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Gear Guy

Q:

Will I look like a dork using trekking poles?

Nordic walking looks like an interesting way to stay in shape, albeit one that'll make me look a geek on Tulsa's trails. I've actually always wanted some poles for hiking, but I understand not everyone finds them useful or a worthwhile investment. With Nordic walking as a secondary usage, maybe I can justify it. Can you recommend a good hiking pole for both uses, as well as for propping up my tarp? Brian Tulsa, Oklahoma

Nordic walking looks like an interesting way to stay in shape, albeit one that'll make me look a geek on Tulsa's trails. I've actually always wanted some poles for hiking, but I understand not everyone finds them useful or a worthwhile investment. With Nordic walking as a secondary usage, maybe I can justify it. Can you recommend a good hiking pole for both uses, as well as for propping up my tarp? Brian Tulsa, Oklahoma

A: Nordic walking is indeed a good way to look like a geek—marching around downtown Tulsa in broad daylight, your arms pumping vigorously as you stride down the sidewalk, a dozen yapping dogs in your wake. And don't forget the Lycra tights—gotta love that Lycra. Anyway, the cynic in me says Nordic walking, formerly the activity known as "walking at a brisk pace," is yet another way for gear makers to extract dollars from your wallet by designing gear for this "new" pursuit.

Ultralite Ti Air Ergo


Still, poles would be useful—for Nordic walking and plain ol' garden-variety hiking. I used to dismiss pole users as effete girlie men (oh dear, too much Ahnold!). But then I used some poles on a Rainier climb, almost by accident (the poles, that is, not the climb), and quickly became enamored. Now I don't hike without them. They help with pacing and balance, ease slippery log crossings, lessen the impact on my knees, and help protect my ankles from roll-overs.

One discussion I don't get much into, though, is which pole is "better" than another. Come on—they're all just glorified sticks. REI's Summit poles ($60; www.rei.com) are just fine—light, sturdy, and easily adjusted. Or you can spend a bunch of dough and get a pair of Leki Ultralite Ti Air Ergo poles ($150; www.leki.com), which feature a shock absorber and extra padding on the upper part of the pole. OK, they're slightly lighter than the REI poles, and maybe have better grips. But otherwise, not a huge amount of difference. I've used shock-absorbing poles and find them more distracting than useful.

Just about any pole will also prop up a tarp, so no worries there. Just go into a store, try a few, and get the poles that feel most comfortable to your hands.

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