Know your trekking pole basics
Saturday April 28, 2012
Know your trekking pole basics
Coordinated by LEONG SIOK HUI
Are trekking poles indispensable or are they extraneous gear that companies try to sell? And what kind of backpack is suitable for urban and wilderness travels? Our gear experts clue you in.
Q: I used to do mountain climbing and caving when I was younger. Now at 52, I’ve developed joint problems but I still venture into the jungle occasionally. I use fallen branches or rattan for support. I would like to get trekking poles or a walking stick that I can use in the jungle and during my morning walks. What do you suggest? – Jungle Jane, Ipoh, Perak
A: As an avid trekking pole user, I find poles provide stability on rough terrains, increase endurance and help me pace myself so that I don’t tire easily during long hikes. Studies have also shown that you expend about 30%-50% less energy when you use trekking poles.
Leong Dee Lu finds that using trekking poles help keep her pace consistent, increase her endurance level and provide more stability during long hikes.
Besides, your knees and joints will appreciate it and you burn more calories because you’re also working your upper body. Trekking poles originated from ski poles and were used in summer exercise to prepare for winter skiing in Nordic countries. Unlike ski poles that come in one single shaft, trekking poles come in three parts to make them easily collapsible and compact.
(A 2010 study by UK-based Northumbria University shows that using trekking poles reduce muscle damage and soreness in the days following a hike. The combined benefits of using trekking poles in reducing load to the lower limbs, increasing stability and reducing muscle damage also helps avoid injury on subsequent days of trekking, according to Dr Glyn Howatson. Trekking poles can also reduce the compressive force on the knees by up to 25%, according to The Journal of Sports Medicine in a 1999 study.)
Poles are essentially an extension of your arm to make you a “four-legged animal” spreading your weight across your arms, upper body and legs, and protecting your weak points like ankle, knees and hip.
Types of poles
One common mistake people make is to use one trekking pole instead of a pair. Using one pole is like riding a single speed bicycle, while using two poles is equivalent to riding a 21-speed bicycle.
It helps to know the difference between trekking poles versus a walking staff.
A pick of poles: (From left) walking staff, carbon fibre trekking poles, aluminium poles and walking stick.
A walking staff is derived from the shepherd’s staff. Used as a single pole, it’s usually held almost at eye level. A staff provides stability and is effective when used on gradual, undulating terrain. Most staff come with a built-in camera mount under the handle, making it a monopod when needed. A staff is great for nature photographers.
For trekking poles, you have a choice of standard poles or poles with anti-shock features. Basically, these poles come with internal springs that absorb shock when you are stomping downhill. You can usually lock the anti-shock feature when you don’t need it, especially when you’re going uphill or walking on soft terrain.
Correct technique: When pushing uphill, keep your poles well apart so you can easily push yourself up and walk through the space between the poles. The poles act as hand rails to support your weight.
Anti-shock works very well on hard terrain, cobblestone, volcanic rocks and tarmac surfaces. Some people suffer from tennis elbow due to excessive vibrations from standard poles. Of course, anti-shock poles cost a little more.
Another point to consider is whether to splurge on carbon-fibre poles or aluminium. Carbon poles are strong and at least one-third lighter than aluminium poles. They are popular amongst adventure racers who want light and efficient gear. Mountain runners in Europe use the poles so efficiently that they look like mountain goats sprinting up sheer slopes. But expect to pay more than RM600 for a pair of carbon-fibre poles. Standard poles start from RM200 and above.
This is the correct way to use the pole straps. One must hold the poles at a 90° angle. The poles should be chest high when pushing uphill and lower when going downhill. This is the correct way to use the pole straps.
Other features to consider: the locking mechanism – DuoLock or FlickLock; grip – plastic, foam or compressed cork handles; and pole tips – carbide or aluminium.
Entry-level poles are thicker and heavier. Start with cheaper poles if you are a beginner. Once you have mastered the skill of using poles, you can upgrade and sell your first set of poles in the second-hand market.
Pole care is important. Do not let tiny pebbles and soil get stuck inside the pole. Wipe down and air-dry the poles after use. However, with the exception of the Mount Kinabalu trail, Malaysia’s dense jungle terrains with thick undergrowth are not so conducive for poles. But they work great in the Himalayas or European Alps.
Trusted pole brands in the market include Leki, LekiSport and Komperdell. – Leong Dee Lu, adventure buff cum outdoor retailer