What’s Your “Trekking Pole Trail”?

Following the "trail" in Willow Canyon

Following the "trail" in Willow Canyon

It’s that time of year in the shop. Customers with backpacking equipment lists bound for adventure start their journey in your store. We know the drill. Start with the boot fit. Next the pack fit. Then with the boots on and the pack loaded help them with all the other essentials. One item that’s usually found on the “optional” part of that list is trekking poles.

It can be easy to dismiss that “optional” item. Trekking poles can seem gimmicky, only for wussies or backpacker nerds. Plus it can be a $100+ “optional” item on that list. But after a great clinic as a shop employee and some “Trekking Pole Trails” of my own I’ve changed my mind.

  • I’m better balanced on the trail.
    Rough, steep terrain, water crossings and rock-hopping are all much easier with the help of trekking poles. It’s like having a hand rail along the whole hike.
  • I can hike longer and faster.
    I already have a pretty slow pace – just ask my wife and friends. With poles I can get into a more steady rhythm and cover more ground (when needed).
  • At the end of the day I’m less tired.
    I don’t walk on uneven terrain with a 40 pound pack on my back very often. The stress on my muscles and joints are greatly reduced when using trekking poles. Plus, a better posture and more upright position helps get more air into my lungs and puts less stress on my back.

I asked Bryan our field rep for some basic numbers. He said, “A 25% weight savings on the knees and 25% more efficient hiking. The numbers aren’t exact, but they’re close and easy for staff to remember.”

He also gave a handy formula (well, handy for him):

  • Your Walking Weight x 1,700 steps per mile x miles in a day = Cumulative Weight per Day
  • Divide that by 4 for weight savings by using poles.
  • For your “Walking Weight”
    (Your Weight + Pack Weight) x 2 legs = walking weight

He might have something to say about this in the comments so check below.

Ok, so what are the drawbacks of using trekking poles?
Well, most of the negatives are from the poles not being used properly. They are either the wrong height or not being held correctly. Here’s a video from Backpacker Magazine Gear Editor Kristen Hostetter showing their correct use.

How can shops help customers understand why trekking poles are important?

  • Have demo pairs in the shop at your incline board and at the pack wall.
    It’s easier to try out poles when a customer is in the midst of a pack or boot fit. Have them ascend and descend the incline board with and without poles. Now multiply that effect over days and miles.
  • Use them yourself.
    You won’t have your “A-ha” moment until you use them yourself. Let us know if you need some demo poles in your shop or are interested in a shop demo program. Also, keep an eye out for special clinic deals when we visit your store.
Descending into Hellsgate

Descending into Hellsgate

What’s My “Trekking Pole Trail”?
I have a couple. Both of them from Arizona backpacking trips with my friend Jim. We managed a couple shops in the Chicago area together and have found some time over the years to take some epic trips.

A number of years ago Jim and I did a June backpacking / canyoneering trip in the West Clear Creek Wilderness area. The plan was to drop into Willow Canyon through what looked like a gradual drainage, follow the canyon to West Clear Creek to hike and swim our way out. Rough, steep terrain, lots of rock-hopping and swims slowed us down and changed our plans.

Fast-forward to 2010 and we did a similar trip in the Hellsgate Wilderness. Wouldn’t you know it… Rough, steep terrain, lots of rock-hopping and swims slowed us down and changed our plans. Other forces were at work but that’s a longer story.

Jim and I both agree that there’s no way we could have done those trips without trekking poles. Specifically our LEKI Super Makalu’s. The carbide tips stuck like glue to slick rocks, the grips and straps were comfortable in the Arizona heat and we could easily adjust the pole height for steep climbs and water crossings.

A few things we’ve learned:

  1. No more trips with the name “Devil, Hell, Diablo, etc.” in their names.
  2. Thoroughly check your gear before the trip.
  3. Always bring our LEKI trekking poles.


Tell us about your “Trekking Pole Trail” in the comments below.
Next week we’ll pick a winner for either a pair of LEKI Khumbu AERGON or Cressida AERGON trekking poles.

7 responses to “What’s Your “Trekking Pole Trail”?

  1. Here’s the trick to that little math….there are 1760 yards in a mile, and the average person’s stride is about a yard. Round it down to 1700 to account for short people, and there’s where it comes from. But really, all you need to remember is the 25% savings in weight. If you bother to do all the math, you’ll find that no matter what a hiker* weighs, the end result will be a weight savings over a 10 mile day of between 1.5 million to 3 million pounds through the knees. Oh yes.

    *Hiker of moderate walking ability, who can wear a backpack with a hipbelt attached. When helping a much larger person get outside and hiking around, poles are an absolutely essential piece of gear, even for a 1 mile walk. You’ll be helping them not damage their knees, and that 25% rule also applies to calorie burning when fitness walking or Nordic walking.

  2. Devil’s Path in the Catskills is one of my trekking pole trails for sure! The eastern portion alone forces hikers to gain and lose nearly 8,000′ of elevation, and by the third trip down one of the five mountains the trail climbs, my knees are…not happy. Trekking poles definitely help ease the burden!

  3. Isle Royale

    Once you pass through the Rock Harbor campsites you enter a gnarled mess of cedar tree roots and gigantic boulders alternating with huge sections of bare rock. You climb, you stumble and hopefully don’t break an ankle.

    It’s like a rite of initiation for those first-timers. All of the veterans know to take the Tobin Harbor Trail and skirt the ridge.

  4. I don’t know about all that fancy math, but darn tootin’ those trips would have gone from shortened to downright fugly without the trekking poles! Plus, they can be used to fight off mountain lions in a pinch… right David?

  5. Learn optimal use of poles. If you use the straps correctly and your body optimally, the poles are an extension of your arms. It’s easier to feel the PUSH of the poles on flat and uphill if you’re using them in a pushing action. This sounds simplistic, but try tightening your straps the next time you want to really MOVE and see how it feels.

    This extra POWER presumes you’re using poles optimally and also using gloves. We like simple bike gloves – no Velcro and finger pockets for easy removal. They can significantly improve your performance, reduce hand strain and protect your hands on the trail.

    Optimal use of poles means you’re getting the most benefit for your body based on your goals. Your goals usually depend on your issues and the terrain. Correct use means you know the basics. For example, how many times have you seen people hiking with their travel tips on or hauling themselves uphill? Or using straps in a way that facilitates what we call “The Death Grip?”

    The list of non-optimal things we see on the trail goes on and on. We teach good form and people understand that, by learning, they get better exercise, improve their performance and their enjoyment of the outdoors.

  6. avatar David Sweeney

    Hey Casey,
    You’re our winner! I’ll get in touch with you so we can get you some LEKI poles!

  7. Woot!


    Wicked sweet!

    Bring on the boulders!