Want to burn more calories and build more muscle as you walk?
Walking or trekking poles offer several benefits to users, including intensifying aerobic workouts, improving balance and stability, maintaining proper posture, and taking a load off your lower back, hips and knees.
Trekking poles are studier walking poles designed for hiking and are becoming increasingly more popular.
“We started using trekking poles years ago when we tried snowshoeing,” says Chris Patterson, a Keizer grandmother of four. “The poles hung in the garage for most of the year. Then I tore my meniscus, and arthritis in my knees started making it difficult to walk as much as I used to.”
Since she and her husband Chet enjoy visiting various area wildlife refuges, Patterson started using the poles for added stability and less weight on her knees.
“As we’ve aged, we’ve decided to be proactive so we use the poles quite often when going on walks to help with balance,” says Patterson, a retired paraprofessional with the Salem-Keizer School District. “They also help get the heart rate up because you’re swinging your arms as you stride. On several of the last cruises we went on, we saw a number of elderly folks using them just to walk around the ship, for many of the same reasons I just mentioned.”
The couple purchased lightweight REI poles made of anti-shock materials, with interchangeable tips.
“One tip can be used on sand, like if you’re at the beach, or on snow,” says Patterson, who noticed a number of people using poles on a recent trip to Basket Slough. “The other has just the rubber tip.”
Patterson can also use her poles for climbing a slippery slope by removing the tips. She says, “I like them so much — and depend on them so much — that I purchased collapsible ones to take on trips where I didn’t know whether I’d need them or not.”
Erik Colville started using trekking poles when the arthritis in his left knee became painful after strenuous hikes.
“While I can’t prove that using trekking poles reduces the stress on my knee, I believe they provide that benefit for me,” says Colville, a retired professional engineer and a self-professed outdoorsman. “I also have found that using trekking poles keeps my hands from swelling and going numb when I hike. In addition, using trekking poles allows me to maintain my balance more confidently.”
Colville uses adjustable length poles with a cam-style lock that are shock absorbent.
Challenges, Colville says, include “very, very infrequently, tripping over the pole, keeping track of them when stopping for a break, and being aware of where the tips are pointed.”
Barb Stoner has used trekking poles for about six years. The Salem resident owns Koppen anti-shock poles purchased from Dick’s Sporting Goods.
“At age 70, my knees aren’t as reliable as they once were,” Stoner says. “I find trekking poles decrease the impact on my knees, particularly while hiking on a downhill incline.”
Cathi Ketchum, who lives in Vancouver, bought trekking poles by Leki.
“It really was a matter of a comfortable grip and wrist straps,” she says of her choice. “The poles took a while to get used to because most people don’t think about how to walk, they just walk. Using trekking poles, you have to organize your gait with how and where to place your pole spike. It takes a little coordination and practice, but not nearly as long, as say, someone getting used to crutches.”
Like many users, Ketchum needs the poles more for going downhill than uphill.
“There is more of a chance of slipping on loose rocks going down hill, and in doing such, harder to keep balance,” she says. “The challenge for me is to make sure I lift the poles high enough to clear large rocks and boulders. I need to keep my eyes on my feet when going downhill, so its nice if I saw the scenery when going up.”
Georgia Coplin of Salem suffered from a stroke and had fallen a few times, so using poles seemed like a good idea, she says.
“I’m afraid of dogs and to keep a strong stick between me and the dog seemed a good idea,” says Coplin, who has older poles that she initially wanted to use for Nordic skiing. “I have them set up for street walking and not skiing at this time.”
Not all avid trekkers are seniors, but many love using poles just as much.
“I try to hike two to three times a week,” says Heather Busby, a 40-year-old hiker from Portland. “As I got older, I started noticing knee pain when hiking downhill or long distances.”
Busby decided to try trekking poles while on a day hike with a friend.
“It had a 2,800-foot elevation gain in 3.5 miles,” she says of the grade. “It was more than I had ever done in such a short distance and I was a bit nervous. Much to my surprise, I was not sore one bit after doing the hike, and I was hooked on my poles.”
Busby loves using her Black Diamond poles with cork handles, which, she says, absorb sweat better than foam.
An added benefit is that the sound and vibration from the poles hitting the ground helps to keep snakes and rodents at bay, Busby says.
“They can also help test the depth of water, or how thick ice is,” she adds, and when not needed, the poles collapse and attach to her backpack.
Most trekking poles come with a variety of tips, baskets and grips. Experts advise using straps to keep poles attached and shoulders to move forward, with elbows at a 90-degree angle. Trekking poles in various fixed or adjustable lengths are available online and in sporting goods, ranging from $25 to $250.
Switch Back Travel rates Black Diamond Train Ergo Cork as this year’s best overall trekking pole for $130. Others are: best budget trekking pole, Montem Ultra Strong for $60; best collapsible, Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z for $170, See full list at switchbacktravel.com.