Should trekking poles count as part of your base weight? A fascinating subject that absolutely no-one cares about

Carrot on the PCT

Carrot on the PCT

I hiked the first 700 miles of the PCT without trekking poles. I’d read that they were heavy, unnecessary things, like weights that you carried in your hands. Although I am a naturally talented walker, load-hauling has never been my strong suit, and I was certain that my chances of completing the PCT hinged on me being as ultralight as possible. And by the time I’d bought my tent, sleeping bag and water purifier, I was out of money, so not buying trekking poles was a no-brainer for me.

I’d never done a long hike before the PCT, and besides one four-day backpacking trip on the Olympic Peninsula, I’d mostly read about ultralight backpacking in books. Mike Clelland’s Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips is a good one, and I learned a lot from his funny cartoons, most notably the weight of an empty emergen-c packet and how to turn my arm into a sluice with which to wash my ass.

Mike’s book eschews trekking poles, claiming that they’re unnecessary hindrances which bump up your base weight and keep you from being able to carry a water bottle in your hand, which he likes to do. While preparing for the PCT I followed much of Mike’s advice to the letter- buying the thinnest ziploc bags available, sending myself lots of cheap socks, not packing any toilet paper. I stopped short of wrapping a razor blade in a piece of cardboard from a cereal box (a cereal box because that cardboard is, you know, lighter than regular cardboard) and packing it as my only cutting implement, as he recommends.

Ultralight Hikers on the PCT

I imagined myself hunched over a package of salami in the desert, attempting to slice a hunk of meat and slicing off my finger instead. No bueno. So I bought a tiny swiss army knife for my hike, the little classic one. It has a blade, a file, a pair of scissors, a plastic toothpick and a tweezers. I found it cheap on ebay, and it has the name of an insurance company on one side.

As I packed up my kit in the weeks before the trail, obsessively weighing and re-weighing every little plastic thing, I thought excitedly about the other ultralight hikers I would meet. What would they be like? What would they be wearing? And would their ziploc bags be as thin as mine? I imagined us laughing and eating gummi peach rings as we practically floated down the trail, our packs like helium balloons. We would step casually over the bodies of the regular hikers who had collapsed in the desert sand, crushed beneath the weight of their packs, which were strapped all over with camp shoes, paperback books and inflatable pillows.

Then I actually started my thru-hike, and in the first weeks of the trail I had these realizations-

-All the other ultralight hikers are faster than me

and

-I am the only one without trekking poles.

I was awed by the sight of these trekking poles. Hadn’t these other ultralight hikers read the same books I had, scrolled endlessly through the same internet forums? Actually, it turned out, no. They hadn’t. Mostly these ultralight hikers had learned to be ultralight by thru-hiking another trail, like the AT, and since they were seasoned thru-hikers that also explained why they were so fast.

Stream Crossings on the PCT

So I hiked the first 500 miles with a group of other first-timers from Portland, their packs strapped all over with camp shoes and inflatable pillows, watching the ultralight hikers blow by me. I would look longingly after them as they disappeared, trekking poles clacking, and wonder how anyone could hike so fast for so long without getting tired. But I figured I would never get the chance to ask them how they did it, because they were all way too fast for me.

Then two things happened: I became slightly faster than the group I was hiking with and the straight girl I was wooing left me for an Australian pothead with a passion for video games. And so I hiked alone through the Mojave, in a windstorm of such intensity that, down in the valley, they had rerouted the interstate. I stumbled over the mountain in my own personal hell, nostrils smashed to my face so that I could barely breathe, the storm gods one puff away from blowing me off the mountain to my death. When at last I reached the town of Mojave and checked into the motel 6, I was exhausted, dehydrated, and mildly hypothermic. And I had caught up with the ultralighters.

I began to hike with a big, unwieldy group of them, and it was just as fun as I had thought it would be. We ate melted snickers bars, played word games, made up new names for the constellations, and laughed until we felt we would asphyxiate. And we pushed each other to see just how much we could Go Without- could you get by without enough water in the desert? Without a warm enough sleeping bag? With no bug net when the mosquitoes were bad? When your clothes were torn to shreds?

While almost all of these hikers were faster than I was, a few of them were lazy enough to wait for me when I fell behind, and three of us became fast friends, sticking together through the Sierras, Northern California, Oregon and then Washington, all the way to that unassuming clearcut that is the Canadian border.

But back to the trekking poles. All of my hiking friends had them, and none of these speedy badasses included the poles in their base weight. Trekking poles make you faster, said one friend, who was very fast. And so if the poles made you faster, and hiking easier, then they didn’t really weigh anything at all, right? At least, like, philosophically?

So I ordered a pair and had them sent to me at Kennedy Meadows, right before the Sierras. Up to Kennedy Meadows the trail had been mostly flat, sandy, and gently graded; I had plodded along, arms hanging by my sides, hands occasionally going numb. Sometimes I would play “imaginary trekking poles”, swinging my arms back and forth just to have something to do. This game was almost as fun as “fiddle with your pack straps until you go insane”, which is what I played during the long boring walk along the Los Angeles aquaduct.

Ultralight Shelter held up by a trekking pole

Now, sitting on the wooden deck of the Kennedy Meadows store, I unfolded my new trekking poles, a pair of Black Diamond Ultra-Distance poles, and watched them glint in the sunlight. They were very light- only 9 ounces for the pair- much lighter than all my friends’ poles.

“Look at these poles!” I said to Mehap. “Hold them!”

Mehap hefted the poles and frowned.

“Yeah those’ll snap.” he said. “On a rock. I seen it on the AT.”

“Don’t be jealous,” I said. “Veggie! Hold these poles!”

My poles never broke on a rock. Which is good, because after Kennedy Meadows, the trail turned to… rocks. Big jumbled rocks that you had to pick your way through, stepping carefully, focusing your full attention on the trail. Up these rocks, over these rocks, down these rocks. Trying not to break your foot, your leg, your face. And added to this was my altitude sickness, which kicks in, pathetically, at nine thousand feet, and makes me feel as though I am on a tilt-a-whirl.

In the Sierras my new trekking poles were my magic spider arms, my balancing sticks, my salvation, and, on the worst sections, my crutches. They completely saved my ass, over and over and over, and continued to do so all the way to the Canadian border. I got so used to holding them that it felt strange to walk without them (and it still does, sometimes) and I would fumble a little when reaching for things, as though my arms were three feet shorter than they should be. And they took some of the impact off my knees and feet, making me a little less sore at the end of the day, able to walk a little farther, a little more likely to be able to keep up with my friends.

The trekking poles were, in effect, awesome. And I never added them to my base weight. If anything, the poles made my whole outfit lighter- like magic.

Gossamer Gear Mariposa Backpack on the PCT

And a few other things I learned on my thru-hike that were contrary to the ultralight hiking tips I read- the thinnest ziploc bags are no bueno. They break within the first couple of days. And cheap socks, at least for me, were awful. Instead I picked up an expensive Injinji toe sock habit. Injinjis make it so you can’t feel the grit between your toes, which is very addicting. And toilet paper. In the desert I carried a big fat roll of it- because it turns out there is nothing, anywhere in the desert, that doesn’t have spines or thorns. But later on there are mule’s ears, and then the lush moss beds of the Pacific Northwest. Plenty with which to wipe one’s ass.

And don’t worry about carrying a special trowel just to dig your cat holes. You can use the tip of your trekking pole for that.

Trail Ambassador Carrot Quinn lives in a tiny cabin in the oak savannahs of Southern Oregon. Her book about the PCT, Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart, will hopefully be out sometime in the next hundred years. You can read all 156 blog posts from her 2013 thru-hike at http://carrotquinn.wordpress.com/pct-2013/

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43 Responses to Should trekking poles count as part of your base weight? A fascinating subject that absolutely no-one cares about

  1. heyjt April 8, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    Going ultralight combined with using trekking poles have allowed these 52-year-old legs to put on miles I would have not been able to do before. I appreciate your description of using poles as having “magic spider arms.” So true. I tell my on-the-fence “trad” friends that using trekking poles is like having four-wheel drive on the trail. They also serve so many different roles in my kit I cannot image hiking a mile without them, which I do from time to time only to allow the curious an opportunity to try them. As for adding pole to my base weight: I don’t, but they are still part of my “:skin out” weight, thanks to our buddies, Don Ladigin and Mike Clelland! Oh, and I too carry a small Swill Army knife, which I use mostly to trim my toenails.

  2. J April 8, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    other reasons to use poles … i use a hammock and tarp as a shelter and poles allow me to go to the ground and setup the tarp as a tarp-tent when needed … also, poles are invaluable for stream crossings

  3. Hoov April 8, 2014 at 11:36 pm #

    I blew out two trekking poles on my PCT hike, one was carbon fiber that broke into shards as I used it to catch myself from a fall and the other was aluminum that got bent when it got stuck in some rocks as I continued one. REI gave me free replacements for both and I am now on my third pair–Black Diamonds. Hate to think how bad my fall would have been without these poles. They were also good for fending off a few rattlers in Southern CA.

  4. billweberx April 9, 2014 at 12:04 am #

    Trekking poles, if used correctly and enthusiastically, can reduce up to 20% of the “normal force” on your legs (downward force due to gravity). For me, that means my knees won’t fail and my feet will last longer. What most hikers don’t seem to understand is using more muscle groups does not take away from your overall energy, but adds to it. Systemic aerobic exercise is the best way to provide unlimited fuel to your activity and can only be achieved by using your major muscle groups; the more the merrier. When you add your upper body to the hike by using your hiking poles, you bring more aerobic fat burning energy to the hike. Fat energy is practically unlimited, even with thin people. The reason you fatigue is from lack of glycogen or usable sugar. The more aerobic you are with your exercise, the less glycogen you use up and the longer you will last. It turns out that working harder with more muscle groups will help you last longer. Oh.. they also are good at keeping you from falling on your face, or breaking your ankle.

    I also have an argument for not counting any weight that is not inside or hanging on the back of your pack. The weight that makes hiking so difficult is that which is furthest from your center of gravity. All weight matters to some degree, but unless you are obese (and I know that you are not..), the only weight that makes your hike miserable is that which is in your pack.

    I enjoyed reading this story. I hope it is a taste of what’s to come from your book. I earnestly await it’s release…

    Bill

    • H.D. Lynn June 12, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

      Beautiful explanation. Also, poles are a multi-use item if you use them as tent poles.

  5. grampa April 9, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    I’m an ultralighter who isn’t a thru-hiker, 10 years older than billweberx above, and I love my trekking poles! They have kept many a stone roll from becoming a sprained ankle, many a stumble from becoming a fall, given appreciated support on awkward terrain, and when the day is done, held my tarp over me. Trekking poles don’t weigh me down, they make the hike better!

  6. Hiker Box Special April 9, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

    I’m going to be the voice of dissent and say that most people use poles too frequently. They’re great when it’s really rocky or slippery or steep, otherwise I think they’re next to useless. In fact, beyond a certain level of rocky or steepness you’re better off using your hands to scramble, and the poles get in the way. I’ve hiked with dozens of pole users and most of the time they just poke the ground as they walk without doing much. \When you ask about it, they’ll start power walking and pushing themselves along but they can’t keep that up for more than an hour or so before their arms get tired.

    Your arms aren’t built for aerobic exercise, and it shows with hiking poles. Just look at the size of your arms compared to your legs.

    I’d rather have my hands free to eat snacks, drink water, change layers and check my map all as I walk instead of stopping. I think the time spent stopping to put your poles down makes up for any marginal increase in uphill speed.

    Not only that but you end up weakening your ankles. I hiked the PCT with Carrot this past year and saw lots of people who use hiking poles 100% of the time but still had knee and ankle problems. If poles take so much stress of your joints, why were these people in so much pain? It seems like you use the poles to do your ligaments job too often and the ligaments get weak and vulnerable so when the pole slips injury is more likely than without the pole.

    I think with trail runners or minimalist style footwear and without poles you pay more attention to your footing and don’t put yourself into the position to fall. In 2660 miles I fell twice without poles, both times without injury and landing on my butt. To me, traditional hiking is a giant pack, huge heavy boots that let you step anywhere and poles to balance yourself since your footwear and pack make walking so awkward.

    Anyway, hike your own hike and do what’ works for you. If you love hiking poles, that’s great but don’t give me crap for not using them!

    • billweberx April 9, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

      While I can’t disagree with all your comments, you’re dead wrong about the aerobic advantage of using your upper body. You don’t need to stress your arms to involve the upper body muscles in aerobic efficiency. This is why jogging is twice as aerobically efficient as bicycling and cross-country skiing is more aerobic than running. Walking has the least efficiency among these activities unless you strap on a pack and walk uphill. Adding poles will only improve on the aerobic efficiency. My personal experience is the poles take enough stress off my knees that I can hike twice as far without knee pain. I also have never fallen down using the poles but have done so several times when not using poles. If you’re young and have great agility with lots of extra energy, the poles will probably be a nuisance. I won’t hike without them. BTW, I would never give anyone “crap” for hiking anyway they want. But I will debate the merits of style and equipment. It’s how I learn.

      • Hiker Box Special April 11, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

        Where are you getting these numbers from? How is jogging twice as aerobically efficent than walking? If it is, why am I hiking instead of jogging?

      • peabody3000 April 11, 2014 at 10:54 pm #

        helloooooooo. if using poles burns more fat then its LESS efficient. i dont hike to lose weight. im thin. i take measures to exert the LEAST energy possible

    • Martin Rye April 10, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      I have to agree that in many situations they offer nothing in proven benefits. Downhill, or river crossings they are great. On flat sections they aid little. But hike off trail lots and they for me come into play, and I won’t be without them.

      Scott Williamson does not use trekking poles. He did manage a continuous one-season round trip of the PCT without them. So the speed arguments are questionable for using them.

      Interesting comments here and debate. Thanks to Carrot for writing it.

    • peabody3000 April 11, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

      so true as far as im concerned. some people may enjoy certain short term benefits of poles but I have never ever envied a single one of them for the slightest moment

    • Jax25 April 23, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

      “Your arms aren’t built for aerobic exercise”

      Errrr…tell that to swimmers and rowers….

      • peabody3000 April 23, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

        im a former competitive swimmer and i can vouch that the arms can take a massive aerobic workout, but i dont think using them via poles is more efficient. my feeling is that many more calories will get burned, which of course would be a plus for many but i want to conserve all possible energy

    • Robyn May 4, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

      I’m in the no-pole category, also. Having hiked the AT, CT, each twice, and the LT, I’ve heard the pros and cons of using (or not) poles many times. On my second AT hike, I buckled and bought a pair in Hot Springs, thinking I wouldn’t understand until I tried them for myself. I kept forgetting them after a break, and they just got in my way and I tended to trip over them more often than the times they saved me (0). I like having my arms free for the same reasons HBS gives. Granted, there were times a pole would have been helpful. Then, I looked around and picked up a limb off the ground. After experimenting with poles and finding they weren’t for me, I sent them home, in case I changed my mind. I felt less encumbered and never used them again.
      That said, I completely enjoyed Carrot’s story and was very entertained. Just spent the last 45 minutes reading her fantastic blog.

  7. Frank - Our Hiking Blog April 10, 2014 at 1:28 am #

    I love em, they have saved my knees many times.

    Terrific article and great writing. Really enjoyed it

  8. carrot quinn April 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    Hiker Box Special u are such a hater. :)

  9. Mike H. April 10, 2014 at 7:01 pm #

    They work fantastically on snow/ice, especially on the descents. On relatively flat terrain, they just go on the pack.. I even lugged them up Franconia Ridge on my pack, for the sole purpose of using them on the way down.

    I used to think hiking poles were dorky hiking gimmicks until I almost fell while carrying my daughter in her Kelty kid carrier… Scared me enough to give them a shot, & I won’t ever get rid of them! Besides reducing the beating my knees take, they make “porch mode” from the hammock pretty awesome!

  10. Marco April 11, 2014 at 6:21 am #

    Hiking staffs are strictly a convenience item. They do a little while hiking on the level nor on shallow grades that much. Uphill, downhill they pay. Off-trail and bushwhacks they pay. It is often a matter of picking up a found stick and simply using it as a staff till you don’t need it. Then you are free to discard it. Use one as a tent pole? Again a found stick works as well. Yes I carry and use one. (One, because the trails are too narrow about half the time in the ADK’s.) A big item about using them is never to plant them beyond your forward stepping foot. By the time your weight rolls onto the foot, your staff will be picking up the weight of your arm. A slight push off will lengthen your stride a few inches. This is offset against the additional weight and manipulation of the staff, but does increase your speed with a commensurate expenditure of energy.
    I agree there is a slight aerobic benefit to using a staff in the sense that you use your arms to help your walking & balance, but I believe you have this fat burning vs carbohydrate burning thing a bit skewed. Your liver will store and release energy. It will release hormones to pull fats to be broken down. It matters not where all the fuel comes from. The liver is simply acting on blood sugar levels, lactic acid levels, hormones, lymph fluids, etc to regulate the process of satisfying your NEED for energy. This in turn is often regulated by your physical condition, state of alertness, etc. However, I do believe there are Pavlovian influences on your body, ie, what you are accustomed to on a long hike.

  11. OrthoPA April 11, 2014 at 6:58 am #

    Consider that when your left foot is off the ground there is 3 times your body weight of joint reactive force accross you Right hip joint at a normal 2.5-3 mph gait speed. The addition of a pole on the opposite side reduces that force by half. In my mind those trekking poles reduce carry weight and your only carrying one at a time. :) Also, I find that on longer trips my upper body tends to atrophy when I don’t use poles. As a guy, I don’t like that. I converted to poles after many years of looking down my nose at them. I feel I now can either cover more ground faster or not feel so beat at then end of the day when I use my poles. They have saved me from wiping out on the trail many times. In my hands they have multiple uses. Food for thought.

  12. Stove Kicker April 11, 2014 at 7:46 am #

    Like OrthoPA, using poles has kept me from wiping out dozens, if not 100s of times, on the A T’s potentially muddy, slick slopes. If for no other, that’s one very good reason to use them. Plus everything said by OrthoPA about weight transfer, carry weight and fatigue is true, according to my experience. I don’t hit the trail(s) with out them!

  13. LoveNote April 11, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    Anecdotal and YM(will)V: The PCT was my first trail; I hiked with poles the entire trail, and I’m glad for it — I hiked in 2011, a high snow/water year, and the snow was slick and the water deep and no way would I have wanted to deal with that without them. But I also couldn’t squat to pee after the Sierra, my knees hurt too badly.

    Fast forward to the CDT: Somewhere in CO I had started to resent my poles. Earlier in NM, I had been skeptical of every twinge I felt in my knees and decided to do my own unscientific science project of not relying on poles — by CO I was carrying them unless there was something technical like snowy traverses in the San Juans. By WY, I had firmly strapped them into my pack, effectively adding tent poles to my base weight. When my hiking partner snapped his GG poles in the Basin, I gleefully unloaded my poles on him. I hiked the rest of the CDT without, and my knees never felt better. I paid attention to footing, I paced myself downhill, I carried my load as leveraged by my body instead of my arms. And it made all the difference.

    I guess that makes me a lazy pole user, but I’m okay with that. It freed up my hands to eat and carry what really is the best hiking invention that everyone should care about: an umbrella.

  14. banfftrailtrash April 11, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    Poles or no poles, I love your sense of humor Carrot Quinn!

  15. Doug Dyment April 11, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    Anyone who thinks that trekking poles are simply high-tech walking staffs has never been instructed in their proper use. Aside from their common ability to supplement balance in tricky situations, the two aids are completely different in both function and benefit. But many people use them as if there were no difference.

    To learn the proper use of trekking poles, http://www.backpacking.net/trekpole.html offers a decent introduction. As does http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/hiking_poles_technique#.U0gV_vldV8E

    Just like riding a bicycle, the first few times will be less efficient than simply walking. But if you take the time to learn to do it right, and develop the necessary muscle memories, your body will forever thank you.

    • Martin Rye April 11, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      Some of the writing on the links is debatable. Like: “The wrist straps are critical to getting maximum efficiency from your poles” – really? had a friend nearly break his arm due to straps on his poles locking him in on a fall as the pole stuck in some rocks.

      Pacer Poles don’t use straps – yet they are very good. GG sell them without. I always cut stapes of my poles, or use Pacer Poles.

      Some links to add to the debate:

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100602121000.htm

      http://www.klets.co.uk/walking_pole_report.pdf

      https://www.alpkit.com/colab/alpsaurus/Trekking-poles

      • billweberx April 11, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

        I’m pretty sure my pole would break before my arm.. I don’t think I could use my poles for very long without the wrist straps. The way I use them I put most my weight on the straps which are cradling my wrists. I realize that this is not proper pole etiquette, but it allows me to put much more weight on the pole and takes stress off my grip. I also have wrist bands to support my wrists.

  16. Doug Dyment April 11, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Oh, and how could I have forgotten http://www.personal.dundee.ac.uk/~pjclinch/poles.htm , perhaps the best on-line pole reference.

    • Marco April 11, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      Thanks, Doug. I hadn’t seen that one before…Thanks!

    • ATHiker July 6, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

      You said: “Anyone who thinks that trekking poles are simply high-tech walking staffs has never been instructed in their proper use. Aside from their common ability to supplement balance in tricky situations, the two aids are completely different in both function and benefit.”

      The page that you said is “perhaps the best on-line pole reference” begins by saying: “Hiking poles are simply walking sticks.”

  17. moremas57 April 11, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    Hey Carrot, I so love your sublime gift of comfortable, natural expression. It was a sheer pleasure reading your tale, thank you. Though I’m not a thru-hiker, I have much experience with trekking poles, as a weekly backpacker all over the west coast, (I’m a corporate pilot for an agriculture company). Like you, I’ve learned much from Mike Clelland, and I’ve also ridden the pendulum back from extreme ultra-light to whatever-the-heck-works, for me. Trekking poles used to be just for steep inclines, re-distributing the effort across more of my body on the uphills, (like kipping pullups vs. strict pullups), and adding stability (“magic spider arms” INDEED!) on the downhills, but lately, I’ve learned how much they can increase my speed and efficiency on plain ol’ flat straightaways. Like a few other cherished tools, they are more than worth their weight to this old hiker. Looking forward to your book!

  18. peabody3000 April 11, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    i got some good (intended) laughs from this, but im gonna weigh in from a different perspective. generally speaking i despise trek poles. mainly because they require me to hold my arms aloft at all times, which i consider a significant drain of energy, and which might seem wimpy of me but hey i dont get altitude sickness til 12k feet at least ;) also my hot sweaty hands dont like being glued around grips and made to feel hotter and sweatier, and not to mention the constant friction. i’ll admit my knees are fortunately strong which takes away some impetus in my own case, and yes every once in a while im traversing a steep snowy mountainside either wanting or borrowing a pole to avoid calamity, but the other 99.99% of the time i feel some relief every time i see a poled-up trekker walk by, carrying a burden that i dont saddle myself with

  19. Diane Soini April 11, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    I have the Gossamer Gear LT3 poles, the non-adjustable ones. I’m a lazy pole user. Most of the time I’m just holding the poles, not really using them. Since the GG ones are so light it’s not a big deal. I got the non-adjustable ones because it became difficult to adjust my Leki’s every night on the PCT when I set up my tent. So I measured the length I needed for my tent and that’s what size pole I got. They’re a little on the tall side but I don’t mind. I hold them near the bottom of the handle. You can count them in my base weight if you want. One thing the PCT taught me is that you get your base weight low so you can bring luxury items that actually matter. If your other stuff is light, 7 liters of water, a paperback book and a town dress are worth it.

  20. Bill Sheehy April 11, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Carrot:

    Great article; I admire your writing style. I loved your observations on McClelland’s book, which I too own. Mike’s got some great stuff in there, but I sure don’t follow all of it–especially his toilet paper alternatives.

    It seems to me that Mike and a lot of the other published ultralighters are looking at backpacking through through PCT-colored glasses. In the “Lighten Up” video, our hosts are blissfully hiking in 70-degree temperatures with 40% relative humidity on nice gravel-covered trails. They camp on gravel-covered flat ground surrounded by pine trees. Well, the A-T is rarely anything like that…

    Roots, rocks, mud, slimy log bridges and bog walks–that is just a smattering of what you can expect in just one mile of say, the 100-Mile Wilderness on the Appalachian Trail. There is no way I’d hike the A-T without my poles. I agree with the other post that if your hiking poles are just along for the ride, you’re not using them correctly. If you are actively using your poles, and getting your upper body involved in your forward movement, you will be moving much more efficiently. I am convinced that my pace is a good quarter to half mile per hour faster with trekking poles than without them.

    I don’t consider hiking poles in my base weight calculation because I’m not carrying them on my back. Anyway, as you’ve said, Who cares?

    Bill, aka, Merlotrin, P.M.

  21. Glen K Van Peski April 12, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    Carrot! I will read anything you write, and as hugely busy as I am, that’s saying a lot. You have a great natural and entertaining style… don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see your book, but if so, I will buy it for sure!

  22. RonL April 19, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    This is why I’ll read anything you write (love the train riding stories):

    “the straight girl I was wooing left me for an Australian pothead with a passion for video games”

    Her loss; our gain.

    Best wishes for your 2014 hike.

    RonL

  23. Jill, Head Geargal April 23, 2014 at 1:37 am #

    I genuinely cannot imagine endeavoring to hike for months (or even for days, really) without trekking poles. I suspect anyone who doesn’t like them is still pretty young and not feeling the cumulative impact of years on their feet yet.

  24. Jill, Head Geargal April 23, 2014 at 1:56 am #

    P.S. I also genuinely cannot imagine giving one single shit what one’s “base weight” is. I’m bemused how the simple act of hiking got so complicated.

    • peabody3000 April 23, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      funnily enough that viewpoint on base weight is how i feel about trekking poles. just as poles may reduce the impact on your feet, so does a reduced base weight without the need to wave big sticks around all day ;) going with a 15 lb pack fully loaded is a very different experience than a 30 lb+ one, and not just because of the weight itself

  25. Call Me Ishmael April 23, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    This is a pretty polarizing topic! But it isn’t because half of the posters are stupid. It’s because we’re all different, and that’s a good thing!

  26. Michael April 26, 2014 at 2:24 am #

    Walking with poles is something one has to get used to. I hike in minimalist shoes with 1.5mm thick soles, been doing it since last Sept 2013. I noticed walking with poles doing a heel first landing is a lot different than landing on your mid or front foot which barefoot hikers and especialls runners do. Then you figure in pack weight while in barefoot shoes and using poles. The biomechanics change immediatley and you have to rewire your brain to coordinate poles with walking. So I conditioned myself with poles and barefoot shoes and pack. Now, I am new to minimalist shoes, and I can feel every root, rock and so on, but I was carry a pack that was too heavy. I was hiking with 35 pounds which was too much and I planned the trip poorly. My pack was a Gregory Savant 58 with 9 days of food. The terrain was rugged, and I hiked 22 miles first day, 20 second day. I had to end the trip. I didn’t break my ankles hurt my knees because the barefoot gait encourages the knees to bend more and the foot to relax. My feet were not used to carrying the weight. They were used to hiking high miles with just a day pack- no poles, but I used poles with the heavy pack in previous BP trips. So I just bought the G4. The rest is lightweight stuff, tarp, etc. So, feet have muscles in them that don’t get used when strapped in shoes with cushions and arch supports. It is like any muscle group and they need to be trained. So I had sore feet a few days after, but I am thankful I had my trekking poles to help me get to the train station to get home otherwise the weight would have been on my feet, and the poles took 25% off. That is what the German hikers say, 25 % reduction of stress on hips, knees and feet. So I am going UL, and I will continue to use minimalist shoes and trekking poles. Basically, you have to get used to hiking with poles. And yes, I like the idea of hiking and snacking but I find you can hold the poles in one hand( they are light enough in weight) and eat something. To each their own. I just know the poles saved me going 5 miles downhill over knarly rocks and roots barefoot and going uphill they were like 4WD- and the soles on my Sole Runner brand have no profile, and I didn’t slip once. So it takes practice and I wouldn’t be stubborn. I used to think I was a better hiker without poles, but once you get used to them they do provide better balance and I don’t think they use more energy. They save. If you don’t have them you have to use more energy in your hips, thighs and feet. Energy is energy if I am not mistaken and it belongs to the same body. You are only redistributing the weight. I am new at UL but these are my observations and my trails and tribulations.

  27. PJ July 4, 2014 at 4:59 am #

    Carrot, do you use the straps or remove them?

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