I was out hiking last Saturday and I was reminded again of a pet hate of mine while out hiking on the trail. That pet hate involves hiking poles aka trekking poles, walking poles or walking sticks.
Now, I generally don't use trekking poles but I do think trekking poles are a great addition to your hiking kit and I will get a set at some point. I have found them very useful when I have used them.
What are Hiking / Trekking Poles?
Trekking Poles are basically walking sticks and they're great in a whole range of scenarios when out on the trail. If you're going down very steep terrain, extending your hiking poles will really make a difference to help to take weight off of your knees. This can be great if you get any issues with your knees when hiking downhill over very steep terrain.
Similarly, they're also very handy for an extra bit of pull on the steep going upwards too. You can use them as a kind of grounding grip to help hoist yourself up as you ascend.
In short there are a whole range of great uses for hiking poles and they are very popular among hikers. I actually think I will invest in a pair in the coming months as they do definitely come in handy and I am prone to aggravated knees on steep descents. Poles would definitely come in very handy for that.
Now, this is not meant to be a post on the benefits of hiking poles, I'll look at that in more detail in another post soon. At the start of this post I mentioned a pet hate with hiking poles.
What is that pet hate?
Watch Where you Point Them!
Well, when people are hiking on the trail and they are using hiking poles, sometimes as they hike, they temporarily don't need to use them. The immediate thing many people do is let the poles hang down at their sides with their fists clenched on the handles at the top of them pointing to the ground.
Sometimes, if you're on a trail path for example, you have no choice but to be in single file so you don't have the option to veer out to the side. All fine and dandy for the hiker using the poles but not so fine and dandy if you happen to be hiking behind them!
As they point their clenched fists that are holding the poles to the ground, the poles are then, more or less, parallel to the ground. What does that mean? It means their poles are pointing out backwards and probably upwards at the person directly behind them.
Now, if you're not familiar with hiking poles, the bottom of them are pointed hard plastic, see picture above, as they need to be able to stick easily into the ground. Quasi spear like in that regard.
So, when you have the aforementioned hiker walking as described above, they more or less have two spears pointing out backwards at the person behind them.
Now, if you're also hiking on rough terrain, the body is of course moving all the time to compensate. This of course reflects into the arm and hand movement and so you can easily have someone flailing their arms around with two pointed spears sticking out behind them.
A lot of hikers will typically take their poles out when they're going up or down steep terrain. My hike last Saturday was a really good example. We were descending down a very steep part of the mountain and it was slippy.
The guy in front of me had his poles out as described above. If I was to slip at the wrong time and he happened to be pushing his arm backwards, at best I could get a nasty stab some place or at worst, lose an eye!
In short, this is dangerous.
What Should you do?
As mentioned above, I think Trekking poles are great and I use them in certain hiking terrain scenarios. Some folks would never be without them.
That's all good and not a problem. So if you're a hiker who likes to use hiking poles, when you're not using them and have them resting at your side, please always be mindful of the hiker behind you. Point the pointy ends to the ground, definitely don't carry them with the tips of them pointing out directly behind you.
If you are a hiker who happens to be behind someone with their trekking poles pointing out at your head. There are two things you can do. First, tell the hiker in front of you to watch where he or she is pointing their poles.
That should help but people can be forgetful and habits don't change easily so they may well revert to pointing them back out at you again. So, it's good to take step two, which is to drop back a few meters from them too. At least then there should be a reasonable distance between you and any potentially flailing pointy trekking pole ends.
So, that's it for this week. A short post on the potential danger of hiking poles. I've never heard of someone getting impaled on one but I am sure it must have happened as I've had a few close encounters myself while out on average enough day hikes.
So remember, if you use trekking poles, be careful where you point them. Similarly, if you happen to be behind someone who is getting a bit too careless with where they're pointing them, don't be afraid to speak up.
Most hikers will not knowingly want to be upsetting the hiker behind them and once you bring it to their attention, they should be mindful from that point on.
Also, if you can't veer to the side of the pointy bits flailing around, try and stall a little and let a few meters open up between you and the hiker with the poles in front.
Have you ever encountered this while out on the trail? What are your thoughts on it? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!