Hiking in Maine: These hiking poles have traveled well, but need replacing

There are a wide variety of hiking poles on the market today. Do your homework and choose the best model for you and your hiking needs. Photo by Carey Kish

Trekking poles have become incredibly popular with day hikers and backpackers over the past two decades, and with good reason. Also called trekking poles and walking poles, these tools of the hiking trade are indispensable aids for greater stability, stress reduction, and increased safety, all of which combine to enhance your overall experience on the trails.

Poles help distribute the load across your back, which takes the strain off your knees and lower joints while working your arms, shoulders, and chest. Using poles reduces fatigue and improves your endurance, which can extend the hours and distance you can cover in a day. The posts increase your contact with the ground for more secure footing and vertical stability and balance, essential for stream crossings, rough terrain, and climbing and descending steep slopes.

The comforting rhythmic movement of the wobble poles helps you maintain a good rhythm and you can lean on your poles when taking a short break. Poles can be used to probe brush along trails and ward off snakes and other small creatures, and you can also use them to erect your tent or ultralight tarp. No wonder hiking poles are nearly ubiquitous today!

An early adopter, this hiker bought hiking poles from LL Bean over 25 years ago. These same faithful LEKI Super Makalu have been with me for thousands of miles. Well run in but still functional, my poles are finally due for a good retirement though, so I went back to the source to see what’s going on in the world of hiking poles these days with the hope of finding a suitable replacement.

“Today’s hiking poles are much lighter and stronger thanks to higher quality materials and improved manufacturing,” said Chris Henson, Merchandise Manager for Sports Equipment at LL Bean. “The poles are better ergonomically designed than ever, so they’re easier and more comfortable to hold, and the pole straps and lengths are more convenient to adjust, even on the fly.”

Whether you’re a seasoned user of hiking poles or considering poles for the first time, there’s a dizzying array of choices on the market and plenty of technical details to sort through and consider. You’ll really want to do your homework so you can walk away with a good product that will best meet your hiking needs and provide you with many years of enjoyment.

Trekking poles are made of aluminum alloy or carbon fiber. Carbon is lighter but less durable, while aluminum is heavier but will last longer. The posts will have two or three sections; three is best because the pole will be able to fold into a shorter length for easier packing. Make sure the pole will fit properly for your size and for use with your tent or tarp (if applicable).

Adjustable post sections lock in place with a cam lock or twist lock. Although twistlocks have improved, they are still prone to slipping. Cam locks – 80-90% of the market – are faster to use and much more reliable. Some sticks feature a spring mechanism in the shaft that acts as a shock absorber to reduce vibration.

Pole grips can be rubber, foam or cork, angled slightly forward or flush with the pole. The material is your preference, but make sure the handle feels good in your hand. The straps should be easily adjustable to fit everything from bare hands to thick gloves. Extended Grips are a relatively new feature that allows you to “shorten” the stick on the go without actually adjusting it.

Poles come with small diameter baskets, which some hikers prefer to remove. If you plan on hiking in the winter, make sure your poles also come with larger diameter snow baskets or are available as accessories. Most club tips are made of indestructible carbide for reliable grip on hard surfaces.

“When making your decision, choose sticks with the characteristics that suit you and you’ve probably found a good stick,” Hensen said. “Of course, as the weight of the poles decreases, the price in turn increases, but the comfort you buy also increases.”

Avoid cheap counterfeits; they just aren’t worth it. When it comes to hiking poles and your health and safety on the trails, quality matters, so shop with a reputable outdoor retailer where you can get expert advice.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish

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