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Trekking poles for hunting…wimpy or smart?

 

Hiking in the backcountry with trekking poles
All photo credits: Josh Kirchner 

As funny as it might sound, the first time I ever saw someone walking through the hills with trekking poles, I was a bit surprised. Why was this person walking around the desert with ski poles? Coincidentally enough, it was an older gentleman, so I just chalked it up to his old age. I told myself that a person at his stage in life would surely need some extra support walking around out here. As time went on, I saw more and more folks using these "ski poles" on their hunts. And, to my surprise, they weren't all seniors either. These were fully capable young adults that shouldn't have any problems hiking these areas. I will admit, that for awhile, I was anti-trekking pole. That was until I started being more successful at filling the freezer. The more heavy packs that I experienced, the more I thought to myself, "Maybe these people are onto something."

Why trekking poles?

Trekking poles helping maneuver through the snow

This question slowly started to answer itself as I grew in my hunting. The more backpacking trips and heavy packouts that I experienced, the more it started to make sense. Why wouldn't you want some extra support, especially with 100 lbs on your back? If you are anything like me, the amount of miles you hike each year is unfathomable. If that is you and you haven't jumped on the trekking pole wagon yet, here are some things to think about.

Longevity

I will tell you right now that I am absolutely terrified at the thought of getting older and possibly being limited to what I can and can't do in the field. I want to be able to do the things I love for as long as possible. Because of that, trekking poles soon became a no-brainer for me. Hiking up and downhill with heavyweight eats at your joints; your knees in particular. By implementing trekking poles into the mix, you can actually reduce stress on your knees by 25% on a 25-degree slope. I imagine that number only grows with how steep of a hill you are going up or down. I don't know about you, but all of the critters I have been lucky enough to take, haven't ever conveniently passed away in flat country. The way I see it, if you can reduce stress on your joints, you are only extending the life of them. That sounds like a good deal to me.

Better posture

Trekking poles helping with posture on heavy pack out

This is one that I hadn't realized until spending more and more time with my newly beloved trekking poles. As we increase the load in our packs, we tend to bend forward gradually. This is natural and expected. We have a heavy pack that is weighing us down and we naturally want to fight against it. Trekking poles help offset that by giving you more support in front, which will, in turn, straighten you out a bit and give you better posture when hitting the mountains. Not only is this going to be healthier for your back, but it is also going to lessen the impact on your energy. You will be able to hike longer and farther due to less fatigue. You’ll also notice that the next day, you won’t be as sore.

Stay balanced

I wasn’t clumsy before I started using trekking poles, but thanks to them I have definitely taken way fewer tumbles. The advantage of having three to four points of contact when traversing through nasty terrain is huge. By doing this, I have saved myself from falling more than a few times. The poles especially come in handy during creek crossings. Stepping on slippery rocks with heavy weight is a recipe for not only getting wet but also rolling your ankle. That is not something you want on your glory hike back to your truck. You will avoid most injuries simply by being more balanced.

Cut weight

Using trekking poles for setting up a tent

This idea is specifically geared towards backpack hunting. How can you cut weight by adding weight? There are quite a few shelters available that can be set up using trekking poles. These shelters tend to be super lightweight, weighing roughly a pound. If you grab one of these, you will be cutting the weight down in your pack by not having to carry extra tent poles. I recently did this myself and have been pleased with the results. My new shelter weighs in at a whopping 1 lb 5 oz. With a trekking pole, it adds another 6 ounces. Now, I am sub 2 lbs for a shelter in the backcountry due to my use of trekking poles.

If you're interested in trekking pole durability here is a link to a goHUNT trekking pole stress test

Disadvantages of trekking poles

Disadvantages of trekking poles

If you ask me, I will tell you that there are far more advantages than disadvantages by using trekking poles. While there aren't a ton of downsides, there are some. Remember how I just said that you would cut weight by adding trekking poles to your arsenal? Well, if you aren't backpack hunting, you are just adding weight. While there are some pretty lightweight poles out there, it doesn't change the fact that you are adding one or two more things to your pack. With that being said, I still think that trekking poles are worth their weight in gold. You might be adding to your pack, but you are taking away from stress on your joints. That’s a pretty fair trade-off in my opinion.

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Another disadvantage that I have experienced is they have actually almost made me fall when hiking. That isn't something that has happened a lot by any means, but it has happened. While hiking, I have had a pole actually get caught in a rock crevice, which totally threw off my balance and made me nearly fall. As you are intertwining your way through the mountains, pay attention to where you are actually placing your poles in the ground.

Wimpy or smart?

Black Diamond trekking poles

Like I said above, I was one of those anti-trekking pole people for quite awhile. My reasoning was somewhat childish: I thought that they just made whoever was using them look wimpy. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it's the truth. I thought that I was young and strong, leaving me no reason to need help hiking the mountains. That was the sound of ignorance knocking at my door. I was simply unaware of the benefits and thought I would get made fun of for using them. Nowadays, I say let your friends make fun of you. You are going to be the one laughing when they are struggling to keep up with you on future hunts. So, wimpy or smart? I am going to lean on the end of smart all day on this one. There will always be a place in my pack for trekking poles. Not just for what lies ahead today, but more importantly, what lies ahead tomorrow.

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20 Comments

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Zachary B. - posted 8 months ago on 04-10-2018 02:56:28 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

I won't go into woods without them anymore for most the reasons listed. I prefer cam locks for length adjustments. And use them frequently as a shooting stick, loop the wrist lanyards over each other makes sturdy basket to shoot from. Ill use this setup for quick spotting scope use as well.

Josh K. - posted 8 months ago on 04-09-2018 07:53:46 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Thanks Justin! All truth there!

Justinsorensen1983
Justin S. - posted 8 months ago on 04-09-2018 07:57:11 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Definitely make hiking with a load much more manageable. Leki is the only brand I have used and they are great wimpy or not I bust them out. Keep up the good work guys.

Rick T. - posted 8 months ago on 04-08-2018 09:07:44 pm

All of the pluses and another I found Stealth! Stop with one foot in the air/ freeze in mid step. Move super slow with balance when needed
I also am convinced the step of man sounds different with poles. Just my observations and maybe an over active imagination but I have had experiences with deer and elk that make my poles part of the stealth game. Rifle or smoker ride on back until needed
Bow method not comfortable yet so it doubles as a balance point when poles aren’t used

Josh K. - posted 8 months ago on 04-06-2018 10:55:12 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Great tip Stephen!

stephen
stephen s. - posted 8 months ago on 04-06-2018 06:43:02 am
goHUNT INSIDER

I have used the Liki brand for years. I am very happy with their performance and I have not had any failures of the Liki and they get abused. Only modifications is that I spray paint them a flat brown or other flat color as they tend to be a little shiny for hunting - but remember to put a little orange or other bright color tape on them so you can find when you drop or set down...

Josh K. - posted 8 months ago on 04-06-2018 04:34:53 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Ryan,

I've also heard great things about the leki poles. Truth be told, I've never bought or used a brand of trekking pole other than black diamond. My wife, brother, dad, and a few friends all run them with no issues. I'm pretty happy with them.

Ryan R. - posted 8 months ago on 04-06-2018 04:23:02 am
goHUNT INSIDER

I see a lot about Black Diamond poles, but are they really that much better than other brands?

mitchell.sean24
Sean M. - posted 8 months ago on 04-02-2018 10:44:28 am
IDAHO
goHUNT INSIDER

I thought the same thing, those things look like they are for suckers. Then when I finally was convinced to get some, it is a world of difference. Stephen hit the nail on the head, it is 4 wheel drive. Balance, stability, less stress on the legs/knees. Add 80-100lbs of meat to pack out, they are a must.

Josh K. - posted 8 months ago on 04-02-2018 06:06:22 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Seth,

Interesting stuff! Thanks for chiming in!

SETH D. - posted 8 months ago on 04-02-2018 04:42:10 am
Big Wonderful Wyoming
goHUNT INSIDER

The first time I ever saw them was in the late 1990's on hiking/travel television show where a couple used them on the Milford Track in New Zealand. The show was sponsored by LL Bean and featured a lot of their gear. I had not really seen them in the hunting world until Billy Molls started requiring his clients to show up with them in Alaska, and Rick French was doing the same thing. I am not 100% that the Alaskan Guiding Fraternity didn't pioneer the idea. I don't know who was first up there, but I think they had a hand in the program.

Josh K. - posted 8 months ago on 04-01-2018 08:00:38 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Stephen,

I love that!! 4x4 Is right on the money!

stephen
stephen s. - posted 8 months ago on 04-01-2018 08:04:22 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Its 4x4 for your body... Remember to adjust the pole height as needed for going up or down hills.

Josh K. - posted 8 months ago on 04-01-2018 04:09:50 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Tim C.

No brainer for sure In that steep country! I find that I carry them no matter the terrain though with the forward thought of a filled tag and heavy pack out!

Josh K. - posted 8 months ago on 04-01-2018 04:05:54 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Good on ya Sidney! Glad to hear that they work so well for you! That sounds next level tough with you hiking through dead fall!

Sidney_Smith
Sidney S. - posted 8 months ago on 04-01-2018 02:39:30 pm
Vernal, ut
goHUNT INSIDER

Well done! With my prosthetics trekking poles are a must have for balance hiking on the uneven grown. Since there is no flex in the ankle the poles stop me from falling forward when going down hill and power going up. I do hate that it's just one more piece of gear to bring though. Sneaking through deadfall with them is also a pain.

Tim C. - posted 8 months ago on 04-01-2018 03:34:38 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Great article. We did our first backpacking trip last fall for elk. I was up in the air as to whether or not to get them. But they literally about saved our lives on this super steep canyon hike we did. They are invaluable in really steep country. If you're hiking rolling hills I could see why it might be a debate to carry them or not. But it is a no brainer in the steep country!

Travis M. - posted 8 months ago on 03-31-2018 08:45:48 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

I typically don't use trekking poles unless I am carrying a lot of weight and off trail, in which case they can be life savers if you have a heavy load. That being said, they are extra weight and may have a negative connotation attached to some. Keep in mind many mountaineers and backcountry ultralights only carry one stick if weight is the only concern. I haven't tried this product but plan to this summer before the hunting season: https://stealthpodx.com/ If anyone has any initial thoughts or experience with the product please share away...

Josh K. - posted 8 months ago on 03-30-2018 06:08:34 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Straight up knee savers!

drlstripeing74
david l. - posted 8 months ago on 03-30-2018 05:35:34 pm
cortez colorado
goHUNT INSIDER

trekking poles are awesome I started using them a couple years ago... I don't hike with out them now