Monday, December 20, 2010

Hiking with Poles - Don't Leave Home without Them!

Why Use Walking Sticks?


1. Knees, knees, knees!Gotta save them.

2. Balance and safety

3. Upper-body workout

Post Summary : Benefits of using hiking poles; tips for correct use; shopping information.

                                         My third hike ever. I couldn't have walked that plank without the poles.

What do these two photos of hikers at Mt. Taurus have in common? Throughout our photos, you see a lot of hikers making their way up hills, across streams, and negotiating rocks with walking poles. Our hike leaders and orthopedists recommend poles as a surefire way to save wear and tear on the knees and other parts of the body due to overuse—and avoiding surgery on those parts when you reach your 40s, 50s, and beyond. We both have knee-cartilage problems and spend considerable effort building up the quads and hamstrings for stability, but one of us resisted using poles for a few years. And then, ... one day, ... the tumble. Just a few feet from the end of the trail, disaster waited in the ruts of the last grassy slope. Yup, poles would have saved that day! And the rest of the summer, which remained hikeless.

Dislocated shoulder and a double fracture of the arm.
 Two sticks are better than one. More and more, we see even the younger hikers come equipped with telescoping, light-weight poles. In our own experience, we find they boost confidence and balance, especially on loose, rocky ground or when stepping from rock to rock to cross streams. They give you safer footing, and they take some of the stress off lower body joints, especially on the descents. Lengthening the poles and placing them one step below, just before the foot hits, eases the impact. Of course, when you readjust them for level ground or uphill, each time they are adjusted, the sections must be securely retightened or they will collapse under weight.

And here’s an added plus: by transferring some of the body weight from the legs to the arms and shoulders, the poles help you tone up your upper body. Shoulders, chest and upper arms show added definition beyond the gains of our regular weight-training programs since we started hiking using the hiking poles.

Tips on Using Poles Correctly
Of course, it's important to get instruction on how to use the poles correctly. Get advice from experienced hikers, and check the instruction manuals and videos. Incorrect use can strain the wrists, so be sure to get off on the right foot by first reading the instructions. As in most other things, it takes practice to use poles to get all their benefits.

1. Ideally, you would have time on a hike to adjust the length:
      longer for balance and support on the down-hill stretches,
      shorter to bear weight on the ups.
     When on even terrain, adjusted height should allow the forearm to be parallel to the ground. (Truthfully, we don't usually get the time to stop to adjust when the grade changes because we're too busy keeping up with the leader, and yet they are still very helpful.)

2. The straps are adjustable and should be entered by the hand from underneath so they support the wrist and palm before the hand grips the handle.

3. Practice your gait. We like to use the poles in opposition to our feet, i.e. Left pole digs in at the moment the right foot steps down.

Features and Prices
Features vary and so do prices. We look for light-weight, collapsible, shock-absorbing walking poles that we can hook onto our backpacks when en route to hikes, and that will fit in our carry-on suitcases when we travel. The lighter they are, the higher the price. We did a little shopping for you and stuck with the features we find essential. Note: One hiker on our Greek Isles hiking trip bought an inexpensive pair for less than $20 which lasted only a few hours before they fell apart and were junked.

Shopping Information for Collapsible Hiking/Walking Poles With Anti-shock Feature
Hikker HP-5 Anti-shock Hiking Pole, 2-pack                      
Mountainsmith Pyrite 7075 Trekking Poles, Red                                  
LEKI Nordic Walking Traveller Nordic Pole 
Mountainsmith Carbonlite Pro Trekking Poles, Slate
LEKI Nordic Walking All Season Poles                                         
Trail Antishock Trekking Pole - pair-Leki