Hiking poles are considered to be useful tools for hikers and backpackers. Before purchasing them for yourself, however, it's helpful to look a little deeper and determine what specific benefits hiking poles offer to users. According to an informal pole taken by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, 90 percent to 95 percent of through hikers on the Appalachian Trail used trekking poles. However, the same poll found that only 10 percent to 15 percent of day hikers used poles. In deciding for yourself, carefully weigh the pros and cons and decide whether hiking poles are worth the money for your next big trek or day hike.
The primary benefit that has popularized the use of hiking poles is their ability to absorb impact, lessening the strain on the knees and legs. In a 1981 study, Dr. G. Neureuther found that a hiking pole can absorb up to 20 percent of the strain off of the opposite leg. The hiking pole is able to do this by redistributing impact onto the arms and shoulders, alleviating some of the impact on the legs when compared with hiking with no poles at all. A 1999 study in "The Journal of Sports Sciences" indicated that hiking poles can relieve up to 25 percent of compressive force from the knees when descending hills.
Balance and Stability
In a Washington Trails Association magazine article, Allison Woods says that "stream crossings are easier thanks to three points of contact instead of one." This sentiment points to two other key advantages of using hiking poles: balance and stability. These benefits are fairly obvious in that poles provide an additional two points of contact on the ground, helping hikers to gain balance and traction. This benefit can be especially helpful when walking through unstable, challenging ground conditions.
One of the disadvantages of hiking poles is that they add extra weight and material to the pack, something that many hikers and backpackers try to avoid. However, hiking poles can double as tent/tarp poles used to support the roof of a shelter. Many shelters are designed with this in mind, and eliminate the weight and redundancy of poles. The Rocket Tent, manufactured by Brookes Range, is designed to pair with ski poles to provide a four-season shelter that is under 2 lbs. In this way, hiking poles serve multiple functions and can help to lighten the load.
Hiking poles can also serve other purposes. They can be used to probe the snow or soft ground in front of you to ensure it's safe. They can also be used to clear away brush, branches, spider webs and other obstacles in your path.
Article Written By Joe Fletcher
Joe Fletcher has been a writer since 2002, starting his career in politics and legislation. He has written travel and outdoor recreation articles for a variety of print and online publications, including "Rocky Mountain Magazine" and "Bomb Snow." He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers College.