Walking stick – once the scariest two words you could say to anyone in their more mature years. It signified a significant milestone in anyone’s life, and not in a good way. Walking sticks were only for the old and infirm, it meant you had reached that stage in your life when you could no longer walk comfortably without an aid. But things have changed.
Today some of the world’s top mountain athletes are regularly seen using walking sticks, ok hiking poles, in some of the many mountain running events out there. Add to that the thousands of hikers who consider them as much a part of their hiking gear as their boots, and you’ll soon see this is more than just a fad. It’s now more the rule than the exception, especially in Europe.
As an active trail runner, hiker and local mountain guide, I have started seeing more and more people on our local mountains using hiking poles, and having seen many of my hiking and trail running buddies shoot up the hills with their poles leading the way, I began to think they might not be a bad idea.
So when Montem offered me a pair to try out, I was super keen. Now I think I’m hooked. Before I go on to my own experiences, let’s take a look at a few of the benefits of hiking poles.
Spread the effort
The main benefit is that you spread the effort throughout more of your body. Instead of your legs doing 95% of the work they can now do 70 % of the work (numbers are up for debate). This saves both your knees and joints, and because your hands and arms are working more your circulation is improved while hiking with poles.
Another obvious benefit is balance, especially when hiking downhill and on technical trail, they are also great for crossing streams in particular when there is a strong flow.
They are also good for defense, a stray dog or unwelcome presence comes for you, defend yourself with your poles, use them to check bushy terrain for snakes and use them to signal where you are to hiking buddies who are falling behind or too far in front.
The Montem poles
I was a bit apprehensive about using my poles at first, I’m someone who likes to have my hands ready when on the trail, usually to catch myself and prevent a face plant. But I forced myself to use them, to see if indeed they did make the difference. The first time I used them, it felt a bit awkward, it’s not quite as natural as it looks – until it is. So I watched a couple of youtube videos and learned the proper techniques and hit the trails again, this time with more confidence.
Áfter a while I got used to them, and they become a natural extension of my body, providing assistance on the uphills and balance on the down. As a mountain guide, I now like to take them with for clients, especially if there is a steep downhill hike involved. They have come in very useful on occasion as not every hiker carries poles with them, especially when on holiday in Cape Town.
I do find it a bit of a pain when there is scrambling involved and I need to put them in my backpack as many backpacks do not allow for easy attachment of poles. This is on the backpacks I use not the poles. The poles do have a clip allowing me to clip them together which makes for easier attachment, now if only all backpacks could play ball.
My set of poles, the Ultra Light 100% Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles are light, hardy, comfortable to hold, and easy to fold and unfold. Yes, the basket thingy on both my poles have broken off, but they probably aren’t ideal for our kind of mountains in Cape Town. Better for snowy or soft mushy conditions.
So, my sticks are now battered and bruised after a good few hikes and many months of usage but they are strong and reliable as ever and excellent value at the price. And my knees and joints will forever be thankful.