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Activities like hiking spiked in popularity during the pandemic. Now, exploring the great outdoors is more popular than ever, which means more people are stocking up on backpacking essentials like sleeping bags, tents and… hiking poles?
If you’ve been out on the trails recently, you’ve likely noticed a few hikers with sticks in their hands. While they might resemble skiing poles, these long rods are much sturdier and offer support for hikers traversing all kinds of terrain. Thus, if you plan to keep hiking and explore new destinations in the coming months, you might take a hint and pick up some poles, too.
Why? Well, there are a number of reasons.
1. Increases Safety
First, hiking with poles increases safety by providing two additional anchor points, which often feature steel or carbide tips. These pointy ends offer more traction, even on ice, which means you’ll feel more stable on the toughest terrain. Improved balance means you’ll be less likely to trip, fall or sustain injuries like sprains and breaks.
Using your poles to push ivy, thorns, spiderwebs and other obstacles out of your path can improve safety on the trail, too. Some hikers have even used their gear to fight off predators or hold off angry dogs until their owner arrived.
2. Gives You a Workout
Hiking works your legs, glutes, abs and hip muscles. However, it does very little for your arms. Therefore, if you want to tone your upper body and strengthen your shoulder and arm muscles, hiking with poles is an excellent option. With each step down, you’ll transfer about 20% of your weight to your arms, which will elevate your heart rate and give you a full-body workout.
You’ll also burn about 20% more calories during each trek as a result of using your arms. Meanwhile, those who use Nordic walking poles may burn even more as these rods are specifically designed for short bursts of intense activity. They’ll also engage 80% to 90% of your muscles to provide a more well-rounded workout.
3. Improves Endurance
Because trekking poles transfer more weight to your arms, they effectively reduce the load on your legs and minimize strain on your knee and ankle joints. Lowering stress on your lower body in this way will allow you to go further and recover faster, which is essential for multi-day hikers. They might also enable you to adopt a more natural gait with longer and quicker sides to improve endurance over time.
Additionally, some scientists believe that hiking poles can reduce the perception of effort while traveling uphill with a backpack. Because the rods better distribute your weight, you’ll likely feel less tired, which can improve your pace and encourage you to keep going when you would’ve otherwise given up.
4. They’re Versatile
Hiking poles are incredibly versatile as they have uses for more than just trekking. For one, they keep your pack light by doubling as tent poles. They’re also much stronger than traditional tent poles, meaning they’re less likely to break or bend in inclement weather. Their rigidity lends itself well to doubling as a medical splint in an emergency, too.
Use your poles to test the depth of snow, mud or water and keep your feet clean and dry. Some even have camera attachments so you can transform them into a mono-pod to document your travels. Others have an attachment to adapt them for use as skiing poles.
Choosing the Best Poles
Not all hiking poles are created equal, and distinguishing between them can be tough. However, the main factors to consider are materials, features, length, packability and weight.
- Materials: Standard aluminum is strong but heavy, while carbon fiber maximizes strength-to-weight ratio, making it a more expensive, albeit superior option.
- Features: Straps allow a looser grip and a more relaxed style. Locking mechanisms ensure adjustable poles maintain their length. Internal springs and shock absorption reduce impact. Built-in camera mounts allow you to document your adventures. Grip materials include cork, foam or rubber.
- Length: Adjustable poles generally adjust from 24 inches to 55 inches long. Fixed-length poles come in a variety of lengths. As a general rule, you should be able to grip the handle while your arm is at a right angle to the ground.
- Packability: Foldable trekking poles collapse into themselves to maximize packability. Telescoping poles can also maximize space in your pack.
- Weight: Ultralight poles offer less swing weight, which makes them easier to move. Fixed-length poles are typically lighter because they operate with fewer parts.
Remember to compare price, versatility and strength as you search for the right poles. Ultimately, the best rods will be the ones that suit your hiking style and meet all of your adventuring needs.
Leave No Trace
Whenever you head out into the wilderness, it’s important that you leave nature just as you found it. As long as you use your hiking poles correctly, “leave no trace” won’t be an issue. Just remember to stay on the path and hike mindfully. Happy trails!