We used to laugh at trekkers using trekking poles in the late 80s and 90s. However, I started using trekking poles from 2004 and have found them extremely helpful. Now I cannot imagine trekking without my hiking poles. I have learned that they are very handy and useful while on extended treks.
1. Helps in maintaining a constant pace
Getting into a rhythm can help you get past may kilometers with a trekking pole - be it on relatively easy or demanding terrain. One gets into a steady pattern of hiking after a few short minutes of starting the trek, and it assists in maintaining a constant pace. Having trekking poles can help add to an element to the groove while keeping you focused.
2. Provides a boost on ascends.
The legs have to work very hard while going uphill for an extended period.
Utilizing the hiking poles can help to boost yourself on the uphill with your arms, and it takes some stress off your leg muscles while giving your arms some exercise as well. It can help you save some energy and cover more ground.
3. Save your knees on downhills
Being a person who is 193cm in height, the downhills were all right during my younger days. However, I started to have aching knees and sore legs after extended descends when I reached my 40s which is when I started using the poles. It helped tremendously to absorb the continuous pounding my knees had to take on each step. I have learned how to spread the strain to my arms using the poles and ease the weight on my joints. The poles also help with stability on significant steps and steep sections of the trail.
4. Great for balancing on slippery rocks or uneven terrain
There have been many a time when I was trekking through muddy, wet, icy and trails where I could have been injured quite seriously without my trusty hiking poles. They have saved me countless times and has prolonged my trekking career.
5. Helpful during river crossings
I call the trekking poles my extended arms or my four-wheel drive. They have been instrumental during a crossing of streams or rivers to help keep balance and making big leaps. They are also great to keep your while wading in swift rivers, proding for shallow parts to get to the other side safe and dry.
6. Keeping spider webs, prickly bushes and branches, away
Once again of the many uses of trekking poles are to push branches and thorny bushes out of the way while on the trail; especially after the monsoon season when everything is lush and overgrown. You can even use it to push away spider webs to avoid it getting on you or the nettles from stinging.
7. Checking out a loose rock before stepping on to it
It is not uncommon to come across steps or rocks that are unstable and wobbly. You can use a pole with some weight to test the step or rock to see if it can take your whole load. This is yet another situation when the trusty hiking poles come in handy and save you from a potential injury.
8. Keeping animals at bay.
When you are trekking on the popular trekking trails in the Himalayan regions, you will come across animals such as snakes, rodents, goats, sheep, ponies, mules, and yaks. If you feel threatened or if the bigger pack animals are coming too close for your comfort, you can use your poles to push them away. You can wave your poles if you come across an aggressive dog in a village or the trail.
9. For emergency litter or splint construction
You could come across several emergency situations when having a sturdy, straight and light brace can be useful. The poles can be improvised with lots of padding to be used as splints on broken bones or as support on sprained joints. It can also be used as crutches in case of an injured knee or rolled ankles and the need to keep weight off it arises until you get proper help.
10. Makeshift tent
You can even use it to set up a makeshift tent using tarpoline even when camping is not planned. You can also plant the poles firmly on the ground, tie a string between the two poles and dry your wet clothes or socks.
These are some useful benefits of using trekking poles when hiking. There are cheap knock-off versions available in Kathmandu. The cheap poles are the draw of the luck; some might last you the whole trekking period or might be broken within a couple of days (personal experience). I would advise you to invest in sturdy branded trekking poles such as the ones made by Black Diamond or Leki.
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