The Trekking Pole Advantage


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.

DSC01766 - Version 2

Shaun Ayers relies on his LEKI Micro Vario Carbon to help him safely traverse a knife ridge.

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. <>.

Additional Uses

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.


Here we used trekking poles to create additional support for the side of our tent that was caving in due to 60+ mile per hour winds.



When you need to air dry clothes but there are no trees in sight for miles, poles can be structured into a clothes line. The same principle can be used if times called for an emergency tarp shelter.



A single trekking pole provides the structure for KUIU’s Ultra Star 1P tent.



Trekking poles are a solid base for short glassing stops while on the move, when taking off the pack and breaking out the tripod is too time consuming.


Here we beefed up the center pole in my pyramid tent, again to add extra support against high winds.


By crossing the sticks and wrapping each wrist strap around the opposite handle, you get a bipod that’s as sturdy as any collapsible shooting sticks on the market.

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




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,

Todd Harney

68 thoughts on “The Trekking Pole Advantage

    • I was given a set of trekking poles five years ago to use by my hunting partner and I would not be without a set in the mountains ever again. For me it’s like four wheel drive up and down the mountain. A must for the dirty water crossings showing depth and keeping ones balance and also offering an extended pole/ helping hand to your short legged partner.
      I’m an old sheep and goat hunting junkie. While sheep hunting last year I noticed how other hunters trekking poles Flashing in the sunlight several miles away. I had painted poles and my partner wrapped two light weight Ace bandages around his to stop the flashing.
      My poles came with cool cups and I didn’t know how much I really needed them until I lost one. After a brutal 4K climb in the rain I harvested a Goat on Kodiak last year. Coming down the mountain in the dark with one my pole’s foot is gone I learned why you need that cup on your pole. My pole sunk in the ground, I lunged forward and snapped my aluminum trekking pole in half. I have the whole goat in my pack, it’s dark, and I seen a bear the day before not far from where I am now. I unloaded my gun and used it to help me get down to camp by 0111hrs. Buy quality trekking poles if you are trusting your life with them. Safe journey my friend.

  1. I have never used trekking poles, maily because I have always been in pretty decent shape physically. Now that Im getting older, I have found myself hiking and wondering if trekking poles would make a difference. I think after reading the above artice and conducting my own independent research via the web, I think I may very well look into getting some poles to make hiking, backpacking, and hunting easier on the body, more enjoyable, and less fatigue. Thanks KUIU for another informative article that not only covers just hunting but the pursuit, whether it entails the gear, the attitude, or he game itself.

  2. I used to poke fun at trekking poles, stereotyping them to “out of shape bird watchers” until I started using one on fly fishing trips. That carried over to my hunts and man what a difference, I recommend them when any type of hiking is involved. Thanks for the read Todd.

  3. Great article, timely for me. I am doing my diligence on booking a Dall Sheep hunt. Never been on one, so reviewing videos by various Outfitters and the hellish terrain you have to get to. The article has made my mind up to buy trekking poles for that additional confidence and support and piece of mind for safety purposes to work around knife ridges, steep chutes, stream crossings and whatever other natural obstacles I would encounter.
    Thanks for the information!

  4. I rarely train with my sticks, but I wouldn’t hit the mountains without them. The stability and safety they add is priceless, not to mention their multitasking as tarp poles and shooting sticks

  5. I’ve used treking poles the past two seasons and now won’t go on a trip without them. I also thought that only older people or tree huggers used them! After 3 knee surgeries, I wanted to add some stability especially in steeper terrain so I gave them a try. I typically use them while backpacking into camp and during packing meat. If I know I’ll be hunting in really steep areas I’ll have them in hand as well but typically don’t take them with me in milder terrain. They are invaluable when snow gets on the steep terrain so no more 3 steps up, slide 2 steps back!

  6. I had major back surgery several years ago and foot surgery last year. The use of trekking poles is the only way I could get outdoors and get around. If you do not have any good poles, buy some. I do not leave home without them.

  7. Being from the base of the Great Smoky Mountains and an avid outdoorsman, one would think I would have used trekking poles. I can honestly say I have never used nor thought of using trekking poles until the past year or so. My father was always pro using a more “natural” trekking pole called a tree branch or walking stick. While I do love a good DIY walking stick, they are bulky and heavy. Saying all this, I do plan to look for some good trekking poles to use during some of my fall hunts. Thanks for the suggestions Todd.

  8. My hiking parter has been using trekking poles for years. Watching how much easier it was for him to negotiate difficult terrain, I researched them. I saw the price range from $30 for telescoping poles to several hundred. Having a modest budget and not wanting the wife to kill me, I purchased an inexpensive pair. I have used these for a year and now I can justify to myself (and the wife), these are as valuable a hunting supply as my binos or pack.

  9. I’ve read a lot about Trekking Poles, as far back as 2013, but due to family budget putting silly things like food & housing before hunting, I have not been able to spend the money…
    I would love to get a chance to use a set of Trekking poles, they would absolutely make a difference if I am successful at harvesting an Elk this September here in the Rockies.

  10. I have a set of telescoping poles that I’ve used a lot. I would love to try the folding model you show because, as you mentioned, the thinner, weaker lower sections have shown some vulnerability over the years. These look solid.

  11. an amazing coincidence! i was looking up trekking poles online when i received the email about this article. ive never tried them but have been really been considering it. i think this has made up my mind!

  12. I have been wanting Trekking Poles since I first read about them in 2013. It was a very good read, thank you Todd!
    It would be very helpful packing out a heavy load if I am successful in September!

  13. I had major back surgery several years ago and foot surgery last year. Without having trekking poles, I would not have been able to do any outdoor activities, walk down long walkways in airports or really move around. The use of trekking poles going either up hill or especially down hill, is essential. Would love to have the Leki poles. Thanks

  14. This article is spot on, I was wondering how long it would take Kuiu to start offering sticks, most UL shelters depend on them.

  15. I fall into the “haven’t tried them” group. In my 20’s I would see people on the trail with them and chuckle a bit to myself, but now in my mid-30’s I see the many pros for their use, especially under a heavy pack load. Great article!

    • Jason, I know exactly what you mean. I’m 26 and just a few years ago I would see someone using them and think “Man, I hope I never need those things”. I now realize the benefits are not age dependent.

  16. I too have seen people using trekking poles and I always thought they would be awkward to hold and carry and just a pain to carry one extra piece of equipment. I never thought I would like them but this winter borrowed a pair from a friend for snow-shoeing, and realized how much they are a benefit! Loved the article and think going forward trekking poles are something I should add to my gear list.

  17. I have been using old $20 ski poles to hike with for 20 years, they have been great, and it’s always been low on my list to upgrade to “real” trekking poles. I have tried some of my buddies old trekking poles, and they were not as light or as strong as the ski poles. I assume the Lekis are lighter and more compact, and would like to try them out, as I would love to be convicted on why I should upgrade when I’ve been pretty happy with what I have..

  18. I finally moved from the ‘never tried them’ side to the ‘can’t live without them’ side last fall and won’t look back. Although I have serious doubts that the pair of poles that I picked up are anywhere near as nice as these Leki’s.

  19. I used to think trekking poles were just for granola munchers but when I stumbled across a great deal on a set of TI goat carbon poles I bought them up. I tell all my buddies it turns you into a four legged mountain climber, really makes a huge difference.

  20. I hunted elk in Idaho with a bow in last fall. My hunting partner had a set of poles and I didn’t.
    I killed a bull on the first day and he lent me his poles on the pack out. HOLY SCHNIKES what a difference! My first stop after dropping of my elk at the processor was to a local camping/hiking store where I found a cheap set of poles.
    While the poles I found didn’t compare to his carbons, they did serve their purpose the remainder of the trip, and proved priceless when I experienced some nagging knee pain.
    I liken using poles to difference between 2, and 4 wheel drive on a truck. I won’t be in the mountains again without them!

  21. Yes, Trekking poles are a must. Been using them for years, both hunting and general hiking.
    Have the same arguments with my hunting partner, who does not use them.

  22. You young guys might pooh-pooh the need for using trekking poles but, they DO provide security and stability when you’re in your late 60’s. (Trust me!)

  23. I’m not sure about having poles in my hands instead of my bow… I rarely march but rather walk along in a semi-stalk like manner. It just seems like they might be in the way. But I think I’ll grab my wife’s poles, throw on my pack and take them for a hike in the hills behind my house this afternoon.

    I’d still like to win a good set though! 😉

  24. Great article to which I can really relate. I’ve transitioned from a doubter up to a couple of years ago, to a total fan of poles now. Although a veteran of several sheep and goat hunts, my stone sheep hunt last fall was particularly brutal and really brought home to me the increased safety and stability experienced with poles in that type of terrain.
    One benefit of poles I didn’t see mentioned above was their use in stream or small river crossing. They are great for checking depth and can add a lot of stability on slippery rock bottoms as well as against strong currents in rapidly moving water.

  25. At almost 40 and a knee surgery under my belt, my knees don’t have the same ride quality as in my twenties. Going up the mountain doesn’t bother them but going down hill, especially with a load i feel it. Most of the time i just look for a cool broken stick to use while on the trail, or alot of the time just using my shooting stick as a trekking pole. I have done some looking for poles that would utilize both a trekking pole and shooting aid having light weight and durability in mine but haven’t found much. Being able to attach a v-pod for shooting and also have a binocular stabilizer or spotting scope attachment, along with having the durability to use as trekking polepoles would be awesome. Packing less weight is sorta the new thing- packing both the trekking poles and a shooting stick isn’t an option. Sure wrapping the hand straps together may make a somewhat shooting stick but when the time counts and I’m relying on my shot? A make shift pod isn’t what i want to rely on making my shot, especially if you miss! Having quick lightweight attachments would be way better. Aluminum is also very loud – tap them against a rock or tree and its like sounding off an alarm in the woods. Maybe something with a sound dampening coating and super quiet rubber base would be best – just throwing out some things I’d want if I was in the quest for building the most advanced hunting products on the market.

  26. I’m in the “haven’t tried them” group. I have thought about buying a pair several times, but never bought any due to the fact I knew nothing about them and didn’t think I needed them. This article was very informative. I will be buying a pair if I don’t win the giveaway on the 11th :)

    Thanks for all the great articles Todd.


  27. I have mostly used only one treking pole and found that at times it can be nice to have a free hand. But, carrying a heavier pack in our out might consider going with two. It probably would better distribute the weight as you mention in the article. Thanks, Good stuff!

  28. Bought trekking poles for my mother who’s awaiting knee surgery- better then a cane for many reasons, namely she can collapse it into her bag when flying to see my brother in Eugene, OR. Want a pair, the Leki’s are by far the best. Great Blog, Great Brand.

  29. Trekking poles are an absolute must in the back country. I know for me personally they have saved me a couple of times when carrying out heavy loads.

  30. I have not tried trekking poles, however I would like to on my next hunt. Hopefully I win. I have a Kodiak brown bear and elk hunt coming up in the fall.

  31. A few years ago while involved in the Great Canadian Death Race, which is 125kms over 17000ft of incline, over three mountain ranges, I took a fall and tore my ACL. Without the poles, I would have never made it off the mountain on my own. I have used them religiously since on all outdoor excursions and have found them most beneficial. I am far more sure footed on varied terrain, confident and I feel so much stronger with a pack on. Poles are absutely the way to go.

  32. My first and only experience with trekking polls came while spending a semester abroad in Germany. My friends and I climbed the highest mountain in the Bavarian Alps (the Zugspitze) and I noticed a lot of folks using them. Now they are definitely on the list to get.

  33. Cool post Todd,

    I have been leery of using trekking poles in the past but after reading this article I may try some. I would use them on backcountry elk, deer and bear hunts.


  34. I started using trekking poles a couple years ago, and agree that there is a very noticeable difference in relieving weight off of the legs. Also, in my opinion they are extremely valuable in preventing falls, and they allow me to keep my head up more often looking around for possible game rather than looking down at the trail. One more benefit is the value in stability provided by trekking poles in stream crossings.

  35. I haven’t tried them yet, but recently hurt my shoulder and I’m wondering whether or not they’ll help out on my north slope caribou bow hunts. Not sure how a heavy pack will feel on the shoulder, let alone a longer lever attached to it (pole in hand). Might be just the newest type of physical rehab I need!

  36. I say keep on trekking! I was lucky to have a friend give me a set of trekking poles five years ago. They made my adventures safer and easier. For me it is like four wheel drive for hiking up and down the mountains and crossing streams. I also use them to part alders and high grass that always seem to be hiding a thorny bush. My aluminum trekking poles held up to five years of abuse from my 240lb frame until I broke one last year. I am 53 years old and a sheep and goat hunting junkie. I climbed 4000feet in the rain on Kodiak Island last year and harvested a goat. On the climb up I failed to notice I had lost one of the disk shaped feet on my trekking pole. I learned why you need them on my way down. It rained for 14 days straight so when I got to some soft ground my footless trekking pole sunk in about a foot deep and I ended up snapping it in half. So be careful. Buy good gear. Your life may depend upon it. Stay safe my friend.

  37. Thanks to Kuiu for publishing this article on trekking poles. It is excellent and mirrors my experience with trekking poles. I now consider trekking poles to be indispensable equipment. They provide a huge advantage in regard to stability for preventing injury. Additionally if you do have an injury, the poles will minimize the impact of your injury on your hunt. I hope to win the poles because they sound great. I have not used the pull apart poles but it would be nice to have a pair of light weight poles that break down to a small size which are adjustable in length. I do recommend using the small basket on the poles for the loose scree and moss on mountains and the larger baskets for soft snow. If you don’t use poles you should. The safety factor with poles, particularly going down hill and with a load, makes poles a necessity in my opinion.

  38. Thanks for Kuiu for the excellent article on using trekking poles. The article mirror’s my experience. They prevent injury and mitigates the impact of injuries. I consider poles as required equipment for mountain hunts.

  39. I’m looking forward to going on my first elk hunt this year. Last Fourth of July I tore my acl, miniscus, & patella tendon. Three surgeries later I’m sure trekking poles would be huge help. I’ve been using my hiking stick for big walks or hikes & it helps a lot. Two poles would even be better!

  40. The use of trekking poles began 10 years ago. Before trekking poles a walking staff was used. My knees appreciate trekking poles. As for “other uses”, most described here have been used. Trekking pole(s) have been used to hold up the hind leg of an animal for gutting. A pole can be extended between the hocks to aid in gutting. Of the assorted types and brands used, I prefer Leki. They are quieter. The lower sections have been noodled / bent when arresting falls. They have straightened out enough for completion of the trip. I hunt with one pole and pack with two.

  41. Wow, there is wealth of info just In the comments section here. As for myself, my dad gave me his to use on sheep hunt along with crampons. The first day I left everything in camp. Didn’t want to hassle with the new unfamiliar items. Second day didn’t want to go up the mountain so I thought maybe the poles will help. I never left camp again without them. Same goes for the crampons. After reading the comments I’m gonna take them on the tundra after bou. Another great article once again. Thanks

  42. never used trekking poles, might have to start this fall seems like a good concept, alot of gear reduction and extra support, would like to see a shooting stick top attachment like the primos monopod trigger stick, or a tripod base, might be helpful, or a screw-in attachment for the bino stand.

  43. Bought a pair of trekking poles on a website last year that offers significant discounts on certain items each day. I figured as I got older this was a good addition to my hunting gear. However, so far they have only come in handy for keeping the door flap up on the rainfly on my tent when it isn’t raining. As it is with most things, going cheap is more expensive in the long run. Will likely have to invest in a better pair as I definitely think they are a good idea if you have a decent pair of poles.

  44. I bought a pair this last year in preparation for an elk hunt. I used them everyday and agree with the posted article. My personal take-away was – Trekking poles = 4 wheel drive…You can climb with so much less fatigue and have so much more confidence in your steps. They’re a difference maker for me.

  45. I forgot my trekking poles once and was already 40 min away from my house when I remembered! I continued to my trailhead where I was planning on starting a three day backpack mule deer hunt. Lo and behold, right there in the middle of a deserted parking lot, there was a trekking pole just lying there! Score.

  46. I’m in the “have not tried them yet” group but after reading this great article and having fallen over in the stream with a heavy pack on my last elk hunt I think I should invest in some poles. Is one pole enough or are two a must???

  47. Growing up, we’d always cut a stick before we’d go on hikes in the mountains–I think because we wanted a staff like Moses used. :) With my knees failing, I’m definitely going to need some help to keep up with my 9 year old son as he becomes more involved with hunting. These poles look and sound phenomenal.

  48. I always figured trekking poles also took 25% or so of the hard weight off your knees. I don’t hike anywhere without them, even mild rolling hill hikes. I want to save my knees much as I can. I’ve been using them for the last 15 years or so and will never go for a hunt or hike without them. I’ve even used them on flatland Moose hunts, carrying a Moose quarter is hard enough on the knees, the poles make even that a lot easier.

  49. I never really liked trekking poles either until my dad and I went on a late season elk hunt together. My dad dropped one about 4 miles back in with a few feet of snow on the ground. We didn’t know it at the time, but my dad had broken a bone in his foot packing out our first load that night. The stud went back in the next morning with me to pack out the rest. It would have been tough to pack out through deep snow without trekking poles, especially with a broken foot. Man they make a difference with elk quarters on your back…

  50. I have to admit, I thought I would never use trekking poles. And in the past few years there has been more articles shining light on their essential place in the backcountry. This recent “trend” convinced me to give em’ a go. Long story, real short, I rented a pair of poles and used for 14 days in NM’s Florida mountains on a late season archery ibex hunt. They took about a day to get used to, once I did in the straight up and down terrain, knife ridges, rock slides, ice shelves, and two feet of snow… They enabled me to outpace my partner (who was pole less), kept me “safe” during the most challenging and technical terrain I’ve ever experienced, and kept my legs from becoming fatigued… But when I really became a believer when I had a 75 lb. pack on my back on the aforementioned… Give me a try, find out what you’ve been missing out on.

  51. Florida mountains late season archery ibex… 14 days packed in a 75 lb. pack. Knife ridges, rokslides, ice shelves. I would have been slower, more fatigued, and fallen a whole lot more without em. I am a believer in trekking poles. Give em go and see for yourself.

  52. I have always been in the “yet to try” category because trekking poles always looked too awkward to me. However many of my friends swear they are the best thing when in steep terrain. Maybe I’ll have to try a pair of high quality poles in steep terrain. The functionality as a bipod is a seller as well.

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