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Aren't trekking poles just like walking sticks?

A new found love of trekking poles

Dear Reader,

if you hold this notion to be true then I must disabuse you of this notion. In recent times I have observed more people racing with hiking poles than there are possibly zimmer-frames, bingo games and bed pans in a care home. It turns out that physics, the science of kinetic energy and some old blokes' theories on levers and fulcrums neatly explains the science behind Hiking Poles. Because of science, hiking poles are a tool with which one can use to GO Faster and GO Further with LESS energy output! Don't believe me? Well I didn't believe it at first either, so I took it to the test.

I purchased the hiking poles for a friend of mine to use as she has some ongoing ankle instability and my reasoning is that hiking poles will help her ensure that she has stable footing at all times. Stable footing as the hiking poles give you 2 more points of contact with the ground at all times which makes you like a monster 4WD instead of a 2 wheel bicycle (Science 1). But on the day she flat out refused because of her perceived notion that walking stick = weakness. After some healthy discussion to-and-fro and some blatant threats, I capitulated and stuffed them into my running vest "for later" I said to her. One hour into our 'training' walk I had developed pinching pains in my hip flexors so I thought "Why not just try the damn sticks" and I did.

The Result - Symphonies were playing in my head. Drum solos. Trumpets. Rave Saxaphone. The Whole Shebang. Movement was much easier. I felt like I could go on forever, or at least, finish the 8kms back to the car AND go to the café for tea and cake afterwards. I could leverage my weight across further distances which meant less pressure on my everything. I was engaging my core more which meant less pressure on my hip flexors and lazy glutes which my osteo is always banging on about starting to 'recruit' and get 'firing'. Wish she would make up her mind, am I hiring or firing these lazy glutoids? What was this Devillry? This witchcraft? Why had I never used these things before??? Uphills were much easier to tackle, even up huge inclines I would focus on moving my poles up and leveraging myself against them to take my steps. I found a push-pull leverage and rhythm with these poles that became easy. I was OVERTAKING people?

Going downhill would usually be where I struggle the most but with hiking poles I moved down with gusto and dare I say it Grace. No longer would I look like a Kung Fu Panda rolling down a hillside. Usually the impact would send me taking 2 Panadol and downing a G&T after a race. With my trusty poles my post-race saw me hopping up the stairs to the local pub and partaking in a lovely pub grub with all the elite types, who conveniently, also used hiking poles. Coincidence? I think not.

Want to know more about the science of fulcrum and levers? Here are some Probie cultivated tips and tricks for you.

Choose between a pair of trekking poles or a single hiking staff. Its your preference.

When you have extended your pole, find the right length for you. You’re aiming for a 90-degree bend at your elbow when pole tips touch the ground. Trekking poles that are too long or too short can cause muscle soreness in your arms, shoulders, back and neck. However the aim of the game 90 degree elbow bend is your friend and the best place to start for the right length.

For long uphill sections, you can shorten each pole by about 5–10cm to get more leverage and more secure pole plants. The steeper the slope, the more you shorten your poles. If you start to feel like a turtle, with your shoulders lifting, or being pushed to take the strain then you need to shorten your poles more. For long downhill sections, try lengthening each pole by about 5–10cm from the length you set it at for the flat. Stay upright and keep balanced! If you’re on a long traversing section (walking with one leg feeling shorter than the other) you can shorten the pole on the uphill side and lengthen the pole on the downhill side to feel more comfy.

Oh Yeah there is an incorrect way to use pole straps. It feels so much more comfortable to use them the right way where you put your hand up through the bottom of the strap and then pull down and grab the grip of the pole. (Picture for guidance) This allows you to avoid Death Grip, as your hand is able to feel more relaxed and the poles will easily pop back into your hand if you let go to eat a venomous jelly snek on your hike.

The Git Up

Gone and do the 2 step then cowboy boogie grab your sweetheart and spin out with 'em

Sounds more complicated than it is, but this is the rhythm of planting the opposing trekking pole in time with the opposing foot (right foot, left pole, left foot, right pole, etc.)

Double Planting

I like to plant both poles at the same time and then take two (or three) steps up or forwards, plant both poles again and continue. Great for steep climbs like Mystic hill or big descents where you need the stability of both poles on the ground at the same time.

Pole vault

When encountering an obstacle like a puddle you can plant your poles ahead in stable ground and 'pole vault' across to the other side by hopping over. It is stable and great fun especially for going over puddles, mud, small creeks etc.

Poke it like its hot

Poles are good for poking the ground, rocks, logs to test the stability of the surface. You never know just how muddy, icy, slippery or DEEP the surface is just by looking at it, so giving it a good poke is a good idea in my books. Trekking poles are also great for poking your competition if you seriously want to get onto their bad side. Those carbide tips HURT. If you do poke your competition, carry a first aid kit and be prepared for retribution.


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