Q. I’m going on a backpacking trip and am wondering if I should get hiking poles or not. I think they would help with balance, but my dad says they are a waste of money. What do you think?
— Curious LeRoy, Dubuque, Iowa
A. I never used to be a trekking pole kind of guy, but I just got back from a backpacking trip down in Patagonia, Chile, and I’m so glad I brought them along.
As you mentioned, trekking poles are indeed helpful for boosting your balance, especially when crossing streams or stepping on unstable rocks or loose ground. They are also handy for steep uphills — you can plant the pole in the dirt and use your arm strength to help pull you up. Most of all, I find they help when going down steep downhill sections because you can use the poles to catch yourself and reduce the pounding on your knees from the added weight of a full backpack.
While some of my friends like using two trekking poles, I prefer just a single pole. Though aluminum or carbon fiber poles are lighter in weight and stronger, a good solid wooden hiking stick is cheaper and will definitely do the trick too.