View Full Version : Hiking Poles-Use them or Not?

09-06-2002, 06:58
I hate to bring up such a controversial subject but since I broached the fact on another post, that the poles do in fact violate the Leave No Trace (LNT)) ethic, should we continue to use them? "Leave nothing but footprints..." clearly doesn't mention those millions of tiny little holes alongside the path! Consider their effect on alpine tundra. The growing season there is so short that some of the mosses & lichens took more than 50 years to struggle up to the height of a few short inches, much older than the average hiker that comes along stabbing them out with hiking poles. Consider it!

The Weasel
09-06-2002, 09:07
Here we go again...

For the narrow width of the trail, the "damage" done by poles is miniscule and occurs in the same places essentially as feet would go, equally killing moss. I've "followed" the thru-hike crowd by 2-3 weeks in places, and you can't even tell that poles were used. This issue will get fervent debate, but in actuality it's a nothingburger.

The Weasel

09-06-2002, 17:34
OK, a couple of observations.

First, the LNT issue. As I recall from my younger days, the predecessors to LNT used to be concerned about the damage that hob nail boots might do to the trail. Somehow, we got by that, so I think that we can get past the issue of poles.

In fact, I don't think that the Leave No Trace ethics/principals address poles.

Second, the fact is that most backpackers these days use poles. So, all things being equal, if you are so inclined, then by all means use them. You will be in the majority.

09-06-2002, 18:37
I think poles are good to have with you. either to assist in hiking, which i deffinently needed with my injury on my last hike, or if there are no trees can be used to set up a tarp or hammock. i have noticed that at times poles, even ones i made out of large sticks, stuck into the ground and left marks, but i stayed on the trail, and in many cases the trail is so compacted that poles hardly make a difference anyway. sure on lower impact areas it may be different, so maybe its a good idea to practice good judgment over where and when to use your poles.

09-06-2002, 21:21
Nothingburger??? Is that a legal term? :confused:

Former Admin
09-06-2002, 22:01
Yes it is, iv'e heard legal types use that term constantly!:p

09-07-2002, 08:47
Like spicy cooking, what might just be a simple "Nothingburger" to one may be major heartburn to another..

09-07-2002, 12:30
I use'em. I do it because It makes my hikes easier thus more enjoyable. The more I enjoy the outdoors the more apt I am to show that with my wallet and my voting rights. And that my friend is how we are to save our natural resources. A lot of holes in the ground isn't near as destructive as clear cutting and general pollution.
If you want to curb the above, people are going to have to first appreciate what it is they are trying to protect.
I have gone on hikes with people who didn't use poles. I would loan one of mine and it was an instant smile. Now that person could possibly enjoy his surroundings a little more. Perhaps enough to not throw out that candy wrapper..........

SGT Rock
09-07-2002, 16:50
Nothingburgers are vaporware, they don't have any callories so they suck for hiking food despite their lack of weight.

Dummie Cookies are somewhat similar in that respect, but people seem to get very stupid after eating them.

Anyway, if your worried about pole holes, get tips. I use tips because the poles make less noise and get better traction on rock, they get slightly less traction in mud, but no real problem. On dry dirt they have the same traction as poles w/o tips. And at an extra 0.5 ounces they will make your arms stronger at the end of the day from the workout ;)

The Weasel
09-07-2002, 18:05
First heard the term in the movie, "Major League", from the coach. Liked it. Rock's right...similar to vaporware.

The Weasel

09-10-2002, 17:03
I think there is a real issue here. I hike with poles and love them, but when I reach treeline or an area with mainly rocks underfoot, I collapse my poles and attach them to my pack. Poles leave scars on rocks when people don't use them carefully. Rock scarring (3-6 inch scratches) is very noticable on almost all trails these days. Poles don't really do much good on rocks anyway since the points don't stick - they just skitter off, leave you unbalanced, and scratch the rock. Just use your poles responsibly and appropriately. Enjoy your hikes!

09-10-2002, 18:25
I almost always use the treking poles with the rubber tips for several reasons - much quieter, grips the rocks better, doesn't scratch up the rocks, and less likely to damage the edge of a trail. Of course there are other factors just related to hiking with poles that affect me also: poles help me hike faster, save my knees on downhills, and help avoid falls. About the only time I don't use the rubber tips is in winter on snow. To keep the rubber tips on I super glue them on the carbide tips. To switch to winter use I have a separate set of carbide tips that I put on the poles with the snow baskets. To change from one to the other is easy (Leki specific ???) - just slide a crescent wrench down the shaft so that it sharply hits the upper edge of the carbide tip and the end pops off - put the other end on and jam it down on a block of wood a few times to get it set in place - its a friction fit.

With regard to the nothingburger comments above - for most trails this is true however there are some trails, usually a traverse of a relatively steep hillside, where the holes do cause the downhill edge of the trail to erode and the trail gets narrower as a result. This effect is not common but it has been noted by some trail maintainers.

09-11-2002, 09:53
I don't use poles mostly because they feel very awkward. I haven't noticed any real benefit for me when I've used them. On the down side, no matter how lightly I grip the poles (komperdell), I get blisters on my thumbs. I seem to be rather in the minority as regards pole use, so perhaps I am just doing it wrong.

The Hog
09-26-2002, 11:39
I don't use poles, but occasionally will pick up a hiking stick to deter dogs. In the course of my thru hike, two wild dogs rushed me in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee. I didn't have a stick with me, but fortunately there was a huge branch lying on the ground nearby. With the adrenaline rush, I picked it up and swung it at these charging (big) dogs like it was a willow switch. They immediately turned tail and beat a hasty retreat. I hate to think what would have transpired if that branch hadn't been there. These days, I'll normally pick up a stout cudgel coming into a town to ward off aggressive mutts, a habit which has come in handy more than once.:)

09-26-2002, 12:02
I don't carry them but I do always catch myself picking up a stout stick before fording a stream or beginning a steep descent. One nite at sunset near rausch gap I really scrambled to find a large stick as two curious young black bears appeared on the trail. As I held on to my trusty staff they lazily ambled about ten yards to the side of the trail and watched me as I hiked past. I was obviously much more nervous about the encounter than they were. This took place last fall. I guess they are much larger by now.:eek:

09-26-2002, 14:57
The Hog:
When you are surrounded, outnumbered, low on ammo, etc., there is only one thing you can do....ATTACK!!! I have found it works well on dogs because it is what they least expect

09-26-2002, 15:26
Last Sunday I went for a 12-mile shake-down hike on the Potowatami Trail in southeast Michigan (as with many Indian names, spelling varies but this is at least a common spelling for "The Poto"), to test out my gear and assess my fitness level. I received a pair of Leki's best trekking poles (the Ultralite Ti Air Ergo PA AS version (who does their naming???) and decided to see how they worked for me.

The trail is gently rolling and pretty easy, with a firm sand/rock footpath packed and eroded by mountain bike traffic. Right away, I found that the rubber tips I had put on the poles tended to slip annoyingly as I walked. After yanking them off a few miles later, the carbide tips seemed to help me keep a good stride, especially on the short uphills where I could use the poles to help propel me up.

The cork handles were initially comfortable, but I found that my hands were continually sweating in the cool (60-degree), overcast, somewhat humid weather. Several times I just picked up the poles and would carry them for a few minutes to let my hands air-dry.

The worst part was that using the poles seemed to inflame the tendons in my elbows. Initially I thought that it might have been because the poles were too long, but the problem only worsened even though I shorted the poles to make sure my hands were below my elbows. Perhaps this was caused by my tendency to push off with the poles while striding (I was walking at a 3.2 mph clip for almost 4 hours), but it would be difficult to keep from doing this to some extent.

All in all, I didn't feel that the poles helped me much. Of course, my knees are pretty good and I have good core stability, but I'm not convinced that I want to bring these along for an extended hike.

Anyone wanna buy a nice pair of poles?

09-26-2002, 15:41

Don't give up on the poles until you try them on some difficult terrain. They don't make much difference on the flat stuff where you can cruise anyway. They make a huge difference on the steep ups and down. Don't know about your elbow problems. But to avoid the sweaty hands, let the straps do the work. Your hand should go through the strap from below and the strap should cross your palm. You can then hold the pole very loosely while pushing. To swing the pole forward, you either need to grip it lightly or just let it pivot on your thumb and top finger (this works if the top of the grip is flared). When cross-country skiing, the natural swing of your arms will bring the pole forward and into your palm without gripping at all, but this is noisy on rock or dirt.

Trail Yeti
10-01-2002, 23:19
I would no sooner go out hiking w/out my poles than I would hike naked (oops I did that, bad analogy). Anyway, poles make a difference no matter what the terrain. A lot of people don't carry their poles the right way. The straps that go around your wrist are to be used! Slip your hand up through the strap and grasp the handle/strap in your palm. This way you don't really have to "grip" the pole, its the tension of pushing off the ground w/the straps around your wrists that keeps the poles in position. But no matter what you are gonna get blisters on your hands from them, but they turn to callouses. Actually, i didn't get blisters but the skin got tough on my thumbs and in a crescent shape on my palms.
As for the rubber tips...I tried them but they kept slipping off the ends as I was hiking and losing them.....at 7 bucks a shot that got silly quick so I did w/out. However, I did like them when I had them.
I can't count the number of times poles saved me from a nasty spill on the trail, as well as saving my knees. I think 4 legs are better, and w/poles, its 4 wheel drive for your body.
Just my opinion.
life is good, WEAR A KILT!
Trail Yeti

10-15-2002, 01:28
My knees are toast, too many miles,too heavy loads, to much testosterone as a teenage hiker with stupid loads, to many soccer games, too many rounds of killer hacky-sack, and maybe a bad gene splice when the shairing of alleles occured---all yielding an old man who sucks down glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM and a variety of NSAIDs to keep hiking....without poles I wouldnt be hiking-period.. with poles I am and after prodding off the first copperhead (yep didnt even think about killing him/er) I knew that it wasn't just the knees that would benefit. Poles have too many uses (and too many to list except the possibility of an instant splint that is instantly adjustable) but my shelter system now requires them...so they are in my hand unless it is a terrible downpour and I have to use the umbrella.