I am seeking info on hiking poles, the item that I always looked at and thought what the hell are those for ? If you not a serious hiker why are you using them ? Are they just for posers ? And then I tried my friends one, whilst hiking at Injisuthi, and low and behold they worked ! So my question now is , which ones are good, and which not worth the trouble. any help would be appreciated.
The poles debate is a lot like the shoes vs boots debate - you will get a lot of passionate answers from both sides, but the actual answer is that it depends on what you are doing and what works best for you. There is no right or wrong answer on this one.
I started seriously hiking in 2009, started using a single pole in 2011, switched to double poles in 2012 and stopped using poles in 2015.
Advantages of poles:
Better grip on loose/slippery ground
They assist with balance
They take weight off your legs - which reduces long term hip and knee damage
Especially useful for beginners who haven’t built up their ankle strength properly yet
Disadvantages of poles:
They get in the way on rocky ground and on scrambles
While you are using poles, your hands aren’t available, so you take less photos, as well as eating and drinking less
When you slip and don’t regain balance quickly enough, they have a tendency of making the fall worse: by landing on them, tripping on them or your wrists being caught in the straps.
Having sore arms at the end of the day is great fun when you are about to set up your tent!
I stopped using them when I started transitioning into fully-committed fast-and-light hiking - the same time that I switched from hiking boots to trail shoes. The reality is that a hiker with a light pack, trail shoes and no poles is considerably faster when hopping from rock to rock up a riverbed - with a heavy pack, boots and poles, that task is considerably harder. Although having my hands readily available so I can easily eat and drink while walking was the primary motivation - since the easiest way of improving your pace while hiking is to walk slower, but stop less.
Thanks for the advice. I realise as you said with all the gear , it will come down to personal preference and that come with trying out the different options available. My first overnight hike from Monks Cowl to Zulu Cave was 13km with a heavy backback. It took us 8hours and by the end of the day, we were all shattered. I recently did a short walk with poles and a lighter back pack and wished that I had had the poles to give my legs a bit of support over that distance.
Walking with a small day pack was really great and as much as I want to get into longer hikes, the thought of have a heavy bag is off putting. I am seriously thinking of getting a smaller 50l +5 bag instead of the larger back packs and being ruthless when it comes to what I take to keep the weight down. I am not the fastest hiker and neither is my wife so the less we carry the better. I also am thinking of trading in my merrells for a pair of the new adidas trail shoes.
I reckon you and Mr.Navid covered it. I could add pros&cons but it starts becoming list comparisons on what you might or might not like???
You’ll laugh but I’ve hiked well over 150km with sticks of bamboo or cane. Point is you don’t have to go out and buy clickety-clack trekking poles just yet. The industry ‘at large’ is very keen to keep you spending.
…is a good size and a good idea. You’d be surprised by how much you can shave off whilst not turning into Rambo and still having fun. I’d advise working in healthy increments on the margins, if essentials are at the centre.
And, for what it’s worth…
Look at Altras and Inov8 too. I switched from Adidas/Salomon to Altras. Bought on sale mercifully. Won’t go back. Inov8 favoured by many.
As is often the case, you get what you pay for. The cheaper poles will work fine for a while, but they probably won’t last for very long. I’ve used both cheap and expensive poles of various brands and in my experience (yours or other hikers experiences might be different) Black Diamond hiking poles are very good. My oldest one is around 15 years old and still in regular use. The cheap Kway poles I’ve had to replace a number of times and even though they are lighter, they simply don’t last long.
The main question with poles is wood, aluminium or carbon fibre. For me a wooden stick is simply too heavy and cumbersome. The carbon fiber poles are lighter than alu but also more expensive, and the weight saving doesn’t justify the price increase. However, the bigger issue for me with carbon fibre is that while they are strong in one direction, i.e. vertically. They can break easily when sideways pressure is applied, and then they shatter, they don’t bend. You do not want carbon fibre in your flesh and the spiky edges can do some damage.
So, for me, a good, solid aluminium pole works well in the berg. Regarding the stick getting in your way - most Osprey backpacks have a little lop where you can attach them on the side of your pack. It takes less than 20 seconds to collapse them and attach to your pack, so this is not an issue for me.
I’ve also hiked without poles, then 1 pole, then 2 poles and back to 1 pole now over the years. For very little extra weight they offer a lot of benefits for me. Hopping over rocks in the riverbed they certainly help to stabilise when my foot slips off a wet rock. They help to propel me forwards and upwards, and save my knees on a downhill. Unlike Ghaz I weigh a lot so I need all the help I can get, plus I carry some of my wife’s gear, adding to the overall weight my knees have to carry. Ever encountered tripgrass in the footpaths? Those long grasses you step upon with your one foot and it then catches your other foot? Well, this is no problem when you have a walking stick as you can move them out the way. Same with wet grass - it helps keep your boots drier for longer. It certainly helps when snakes are in the path, you can gently move them off the footpath without fear of being bitten. Hopefully you are never in this situation, but a walking stick make for a good self defence weapon - the carbine tip can penetrate flesh easily when applied with force. Lastly, I use mine also to lift the foot of my tent off the ground a bit. At 2m tall my feet are permanently stuck in the bottom part of my tent where they eventually get wet from condensation, but when I lift the guyrope higher with the pole, it solves this problem.
Don’t simply look at a hiking stick as a 1 use tool, it can be used for many applications. For me, carrying an extra 200g for all the above benefits is worth it.
Sounds like you are on to all of the key things. Smaller bag means less stuff and weight, trail runners to get that weight of your feet and let them breath and trekking poles to get the strain off your knees. And as always, hike your own hike and all of this doesn’t apply to all situations for everyone The you have to wear boots camp can be intense.
50 liters is a great size personally. Will cover you for multi day trips with cold weather gear I find. But the trick is that you either need to bring less or shrink your gear. Ones easier and cheaper, but you might be down that path already and then the option becomes more specific lower volume gear.
In terms of poles, I’ve had decent luck with the First Ascent Hyrax ones so far (Carbon/Alu mix with flick locks). I like having the longer grip for going uphill, and the consensus is that flick locks are tougher than twist locks. If you don’t want to spend much, FA/Nature Hike/Decthalon. All round about the same pole if you are in the entry lvl space. Otherwise it jumps up to Black Diamond and Fizan/Leki for the higher end.
I’m a single pole person, find it useful but leaves me with a hand free. Nice thing with poles is you can move to tents that use them which is a huge weight saver.
Thanks for the advice. I agree on your point regarding buying unnecessary equipment. I will probably only be hiking once a month so don’t want to invest too much, but also agree that buying cheap is usually a bad idea.
The Altra shoes look perfect for me as I have a very wide foot - now just have to wait for the sale !
Super detailed response, much appreciated. As I mentioned to Karl, i am not hiking that much so don’t want to spend too much on gear but also believe in buying quality so will probably go with a mid level pole and hope for the best.
Yes I know all about the tripgrass - we were in Injasuthi a few weeks back and with all the rain the paths are quite overgrown with some of the grass higher than your head.
I weigh in at 70kg;s so not carrying as much as you are but still keen to support the knees wherever I can.
When you decide to go down the rabbit hole of gear reviews there is no stopping, so yes I have got a decent idea of what I should be moving towards but always great to get first hand reviews instead of the old youtube flicks.
I found it very interesting that the triangular tents of my youth were an option. I really didn’t think that they would withstand the wind with that shape, but also very clever to be able to use your poles for the tent.
The First Ascent Hyrax is looking like the choice, start with one and see how it goes.
Gear reviews are a dark and dangerous hole while being trapped inside so much these days
I’ve enjoyed moving to a trekking pole tent, something nice about the simplicity of it. Classic is very much back in! Been using a one pole triangular mid style from Six Moon Designs for a couple of years. Not sure I would want it in a massive storm on the top of a mountain, but 90% of the time it’s been perfect. Light, full bug protection and a lot of space for one person. There are some cool designs now using two offset poles in a parallelogram to increase wall foot/headroom.
If you ever wanted a cheapish and available way into trekking pole tents, the 3F UL Lanshans from China have a good rep. The single wall Lanshan Pro’s are appealing, as they get in some more interior space.
I’d say hiking once a month is plenty and easily justifies good gear. You know the saying too “buy once cry once” like “goedkoop goed is duur koop”.
The funny thing about trekking poles is though they may not be considered essential they will save your skin from time to time… (@Riaang notes river crossings, mate of mine broke metatarsal slipping off pebble in knee deep water and colliding side of foot, pole, I am sure, could have spared him)
And I too prefer the long handled ones; image of my damsel’s (intend on stealing this from her)
Thanks for this. I’ve been waiting for an X-Mid to become available on Amazon for a while, but it seems that international shipping won’t be happening this time around. The UL Lanshan might be a suitable alternative as long as it doesn’t fall apart quickly.
What I used to do is pack my pack, then unpack it, remove what I can, and pack it again. These days I know what I need, and just leave the rest out.
The secrets of decreasing pack weight are as follows:
The lightest gear is no gear: do you really need camp shoes when you can just wear your hiking shoes around camp? Look at each item and eliminate non-essential items. Keep notes of what gear you used on the last few hikes and start removing items that you rarely use - aside from emergency items such as your first aid kit.
Share as much as possible: one gas stove is plenty for three people. Even better if you share cooking duties - which often leads to nicer meals and less work for everyone.
A good sleeping bag is cheaper than a coffin: don’t try to save weight (or money) on a sleeping bag. Get something that has a good warmth to weight ratio, but remember that warmth matters more. Of all items you carry, your sleeping bag is the one that makes the biggest difference when things go wrong.
You actually don’t need as much as you think: the clothes you hike in will get wet and dirty early in the morning - so put on your clothes from the day before when you get out of your sleeping bag. For shorter hikes, never carry more than one change of clothes, and for longer ones - limit it to two. If you have two spare sets, plus the ones you have on - manage it as follows: wash one set in the river in the morning, which can dry on the outside of your pack, have the second set (that you washed yesterday) in your pack ready for tonight, and you are wearing the third set - you can even eliminate the third set if you are expecting good weather. Remember: if you get to the end of the day, and your clothes that are drying on your pack are wet, and the clothes you are wearing are wet, you must not sleep in wet clothes - but dry clothes don’t make a big difference to your warmth in your sleeping bag (too much clothing in a sleeping bag renders it less effective), so this isn’t crucial.
Ration your food by day and do your best to finish each days food: if you find you have food left at the end of the day, offer it to the other members of your team. They will think you are a super nice person, and your pack gets lighter
Fast and light is an interesting game - people often assume I am taking a big risk when I set out on a long hike with a 26 litre pack that is sub 8kg. The reality is that I have a -7C down sleeping, an air mattress and a bivvy bag, plus all essential items. Essential items include: first aid, GPS with spare batteries, headlamp with spare batteries, camera with spare batteries, fleece, raincoat, small towel, food and water-bottles.
Things I don’t carry: gas stove, change of clothes, swimming shorts, hydration bladder, any heavy food items, tent, the kitchen sink etc.
I’ve used a few pairs of Inov8 recently - they are great, although I am always annoyed how quickly they wear out. My current road running shoes are Altras, been very impressed with them so far.
Yes this has been a super helpful thread. I haven’t bought poles yet but have purchased a pair of Altra Lone peak 5 after a recommendation on this thread, so really excited to see how they perform. Will keep you posted.
Thanks for the great info. I reckon food and related items take up the most weight. All the extras that go with , Coffee pot/moka, gas cooker etc All depends on what comforts you want to have but its a toss up between the sore muscles and satisfied stomach
I heard of an american guy who hiked all the major world wide trails for a few years and survived on Snickers bars !
I will be hiking with my wife, so the smaller bivvy tent is not an option, but sharing the load of the tent etc will help.
After an accident which left me having to recover for a year, I have always used one pole and worn hiking boots. Both of which I will never depart from
A hiking pole is invaluable when walking across country in the Cape, as the bush here is particularly thick. It enables you to test where you are about to place your feet, when you cannot see the ground through the bush. A quick way to destroy your hike, your groups hike and put you in danger is to step into bush without knowing where the bottom is. So a pole enables me to avoid all those problems.
When used properly it can balance you in all kinds of situations and angles. I also use it to stick in the ground and put my foot right next to it on ‘no path/loose rocks’ situations. When balancing on rocks while kloofing it can be the extended arm sideways to assist in the balance.
With light scrambling, ie use your hands for small distances, then you just use the loop around your wrist, dangle the pole and use your fingers. When ever you need to do a proper scramble, its best to pack it into the side of your rucksack.
Although the grams difference seem little in comparison to pack weight, the pole weight makes a difference as you normally move it a lot with your wrist. A mixture of carbon/fibre glass type can be strong and light weighing in at 210 grams which normal high quality poles will be at 270g. The clip fastening is better then the rotating rings.
The only danger of poles is in scrambling where if the move in the wrong angle they can trip you up.