Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Post Hike Thoughts and Review: Part I

I went hiking last week.  I hiked the Appalachian Trail from Cheshire, Massachusetts to Bennington, Vermont. It was colder than anticipated, rainy with some snow, and because of a gear failure I had to hike out, purchase a replacement, and hike back in to pick up where I left off. In all, I did 41 miles, hiked twice with a headlamp, and managed some (for me) significant elevation changes.

Since I was alone, I had some time to consider a lot of things. I have been hiking with a pack since Boy Scouts in the 1960s and I have seen an equipment revolution. It isn't necessarily that the new gear makes it better. It's that sometimes the new gear is what makes it possible to do it at all.

My first observation is the use of trekking poles. They look like ski poles and are a direct descendant. They became popular about 20 years ago and I first started using them in 2005. Far more useful than a walking stick, they let you get your arms into the actual work. Once they became a thing, they were almost universally adopted. I did not see a single hiker that wasn't using them on this hike.

Trekking poles, once you are used to them, make you into a sort of quadruped. Four points of contact, if you slip, start to fall, the extra balance they provide keeps you upright. More than once, without thinking, I could jam the pole into the dirt, step forward and keep hiking, in situations where a fall seemed inevitable. Crossing streams, the poles can be set anywhere to assist as you move on the rocks.

The poles increase my pace. Not because I am trying to go faster, but because of the factors I mention above. Particularly when descending, instead of holding onto rocks, roots and trees, lowering myself, I could hike upright, setting the pole tips and stepping down, making the travel fluid instead of a series of stops and starts.

There are all sorts of price points and designs. My first set came from Wal-Mart. I only stopped using them because I was given a set of name brand poles for Christmas two years ago. This is a case of a rising tide raising all boats. Even an inexpensive set gives you most of the advantage. The pricey ones are lighter and stronger, have better locking methods for the telescoping sections, and look nicer.

Here's my current set, cropped out of a picture I took of a shelter. I consider them as important as my boots. A game changer in gear.


Rich in NC said...

two posts about poles (Polls) right next to each other.


Poles are indispensable.
Polls are indefensible.

Rich in NC

chris said...

I hike without poles but have taken some spills that make me think I should invest in pair. Most of my hikes are 1-2 hour affairs when I plan to be in a town that has some good trails.

A pair of poles should be part of the gear I keep in the car just in case an opportunity for a hike arises.

Beans said...

They are also useful for other things than just walking. Snake flinging, using as supports for a fly-tent, etc.

And they encourage the walker not to slump. Which wears less on the back and helps with not tiring out the walker.

A pair of poles might be a good thing to add to a car bugout bag. A cheap set just in case.

drjim said...

Not more than 15 minutes ago I was reading a catalog from JAX, a local outfitter, that had a section on poles.

The thing that caught my eye was a mention that the poles can be 'dual use' in that a lot of the back packer tents/shelters can use your poles as tent poles, thus saving you some weight that you don't have to pack in.

Definitely worth considering, and I'll probably get a pair.

Walking around the neighborhood is nice, but we have some serious trails here, from beginner's stuff up to almost Don't Go There stuff.

Old NFO said...

I'm thinking adding them to a bugout bag is a GOOD idea, thanks!

gruvinbass said...

I consider them an essential part of my gear for running a trap line.

Richard said...

Still use a stick because I need one hand free for the dog in places where I cannot have her off leash.

Assuming that most people visiting here carry pistols, how do the poles interact with accessing the pistol.

ASM826 said...

I do not carry when hiking. Others will question that, but there are laws that I am not willing to violate where I am often hiking. I have spent a long time developing myself in a martial art. It's not the end-all be-all, but it's not nothing, either.

There is also the weight. A couple of pounds of weapon is a couple of pounds.

Then, to your question. I have carried while hiking in my home state. You can't just put it in the pack, it might as well be home in the safe. You can't carry on your hip, your pack belt is there. I found a small automatic, in a pocket I can reach with the strong hand, was the best option. You would drop the pole in that hand, and reach for the weapon.

Jonathan H said...

Interesting. I have never used hiking poles, but after this testimonial am thinking about it for the future.

Richard said...


I have found that some hip holsters work by putting them on your regular belt and then putting the pack belt under the holster. Also Safepacker works though it is slow. You are right about the weight though. I tend to carry gear and skimp on food (live on the fat reserves). As to the law, I never knowingly break the law either but my answer is simply to avoid places that violate my civil rights.

Your solution for the treking poles is like mine for the leash. No wrist straps, I guess.