It wasn’t very long ago that anyone seen hiking with two aluminium trekking poles would get asked where they were going skiing. Times have definitely changed for the better. These days trekking poles are standard items in any outdoor retailer. But, do they work?
A few years ago I injured my knee. While packing for my next multi-day hike, I dug out an old pair of trekking poles I received as a gift. I didn’t want to hurt my knee again, so I thought I would give them a try. At first they irritated me as I got used to my arms not being in-sync with my legs. However, once it clicked, everything felt easier. My pack felt lighter and my legs didn’t work as hard. Not sure whether or not this was all in my head, I tried to find some information about the scientific efficacy of trekking poles.
In 2007, researchers looked at the effects of hiking downhill using trekking poles while carrying external loads. They found that the use of poles helped reduce loading on the joints of the lower extremities.
In 2010, academics at Northumbria University conducted a study that showed how trekking poles helped hikers maintain muscle function while significantly reducing soreness in the days following a hike.
In 2011, another study showed that the use of trekking poles made hiking feel easier and reduced muscle soreness versus hikers who didn’t use trekking poles.
So, the science is in. Trekking poles work. Are they irritating at first? Sure, but within an hour or two your body adapts and you start reaping the rewards. Besides all the scientific evidence of reduced joint strain, muscle damage and perceived exertion, here’s my list of benefits of using trekking poles:
- My pack feels lighter, so I can pack a few extra luxuries.
- My legs don’t get as tired.
- When hiking in the rain, or icy wind, my hands don’t get cold, because my arms are working and circulating blood.
- Every now and then I have missed a step, or slipped on a rock, and instinctively I stuck out my trekking pole and recovered my balance.
- Crossing rivers is much easier with the added stability of trekking poles.
If you’re still not sure about trekking poles, borrow a pair from a friend and use them on a multi-day hike. Once you’ve gotten used to them, stop using them. You will feel the difference immediately.