Scouting October 2000

Hiking Sticks Give Your Knees a Break

By Karen Berger

Do your knees ache at the end of the hiking day? Is walking downhill harder than walking up? Have you ever tried leading a group of Scouts across a knee-deep stream? Trekking poles can help.

I first learned about trekking poles while backpacking with some German hikers in Nepal. At first, I wasn't impressed when I saw the two poles that each hiker was using. They looked like overkill—like taking a sleeping bag suitable for 20 below zero to Florida.

But my German pals hopped over streams that had me flummoxed with fear. They danced down slopes that were strewn with loose rocks. And at day's end, it was clear that their knees didn't ache nearly as much as mine.

So I tried a pair of poles for a day—and changed my mind. Since then, I've never been without them.

The main reason to carry walking sticks is to make walking easier, and for that, you can't beat a pair of modern hiking poles. Their most obvious use is taking pressure off beleaguered knees. Leki, a leading manufacturer of trekking poles, estimates that using a pair takes several tons of pressure off your knees and back over the course of an eight-hour hike. Plus, using poles gives your arms a bit of a workout, too.

Boys might handle downhills without difficulty, but poles can help young legs take big steps—for example, when trails go through boulder fields. Similarly, trekking poles can make it easier to cross streams. If rocks are spaced close together, hikers can use poles to keep their balance while stepping from one rock to the next. But if rocks are too far apart to provide a safe passage across a stream, hikers are better off wading, in which case they can still use the poles for balance. Their usefulness doesn't end there. Here's a partial list of stick tricks:

As is true of most hiking gear, trekking poles come in several models. Consider these three major features:

  1. Modern hiking sticks are telescoping, making them easier to travel with. Collapsed, they fit inside a travel bag and can be strapped to your pack when you don't need them. When traversing a steep ridge, you can make one pole shorter than the other. Finally, telescoping poles—while more expensive—make good sense for kids. This is one piece of gear that can grow along with a boy: Just increase the length.
  2. Ask if the model you're interested in has a small shock-absorbing spring, which takes stress off your shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Think about how, when you take a big step down, a rough landing jolts your knees and lower back. With springs, the poles absorb some of that force.
  3. A comfortable handgrip is essential. It can be made of plastic, rubber, or cork. I prefer cork, which absorbs sweat and doesn't get corroded by mosquito repellent. Be warned: In hot weather, you may develop blisters on your hands. Be sure to take along bandages.

Karen Berger is the author of five books about hiking, including Hiking and Backpacking: A Complete Guide (W.W. Norton & Co.). She has walked 15,000 miles on five continents, most of them with trekking poles.

Top of Page

Current Issue | Archives
October 2000 Table of Contents

Copyright © 2000 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.

The Boy Scouts of America BSA