Hikers of all ages flock to Canada’s Rocky Mountains.
The Balancing Act ……
As bipeds we human beings spend a tremendous amount of energy maintaining our balance while walking or even standing. If you think about it, we balance our torso and upper body with just two points of contact with the ground, our feet. This balancing act can be aided by the use of trekking poles. Not only is balance and posture improved by trekking pole use but the knees and lower back experience less strain. LEKI USA
There are many excuses for not using trekking poles: “I’m too young to need them”, “I’m too balanced to fall”, “I’m too ‘non-techy’ to accept them”, “I’m too old to learn how to use them”, and “I’m too busy with my hands to hold them”.
Whatever your excuse, I think you should consider poles or a staff to help your swollen knees, to get your arms in shape, and for your own safety. Having hiked thousands of miles, I can’t recommend any single piece of equipment more highly. Here are my recommendations on why this is so, how to buy them and how best to use them.
Poles stabilize climbers on steep steps, common on many Greek islands like Ios.
Years ago, my knees started aching on long backpacking trips, especially hiking downhill. I tried picking up sticks along the trail but then I visited Europe and discovered that almost all local hikers, young and old, use poles. I dug out my ski poles and discovered they did indeed make a substantial difference. My ski poles were a bit too heavy so it didn’t take long for me to decide to upgrade to a set of poles designed specifically for hiking.
I recommend telescoping poles with a shock absorption system. With these you can shorten or lengthen the poles, depending on the terrain. Going uphill, you’ll shorten the poles; going downhill, you want them a little longer. You’ll pay more for poles with an anti-shock mechanism, but your wrist, elbows, and shoulders will be happier.
Walking tours are popular in Italy’s spectacular Dolomite region.
If you plan to fly with your poles, be sure that they’ll fit in your checked luggage when collapsed. If you have weak wrists or suffer from arthritis, look for poles that adjust with a non-twisting, tightening system. Have someone in the store go over pole features, and be sure they cover the following:
taking poles apart and putting them back together
how to adjust the strap length
turning the anti-shock mechanism off and on
how to tell the right pole from the left one (see why below).
Poles come with different grips. I prefer a cork-blend grip. Cork absorbs sweat better, and when it’s cold, it is a better insulator than rubber or plastic. An ergonomically-shaped grip will help reduce hand fatigue – and it is the reason you should know your right pole from the left.
The straps on the grips should be adjustable too, just as they are on ski poles. On flat trails, I put my hands through the straps and tighten them so I don’t have to grip the handle except when my pole hits the ground. This takes a little practice, but you’ve got plenty of time on the trail to master your own style. If you are on a more hazardous section of trail, take your hands out of the straps: if your pole is caught by a rock or a tree, then you won’t be pulled down.
Historic villages dotting the Camino de Santiago are a reminder that a thousand years of pilgrims have trod this route.
Most trekking poles come with a small “rock” basket to help prevent the tip from getting caught between rocks, or stuck in cracks. If you are a cross-country skier, or if you snowshoe, spend a few extra dollars for a pair of snow baskets and you can use the same poles in winter too.
The tips of most good poles are made of either tungsten or carbide. Both are very durable. The plastic covers on the tips protect your car, pets, and friends when you aren’t using the poles. But be sure to take them off when you go hiking! You can purchase rubber tips, which I recommend, if you are headed to “slickrock” country. The tips adhere to the rock, and prevent you from scarring the rock with your carbide tips. Not only that, your hiking companions will thank you – listening to someone “tick, tick, tick” their way down the trail is less entertaining the more you hike!
Get inspired and motivated by these popular walking and hiking destination features in our own magazine’s Travel Article Library collection:
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Take a South African nature safari .. on foot!
A family reunion in Ireland leads to hill country and ancient island adventures.
Hiking the Great Wall of China is full of surprises!
Two independent walking adventures across northern England and around Ireland create special bonds between a son and each of his senior parents.
Spain’s famous pilgrimage walk along the Camino de Santiago tests both physical and spiritual stamina. Read stories about how to do this in a small group tour or independently!
As with any new piece of equipment, there is an adjustment period. Cross-country skiers will have an easier transition because they have already developed a rhythm and are used to incorporating their upper body in their stride. If you are just starting out, be patient and curious about your staff or poles. Experiment with different heights and find the most comfortable for you on a given terrain. Most people set their pole length at the beginning of the hike and never change it. What a shame, because this tool could do so much more for them!
Your trekking poles will help you cross streams, pick up trash too questionable for your hands, and hold your pack up when you are resting. When I go backpacking, I prop my pack up using my poles and make myself a very comfortable lounge chair. I have seen countless falls averted, because people were using trekking poles. I can’t recommend any other single piece of equipment as highly. I’m thrilled that the “cane” stigma has finally been overcome in North America.
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Colorado-based ExperiencePlus! Specialty Tours, Inc., www.ExperiencePlus.com, has offered bicycle, walking and adventure travel tours since 1972, including educational guided walking vacations in Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland and Costa Rica. Clients between 45 and 80 years old make up 90% of their cycling guests and 95% of their walking tour guests. The company also offers family tours, singles tours, and women-only tours.
LEKI, the world’s leading manufacturer of ski, hiking and trekking poles, started in Kircheim, Germany as a hobby of its founder, Karl Lenhart, an airframe mechanic and avid skier. The company began manufacturing hiking poles primarily for European mountain guides, but today their products are equally popular with the general hiking and trekking population, recognizing preventive health benefits as well as the climbing support and stabilizing effects. www.leki.com.
Julie Horton is a Customer Sales and Service Associate at ExperiencePlus! Specialty Tours, Inc., with a wealth of experience in leading and designing walking/hiking tours. Julie has walked or biked in more than 20 countries around the world. On her year-long trip around the world, she traveled more than 14,000 miles through 11 countries.