If you are planning a hike, you may be wondering if do I need a hiking stick. The answer to this question depends on a few factors, including the type of terrain you will be hiking on and your personal preferences. If you are hiking on uneven or rocky terrain, a hiking stick can help you keep your balance and avoid slipping.
If you are carrying a heavy backpack, a hiking stick can also help distribute the weight more evenly and make walking easier. Ultimately, whether or not you use a hiking stick is up to you. Some people find them helpful, while others do not. Try different methods out on shorter hikes before committing to using (or not using) a hiking stick on a longer hike.
Do I Need A Hiking Stick?
Hiking sticks are a required piece of equipment for many experienced hikers, but are they truly necessary? Perhaps—in some situations, I use hiking poles, but not in others. How to determine if you require trekking poles.
A hiking stick (alternatively referred to as a trekking pole) is essentially a ski pole with a handle for hiking. Nearly all hiking sticks are used in pairs. Another possibility is to utilize a single-pole referred to as a hiking staff (also known as a hiking stick). The majority of hikers do not prefer a hiking staff. I believe that the pair simply provides additional benefits.
After years of hiking stick use, here are some of the things I’ve learned about them (and not using them).
What Are Hiking Sticks Used For?
- When I’m carrying a heavier backpack, I use hiking poles. A hiking stick can help you stay steady when you’re carrying a lot of weight, especially when you’re going up or down a steep hill or incline. Do they lessen the strain on my knees? The answer is no, but I’ll come back to that point in a second.
- Hiking sticks are ideal for cross-country hiking. Two poles are invaluable for navigating a series of slick rocks. Even if I don’t intend to use a hiking stick on my hike, I’ll keep them in my pack just in case. A hiking stick can also be used to determine the depth of a stream or the muddiness of the bottom.
- Hiking sticks come in handy when traversing such a stream. Two additional anchor points provide added security when walking across loose, small, or slippery rocks.
- Hiking sticks are ideal for maintaining balance on a slick and snowy trail when hiking in the winter. It’s also a good idea to use the trekking pole to test the ice when crossing a frozen stream.
- Hiking sticks come in handy when traversing bear and mountain lion territory. Although I’ve never had to fight an animal, having a hiking stick on hand would be preferable to be attacked without them.
- If you’re hiking through an area that contains poison oak, poison ivy, nettles, or any other plant that you’d like to avoid, trekking poles make it simple to push them to the side and walk around them.
- A hiking stick can act as an excellent anchor point against which to balance when hiking down a steep downhill.
- Similarly, if you’re on a steep ascent, you can dig in and pull yourself up using poles.
- If you want to make your hike more of a full-body workout, moving your arms back and forth will undoubtedly help you burn more calories. Additionally, developing a hiking stick routine is enjoyable.
- If your hands swell while hiking, using a hiking stick will keep them closer to your heart, thereby improving blood flow.
- A hiking stick can be used to support an ultralight shelter. This will help to lighten the load on your pack. Even if you’re only planning a day hike, packing an ultralight shelter (along with hiking poles to support it) is an excellent way to prepare for a survival emergency.
Are Hiking Poles Truly Beneficial to Your Knees?
Numerous articles cite a 1999 study asserting that trekking poles can reduce knee strain by up to 25%. For the vast majority of hikers, the reality is less than ideal. Even shock-absorbing poles, regular poles, and no poles at all have been shown to make no difference in studies.
I’ve experienced knee pain both with and without poles. By simply shifting my weight, I was able to eliminate my knee pain. Rather than striking with my heel, I now emphasize fore- and mid-foot stepping. This activates my hamstrings’ “natural shock absorbers,” which cushion any impact in my step. When people hike with a hiking stick, their weight (and foot strike) naturally shifts forward, which I believe contributes to the lower strain studies. Therefore, if you’re hiking with trekking poles, I recommend shifting your weight forward to alleviate knee pressure.
When the Use of Hiking Stick Is Not Necessary
For years, I used a hiking stick religiously. Then I came to a complete stop for a few moments, and it felt wonderful to “just walk” without any additional gear. This is why I resigned.
- While hiking to reintroduce me to nature, the poles became a barrier between me and the ground. Instead of balancing on a pole, I now reach out and touch trees, rocks, and dirt to maintain my balance. Simply put, it feels better. Bring your head down. You will revert to your childlike state.
- When I abandoned the hiking poles, I relieved myself of one worry. I don my boots and pack and prepare to go for a hike. Easy.
- I realized that using poles was causing me to lose my core strength and balance. When I don’t have a hiking stick, I must extend my arms and shift my weight to maintain balance. This activates rather than disables my core and natural balance processes.
- On longer hikes, I save energy by walking without swinging my arms. It’s not critical on shorter hikes, but on a 22-mile day hike up Mt Whitney, having an additional 1-5 percent of energy in your tank is critical.
Is it necessary for me to purchase hiking poles?
Some people spend their entire lives hiking with a hiking stick. That individual was previously me. However, I now mix it up depending on the situation. My hiking stick is easily accessible from the outside of my backpack. As a result, I simply remove them and extend them to use them. It only takes a few moments.
Recommendations for Hiking Stick
The overwhelming majority of trekking poles sold at REI are nearly identical in design. They are robust, light, and flexible. Avoid models sold by mass-market retailers such as Walmart.
The following are some characteristics to look for in a hiking stick. My recommendations are as follows:
- Both carbon fiber and aluminum are extremely lightweight and have exceptional performance. If you’re going to bang them up a lot, aluminum is the way to go. Carbon absorbs slightly more shock, but it is susceptible to shattering if smashed too hard.
- Shock absorbers are not required, but if you find one you like, go for it.
- Purchase cork or foam-grip hiking sticks. Poles with hard plastic grips should generally be avoided due to their ineffectiveness.
- Maintain a 90-degree angle on your elbow when using hiking poles. The majority of trekking poles are adjustable, which enables you to customize them to your specific needs. If not, REI will have a height-based sizing chart. On an adjustable hiking stick, the type of locking mechanism is irrelevant. I’ve never met anyone who has advocated for adjusting the height based on the slope.
- Baskets and pole tips do not pose a problem. You will be fine as long as you have steel tips.
- Learn how to properly use your straps.
You don’t need hiking poles, but they do have some benefits. It’s really up to you whether or not you want to use them. If you do decide to get a pair, just about any trekking poles from REI will work great. When you do use them, make sure to adjust your elbow at 90 degrees and use the straps correctly. Happy hiking!