The Pros and Cons of Backpacking with Trekking Poles
Should You Use Trekking Poles on Your Hike?
While some hikers love trekking poles, others swear they'll never use them. Read on to learn the pros and cons of using hiking poles, along with a few tips for how to use them properly.
Reduced impact: Trekking poles help take stress off your knees and hips, especially when you are descending or ascending. They also give you something to lean on when you are hiking up and down hills, which can alleviate joint stress and reduce the risk of falls.
More stability: Trekking poles allow you to traverse more difficult portions of a trail by providing more points of contact with the ground. This can be especially helpful when you are traversing an awkward stream or uneven ridge. In addition to improving your balance, trekking poles allow you to go farther because your body feels less fatigued and worn down.
Better traction: Trekking poles provide much better stability and balance on snowy, muddy and loose terrain. For this reason, they can reduce the risk of injuries due to falls.
Enhanced safety: In emergency situations, hikers can use trekking poles as splints or defensive weapons against animal attacks. They can also be used to move branches and other obstructions from the trail.
Better pacing: Many hikers feel that trekking poles allow them to maintain a more rhythmic pace while hiking. This allows them to move more efficiently while avoiding fatigue.
Increased weight: Just like anything else in your pack, trekking poles add weight. That said, if you are concerned about the extra weight, you can purchase carbon fiber trekking poles. These can eliminate up to a pound of weight without compromising durability or function.
Energy loss: Although they can make it easier to traverse rugged terrain, trekking poles require sustained arm movement. This causes your body to burn more calories and forces you to eat more. This isn't really a problem if you pack lightweight food, such as freeze-dried backpacking meals. If not, you could end up with a heavier pack.
Environmental issues: Uncovered trekking poles can damage foliage on the fringe of trails. If this is a concern, you can reduce your environmental impact by choosing poles with rubberized or plastic tips.
Awkward at times: Because they require both hands, trekking poles can make it hard for you to take videos and photos. They also provide little benefit on flat ground unless the terrain is slick or muddy.
The Bottom Line
Given all of the potential advantages and disadvantages to trekking poles, the ultimate decision comes down to personal preference. If you are a fit, experienced hiker, you may view them as cumbersome. If, on the other hand, you struggle with balance or like to hike especially awkward terrain, they can be a godsend.
If you do choose to use trekking poles, be sure to adjust them so your elbow is at a 90-degree angle. You should also keep them close to your body when ascending, so you can push off as needed. For extended descents, on the other hand, your pole should be slightly longer, so it will be standing upright when you plant it in front of you. Each trekking pole should also move forward with the opposite leg.
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