I began utilizing trekking poles on my hunts early in 2014 after noticing a growing trend in their use among backpack hunters over the past few years. As I read more and more about their effectiveness in various backpacking articles and hunting forums, two groups seemed to emerge: Those who swear by trekking poles, and those who have yet to try them. A couple months ago I wrote about the Bino Adapter becoming your secret weapon this season; the same can be said for trekking poles.
Advantages of Trekking Poles
As one would imagine, the most obvious benefit that I quickly realized on the first outing with trekking poles was the reduction in leg strain during gradual ascents. While the result of less weight on the legs with each step means more weight on the arms, arm fatigue from trekking pole use has (personally) never been an issue. Without even thinking about it, the body seems to find a happy medium on its own between load reduction in the legs and load bearing on the arms. This is especially noticeable while trekking through varying inclines and declines. As an ascent steepens, the body shifts weight heavier onto the arms and poles. On the contrary, I’ve found that on flat ground or slight descents the poles and arms carry very little weight. During steep descents, the arms and poles once again carry more of the workload- particularly with a heavy pack. This really helps ease the prevalent strain and aching we feel in our hips, knees, and feet during and after long descents.
Aside from reduced weight and strain on the legs from a pure load bearing standpoint, trekking poles truly shine when it comes to balance and sure-footedness. During a September high country deer hunt last season I had watched a buck bed a few hundred yards below me on a nearly vertical granite hillside. The only way to get in range out of his view was to drop into a narrow avalanche chute, which was chock full of loose softball sized rocks. One slip of the foot and not only was I headed down the mountain, but so was everything underneath me. Trekking poles in hand, I was slowly but surely able to make it down through the chute by “testing” each next step with a pole before trusting an edge of boot sole on it. Without having the trekking poles to stabilize and support this backcountry ballerina act, I would have never made it into range undetected. Unfortunately, trekking poles don’t cure buck fever… I missed.
I’ve found trekking poles to even help ease the mind on long, monotonous approaches- especially in the dark. Having the poles in the hands and on the ground out in front on each step adds a more lively rhythm or tempo to the walking pace. Lastly, and again particularly with a heavy pack, I feel that the additional workload and movement in the arms and shoulders promotes blood flow- minimizing the tingly feeling and soreness that can show up in the hands and shoulders during a long pack in or out.
A Scientific Study
I mentioned earlier that there seem to be two groups; those who swear by trekking poles and those who haven’t tried them. Clearly there are a lot of people who have found it worthwhile to pack these things around trip after trip based on results from prior experiences. But is there any scientific data to support or reject the notion that trekking poles actually increase efficiency in the mountains?
The best support I’ve been able to turn up is an academic study (1) performed in 2008 by Northumbria University (United Kingdom). To summarize, this study examined the effects of heavy hiking on heart rate, perceived exertion, and muscle soreness at intervals ranging from immediately after to 72 hours after the climb and descent of Mount Snowdon in Wales. Two groups of 18 people with similar fitness levels, wearing similar gear and pack weights, and who ate the same meals leading up to and during the climb took part in the study. One group used trekking poles while the other climbed unaided.
The results showed convincing evidence that the trekking pole group experienced less muscle soreness, and faster recovery immediately after the hike. Additionally, creatine levels (which indicate muscle damage) in the non-trekking pole group were much higher 24-hours post climb than the trekking pole group which showed creatine enzyme amounts that nearly matched pre-climb levels.
To relate this study back to our mountain hunting interest, faster recovery and less soreness in the leg muscles after each day of hiking translates to an increase in sustained bodily performance over the course of long, physical hunts.
(1) Northumbria University. “How trekking-poles help hikers maintain muscle function while reducing soreness.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100602121000.htm>.
Outside their use as a hiking aid, I’ve found trekking poles to be useful for a number of different tasks in the field. Throw some parachute cord and a bit of ingenuity in the mix, and you’re sure to come up with uses that would make even MacGyver take note.
Introducing: LEKI Micro Vario Carbon
While attending Outdoor Retailer 2014 I made it a point to look at and learn about everyone’s top end trekking pole offerings. To make a long story short I walked out of there with a set of LEKI Micro Vario Carbons. Shaun Ayers (director of KUIU product development) and Jeff Short (KUIU program coordinator) each brought home a set of these as well. Later on, Ben Britton (KUIU warranties) picked up a pair of the Titanium model for comparison before our Alaska Caribou hunt. Between the four of us over the past year, we have logged well over 1,000 hiking miles with our LEKI poles without a single issue. I can recall more than a few falls and incidents when I could not believe they didn’t break.
The handles on these poles are high density foam which provides plenty of comfort, moisture resistance, and insulation in cold weather. Furthermore, foam grips are lighter in weight and slightly more durable than cork grips. Some say foam absorbs more sweat than cork, and if it does, it’s not an issue I’ve deemed noticeable or problematic- even in hot weather.
A folding style break down designs achieve lighter weights and smaller pack down sizes than telescoping poles. Additionally, each segment of the pole remains the same diameter for consistent strength throughout the entire length- as opposed to the need for tapering segments in a telescoping design. When folding trekking poles first hit the market there were issues surrounding durability, a problem that has since been resolved due to improvements in fitting materials and design between segments.
Now Available in the KUIU Gear Shop
This week we received our first shipment of LEKI Micro Vario Carbons to sell through the Gear Shop, and they are now up on the site and ready for purchase. If you are ordering an Ultra Star 1P tent and don’t have trekking poles, these are the ones we’re recommending. The pair weighs just 14.6 oz and the breakdown length is an impressive 15.5 inches. Extended length is adjustable from 110-130 cm to fit a wide range of user heights. The price is on the upper end of the trekking pole market as a whole, but as with anything you get what you pay for.
Follow the link for more information: LEKI in the KUIU Gear Shop
WINNER! CALEB PARMENTER, YOUR NAME WAS PICKED OUT OF THE HAT FOR THE NEW SET OF POLES! CONGRATS, AND CHECK YOUR EMAIL FOR DETAILS. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO COMMENTED!
Subscribe to The Hunt and comment about your Trekking Pole experiences (or lack-thereof) below for a chance to win a free pair of LEKI Micro Vario Carbons. By subscribing to The Hunt, you will receive an email each time a new post is published. Subscriber emails are not shared or used for any other purpose than to keep readers up to date on the content of this page.
A winner will be drawn at 3pm PST this Friday, April 10th.
If you’re in the “haven’t tried them” group, I highly recommend picking up a set of trekking poles this year. This is a piece of gear that’s sure to improve your performance and abilities in the mountains regardless of age or experience level.
Best of Luck,