It’s hard to watch people struggle needlessly. Especially if it’s someone trying to negotiate tricky terrain (unsuccessfully) with a perfectly good pair of trekking poles secured to the side of their pack. Unless you’re scrambling or bushwhacking, that’s a pound of gear not being put to use. We’ve had the opportunity to introduce dozens of people to trekking poles over the years (because they’re part of the gear that needs to be shot). It’s a real eye opener for most and something we take for granted. So here’s five ways simple walking sticks are going to help you out in the backcountry.
1. Powering the uphill // Maybe the most obvious benefit of using poles is that it allows your upper body muscles to share in the work. No doubt our legs are far stronger, but they’d probably appreciate the help on that 3,000-foot climb.
2. Saving your knees on the downhill // It’s amazing how important the health of our knees and hips is to anything we do in the backcountry (hike, climb, ski). Just ask someone who sat out last winter due to a knee injury. Caring heavy loads over tough terrain, especially those big downhills, puts a lot of wear and tear on your joints. Using poles will help prolong your days wandering the mountains.
3. Sure footing in dicey situations // Picture this: It’s 48 F and there’s a light rain falling. You’re way out in some big country far from the road. A few rivers separate you from that road. The water is from the local glaciers so you can’t see your feet. Your feet are numb so you can’t feel them as well. A few steps in and you notice the river cobble is like walking on a pile of baseballs. You get the idea.
4. Motoring the flats // Ever hear of Nordic walking? It’s all the rage in Scandinavia since the 1970’s when Nordic skiers brought their long ski poles into their dry land training during the off season. Pushing with your upper body can increase your walking pace on the trail. Or try it sometime on a trail run to see how fast you can get moving.
5.Part of your shelter // The best gear can be used for more than one purpose in the backcountry. And if you plan it right, your trekking poles become your tent poles at camp. Or if you’re traveling in a group, they are part of the tarp that protects a common cooking area.