 8 kg. Over course of even a short hike, that translates into tons of weight.

Cons - Problems with Trekking Poles

  • Using poles increases total energy expenditure - Which means using poles can be more tiring. Peter Clinch: "...if you have tired legs and knees then poles can be a win, but if you have a tired body, with your cardiovascular system at its limits, then poles may be more of a hindrance than a help."
  • Arms and shoulders not designed to prop up your body or distribute weight - So you must balance reduced impact on legs/knees with increased impact on shoulders and arms.
  • Prevents your hands from being hands - So opening a map, reading a compass (or GPS), eating a snack, or snapping a photo can become difficult, clumsy, time-consuming acts with poles in hand.
  • Benefits from using poles require proper technique - Many people clearly are getting little or no benefit due to poor technique.
  • Poles encourage risks - Poles give hiker a new sense of confidence (in balance and strength) that may encourage risk taking.

Resources

Peter Clinch's Hiking Poles Page
Excellent presentation of pros and cons.
Pros and Cons of Hiking Poles
Excellent discussion of pros and cons of trekking poles.
AdventureBuddies Home Page
Jayah Faye Paley's DVD and Trekking pole site. I really like this woman and her message. Her enthusiasm is inspiring. I'm gonna get her Poles for Hiking DVD.

Major purpose of trekking poles - to transfer some weight and impact from legs to arms. However, with out without poles, your hiking/walking technique should use muscles to absorb impact, not joints. So keep your knees bent when going down a steep incline so that the muscles take the brunt of the impact. At the end of the day, you may have sore muscles, but muscles heal faster than sore or injured joints.
YouTube - HIKING Help, Trekking Poles Article
Pretty good, brief piece on 48 year-old breast cancer survivor who made instructional DVD for proper use of trekking poles.

YouTube - Backpacker's Gear School: Hold Trekking Poles Right
Quick review of basics, length depends on circumstance (up, down, even), proper grip, and stride (poor demo of that but instruction is correct).

Guide & Advice – Gear, Geocaching, Trekking Poles, Tent & GPS
Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles - 1 Pair
by Black Diamond
POLES for Hiking, Trekking & Walking
by Jayah Faye Paley

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