Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Trekking Poles: Don't Leave Home Without Them

There was a time when I would scoff at trekking poles. And who can blame me? After all, they look a bit odd, like someone skiing without the skis (or snow). Why not just go all out and get a form-fitting body suit.* Just add a fanny pack, and I come complete with no shame, less money, and little sense. Sure, I could see someone carrying a nice big walking stick, especially one that allows you to imagine yourself as Gandalf. But trekking poles? No way.

Then I remembered that I am a big guy who is a) tall, b) too fat for his own good, c) now in his 30s, d) has a history of some knee troubles and e) has the balance of a Fox News report. Looking at it that way, I decided maybe the benefit to my balance and knees would be worth a few odd looks out at Forest Glen.** So I bought a pair of Leki poles while on a short trip to the Smokies. After trying them out, I don't think I could hike without them.

So far I've only taken three hikes with the poles. All have been out at Forest Glen. All three included a large uphill climb, and two included a downhill climb as well. For all three going both down and up, I barely felt any pressure in my knees. Considering how much I feel when I walk up stairs or slight inclines without the poles, I knew they were certainly helping with my knees.

Beyond the benefits to my knees, they also have helped balance, as at least a couple times they've helped control myself as I slipped through some mud. In addition, they've helped me propel myself up hills faster, although unfortunately they can't do anything about my lungs or general shitty physical shape. At least not beyond encouraging me to get out and hike more.

I still have some issues going down hill with them. However, I didn't have a big problem using them on a trail that was clear of leaves and was gravel instead of mud. This might be more of an issue I have with worrying about slipping on mud while going down a hill, or finding a errant hole with my feet as I walk on a trail covered with fallen leaves. Needless to say I need to find a happy balance when it comes to a downhill pace.

Despite the small sample size, I am pleased with my new poles, and am excited to use them on the trails ahead. I imagine they will continue to be crucial as I get into better shape and tackle more challenging ascents and descents, as well as longer trails with more weight than just a water bottle or a coat.

So to those of you who have thought about trekking poles, but have yet to buy some, I say do it. Your knees will thank you, even if your overbearing sense of coolness may object. After all, you may look goofy with them in a parking lot, but they look pretty bitching up on Mt. Katahdin.

* It's like I'm wearing nothing at all! (Obligatory The Simpsons quote for this post)
** I only feel they are out of place at Forest Glen, which is the closest thing to hilly terrain in flat Vermilion County, IL. Out at Blood Mountain or the Smokies I'd just be the latest dumbass weekender with his new poles.

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