In 2010 I found myself sitting on the living room floor, post-knee surgery, lamenting how hard it was to muster up the strength to walk to the mailbox on my recovering knee. And beyond that, I couldn’t even imagine getting back on the trail.
I asked everyone I could think of about how to speed up my recovery and how to get back into hiking. The suggestion that rose to the top: try using poles. That summer, I tenuously took to the trails, slowly at first, with two poles in my hands. Since then, I’ve never looked at hiking poles the same again. I thought they were just for “old” people or “weak” people (whatever that meant). But I realized the value that hiking poles had for all people. After my knee fully healed, I continued to use them. The poles helped me walk faster, more confidently and more upright. I no longer feared crossing fast-moving streams or walking on snow. Poles completely changed how I approached hiking.
And when I suffered injuries later on, like a broken foot and torn hip labrum, the poles again helped me stay active despite significant limitations.
Hiking with poles allows you to distribute the weight of your body and backpack over your legs and arms, helping you walk more efficiently and with less wear and tear on the joints. Poles help you maintain balance in uneven terrain, make river crossings easier and reduce the swelling in your hands from letting them dangle by your hip.
Watch this video to learn more about how to hike with poles and see them in action on the trail.
Surprise benefits of hiking poles
- Swatting away spider webs.
- Setting up an ultralight shelter.
- Using one as a splint.
- Testing the depth of a puddle or snow bridge.
- Prodding a slower hiker to speed up (only partly kidding).
Are you sold on using poles? I recommend giving them a try and practicing various techniques. If you don’t use your poles properly, you’ll find them to be annoying and in the way. I hope you don’t ever “need” to start using poles in the same way I did, but know that they are always there to bail you out after a lower-extremity sprain/strain/break when you are itching to get out and take a hike.
For more information on how to buy the right hiking poles, check out this article on Backcountry.com.
Any questions? Leave them in the comments below or send me a message! I’d be delighted to hear from you.