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Are hiking poles a waste of money?

pole-200x148Q. 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.

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10 Comments on Are hiking poles a waste of money?

  1. When I encountered a big snake in the middle of a hiking path I was very grateful to have my hiking pole. I didn’t hurt the snake and he didn’t hurt me.

  2. I really like hiking with one pole. Two seems to get in the way, but at times useful. I have gone back to a strong staff. Has more character, and, I find the metal poles break/bend/lose tips. Make your own poke and you have a great memento and talking piece.

  3. please consider all the alternative ways of using a hiking pole, from being an emergency tent pole to being a signaling device.. My troop found 32 different uses….

  4. 15 or so years as an assistant leader and many hiking trips always used one, at most trails in the at the head of a trail I most always found a few leaning against a tree that somebody left for the next hiker.

  5. I love my Hiking poles. They help my knees , back , and balance. I use 2 poles. Used ski poles work well. Most ski resorts will give you old ones free.

  6. Ghatf10457 // March 9, 2015 at 7:24 pm // Reply

    On an overnight hike they can also double as your shelter poles.

  7. Joepack404 // March 9, 2015 at 6:39 pm // Reply

    I find trekking poles do a number of things. Balance is obvious, pressure off knees in some instances, keeps my hands from swelling, make great tent poles for my tent. Need a hand getting up from the ground? Hiking pole. So if you think you would like to use them, use them. If you choose not to use them, don’t but keep your attitude to yourself. As long as you are on the trail and enjoying the day, don’t let others determine what you should use or feel bad about using.

  8. Poles are definitely helpful; the k depth of streams, mud, creeks, harmony or bug dissuader. Can be used in emergencies as a splint, shelter pole, signaling device, crutch, if wood fire.

  9. Buffalo Gal // March 9, 2015 at 6:05 pm // Reply

    It depends on where you are hiking. In places with nice trails and switchbacks that make the trail less steep, you might not need them. (California for example) In places where you are scrambling over rocks and going over steep terrain (New Hampshire for example) they are wonderful – especially for the way down and saving your knees.

  10. ScoutingVolunteer // March 9, 2015 at 5:09 pm // Reply

    I didn’t use them when I was in my 20s or younger. I used 1 pole while in my 30s but didn’t really “need” it. Now, in my 40s I am thankful to have them and now use both poles.

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