The other day a participant in my class was walking and eating an apple with her poles dangling in front of her. My immediate response was – STOP! Please don’t walk with your poles dangling down because you can trip on them. I know this because I have (several times) gotten all mixed up – poles, legs, hiking – yikes!
Then it registered to me that she was EATING an apple. She was borrowing my top end, foam grip poles. They’re discontinued and I have only a few pairs left to loan or sell.
This put me in the VERY uncomfortable position of having to ask her to please finish her apple and wipe off her hands before she resumed with my poles. She completely understood and was gracious. I loan gear and people expect it to be CLEAN.
Please, if you are a participant in one of my classes, consider that bananas, apples, sticky energy bars, etc. do not mix well with high-performing pole grips. Sticky grips – yick!
Take good care of your poles and they’ll take good care of you.
- When your poles get dirty – wipe them down.
- When your poles get wet – take them apart and let them dry overnight.
- morning dew, fog, rain, stream crossings – any moisture at all can cause corrosion
- If you get poison oak on your poles, wash them with soap and water or rubbing alcohol, using enough soap or alcohol to cut the oil not just move it around. Do not use Tecnu.
- Never lubricate your poles.
- If your poles start “sticking,” you’ll need to clean them with a pole cleaning kit – outside, with newspaper to prevent metal shavings from causing trouble. With a little preventative care you can avoid this and you’ll keep your poles happy and healthy for YEARS. 🙂
You need to know how to take your poles apart and put them back together. Some people are actually fearful of this and it’s a basic requirement for pole care and travel. It’s easy when you know how.
Rubber tips are sold as optional accessories for trekking poles. They’re NOT optional. The travel tips that come with many poles (clear, orange or black plastic) are garbage – toss them out (or recycle them). In many of this blog’s updates we describe how rubber tips improve performance, prevent joint strain, increase safety and enhance your outdoor experiences.
There are 3 tips we like and they all fit on the poles we like: LEKI, Black Diamond (2 models only) and Exerstrider.
Our product recommendations are based on an individual’s structure, issues and goals.
One size does NOT fit all. Short poles are sold as “women’s” poles – after all, we all know there are no tall women and no compact guys….. Back to rubber tips (sorry for the rant). 🙂
- The basic hiking tip (on left) sells for $5/pair and is perfect for pavement walking and slick rock. They fit nicely in your pocket or pack and are perfect to store on poles when they’re not in use.
- The bell tip (middle) adds significant stability for our mobility-challenged pole users.
- The boot (right) is super cool and adds both cushion and propulsion for our exercise walkers. The bell and the boot sell for about $10/pair.
When we fit a person for poles, part of that process includes determining what tip works and feels best. For example, a person who needs a bit more “cushion” because of shoulder or wrist issues might like the boot. Or does the anti-shock feature “fit”? Which grip fits and feels best? Are trekking poles gloves indicated?
It’s not rocket science, but finding the pair of poles that will serve a lifetime, poles with which you can develop a loving connection, is a bit of an art. My poles are about 12 years old and I LOVE them. They get more comfortable every year and they serve me well out OTT (on the trail). Because I use my rubber tips when I need them, the trail tips are still razor sharp and perform as designed.
Tucson in January. Below is a desert pony. This saguaro skeleton really was like a prancing pony. To the right is a healthy young saguaro in front of a Palo Verde (AZ state tree and very green 🙂
Saguaros can grow to 60” tall (although the tallest we saw was probably 20′ and, according to the Sabino guide, the largest was 75′, they can go 3 years without water, they don’t flower until 35 years of age and it takes 75 years for the first arm to grow so they get to be very old.
Rain in the desert is magical and it poured while I was there. Below: The tannins from oaks on Mt. Lemmon cause the water in Sabino canyon to be brown. Next to the water are saguaro reflections in a small lake. Click on any photo (especially the reflections one below and the pony above) to enlarge and click the back button to return to post.
After a hard early-morning hike, I relaxed on a tram ride up Sabino Canyon: canyon waterfall (note the brown water and striated rocks), a VERY little cactus – see the pole tip to the L of it and how the spines look like little fishhooks? I was enchanted by the color of the rocks very near the waterfall.
At the Desert Museum, we were honored to see my cousin’s photographic exhibit. After enjoying Howard’s amazing photographs of Arizona nature, I explored the museum and saw some wonderful creatures including Bighorn sheep, Grosbeak, walking like a duck and a female cardinal.
When hiking in the desert, the locals go early. The morning we blasted up Blackett’s ridge, we hit the trail promptly at 7 a.m. In the summer they start at 5 or 5:30 to beat the heat. The terrain is rocky and steep. I use my poles in the desert and love the long foam grips for when I’m on frequently changing and rocky terrain.
Above is my on-the-go morning shot and a picture Cousin Howard took of me. Morteros – grinding holes – are part of ancient cultures’ kitchens. Finding one in the desert (usually near a stream) is special!
Bob is 65. He works hard so ends up being a weekend warrior which puts him at increased risk for injury. On our Thanksgiving trip to Utah, we hiked 6 days in a row. We would not have even considered doing this without our poles.
People are always asking – POLES? Why???? They seem surprised when we answer – Poles feel good – it’s great whole body exercise. They get us places we want to go, for instance, Part 3 of our journey:
I remember the lady in sandals who had driven to the top of Mt. Tam’s East Peak asking me, as I had just climbed to the top of the mountain, if my poles were canes. Can you imagine?
Let’s talk about improving power on the up hill. Hauling yourself up with small muscles in your shoulders is not only inefficient, it’s also potentially harmful to your shoulder joint. Why NOT use big muscles in your back – the ones that support and elongate your spine? (uh, the ones that keep you tall and reverse the aging process).
Notice the angle of the poles. Click on any picture to enlarge and click back button to return to post. Notice how Bob’s arms are relatively straight. The latissimus dorsi muscles are attached to the humerus. Elbow pumping does not engage the lats only the whole arm movement does. This also engages your obliques. Imagine someone walking behind you squirting WD-40 into your spine as you walk. That’s what optimal technique feels like 🙂
What about down? Do you have knees? Photo #1 above – Remember, if you flick the poles out in front of you on the down, they’ll support your lower body joints and engage rectus abdominus, pecs and biceps. The steeper the hill, the smaller the steps. Photo # 3 above – If I had $300 to casually spend, this vase would be in my new living room. We found it at the visitor center of Grand Staircase Escalante.
Photo #1 above, Bob using plant push technique – power at 8,000′ on the 6th day of hiking…thank you VERY much 🙂
Photo #2 above is me in front of Calf Creek Falls – a lovely and easy 6 mile hike (in and out) at Grand Staircase Escalante on the way to Bryce. Driving from Moab to Bryce is one of the most stunning road trips if you go via Torrey. Make sure to stop in at the Red Desert Candy Company in Torrey and get some of their Red Desert Jellies and Truffles as well as a cup of chai or a latte for the road. You’re hiking – what better time to splurge?
Photo #3 is a really great example of the swing assist for making time on downhill. Join us on a practice hike to learn/practice this wonderful technique.
Photo #4 is from the Nature Center at Zion. We took the scenic route back towards Vegas from Bryce through Zion – another amazing road experience.
So, will learning optimal use of poles really make a difference? YES!
Enjoy the outdoors, enjoy your poles 🙂
Weather manages our outdoor activities. Our journey to Utah parks was flip-flopped (again this year) so we could enjoy clear roads and excellent hiking weather, skipping snow, rain & ice in Bryce in favor of 50-ish degree perfect hiking weather in Moab.
Day 1: Our first hike was the Neck Spring Loop, a LONG 5 mile hike in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. This loop was an excellent way to start the trip. It’s an easy hike to find and has such a variety of terrain and features – it’s definitely one of our favorites. From there we drove a short distance to hike a short distance to see Upheaval Dome.
Photos 1 & 3 show Neck Spring Hike & #2 is our first sight of the Needles after climbing up and down 2 ladders. These new ladders were a huge improvement over what we encountered previously. Thank you National Park Service!
Below are photos of the famous Landscape Arch and the fins in Arches National Park during our Devil’s Garden hike. Part of this hike involved walking on top of one of those fins. Often the direction you do a hike is critical. Devil’s Garden is one of those – do it counterclockwise. 3rd photo is Elephant Canyon in Needles District.
Click on any photo to enlarge and click the back button to return to post.
When on slick rock, we either used poles with rubber tips or no poles. The tips are more grippy (technical term).
At the end of the main trail at Devil’s Garden is a huge vertical rock called Dark Angel. As we walked around the rock, we saw 2 climbers on the top edge heading for the top. We watched them climb and, by the time we were walking away down the trail, they were enjoying lunch at the top of the rock.
Stay tuned for the 2nd half of our journey.
Learning to use trekking poles for hiking is a skill that all hikers will, at some point, appreciate. Whether you’re 30 or 90, optimal use of poles provides significant benefits on the trail. (click on any photo to enlarge).
In this post we’ll discuss
- Why Poles?
- Why Optimal Use?
- Benefits of Optimal Use of Poles
- 3 Goals with Poles
- Common Mistakes
- Pole Etiquette
Our natural walking pattern is a reciprocal gait, the diagonal pattern of opposite arm and leg, which enables spinal rotation. This spinal rotation feels good, looks young and is healthy.
As we age, spine function diminishes. Without focused attention, gravity acts, the spine compresses and we get shorter. Using poles for exercise walking and for hiking can actually reverse the spinal compression. Optimal use of poles recruits large core muscles, including the latissimus dorsi, lower trapezius and oblique muscles. Muscles, when used, strengthen. Using poles enables us to engage (and therefore strengthen) our upper body muscles to help preserve our joints and get taller!
Why Optimal Use? ~ Imagine being able to WD-40 your spine 🙂
Learning optimal use of poles is key to achieving the many benefits. The natural arm swing is how you can engage that healthy spinal rotation and muscle recruitment. Non-optimal use can involve repetitive movement of a joint, which can cause joint stress. The “death grip,” for example, can cause tension in the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder and even the neck. Using poles in a way that does not look or feel like the natural walking pattern can negate some of the many benefits and cause strain.
3 Goals with Poles
When using trekking poles for hiking, you want to focus on 3 things:
- On flat terrain, you want either ease of use or exercise.
- On uphill terrain, you want more power and improved endurance.
- On downhill terrain, you want to reduce joint stress on your hips and knees.
It’s that simple. Learning optimal use will enable you to achieve these goals.
- Incorrect use of straps (this blog has a 3 minute video on how to adjust and use straps)
- Non-optimal pole length (stay tuned for part 2 of this article)
- Incurring joint stress vs. muscle recruitment/strengthening
- Inappropriate pole etiquette (see below)
Why don’t some people want to hike with pole users? I’ve heard people say they get stabbed or impaled on the trail. Pole users: please be aware and considerate! Victims of pole improprieties: Rather than shunning all pole users, let’s educate them. Here are some tips:
- Poles are not swords and should not be waved around.
- Know where your pole tips are at all times.
- Keep a safe distance between hikers. If a pole hiker is crowding you, step aside and let him or her pass.
- On steep uphill, poles can slip backwards and the sharp trail tips can put out an eye of someone hiking behind.
- On steep downhill, allow extra space, especially in front.
- If someone behind you is reaching forward with his or her poles, a sharp tip could jab your Achilles tendon. Just step aside and let the pole user (who is using seriously non-optimal technique) pass.
- People carrying (not using) poles should know where their tips are. Usually they can turn their tips forward to avoid accidentally stabbing someone.
- Hiking with poles tucked into their arms can stab the hiker behind them if stopping suddenly.
- People who lay their poles on the ground in the middle of the trail are at risk of having their poles stepped on, tripped on and broken.
- If you stop to adjust your poles on the trail, do not face sharp trail tips towards the middle of the trail (no swordplay).
- When taking poles apart to dry or clean, point tips down—not at your buddies or car windows.
- Carry your rubber tips with you at all times. If you encounter pavement, using rubber tips will save your trail tips and be way less noisy. Noisy poles can be very annoying. Rubber tips also can protect fragile surfaces.
- If you hike with poles and are stabbing the ground, this noise can also annoy people.
- At lunch stops, prop your poles out of the way, and not in the dirt or poison ivy. (If the straps get dirty, the dirt can chafe your hands.)
Hiking Pole FAQs
Following are some of the most frequently asked questions I get from pole users and people who are considering using poles for hiking, walking, exercise and mobility:
FAQ: I know how to walk, so I can use poles without any instruction, right?
We weren’t born knowing how to walk. We learned step by step until we could crawl, walk and run.
So yes, anyone can pick up poles and reduce knee stress, but that saved stress and energy has to go somewhere. With non-optimal technique, we risk injury and strain because that saved knee stress can transfer to the fragile joints of the hand, wrist, shoulder or even the neck. With optimal pole technique, the energy goes to the core muscles of your body instead. When muscles are used, they strengthen. Optimal technique enables you to use these stronger muscles to help preserve and protect your joints.
FAQ: Which is better: one pole or two?
Using two poles enables you to use your whole body while walking or hiking.
Using one pole can give you a little extra stability (over none), but at a cost. No matter how careful you are, using just one side of your body can create and even reinforce imbalance. When you go downhill, gravity creates load in your knees. Using one pole can relieve some of this pressure, but it usually involves twisting and can create torque on your spine and potential stress in your shoulder and wrist joints.
Using two poles (with optimal technique), you strengthen upper body muscles and achieve both spinal rotation and elongation, which is very healthy for your spine. Going downhill, you’ll bilaterally recruit your upper body muscles, including pectorals, rectus abdominus and biceps. You’ll notice better balance and power. Because you’re using more muscles, you’ll notice you have more endurance but will feel less exertion!
FAQ: Can I become dependent on poles?
When using poles, do we lose some ability to use balance muscles? I believe it IS possible to become reliant on your poles. Is it a good idea to occasionally hike without your poles? This is a very personal decision made based on your ability, the terrain and your goals.
When do I use my LEKI poles?
- When I know I need them
- When I have no idea what I’m getting into
- When I want the total body experience and upper body workout
- When hiking with someone stronger or faster (using poles give me an extra “edge”)
Hiking without poles can challenge, enhance and improve your agility and balance muscles, and may enable you to be more aware of your feet and legs (improving proprioception). You will use muscles differently than when you are hiking with poles. Exercising in different ways is important for achieving your optimal fitness.
Part 2 of this article focuses on how to learn to use poles so that you can achieve the 3 goals as well as which poles to select. Stay tuned.
As we head into our dryer Summer, we encounter different challenges on the trail than we experience in Winter or Spring.
The poison oak this year is obscene. I got a bad case through clothing. I had to step into the poison oak to help someone who had fallen down the trail. He sat down to rest and kept rolling backwards down hill. He ended up in a heap, upside down and backwards, in the poison oak. It never occurred to me that the poison oak would seep thru my pant legs. I got a very bad case behind my legs, not on my arms or exposed skin (where I vigorously washed with cold water, soap and Tecnu).
Avoiding the poison oak yesterday was practically impossible. I had brought along a long sleeve shirt for TWO reasons:
- Poison oak protection
- To wet down in a cool stream which lowers my core and arm temperature. I do this for comfort and to avoid a lymphedema flare-up. On a hot day, this is HUGELY helpful. It also helps extend drinking water if I’m running low (which I try NEVER to do, but on hot days, it’s especially important to stay hydrated). Check the trail tips section of this blog for more heat tips.
Oh, and what about our poles’ exposure to poison oak? Well, we have to wash them with soap and water or – my favorite – rubbing alcohol. But do be sure to use enough alcohol to CUT the oil, not just spread it around. I thoroughly soak a paper towel, extend the pole sections and carefully go over them twice.
Do you like my photos? 🙂 How on earth do we see such wonders?
- we use our poles for stability on uneven terrain
- we maintain good neck function
- we lift our feet – this is a function of hip flexion and dorsi-flexion – when you put your attention to your form, you’re more mindful and your form improves. Thinking of lifting your legs (kind of like marching) on uneven terrain helps us to more fully enjoy our adventures 🙂
Click on any photo to enlarge.
I end most of my Yoga classes with this gentle and effective wrist stretch. This subtle movement lengthens and “tractions” the joint. The radius and ulna bones in the healthy forearm articulate. Creating s p a c e in the wrist joint and lengthening the space in the forearm enable better articulation and function. Keep in mind:
- Less is more.
- Purposely work shorter/smaller than your brain wants to.
- Forget about the Destination – Focus on the Journey.
- Invest the time to feel the subtlety of this movement.
- Allow this movement to bring mindfulness to your hand, wrist & forearm.
- Learn it so that you can use it when you need it – a tool for your body tool box 🙂
A good friend and I filmed this one morning so we could share it with AdventureBuddies! After a long day at the computer or after a rigorous hike, try this and relieve tension/tightness/stress in the wrist joint.
Be loving and gentle with yourself 🙂 Try it and let me know what you think?
Yesterday a friend and I were horse-back riding in a popular riding area. We saw a dog off leash (an absolute no-no in this area), then around the bend saw the owner walking with poles. We called immediately to ask her to leash her dog. Her dog came towards us growling and the horses spooked. She called to her dog who did not come to her. She ambled over to her dog and casually leashed it. When finally she had her dog under control, we asked her to also please keep her poles steady. She responded, “I know how to use my poles.”
Her poles were adjusted – on flat terrain – up to her armpits. I rest my case.