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Larry's Take on Hiking Poles

Updated on February 12, 2015

How do you feel about hiking poles?

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Yours truly with his trusty hiking pole, near Round Top Lake, in California's Northern Sierra high country.
Yours truly with his trusty hiking pole, near Round Top Lake, in California's Northern Sierra high country. | Source
When crossing this creek in Italy.,a hiking pole could be helpful for keeping one's balance.
When crossing this creek in Italy.,a hiking pole could be helpful for keeping one's balance. | Source

Pros and cons

A hiking pole can be a useful accessory when you're exploring the trails in our National Forests, National Parks, and state parks. However it's not de rigueur. Nobody is going to report you to the Outdoor Fashion Police for failing to sport one while you're afoot in the wild.

I'm an experienced day-hiker, and I use a hiking pole some of the time. I do not have a strong opinion about which brand is best. For whatever it's worth, my pole is a Leki, which is collapsible and adjustable.

And it has a spring-loaded 'shock absorber' that's nice for me, because my elbows are slightly arthritic. There's a conventional rubber grip on the end, as well as a wrist strap and a knob.

What about inexpensive alternatives? Before buying the hiking pole, I experimented with an old cross-country ski pole on a short hike along a segment of the old Pony Express Trail that parallels Highway 50 (starting near Mile 42). This was lovingly restored by local history buffs.

Anyway, the old ski pole did the job. But there were no steep ups or downs to contend with. The problem on that day was the compact car in which I rode. There was not enough room in the trunk for a ski pole; so it rested on the laps of the rear seat passengers, including me. I felt that I was putting other people out, and decided to purchase a real hiking pole.

Another option is to buy an old hand-broom at a yard sale. Then saw off the broom head. If you don't have a carpentry saw, you can use a serrated bread knife instead, but it takes a bit longer. You may also want to use coarse sandpaper to remove the paint. However the broom handle has the same disadvantage as the ski pole.

The worst option is to pick up a stout tree branch that's fallen to the ground, and break off the twigs. Getting a splinter in your hand can take the fun out of a hike.

Hiking poles--aka trekking poles--are very helpful on long steep descents with dicey footing. If a hiking pole spares you from even one pratfall, then carrying it on that day will have been worth the extra weight. In steep descents, two poles may be better than one pole for people with marginal upper-body strength.

A hiking pole can also help with your balance on tricky creek crossings. In this situation, one pole should be almost as good as two.

Single vs double. A two-pole system has the POTENTIAL to be better than a single. If all trails were as wide as sidewalks, the double would probably be better for some people. However on narrow mountain trails, the second pole is dead weight.

Then there's the question of timing. I am not particularly coordinated. I can't even dance. For me--even on a wide trail--the effort required to time the two poles with my stride would be a minor distraction from my enjoyment of Nature.

About sudden collapse. This has never been a problem for me. However sometimes there is a little slippage. When that happens, I simply tighten the pole, by twisting adjacent segments in opposite directions.

For me, one unexpected benefit of the pole is that late-afternoon sausage-fingers are less of a nuisance. I'll have sausage fingers on the free hand, but not on the pole hand. Why? Dunno.

Some hikers cite authorities, who claim that poles can enhance your athletic performance on the uphill stretches of a hike. But for people with strong upper legs, whose weakest link is cardiovascular fitness, hiking poles should have negligible effect on steep uphill hiking--provided that the traction is good.

However I do agree that hiking poles can enhance uphill hiking performance for people whose weakest link is upper leg muscle endurance. Let your upper body share in the work. That makes good sense.

And hiking poles can give you a modest workout for some of the relatively small upper-body muscles, including the triceps and front deltoids.

What about dogs and hiking poles? Several years ago, I enjoyed hiking with a canine friend, Gurr, who was my neighbor's family's Border Collie mix. Anyway, on Northern Sierra foothill hikes, I kept Gurr on leash at all times, because I didn't want him getting into the Poison Oak. On those occasions, having a leash in one hand and hiking pole in the other would have been a bit much.

Would you use Larry Fu to save the life of a fellow hiker from a mountain lion?

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Extra large kitty cat
Extra large kitty cat | Source
Suspenders as a fashion statement
Suspenders as a fashion statement | Source

Larry Fu

This is a 'martial art' of my own invention. With a firm grasp of Larry Fu, you can use your hiking pole to save the life of another hiker, who is being attacked by a mountain lion. (See photo at right.) However this is a last-resort strategy. Everyone should follow the top two common-sense safety rules for hiking in mountain lion country. First: Walk; don't run. Running will trigger the chase-reflex in a big cat. Second: If at all possible, avoid hiking alone.

A hiking pole won't prevent a cougar ambush. And it's not the best self-defense weapon against a cougar. But if you come across another hiker who's being mauled by a mountain lion, it could save his life. Here are the five steps of the Larry-Fu technique.

1. Yell at the cougar. Use your choicest Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. Or should I say, "Pardon my French?" This will announce your presence.

2. Plan your counterattack. Before you take action, be certain that the mountain lion has a reasonable escape route. If so, he'll probably retreat from a hiking pole counterattack. Cougars prefer prey animals that don't fight back. But if there's no escape route for him, he'll feel cornered, and will probably fight.

3. Grasp the hiking pole with the correct Larry Fu grip. I'm assuming that you're right-handed, like me. Continue holding the pole handle in your right hand. Grasp the middle of the pole with your left hand. The left thumb will naturally point towards your right hand.

4. Approach the right flank of the mountain lion, while holding the hiking pole horizontal to the ground.

5. The counterattack. Rotate your torso to the right. Then use a leftward torso-rotating motion to drive the pointed metal end of the hiking pole into the cougar's rib cage.

But before crunch-time, some preparation would be in order. Spray-paint the profile of a mountain lion on the side of a bale of hay. Then practice these steps, until they're second nature.

The Larry Fu method is an educated guess on my part. I've never had to use my hiking pole to defend another person from a mountain lion attack. However I do know that it's possible to drive a mountain lion away from a person who is under attack. Here's a LINK to a news story from 2007 about a woman who used a 4-inch-wide log to drive away a mountain lion who had attacked her husband, while the two of them were hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods, in Northern California.

A painful puncture wound from a hiking pole should be a better attention-grabber for a cougar than being hit with a 4-inch-wide log.

Unlike other famous martial arts, Larry Fu does not have a color-coded system of belts. We use suspenders. And as the founder, I alone have attained the prestigious red suspender rank. I also have the world's largest dojo: the Great Outdoors.

Copyright 2011 and 2015 by Larry Fields


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    • Larry Fields profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Fields 

      6 years ago from Northern California

      Hi, CyclingFitness. I hope that you enjoy your Moroccan adventure.

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 

      6 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Nice article. I've just purchased a set of poles for a trek up Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains and find they take a lot of pressure off my knees which seem surprising;y weak for a fit and healthy 28 yer old.

      Not sure i'll see any cougars tho in Morocco!

    • Larry Fields profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Fields 

      6 years ago from Northern California

      Hi, StoriedBen. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Excellent, fact-filled article. I'm more of a two-pole hiker because of the added balance in tricky terrain. They also allow my arms to help on steep inclines. But, as Mr. Fields implied, two poles can be more cumbersome, and the trailing pole tends to 'slap' trees, rocks, etc., in tight conditions.


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