If I picture myself as an old man, I imagine one of the grizzled yet friendly old timers that you so often run into in the outdoors; knowledgeable, kind, curious and with an almost supernatural ability to hike faster and longer than all the young whippersnappers out there. I don’t imagine someone who struggles with chronic knee pain.
About 10 years ago, when I first started hiking seriously, I donned my heavy leather boots, strapped on my backpack and struggled and strained over the rolling terrain of Frontenac Park. Hiking, although great fun, often came with sore knees. The pain, and overcoming it to finish the trail, was part of where my sense of accomplishment came from. But I remember thinking that I want to be able to do this for the rest of my life; To become a seasoned old timer.
So I decided to change how I hiked. I started to systematically reduce the amount of weight in my bag, adopt trail runners instead of heavy boots and most importantly. I picked up my first set of trekking poles.
Trekking poles are fast becoming one of the most common and valuable items you’ll see hikers using out on the trail. Almost every long-distance hiker couldn’t imagine taking on a hike without them. They’re considered such an integral part of a hiking kit that major manufacturers are starting to create pole-less tents assuming that you’ll have trekking poles to use instead.
Anecdotally, I can tell you that poles reduce the strain on joints, help control descent down steep pitches and help to conserve your energy. They also engage your upper body giving you a more well-rounded workout!
Sizing: All poles have adjustable lengths to get custom fit for each user. On flat stretches you want to hold your poles so that your arms are bent at 90 degrees. If you are going uphill, fell free to adjust the poles so they are shortened and likewise you can lengthen them when going downhill. This ensures that you keep proper posture while hiking.
Grip: The first impulse is to just grab a pole and start walking! But wait, take a second to take a look at the poles closely and you’ll probably see a small (L) and (R) indicated somewhere. Just like gloves, trekking poles have a left and right! Also, proper strap technique is important! Thread your hand through the strap from underneath and lightly grip the pole handle. The ends of the strap should be resting between your thumb and your pointer finger and between you and the pole. This lets you push off on the strap and let go of the handle while walking!
I could go on and on about hiking poles and their merits, but at the end of the day, if you want to enjoy the outdoors, reduce the joint pain, and keep hiking until you’re a Grizzled Old Timer, grab yourself a set and hit the trail!
(I use the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ Poles, which feature strong adjustment locks, a cork handle and the ability to pack down into 3 small segments. Come down to Trailhead and grab a pair for yourself or for your hiking friends as an amazing Christmas gift!)