Do you need hiking poles?

When we first started hiking the question soon arose, “Do we need hiking poles?” (also known as trekking poles).

We thought that hiking poles were pretentious accessories
only used by the sort of people who like to buy every latest gadget and bit of gear to look the part. We just could not see the need for them.

A man wearing shorts and hiking huaraches crossing a creek with running water while using a hiking pole for balance.
Hiking in the Ozarks means crossing creeks is inevitable. A hiking pole or trekking pole can be invaluable when trying to keep your balance on slippery rocks in rushing water.

Then we hiked the Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area Silver Trail which has two short sections with a 26% grade and a very loose gravel surface.

We got down the hill, very slowly, and thankfully intact. We immediately began to discuss buying some cheap poles to see if they would be helpful.

Checking online we found that there are strong feelings about poles, both pro and con. Some people shared our rather facetious viewpoint about them being a silly prop. There were a few remarks that they scar the trails.

Most of the comments we read were highly complimentary,
with people saying how hiking poles changed their lives enabling them to hike much farther without getting injured. In fact there are huge proponents of using two poles and spreading the weight of the upper body onto the poles rather than on the legs, thereby sparing the knees.

Being unwilling to waste good money, we each bought one of the cheapest poles we could find,
Outdoor Products trekking poles from Wal-Mart. At about $14 they seemed sturdy enough and had most of the features of the more expensive poles. We figured if we liked them we’d splurge on the good ones later. If we hated them then we’d have our answer for less than thirty bucks.

Our first trek using them was a backpacking trip to Devil’s Backbone Wilderness. Gary took to his right away but it took me a bit of time for them to grow on me. But

by the end of the trip I was sold. I became a hiking pole convert.

Woman wearing shorts and trail runner shoes hikes downhill on very rough terrain in the Ozarks using a trekking pole for stability.
The downhill sections of trails in the Ozarks can have quite difficult footing. A hiking pole gives stability and balance and would help stop your fall in the case of a stumble on these rocks.

The advantages of hiking poles

Now I wouldn’t go on even a short day hike without one! Why? Well the obvious answer is that my stability is improved going down hills or where the footing is difficult. They make slippery creek crossings much less dicey.

Perhaps their most common use is moving briars and poison ivy to the side as I hike. I can also flick small branches off the trail and poke logs before stepping over them. Which is useful if you hike in an area with lots of snakes.
I’ve not found using two poles in the traditional trekking pole technique has been particularly good for me. But Gary has tried it and is considering buying another one soon so he has a matched set.

Our hiking poles

We are quite happy with our $14 Outdoor Products poles. They’ve proved to be rugged and sturdy. Gary broke one by falling on it – but no pole could have survived that sort of treatment. They’re lightweight. And they’re inexpensive. We like inexpensive. If you can’t find them at your local Wal-Mart,

Update 2020

Zpacks carbon fiber tracking poles and Arc Haul Backpack. Berryman Trail – Day Three, December 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

After eight years Gary updated to fancy carbon-fiber poles. He also switched to using two poles instead of just one, and his hiking speed over rough terrain picked up noticeably. I kept my Outdoor Products pole until I borrowed Gary’s poles on a hike and I was an instant convert — I didn’t let him have them back! — I was much steadier on the descents, and my knees and feet were much better. When we got home we ordered another pair so Gary could have his back!

Update 2018

We’ve had these hiking poles since 2012 and they are still going strong. The price has increased a bit, but if I needed a new hiking pole tomorrow I’d go out and buy another set of these.

Tell us what you think

If you think that hiking poles might be for you, check out this awesome article on Backpacking Light that explains all about their use.

So the next time you see people hiking with poles, ask them how they like them, why they use them. We have a suspicion that you could become a fan too.
Have you used hiking poles? Are you thinking of using them? We’d be interested to hear your views and experiences. Why not comment below, or send us a message.

3 thoughts on “Do you need hiking poles?

  1. tammyonthetrail

    When my husband and I started hiking, we weren’t believers of hiking poles either. Eventually, we bought the same ones at Wal-Mart to try them out. Mike uses 2…he claims it helps his knees. Usually after hiking some distance, his knees start to hurt. I use one, and I find it invaluable for water crossings, keeping balance with tough terrain. It’s great for checking depth of snow before stepping on it and leaves as well. I’ll stick my pole in a suspicious looking pile of leaves to make sure there are no holes before I step. One time we accidentally left our poles at home and were not happy at all with the results. I’m a firm believer that they do provide priceless stability, especially when you’re on narrow ledges. We are pole believers now.

    1. Gary

      Yes. These low cost poles from outdoor adventure make it very easy to try hiking poles without breaking the bank. And we’ve never felt the need to buy anything more expensive.

  2. Pingback: Another Short Hike at Busiek - Ozarks Walkabout

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