Trekking poles have become an important part of our equipment whether hunting, hiking or mountaineering. While their advantages are similar wherever they’re used, I believe they offer more value to hunters for two main reasons. First, we’re often off established trails and travel some really rugged terrain where others have rarely been or likely to be soon. That means we really need to look out for our own safety. Secondly, at the risk of upsetting our hiking backpacking friends, we typically carry a lot more weight especially when hauling out meat. Consider all this as we examine the advantages of a good set of trekking poles. Even if you don’t use them yet and don’t often carry heavy loads, now may be the time for your next hunt. Here are some things to think about.
Reduced Stress and Strain on Joints
Trekking poles reduce the impact on knee and hip joints and leg muscles while arm and shoulder muscles give support to relieve the strain.
Dr. G. Neureuther in 1981 published a study proving an approximate 20% leg pressure strain reduction and a 5 kg body weight reduction with every step. A 1999 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine showed trekking poles can reduce the compressive force on your knees by up to 25%. Stress is reduced on level ground but you really notice it dramatically climbing or going downhill. Another advantage is keeping your arms moving doesn’t allow blood to pool in your hands and cause them to swell up. There’s some discussion about more total energy expenditure with poles due to arm motion, but consensus says the benefits far overcome any energy expenditure.
From hunt.kuiu.com, April 7, 2015 “Gear and Preparation”:
“The best support I’ve been able to turn up is an academic study (1) performed in 2008 by Northumbria University (United Kingdom). To summarize, this study examined the effects of heavy hiking on heart rate, perceived exertion, and muscle soreness at intervals ranging from immediately after to 72 hours after the climb and descent of Mount Snowdon in Wales. Two groups of 18 people with similar fitness levels, wearing similar gear and pack weights, and who ate the same meals leading up to and during the climb took part in the study. One group used trekking poles while the other climbed unaided.
The results showed convincing evidence that the trekking pole group experienced less muscle soreness, and faster recovery immediately after the hike. Additionally, creatinine levels (which indicate muscle damage) in the non-trekking pole group were much higher 24-hours post climb than the trekking pole group which showed creatine enzyme amounts that nearly matched pre-climb levels.
To relate this study back to our mountain hunting interest, faster recovery and less soreness in the leg muscles after each day of hiking translates to an increase in sustained bodily performance over the course of long, physical hunts.”
(1) Northumbria University. “How trekking-poles help hikers maintain muscle function while reducing soreness.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100602121000.htm>.
The bottom line is trekking poles help protect our joints and sustain our day after day performance in the field. That translates to more enjoyable, safer and successful hunts and preserves our joints, especially our knees, to lengthen our hunting careers. I’m mature enough to realize how important that really is and with trekking poles on my essentials list, I plan to hunt for many decades to come.
Balance and Safety
The advantage of having three to four points of contact working through tough terrain makes a huge difference. Imagine making a stream crossing over slippery rocks in a current without trekking poles. Things can get nasty fast. Whether negotiating mountain knife edges, working through a rock field or hunting through down timber trekking poles provide that extra balance that can prevent a tumble or worse. I depend on them going to and from my hunting stands in the dark. Add to that wet, slippery leaves or ice and snow, even without a heavy load, and balance is everything. I’ve found them worth their weight in gold.
Again, “From hunt.kuiu.com, April 7, 2015 “Gear and Preparation”:
“Aside from reduced weight and strain on the legs from a pure load bearing standpoint, trekking poles truly shine when it comes to balance and sure-footedness. During a September high country deer hunt last season I had watched a buck bed a few hundred yards below me on a nearly vertical granite hillside. The only way to get in range out of his view was to drop into a narrow avalanche chute, which was chock full of loose softball sized rocks. One slip of the foot and not only was I headed down the mountain, but so was everything underneath me. Trekking poles in hand, I was slowly but surely able to make it down through the chute by “testing” each next step with a pole before trusting an edge of boot sole on it. Without having the trekking poles to stabilize and support this backcountry ballerina act, I would have never made it into range undetected. Unfortunately, trekking poles don’t cure buck fever… I missed.”
Hunting adventures have inherent dangers and that’s clearly only one reason it rewards our passion. The equipment we choose gives us a edge and lowers our stress and anxiety keeping our focus on the hunt. Choose to be safe.
Techniques and Tips
Trekking poles improve posture and help us stay in a relaxed, easy rhythm. I’ve noticed improved circulation in my arms and shoulders that keeps me energized especially carrying a pack on long approaches.
When climbing it’s important to keep our torso more erect so that our powerful leg muscles can do most of the work. The tendency is to bend forward especially carrying a load. Trekking poles should be used for balance and to help lift your torso up using your arms. Keep your arms and hands close to your sides though as you keep yourself erect, less out in front of your body. This lowers stress on your arms letting your powerful leg muscles do the heavy lifting while your arms still offer support to your torso and keep your balance. Personally, I’ve not experienced severe arm stress and I believe our bodies adjust and balance the load naturally between arms and legs. Obviously some forward leaning is important to avoid falling backward, but stamina and energy improve when not climbing hunched over and it really saves the knees. Sometimes use a double plant technique to help step up a particularly tough section, but always be especially careful where you plant your poles. Don’t get them caught in cracks between rocks and roots or in a crevasse. That could actually upset your balance and pull you backward, but I can’t count the times trekking poles have saved my bacon on a narrow trail by catching my balance.
Improved balance means we’re more stealthy and less apt to spook game. I’ve even frozen with one leg in the air when a deer or elk notices me by using my trekking poles to hold my stance. Plus they can double as an handy shooting rest.
When going downhill extend the poles as much as possible for the same reasons in reverse. You have to have bent knees going downhill and extended poles make a big difference. Don’t hunch over but stay more upright at the waist whenever possible for balance and good footing. The advantage of longer trekking poles or a staff here is huge and really preserves your knees, legs and lower back to hunt again another day.
All our gear should be as multi purpose as possible and trekking poles are no exception. They can be used for tent poles or to rig a tarp eliminating weight. Many lightweight tarps weigh less than a pound, are amazingly adaptable and can be formed into different shelters with two trekking poles.
We’ve already mentioned that trekking poles can double as a shooting rest. STEALTHPOD X is a new innovative system that is one of the best shooting sticks on the market and doubles as two rugged trekking poles. It converts between monopod, bipod or tripod, supports optics and the whole system weighs 3 pounds. The trekking poles double as an adjustable bipod and they only weigh 2 pounds. I’ll never hunt without one. Check it out at www.stealthpodx.com