Gear Guy

Are trekking poles just one more thing to carry?

I'm planning some two- to three-day hikes on the Ouachita Trail and would appreciate your recommendations on trekking poles. Friends tell me I should get a pair, so what's the word? Do poles really provide support or are they just one more thing to carry? Greg Denton, Texas

A: When I first saw people using trekking poles, I scoffed. How unmanly, I thought. But then I used a pair on a climb of Rainier, thinking they might be handy on the snow. And I thought they were great, but still refused to use them on "dry" trail. Then, on an approach for another climb, I pulled the trekking poles off the pack and put them to work. And I never looked back.

Summit Trekking Pole

Now I use trekking poles for just about any hike imaginable. In my view they ease the strain on knees and ankles (my right ankle in particular is a problem), improve your balance and make it easier to negotiate tricky terrain, let your arms share some of the load with your legs, and even help improve your breathing and pacing.

As for which poles, it's the poles themselves, regardless of style or fanciness, that are the big improvement. After that it's hair-splitting. So a pair of $55 REI Summit poles (—very basic, three-section poles—are basically the equal of a pair of Leki Super Makalu Cor-Tecs, which have ergonomic cork handles and a built-in shock absorber and sell for $140 ( Yes, the Lekis are nicer cut of pole, plus are slightly more comfortable to use. But the big leap is from no poles to poles.

A good middle-ground set of poles would be the Black Diamond Contour Trekking Poles ($100, They're light, sturdy, easy to adjust, comfortable to handle, but don't have the added complexity of the anti-shock feature.

I will say I've gotten reports of trails with lots of rocks and boulders where pole-pokes have actually scarred and defaced the rocks. I haven't seen this myself on hikes such as Washington's Granite Mountain, where the final stretch to the summit is a boulder-hop across lovely granite stones. But, keep it in mind.

Otherwise, pole on, my friend. You'll love it.

Poles, boots, and other trail treats reviewed in Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide .

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.
Contribute to Outside
Lead Photo: courtesy, REI
More Gear