This is another one of those topics which is entirely a personal choice, some people love Hiking Poles(*1) some people hate them! I will cover what I discovered, and maybe this will help you decide for your self.
Modern Hiking Poles
- Walking across streams or rivers, they offer unmatched tripod support and stability.
- Great for finding the ground or logs under the mud, or next deep hole in a New Zealand back country bog.
- Three “legs” are always better than one, in the tripod stance on really slippery ground
- Reduce the impact on your Knees, Legs and Body, particular descending on uneven terrain carrying a pack
- Add the power of your arms and shoulders as extra thrust to your legs, or slowing going down hill.
- Does have some handy Emergency uses – dissembled.
- The click of the tips can be a great Rhythm/ distraction when hiking over flat boring country side..
- One Pole still allows you to use the other hand for grabbing things like trees.
- Extremely lightweight and comfortable, compared to the old fashioned wooden stick.
- Hiking poles are not entirely dependable, they can still break which can lead to balance / stability problems for any one that depended to much on the pole.(*2)
- The tips are SHARP, (*3) as a result they tend to leave little holes all over the track, and can injury you if you are not careful.
- There is potential to transmit injury to your wrist or shoulders, if you have a straight arm on a hard/ unexpected impact – even with suspension.
- With two poles in particular, you loose a hand for grabbing at stable objects as you slide..
- As useful as extra thrust up hill is, pushing on a pole can change your angle of efficiency away from the most suitable muscles in your legs.
- It can be really easy to forget to pick up your pole after a photo shop or a hut..
Parts of a Hiking Pole
Handle: Essentially I have seen 2 types: 1) Shaft handle, where the grip is wrapped around the top 10cm of the pole, and 2) The T style grip there is effectively a “saddle” handle running at right angles across the top of the pole.
Handle Grip: Usually either Rubber or Cork. Rubber is generally more suited for wearing gloves in cold climates, with Cork better for bare hands in warmer climates.
Strap: If your pole comes with a strap, its only there to stop the pole from dropping the pole, or clipping it to your pack.
Shaft: Made from either lightweight durable alloys or the more expensive stronger carbon fibre type materials. Usually in three parts, with a locking mechanism at each joint so they are fully adjustable to a suitable length.(*4)
Basket: This is a little shallow cup that screws on to the base of the pole just above the tip, and stops the pole sinking into soft ground. You can buy bigger interchangeable baskets if you intend to use your pole in snow conditions.
Tip: Made of hard steel they are sharp and designed to penetrate the soil for better grip. Rubber caps that may be covering the tips are designed only for hard surfaces like concrete and Asphalt.
Types of Hiking Poles
- Standard Poles: The modern version of the traditional wood walking stick. Light weight, length adjustable, with a grip and sharp tip.
- Suspension Poles – Basic: These are the same as the standard pole, but contain an “anti shock”spring suspension mechanism” inside the poles shaft.
- Suspension Poles – Advanced: Basically a Suspension Pole, with the ability to turn the suspension system on and off.(never found a reason my self.)
My Preferred Features
One Pole: One pole allows you to still use your free hand from grabbing and swinging on supports, as well as holding equipment such as a compass or map. I have also seen several examples of two poles actually tripping up their master…
T style handle: Your weight is transferred to the stick via the palm of your hand while your thumb an fingers only need to retain the stick, which on a long hike is far more comfortable then having to grip the pole diameter constantly like a pole handle, particularly with cold and tired hands. (*5) This handle also makes it great for carrying on your pack side – and not slipping out.
Grip: Cork – much more suited for New Zealand’s Temperate climate – grip retained with sweaty hands.
Strap: I tend to shorten the strap if adjustable so its just long enough to attach to the clip have on my pack for carrying it, and this also means I can let go of the stick and grab something more solid much more easily.
Shaft: Go for a light allow shaft with a spring suspension and twist locking mechanism.
Hiking Basket: Essential in New Zealand Mud and bog, a great idea is to unscrew the basket and fill the thread with a heavy construction adhesive like “Liquid nails” and then screw back no tight – so your basket stays where it should be.
Identification: It can be pretty handy to wrap a couple of lengths of reflective tape around your pole shaft, to make it easy to find at night and unique also.
My Hiking Pole
My first Pole, with all of these features was the cheap and robust suspension T grip Hiking Pole sold by Rebel Sports for $40.00NZD, and despite the price it has remained my best pick.
Regardless of the type of pole you buy, but particularly for the suspension poles, always unscrew the adjustment joints and completely separate the pole sections after each hike, cleaning any grit out of the mechanism and letting it dry
- The Real Pros and Cons of Trekking Poles
- Trekking Poles: Pros and Cons
- How to choose trekking poles: REI
- What features should I look for in a Hiking Pole
(*1)Also called “Trekking poles, walking poles, or walking sticks.
(*2)When originally researching Hiking Poles, I had read a number of articles which suggested, that even using one pole your body quickly becomes dependent on it, so much so that when suddenly when you are with out it, it almost feels like you are learning or crawl in the case of having used two poles. I certainly found truth in this when I broke my single pole in the middle of a pretty intense multi day hike…!
(*3) I still often see people using hiking poles in the outdoors with that nice rubber cap over the sharp tip of a pole. This cap is designed for walking on hard surfaces like concrete, not the clay and earth of Hiking( and eventually they wear through and you realise why every one else has a point)
(*4) The rule of thumb is – lengthen your poles for descending steep hills, shorten for walking up hill.
(*5) In difficult Terrain the only disadvantage of the T handle, is that if you forget to keep your arm a little bent so the elbow can absorb any extra heavy impacts the force is directed up a straight arm to potentially injury your shoulder. However on a straight pole handle this can also mean either your fingers loosing grip, a wrist or shoulder injury….
Footnotes: (*) above.