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Pros and Cons of Trekking Poles



It had never occurred to me before I got myself a pair of trekking poles that they could be useful in so many ways, not only for walking. I learned this first hand when visiting China's Taihang Canyon, one of the top ten most beautiful canyons in China.

You might have heard some of the advantages of trekking poles more or less since you are checking out this website right now. However, hiking with poles is not always convenient. Before you choose your trekking poles, I'd like to share my experiences with these poles in hopes that it might help you make a more informed decision.

Pros

  • They protect your knees.
    They decrease the stress from knees, ankles, and hips to your upper body by transferring some of your weight to your arms, shoulders and back, especially on downhill hikes. After a long hike with using trekking poles properly, you will surprisingly feel like that you can still hike for another couple of miles. If you have damaged knees like I do, I highly recommend you use trekking poles whenever you go on a hiking trail because they can reduce compressive force on the knees by up to 25%. It’s a significant help for people like us.

  • Using poles properly improves your endurance.
    You are not only using your legs but also using more muscles from your entire body to do the same work while hiking with trekking poles on uphill. It strongly improves your power and endurance while giving you a bit of an upper body workout.

  • They establish a walking and breathing rhythm.
    By spreading the work of many muscles of your body, it helps you to establish a walking rhythm and more efficient breathing, thereby making your heart strong. It's a great physical exercise and also very good for your mind and soul when you are out there exploring and enjoying nature.

  • They can help to probe the depth of mud or water.
    Using trekking poles is much safer on this level. Probing the depth of water by poles makes you more aware whether it’s a good idea to wade through. It also makes crossing streams and slippery surfaces a lot easier since you have something to lean on.

  • They provide you balance and support.
    Using trekking poles provides you an with extra support; it's like having two extra legs! They will make tricky trails a lot easier for you. In fact, I know a bunch of different friends that have prevented a nasty fall because they had a trekking pole support their weight after losing their footing on a particularly slippery trail.

  • Some tents are designed to use trekking poles.
    Some tents specifically use trekking poles as their structural poles as well, keeping your backpack's weight down. Pretty smart if you ask me!

  • They help you to rest.
    When you are taking a very short break without taking off your heavy backpack, and let’s say there’s no perfect place to sit, poles can help you to reduce the weight from your back. A picture explains it better:

Trekking poles help you rest by acting like table legs

If the pros have already convinced you to pick up a pair of trekking poles, you want want to first check out the article about the types of trekking poles available so you get a better idea of the features on the market and the benefits they provide. Or, read on to learn more about some potential pitfalls.

Cons

  • They may be a burden when it comes to climbing.
    I always encounter some spots on a hiking trail that requires both of my hands and feet grabbing holds to pull my body up. In this case, I either let the poles hang on my wrists via straps in order to free my hands for climbing (not suggested) or have my buddy hold the poles for me. When it happens often, like in Taihang Grand Canyon, it's no fun. In addition, hiking with poles makes taking pictures, checking directions on a map, helping others and basically anything to do with free hands difficult.

  • They can get stuck.
    This happened when I was physically in the canyon walking in the water and there's no other way to get through. Even though the water was transparently clear so that I could see the numerous rocks underneath, my trekking poles got stuck into the gaps of those rocks several times, which slowed progress and was kind of annoying. Other times, the poles will get entangled in foliage which is also frustrating.

  • It's hard to "Leave No Trace" with trekking poles.
    In terms of being environmentally friendly, trekking pole tips can cause some visible impacts on a trail such as leaving white scratches on rocks, damaging surrounding vegetation, making annoying metallic ringing sounds and poking noticeable holes on the ground, etc. So for those of you who are hardcore about leaving no trace, hiking poles might not be for you.

  • Hiking with trekking poles could be more tiring.
    Although poles are quite light, they're still a bit of extra weight to carry around. If your lower body is in really good shape, it might be easier to go without them. However, if you have had any lower body joint surgery or are not particularly active, they are totally worth it since they will make your hikes a lot easier by distributing weight to your upper body. I myself have never been on a hiking trail without a pair of trekking poles ever since I underwent arthroscope operations on both of my knees. Peter Clinch has been quoted a lot in particular saying "if you have tired legs and knees then poles can be a win, but if you have a tired body, with your cardiovascular system at its limits, then poles may be more of a hindrance than a help."

  • Poles present a tripping hazard.
    On ground where falling is not an option, it is best to stow or omit bringing trekking poles because the risk of tripping yourself or others outweighs any advantages. For instance, when traversing a narrow exposed ledge, the poles could get caught in between legs or a tree and lead to a dangerous fall. It can be a hazard to hikers going in the other direction as well.

  • Possibility of breakage.
    Trekking poles are mechanical devices subject to failure - as such, they can suddenly collapse with no warning. If you happen to be relying on the pole to support your weight and it collapses, that could have serious consequences. Although this is a rare occurrence, it's still something to keep in mind. In general, twist locks are more susceptible to collapse than flick locks but with enough weight on any sort of lock this could happen. Obviously, this applies mostly to adjustable trekking poles.

  • They are sometimes not allowed as luggage on aircraft.
    Airport security is getting tougher these days and some people have had trouble traveling with trekking poles. Most of time, you have to check trekking poles if you want to travel with them by plane. If for some reasons you have to check them separately, they are required to be wrapped up thoroughly before checking to possibly avoid leaving scratches on others' luggage.

That's pretty much all I can think of so far. Hope you find this guide helpful! If you have any questions, any different opinions, anything you would like to say, please do feel free to reach out at contact@trekkingpolesguide.com. Your comments are greatly appreciated! Special thanks to Eric Johnson for contributing additional insights.

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