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Trekking Poles - what is their role?
It is part of the reason we head off into the wilder parts of nature - the beauty of the hills and mountains. Unfortunately sometimes our knees don't seem to appreciate it as much as our eyes. Heading into unspoilt regions means hiking your way up and over any obstacle in your path and for those of us not as young as we used to be, the knees are always the first to complain.
Hiking your way up steep terrain with a full backpack can be really hard work but what many people dread is the descent on the other side.
Although going up requires a large physical exertion from our whole body, going down focuses all of our body weight on one area - the knees.
Easy on the Brakes
Our knees act as brakes when going downhill. When we climb, our quadriceps muscles power us up. When we descend they act as brakes to allow our knees to slowly bend in a controlled manner. This control also works to decrease the shock on the legs.
While we descend, each leg is individually required to support our entire body weight plus whatever is on our backs as the other leg is in the air stepping through. This puts incredible forces through our knees, and we quite often repeat this hundreds if not thousands of times on the trail.
Many people (especially the occasional hikers) have experienced "Disco Leg" at the bottom of a descent. The quads shake and wobble once they are allowed to relax after a period of strenuous work. This all goes to show you how much work our body does when we are on the "easy" part of the trail - downhill.
Stronger muscles and sharing the load.
Obviously the stronger your muscles are and the more endurance they have, the better they will work, and for longer. Regular hikers achieve this and they are the ones powering past you on the hills.
The other thing you can do is share the load. Hikers have been using trekking poles of some description for thousands of years. Modern technology has refined the idea a bit but the principle has been known for many years - Poles assist the knees, especially in descent.
They transfer some of the force throught the upper body and greatly assist stability on uneven ground. Anyone with any form of knee trouble or pain, and anyone undertaking a trip in less than perfect physical condition is strongly advised to use trekking poles.
Leki Peak AERGON XL Anti Shock Trekking Poles
Top of the range product designed to maximize comfort on the trail. This is the type of product you need if you have knee trouble.
Leki Peak AERGON XL
This is a very well thought out product. It has been well tested as the features on these poles are the ones you will use all the time.
These telescoping poles (range 68cm - 145cm) have an integrated shock absorbing system that decreases forces on both the upper and lower body. The locking system that holds the telescoping shaft in position is a focal point providing up to 60 times more secure than traditional fixation.
One of the most useful feature is definitely the shape and nature of the grip. The main grip area is ergonomically shaped to allow the traditional grip as well as 'palming'. Palming is where the top of the pole is held in the palm on descent, effectively lengthening the pole. To compliment this, these poles also feature an extended grip surface down the shaft enabling the user to shorten the working length of the pole in ascent.
At the other end the tips allow up to 30 degrees of flex to both absorb shock on the hiker and protect the shaft from damage. For the serious hiker or anyone with knees that trouble them.
Leki Wanderfreund Trekking Pole
'Cane' Style Pole with numerous grip possibilities
Cane Style Hiking Pole
The Leki Wanderfreund is a more economical pole that again focuses its design features on the grip.
It too has the shock absorbing characteristics that makes Leki such a respected brand. This time it has a grip with a large top surface that allows it to be used like a cane. It can still be gripped in the traditional sense but lacks the added grip on the shaft of the AERGON XL
Komperdell C3 Carbon Duo Lock Compact
When weight is an issue the Komperdell C3 is an excellent choice. Weighing in at only 11.6 ounces per pair, this is the type of pole used at altitude where every ounce counts. Made of carbon fibre, they are incredibly strong for their weight.
The dual wedge locking system provides security and decreases the risk of pole collapse. They have flexible tips and the option of adding a snow basket to the bottom for winter use.
Black Diamond Syncline Trekking Pole
A two section pole that offer value for money. At around $70 a pair they are very affordable but do not collapse down very much. Their smallest set up is around 3 foot long, significantly greater than the 3 section poles. Still, this is a good product from a reputable company.
The Versatile Hiking Pole
A feature packed pole, great for the amateur photographer
Something a little different
The Hammer HP1 Anti-Shock Hiking Pole isn't the highest quality pole on the market, but at less than $40 you don't expect everything. What you do get are features that will be gimmicky to some but very useful to others.
For the avid photographer, the top flips open to reveal a camera mount, turning the pole into a monopod. The strap also houses a thermometer and a compass. I am not sure of their accuracy but they are probably better than nothing.
How to use Trekking Poles
More useful trekking gear
- Buy a Katadyn Water Filter Online - Water Purification for Trekking & Hiking
If your plan is to get lost in Asia or just camp rough overnight in the hills near home, safe drinking water is a necessity. Unfortunately water is a favourite bredding ground for bacteria and parasites
- Buy a LED Flashlight Online - Streamlight, Surefire, Dorcy
Traditional flashlights use an incandescent bulb that produces a lot of heat when it is illuminated. This heat is wasted energy and causes an unnecessary drain on the batteries.
- The Best Backpacking Tip - Pack a Water Filtration Device
Don't leave home without a water microfiltration device
- Buy a Headlamp Online - Petzl, Black Diamond, Princeton Tec
Any outdoor trip that involves an overnight stay needs a reliable light source. Headlamps provide hands-free illumination centred on your field of vision.