Quite sometime ago, I was on a hike in the backcountry and found myself upon an arduous ridge. I encountered a fellow hiker and we began a conversation and soon became great trail buddies. He was articulate and intelligent, and an animated detailed storyteller. I remember having a hard time keeping up with him going story for story on past trails and experiences. He shared one aspect of his trekking experience that was to have a lasting effect and forever change the way I approached my hiking. My new friend was a 92-year-old hiker of countless miles. His wisdom as he spoke his stories had my utmost attention. Among my many questions for him was how and what was the secret to hiking into his 90s? He pointed to his hiking poles and stated without these he could not have made it this far. From that day forward I never left the trailhead without having my own hiking poles.
Hiking poles have come a long way, only a few decades ago specialized poles didn’t exist, essentially a hiker would use one-piece solid heavy ski type poles. Over time with research and development poles have become light, multi-piece and durable with easy break down for storage in a day pack and backpack loop and straps. Breakdown of the poles has become easy with clips or shock cords. Materials have become stronger so breakage is less likely, and the higher end more expensive varieties made of carbon weight only ounces. Higher-end poles cost between $75-$150 at places like REI, Costco sells entry-level multi-segment poles that are very good for day hikes and short backpacks and general walking on slippery surfaces for about $35.
There are multiple benefits for using hiking poles. They provide increased stability when walking on uneven and irregular surfaces, icy, wet or slippery surfaces due to scree or multiple small rock. They are helpful when forging streams or rivers as they provide stability and a means to assess water depth, riverbed contour especially in identifying obstacles such as rocks, logs, and sudden fall offs in depth. Hiking poles take tremendous stress off your knees when descending. By lengthening the poles when going downhill and keeping them in front of your descent a lot of the stress your knees would take is absorbed into the poles. When hiking uphill, shortening the polls, keeping them in front of you leaning into the incline the polls act to help climb and take stress off the downhill knee.
I used to think that hiking poles were for “old people”. That was until I met my hiking buddy on that ridge several decades ago. Among the many things he taught me that day was that hiking poles are not for old people but rather what keeps people still hiking. I like to think of it as one “acquires wisdom” hiking poles help keep them hiking safely and further on down the trail for many years and miles. A great gift for one’s knees.