Twelve years ago I almost went blind from glaucoma. And that’s when I started using poles for hiking.
After stumbling, falling and bruising myself on numerous rocks, roots and other obstacles – simply because I couldn’t see them – I thought “there’s got to be a solution to this.”
Fortunately, there was – poles!
Spending time in nature – whether day hiking or backpacking – is crucial for me. It’s one of the ways I keep myself sane and manage depression through natural means. Without poles, this wouldn’t even be possible for me.
But … I’ve discovered the benefits of hiking poles go way beyond helping with balance. Here’s my “top 10” list of reasons why I like them.
Better Balance – First and foremost, poles help me stay balanced. It’s like having four-wheel drive. With four points of contact, it’s like having all-wheel drive. The moment I feel myself losing balance, with the flick of a wrist,I can plant a pole and prevent the fall.
Injury Prevention – Beyond balance, poles truly can help you prevent injuries. That can help you “catch yourself” if you trip, and give you extra balance when navigating complicated terrain.
Stream Crossings – Water flows are always a “thing” to contend with during spring runoffs. Creeks, streams and rivers are flowing at their highest. Poles can make the crucial difference when “stepstone hopping”, walking across logs, or even having support when wading through a river that’s up to your waist. They are really nice to have for this.
Bears! – I’ve come across bears twice while day hiking. Each time the bear was about 75-100 yards out and – from what I could tell – “checking me out”. They weren’t aggressive, but neither did they leave. What I did was raise my poles and “clack” them over my head. The unnatural metallic sound seemed to decide to take off in another direction.
Snakes & Critters! – I’ve also come across numerous rattlesnakes and a few scorpions in my hikes. Most recently, the rattler was resting directly on the trail of a steep mountainside. So going around him wasn’t an option. I tapped him lightly on the body with my pole, and he – ever so slowly – decided to scoot off the trail, enabling me to hike by him. On another hike on that same trail I came across a scorpion. I used the pole to gently nudge him off the trail and continue on.
Upper Body Workout – Hiking without poles is all about a leg workout. Poles enable you to transfer some of that workout to the upper body – including arms, shoulders and torso. I find this is especially true on uphill hikes – and the steeper the terrain, the more of an upper-body workout you’ll likely get.
Less Stress on Joints – Downhill descents are brutal on the joints – especially the knees and hips. I’ve found that using poles significantly reduces the amount of ongoing pressure. And the steeper and more slippery the slope, the more they help. If you want to save your knees – and trust me, you do – using poles is one of the best things you can do.
Dog Attacks – It would be great if all dogs on the trail were mellow and socialized. But that’s not the case. I occasionally come across unsupervised dogs that become protective on the trail and will do an aggressive attack. Simply crossing my poles in an “x” pattern in front of me and yelling “NO!” is often enough to stop them. And if that doesn’t work, you can use the poles as necessary for self-protection.
Testing Snow Conditions – Whether crossing a creek on a snow bridge or hiking through a snow-covered area with branches and rocks posting through, you can test how firm the snow is with your pole. It’s far safer to do it that way than with your body.
Pushing Branches & Brush – If you’re hiking through a lot of loose brush, you can use poles to push the vegetation away from you. This is especially cool in the spring when ticks are out and waiting on grass and leaves to attach themselves to people and animals passing by.
There are other uses too! If you’re into ultralight backpacking, hiking poles can double as tent poles. You can hang a pole between branches to dry your gear. With a little ingenuity, it could be used as a monopod. The benefits of poles are limited only by your needs and imagination.
How about you? Do you hike with poles? If so, what’s the greatest benefit you’ve found with them?