Should You Hike With Poles?
by Jon Scarlet
Summer Activities Director, Park City Mountain Sports Club
There are many opinions regarding the use of hiking poles. You know our Sports Club….when there are four people, there are usually five opinions. The majority of Club members who do strenuous hikes don’t use them. I, for one, usually use them occasionally on moderate hikes and on non-rocky portions of difficult hikes. David Anderson uncovered an article on the pros and cons of hiking pole use and sent it to me. I think it’s a great article, written by very credible people – The International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation. Here’s the link to the article on hiking sticks:
I would commend the article to anyone curious about pole use. Just remember, that article was written for mountaineers not casual hikers. One point not covered in the paper is the use of so-called “shock-absorbent” poles. These devices have springs in them. The springs serve to lessen the impact when the pole tip hits the ground. That’s a good idea if you have upper extremity (shoulder, elbow, wrist) problems. But what I’ve read elsewhere is that if your goal is to help protect your lower extremity joints (hip, knee, ankle, etc) then spring loaded poles may not be the best choice. Poles with internal springs won’t protect lower extremity joints as well as simple telescoping poles that are fixed in an adjusted length.
Another issue to consider when using poles is the appropriate use of the pole wrist straps. Those straps do more than allow the poles to be hung neatly when not in use. If they are pulled snugly under the wrists, they will allow the forearms to carry carry some of body weight. This will prevent the hands from having to grip tightly all the time (see photo). Also, note in the photo, that some duct tape is affixed to the pole. Duct tape could always come in handy. Wrapping several turns around a pole is an easy way to carry some on hikes. Clever, eh?
David’s article talks about the importance of adjusting hiking poles to a proper length in order to avoid postural problems - a very important point. True hiking poles are adjustable and can be changed for tilted trails (one side made longer), up hills (both made shorter) and down hills (both made longer). Last year’s old ski poles can’t do that. Finally, a word of safety to pole users for those around you. Please be alert to how poles might swing and interfere with other hikers.