Poles: Love ’Em or Hate ’Em

The last few years I’ve noticed more people using walking poles (“stocks” in Japanese). If you are thinking about buying a pair, you might consider walking poles are not an instant fit; it takes time to get used to them.

I’ve had a few people turn up on some of my treks trying new or borrowed poles for the first time. Halfway through the first day, they start complaining about how strange the poles feel and what a waste of money they were. The next day the poles are strapped to their backpacks.

The fact is using poles changes the way you hike. I call using poles “four-wheel drive” because they make you use your arms as well as your legs, which a lot of people are not used to. You have to change your whole technique of hiking, which takes time. A few trips and it usually all comes together.

I started using poles for summer hiking about five or six years ago and haven’t looked back. When I’m guiding or leading long treks, I often carry heavy loads, and poles make the work a lot easier. I found I had to change my step pattern though, taking bigger steps and getting into a rhythm with arms and legs.

Another thing I found was I wasn’t necessarily moving faster, but was covering more ground, meaning I was getting the job done faster. Once you get the hang of using poles, they can help you conserve energy.

Pig Tip #1:
I have gone through my fair share of telescopic poles over the last five or six years and found cheaper is definitely not better. All cheap telescopic poles I bought failed badly in three to four trips—some on the first trip. High-end poles are worth the extra cash, but the same goes for most outdoor equipment in my book.

The poles I’m using now (Mont-bell Alpine Anti-shock Poles) have worked great so far. Poles in my hands take a beating, and these have stood up so far. The first thing I find to go wrong with telescopic poles is they start to come loose and don’t lock up, making them collapse.

Another problem is when you accidentally put a bit too much weight on them (like when you slip or you are using them to push yourself up) the poles can bend. The anti-shock system on the Mont-bell poles works well, taking a lot of the extra force off the poles and adding to a longer life.

Pig Tip #2:
When using poles on trails with large rocks, be careful, because the pointy ends of the poles tend to slide off. You can get rubber covers to fit over the ends, which work real well, but I find you lose them sooner or later.

Walking poles. Love ’em or hate ’em. I for one never leave home without ’em.