Essential Gear: Trekking Poles

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Trekking poles are one of my must have pieces of gear for any hike.  They make the uphills and downhills much easier and they are essential when tackling tricky terrain with or without kids in tow.  In a pinch I can also collapse one or both of them if I need my hand(s) free and they can be used on almost any type of surface.

When I use my trekking poles by myself the focus is on speed, stability, and weight transfer.  My poles are adjusted so that my elbows are at a ninety degree angle when I hold with them with the tips in contact with the ground.  I plant each pole at the same time as my opposite foot strikes the ground, driving the pole back to propel myself forward.  On the uphills I plant one or both of my poles slightly ahead of me to help push me up and on the downhills I plant the slightly ahead to help steady myself and transfer some of the shock and weight from my knees and ankles to my shoulders and core.  This has the added advantage of providing stability on steep ascents or descents allowing me to hike longer and with more weight on my back than would be otherwise possible. Here e is a brief tutorial on the basics.

Trekking poles make difficult trail obstacles much easier.  Everything from stepping over a large log to fording a stream can be significantly safer and less difficult when you have a pair of trekking poles at the ready.  The preferred method is to use the wrist strap but I often switch my grip to “palm” the top of the grip when I need a little more reach because I am walking on something slightly raised, because I am traversing a particularly steep descent, or if I have to step down off of something raised.  These activities sound simple but when you have a heavy pack on the chances of becoming unbalanced or rolling and ankle go up.  The stakes are even higher when you have a kid on your back and one in tow.  This is the main reason why I always use trekking poles.  I want to be able to show my boys and experience the wonders that New England’s great outdoor spaces contain and my poles help me keep them safe while pushing all of our limits.

When I hike with my kids my poles give me several advantages.  They allow me to hike longer with a load on my back then I could otherwise which is especially helpful when you have 25-30 pounds of child, carrier, and gear on your back.  My trekking poles also extend my reach to provide my son with short-term assistance or to guide him away from a hazard or pile of dog poop.  The last and most important advantage of using poles is that they provide me with additional stability on tricky trails which allows me to more effectively help my son traverse difficult terrain.  He usually hikes without holding my hand but when the trail gets tough I collapse one of my poles, strap it to the pack frame, and hold his hand to get him through it.  I pivot my body and keep him above me and a pole firmly planted on my downhill side.  This position provides the most stability while allowing me to keep him steady and safe as we work our way up or down.  We have safely traversed remarkably difficult trail sections using this technique while going slow and assessing the trail immediately in front of us.  Ascents and descents require focus, confidence, and deliberate action.  Save enjoying the views for when you reach the top and take your breaks at the bottom.

I hope you are itching to get yourself a pair of poles and hit the trail.  You can buy an inexpensive pair from Wal-Mart like I did or invest in a set that will last you years and provide greater comfort.  Either way you will be better off than you were before!

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