Five boyfriends ago, I used to think that walking sticks -- err, trekking poles -- were dorky, overpriced and pointless. I'm not old, so why do I need sticks to help me hike?
But then... I went on a backpacking trip with a very special guy, and he convinced me not to knock it till I've tried it. So I tried it.
I can admit when I'm wrong. And I was very, very wrong. The trekking poles super helped. Specifically, they helped me:
1. Save energy going uphill by allowing my to shift some of the work from my legs to my arms. Even just a few pounds really makes a difference.
Castle Peak / Warren Lake, California
2. Save my knees going downhill. For me, walking downhill has always been more difficult than going uphill. When climbing, I feel this intense, ROOOOOAR! I'm kicking the mountain's ass! sort of thing. My muscles are burning, and it feels good.
Descending just sort of hurts. Probably because I going downhill feels, psychologically, like break time -- but it's actually really strengthy. Think about doing a squat. The going down part isn't easier than the going up part. It's just different muscles.
It's the same when you're hiking down a hill -- except with hiking, it's easy to just let gravity push you as you passively (or exhaustedly) absorb shock with your joints instead of your muscles. Trekking poles help with that. Trust me -- at the end of the day, your knees will feel better.
Kennedy Meadows, Emigrant Wilderness, Pinecrest, CA
3. Cross creeks and rivers. When you're walking on slippery sticks and rocks and whatever else, you can't see exactly what's under your feet. The rushing water is keeping you a little off-balance. You'll be really glad you've got at least one pole for support.
W-trek, Torres del Paine, Chile
4. Improve my posture. I'm not sure exactly why, but my posture is always better when I use trekking poles. Maybe because, properly adjusted, my elbows bend at 90-degrees? Or a mindfulness thing? Whatever the reason, I'm glad for it.
Especially when I have a heavy pack, and it's so easy to slump or lean forward (which can cause all sorts of body problems). Plus, I think there's a big psychological boost to just owning a hill with a beautiful, upright posture.
I don't slump because I lack core strength, though. Not even close! :P
5. Catapult myself over puddles. It's a fun way to keep your feet dry -- while preventing erosion. Check it out:
Unleash your inner pole vaulter... and create your own adult playground!
And that was all before I started using my poles properly.
Trekking poles typically have a telescoping design with some sort of locking mechanism. This allows you to adjust the length. Your arms should be bent at about 90-degrees for maximum comfort and power.
They also have wrist straps around the handle. When I first started using trekking poles, I wasn't sure what they were for. So you wouldn't drop them? So you can let go of the stick without it falling to the ground?
That seemed silly.
But then I noticed that the straps on my Leki Trail Antishock Trekking Poles (I've since switched to the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles -- they're nice, light and relatively cheap) were adjustable. But why??
After some experimenting, I discovered that you can use wrist straps like a springboard to get even more power out of your arms! It's sort of like how bikers clip their feet into the pedals... but different.
Adjust them to be loose enough that you can easily get your hands through, but snug enough that you can push against them with your wrist as you walk.
Then, as you're walking (left pole forward with right foot and vice versa), follow through! Even if your body has passed your elbow, keep pushing off the pole until your triceps are fully contracted.
I started doing this, and noticed an immediate effect on my speed and endurance going uphill. Later that day, I also noticed that my triceps felt great. And I developed a hypothesis that any woman who uses trekking poles religiously will end up with Michelle Obama arms.
Or, at the very least, she'll increase her endurance and have happier knees at the end of the day.
Also, fun fact: just being aware of the fact that you're working your triceps while using trekking poles can help increase your fitness and tone.
Just being aware that trekking poles cushion your knees can boost your knee health.
Mindfulness is powerful and real. See also: According to Harvard Psychologists, You Can THINK Yourself Skinnier and Meditation for Weight-Training or Weight-Training for Meditation?
Want to check out other backpacking and outdoors gear I love? Don't miss:
For rafting and car camping trips, the Water Sports Lighted Bocce Ball Set ($49.99) is clutch.
And, for the love of God, if you're going to be hiking near water, get yourself a pair of polarized lenses. They make all the difference.
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