Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Why Do I Need Trekking Poles...?

It's extremely uncommon to find a guide who doesn't use trekking poles when carrying a large pack on long approaches. A heavy pack and the lack of balance that comes with carrying a heavy pack creates instability and even danger. Falling is more likely, especially if a pack isn't packed well. And indeed, injury is more likely as well.

There are five main reasons people use trekking poles:
  1. Trekking poles help you stay up right when carrying a heavy pack.
  2. They increase stability on uneven ground.
  3. They make it easier to walk in deep snow.
  4. The increase stability on creek crossings.
  5. And most importantly, they reduce strain on the knees.
I've been guiding professionally since the year 2000 and climbing since 1992. I'm happy to say that today I still have strong knees. I absolutely credit this to the use of trekking poles.

Trekking poles can help stabilize an individual 
walking across a sketchy section with a big pack.

In 2016, I was walking down a steep trail in the Cascades when I stepped on a loose rock. I stumbled forward and tried to catch my balance on a second rock. That rock moved too. My trekking poles were the only thing that saved me from a bone breaking injury. I was able to use my pole to shift over onto my back, where I landed directly on my pack.

I definitely credit my trekking poles for saving me from serious injury on that trail...

There are a handful of criticisms concerning the use of trekking poles. The are as follows:

  1. The use of trekking poles can lead to tennis elbow. This can be exacerbated by a trekking pole leash over the wrist.
  2. If you have your hand through the leash with it wrapped over the thumb, a fall can lead to a thumb dislocation.
  3. If one hunches over the trekking poles, it can make it difficult for one to catch their breath.
  4. It's extra stuff to carry.
The tennis elbow issue may happen with or without the leash. But some people tend to be more prone to tennis elbow with a leash.

This particular use of a ski pole can lead to
thumb dislocation.

If you avoid the use of the leash, the thumb issue is not an issue. If you prefer to use the leash, then you should not put your thumb over the strap as shown in the photo above.

At altitude a trekking pole in one hand can be extremely helpful to keep you standing upright. One should never hunch over when it's hard to breath, that does close the lungs. The poles should be used to stand upright.

As noted above, most guides use trekking poles with heavy packs. They don't necessarily make sense with a light pack or a cragging pack, but I believe that they are a must on big trips...

--Jason D. Martin


Hillary said...

Also they can be used for stabilization in case of a broken bone. And they hold my tent up!

Matthew Lettington said...

Thanks for both of these lists. I doubt that I hike as much as you, I'm more of a weekend warrior, and a summer Berzerker. I frequently suffer from tennis elbow, even though I don't use my straps but when I feel the twinge I like to remind myself: this could be my knees.

I keep a poorly viewed blog: explorington.com