This article is about a simple tip on how you can use your trekking poles to help keep you safe while out on the trail. If you don’t already have a set already, trekking poles (aka hiking poles / walking poles) are an excellent addition to your hiking kit and a great investment.
Believe it or not, it took me a while to come around to them. I used to think they were in the ‘unnecessary extra gear' category, a nice to have but not 100% necessary. I suppose it could be argued that they’re not 100% necessary, but they are definitely a winner and I am a fan.
The benefits of trekking poles are many, they’re great for helping keep your knees in better shape as you go up or downhill, they can really help take the weight off of them which can be a real winner on a tough hike. The miles can also add up over time, even on the flat, especially on long hikes so it is great to have some extra support for your knees.
They’re also excellent for helping to keep your posture in better shape on longer hikes. As you hike longer distances, the body naturally tends to slump over as you tire, and hiking poles are a good way to help counter this, you can lean on them to help keep your posture better aligned.
Anyway, I am sidetracking into the benefits of hiking poles, which is digressing, so back to the main point of the day.
A Tip for Stability
Anyway, today’s tip is a subtle and simple little thing you can do with your trekking poles, that I thought I would add a note up on, as it might be useful for people who are new to using them. You might end up doing this intuitively but it’s never any harm to get a heads up on a useful tip I believe 🙂
Let’s set a scene! It’s late autumn, and you’re lucky enough to be hiking in the beautiful Wicklow mountains in Ireland. It’s a very beautiful spot and a top place to visit if you ever get the chance to hike there, I highly recommend it. The Wicklow mountains are beautiful and have a mix of varying terrain. Large parts of them are comprised of very wet bog which can be tricky to hike over when very wet.
So, as we said, it’s late Autumn, and given the Irish climate (You probably heard that it can get quite wet at times in Ireland :-), it’s been a season consisting predominantly of rain. That means the bog is saturated with water, and your chosen route means you need to hike across it.
When you’re hiking in that kind of terrain, sometimes putting a foot down onto the bog can see it disappear into the depths below, under a clump of dirty mud! This not only makes the hike harder, as you have to use more energy to pull your feet out as you hike, but Bog can also be very deep in places. I have seen people sinking down into it up to their chest on several occasions over the years!
So, where does the hiking pole and stability come in here? Well, as you hike, when you come to a piece of terrain that you just aren’t sure of, rather than sticking your foot out, standing on it and just hoping for the best, take your hiking pole and extend it forward and down into the area you are unsure of.
This will enable you to see how deep the bog or area is when the pole hits the bottom. If your hiking pole just keeps on sinking, you know that, that is definitely not a good place to put your foot down 🙂 and you need to look for another way round!
I used the example of Bog here, as wetlands like that are an easy one to picture, but there are plenty of others. This same approach applies for anything you need to check the stability of. Think of snow in the same way as bog, In fresh drifts, it’s definitely advisable to test the ground in case you sink deep down into it. I’ve been caught out in snow once or twice myself and found myself sinking down into it up to my waist!
Also, think of trying to cross a river with murky water. You need to cross it but you can’t see how deep it is in the murky water. Where you can’t visually see the bottom to see if it’s shallow enough to attempt a crossing. Take your trekking pole and dip in down into the water to see if you’re good to go.
Trekking poles are useful for a group river crossing as well, but I’ll save that for another day. I should add here, that broadly speaking, it is better to avoid crossing rivers in the water as much as possible but sometimes, you have to get across and if it isn’t deep, it should be OK to do so.
Anyway, as you can see, there are plenty of times when hiking poles come in really handy to help you check that the terrain is stable enough to hike on, and it can save you some discomfort and possibly even prevent an injury!
I hope you found this short tip on using your trekking poles to check the stability of terrain useful. It’s a simple thing that will be obvious to many, but if you don’t use poles, or if you have never hiked somewhere where you need to test the stability of the ground frequently, it may not be immediately obvious.
It’s a simple but very effective thing to do and it is truly a safety measure, as it can keep you from stepping into places you shouldn’t and potentially injuring yourself in the process.
If you’re still not sure about getting trekking poles, check out the post on the 5 top reasons why you should buy trekking poles. If you’re thinking that you want to get a pair, check out the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking poles. They're an excellent set of poles that I have been using for a while now and highly recommend. Finally, if you do get poles, remember to keep others safety in mind and be careful where you point them 🙂
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