Choosing the Best Trekking Poles and Hiking Staffs
Hiking and long-distance walking are fun activities that provide a wealth of physical and psychological benefits. But these needn’t be grueling activities – in fact, you should do everything you can to make it easier to walk or hike. That way, you’ll be more likely to get out on the trail more often.
One of the best ways to make hiking easier is through the use of walking sticks or trekking poles. These items help to make traveling easier and help you to cover greater distances during your travels.
What’s the Difference Between Trekking Poles and Walking Sticks?
The terminology surrounding walking sticks varies from one retailer, manufacturer, and hiker to the next. This can make it somewhat confusing to research the various products available. However, this is a case when terminology doesn’t need to be exact.
Typically, simpler sticks and staffs are marketed as walking sticks, while those made of space-age materials and packed with additional features are often considered trekking poles. Most often, walking sticks are used singly, while trekking poles are used and sold in pairs. Finally, many walking sticks are longer than trekking poles and intended for lighter use.
However, you needn’t worry too much about these small differences. You could certainly use two walking sticks for trekking poles, or a single trekking pole as a walking stick. The only criteria to satisfy is that the stick or poles in question make it easier and more enjoyable for you to move along trails. However, it is important that you don’t try to use a walking stick designed for light use at the local nature preserve when trying to complete the entire Appalachian Trail.
Benefits of Hiking Sticks and Trekking Poles
Trekking poles offer a variety of benefits to walkers and hikers, and once most hikers learn to embrace walking sticks, they rarely hit the trails without them. Some of the most important benefits provided by quality hiking sticks include:
- Hiking sticks and trekking poles help take the load off your feet, legs, and back. By employing one or two additional points of contact with the ground, your upper body can help offset the strain on your lower body and core.
- Hiking sticks and trekking poles help improve your balance. Even experienced hikers occasionally find it difficult to keep their balance while carrying a heavy pack. By giving yourself an additional point of contact (or two), you’ll benefit from much better stability and balance.
- Hiking sticks and trekking poles make it possible to cross more difficult terrain when necessary. If you are forced to cross a stream, climb a steep hill or negotiate a sand dune, you’ll have much better success if you use a hiking stick or pair of trekking poles.
- Hiking sticks and trekking poles provide a small measure of increased safety. While they certainly aren’t designed for the purpose, hiking sticks can help increase your apparent size should you encounter a coyote, bear or stray dog that gets too close for comfort.
Shop Montem’s Selection of Trekking Poles
Hiking staffs and trekking poles are made from a variety of different materials, each of which has its own collection of pros and cons. And while there are several characteristics and features you should consider when purchasing a hiking stick or pair of poles, the construction material used should be one of the most important things to note when making a purchase.
Aluminum is generally considered to provide the best combination of durability and weight. Aluminum poles are available in several different gauges, with heavier gauges corresponding to heavier weight and greater strength. Aluminum poles often bend when saddled with too much weight or pressure, but they rarely break outright. Aluminum poles are often made so that you can adjust their length as necessary.
Carbon fiber poles are often lighter in weight than aluminum poles and staffs are, but this comes at the expense of strength. While carbon fiber poles are ideal for long hikes, they are not as well-suited for the truly rugged terrain. Additionally, over-burdened poles made from carbon fiber may break, rendering them useless for the remainder of your hike.
Wood is very strong, and it certainly contributes some charm and romance to a hiking staff, but it is also a heavy material. Accordingly, wood is rarely used to manufacture trekking poles; instead, it is primarily used to make walking sticks for leisurely strolls through the forest. Wooden hiking sticks are rarely adjustable, so it is important to select the proper size when making your purchase.
Shop Montem’s Selection of Hiking Staffs
The primary job of a hiking pole is to provide additional support to your body while you are racking up the miles. Accordingly, a hiking pole needn’t be much more than a stick – primitive humans used little else for thousands of years. But modern outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen have access to much more elaborate hiking sticks, which include a number of additional, helpful features. Some of the most important and valuable features to look for in a good hiking stick include:
- Cushioned Grips – Modern hiking staffs typically include cushioned hand grips to help improve your comfort and prevent blisters. There are a variety of different grip styles used by manufacturers, including molded plastic, rubber-over-foam, and cork.
- Shock Absorbers – Many trekking poles – and a few hiking sticks – contain compressible springs or other mechanisms designed to absorb some of the impacts that come from the repeated contact with the ground.
- Wrist Strap – Wrist straps are often included on trekking poles, but they aren’t as common on hiking sticks. Wrist straps are invaluable, as they allow you to use your hands for tasks without forcing you to find a place to put your poles. High-quality straps are made from moisture-wicking materials, which allow sweat to evaporate quickly.
- Compass – High-end trekking poles and walking sticks often include a compass to help keep you on track. While these tools are worthy additions to a good walking stick, you shouldn’t let it play an inappropriately large role in your selection process. After all, you can purchase a small compass for very little money.
- Locking Mechanisms – Trekking poles will come with two or three interlocking sections that make it possible to adjust their length. There is a range of adjustability, and this lets you adapt the poles to various heights and kinds of terrain.
- Thermometer – Some trekking poles include thermometers, which help you determine the temperature at any time. This can be especially valuable for hikers covering vast elevation changes, or those moving through areas in which the temperature and weather vary widely.
- Tip Covers – Trekking poles – and, to a lesser extent, walking sticks – often come equipped with sharp metal or carbon-fiber prongs at the distal end. These help to penetrate the ground and give more traction to the hiker. However, you may not always want to use these prongs; sometimes, it is more advantageous to have a broad foot on the trekking pole. Accordingly, some trekking poles come with removable tip covers of varying styles, to provide you with several different options. Some covers are designed to protect the tip from damage when using them on hard surfaces, while others help to prevent the tip from sinking into soft snow or mud.
- Camera Mount – Although they are not commonly included in trekking poles, many high-end hiking sticks also include a camera mount or attachment, which allows you to use the staff as a monopod. This is an especially attractive feature for shutter-bugs, who like to snap photos while they hike.
Trekking poles and hiking sticks vary greatly in terms of price. You may find entry-level walking sticks for about $20, or you could end up spending several hundred dollars on a pair of premium trekking poles. While price should never be your final determining factor, it can be helpful to use price to help narrow down your selections.
For example, if you are a casual walker, who simply wants a functional hiking stick without any of the bells or whistles included in high-priced models, you should focus on the lower end of the price spectrum. You’d be better off applying these savings to other needs, like quality footwear.
On the other hand, serious hikers, who want to head off into the wilderness for days or weeks at a time should avoid budget-priced models, and instead concentrate on finding the best poles they can at the higher end of the market. Of course, it is still wise to seek out poles that offer good value, but you’ll want products that include more durable and ergonomically designed.
Trekking poles and hiking sticks can help you enjoy your time outdoors and make it easier for you to cover more miles while doing so. Add a staff or pair of poles to your gear collection, and you’ll surely find yourself out on the trail more often, and enjoying yourself in the process.