Trekking Poles: Not Just For Hiking

Recently I was looking through photos on my computer with the intent to clean out or delete the ones I didn’t feel the need to keep in my digital shoebox. Doing this is a harder task than it would seem on the surface. Going through the images can push you down a rabbit hole without an escape hatch. With modern digital photography, we enjoy the luxury of taking as many images as we like.

Reminiscing on our trip to Utah

The photos I focused on, in my intriguing rabbit journey, were ones that Rob and I took during a trip to Utah two years ago. We visited Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, among other locations. I bought a very nice camera just for this trip; and between the new camera and our two cell phones, we came back with thousands upon thousands of images.

A pair of trekking poles

One thing that I noticed in most of the images is the presence of a pair of trekking poles. These poles were ones that Rob had used many years ago when he used to take 50-mile hikes with friends in New Hampshire each summer. His ability to go on these long adventures amazed me then and still does now.

I took the same trekking poles with us to Utah because I knew that we would want to try some hiking. There would be places that I couldn’t go, but I did want to explore as much as possible. The poles made that a reality.

What are trekking poles?

Trekking poles are basically walking sticks commonly used on hiking paths or uneven terrain by people of all variety of mobile abilities. They are also known as hiking poles, hiking sticks, or walking poles, and look a bit like downhill ski poles. Trekking poles are often used in pairs. What trekking poles do not look like are canes typically used as mobility aids on even terrains such as streets, sidewalks, or interiors.

Adjustable size

Most trekking poles are adjustable in length while some fold up for easy transport. The size of Rob’s trekking poles was adjustable enough to accommodate both his long body and my shorter stature. Depending upon the terrain, you might want to set the poles at different lengths; shorter when climbing uphill or longer when descending. If you are shopping for trekking poles, be sure to check that the size is appropriate for you.

Comfortable grips and tip options

The grips on trekking poles are ergonomically shaped and can be made of cork, foam, or rubber. The grips on Rob’s poles are made of cork and very comfortable in the hands. With straps to go around your wrists, the grips on trekking poles are meant to be held in your hands such that your arms are bent at the elbows at an approximate 90-degree angle. You shouldn't have to hold onto the handles with a “death grip” to feel secure; a light grip should be sufficient.

The tips of the poles that hit the ground are pointed and spiked but can be accessorized with tips to accommodate different needs, including rubber tips that resemble those of a typical walking cane. Rubberized tips may be helpful when walking on smoother surfaces such as a concrete sidewalk or interior floor surfaces.

Benefits of trekking poles

When walking, two limbs are nice. When walking with trekking poles, four limbs are even better.

Weight distribution

Trekking poles act as extra limbs and help to distribute part of your weight into your shoulders/upper body and off of your legs. This can help to conserve energy in the legs, improve posture, and reduce pressure on your knees. Having “four limbs” touching the ground (or at least two at any given time) can also help to improve balance.

Conserving energy and improving balance

The benefits of conserving leg strength and energy, as well as improving balance, were the exact reasons I wanted to use the poles while Rob and I were on vacation. I discovered, however, that the poles helped me to walk with more confidence and slightly faster.

Helped me survive a hike in Zion National Park

The trekking poles also helped me to survive a moderate hike in Zion National Park that became harder than either of us expected with the ground made up of soft, crushed sandstone. Walking barefoot on a beach for 4 hours would have been easier.

Useful in both the wilderness and urban settings

Although my use of trekking poles has primarily been outdoors in National Parks, they can be used in more urban settings as well. Locally, I’ve seen a number of people walking on the multi-use trails using trekking poles. I’ve also seen people in downtown Washington, D.C., using trekking poles but not as frequently as I've seen canes.

If you plan to use trekking poles inside of buildings, I recommend that you add rubber tips to the spikes to protect floor surfaces and to avoid slipping. If you plan to travel with trekking poles, know that they are only allowed in checked luggage on airplanes but seem to be commonly accepted on trains as long as they are appropriately stored away.

Have you ever used trekking poles?

Have you ever used trekking poles to aid in mobility? If so, I’d love to read your story.

By the way, I still haven't made it through the rest of the thousands of photos from our adventures in Utah. I'll have to come back to the project another day; rabbit holes can bring such wonderful memories.

Be well,

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