There was once a time when I would stumble around on steep slopes, hands on knees as I bent forwards and pushed myself ever upwards, conscious that the descent was most likely going to be even more knee-jarringly painful, let alone occasionally hazardous.
I was oblivious to the use of trekking poles, and remained so for quite a time, until my entrée to their use whilst editing Lakeland Walker. I was sold. Too often fellow walkers had, with a certain level of disdain, suggested that they were for use only by the elderly, in order for them to eek out a few more years of enjoyment on the fells. Well, let us cast that falsehood aside straight away. Walking sticks have been aiding balance for centuries – as well as coming in useful as the occasional weapon, not that I would suggest for a moment that you threaten to stab a fellow hiker in the rear with your modern trekking pole, should they not be moving as quickly as you. The technology has advanced enormously, with today’s market place full of different styles and price points, to suit the corresponding needs. Just think, for a moment, the multiple benefits of carrying poles, asides from as an aid to balance and reduce pressure on the knees and back. They can be used effectively to support a tarp, as stretcher-bearers, and for rock hops over streams. Conversely, and yes, there is always a down side, they can get in the way, should you leave them dangling from your wrists as you ascend to a rocky impasse where you have to resort to hands and feet. Common sense should prevail as you slip them between rucksack and back. In this day and age, it is so important to consider the negative impact on the environment, scraping and thereby scarring rocks with the pole ends, and leaving imprints on mossy, bog-ridden terrain. Again, common sense should prevail, as you use rubber tips to lessen the impact.
A couple of pointers to consider: Remember that trekking poles are used as an aid to walking, not as a substitute to foot placement. Store your poles when tackling terrain where they may prove more of hindrance. And finally, practice using them before heading off to the hills, and you will soon find your perfect rhythm.
LEKI SHERPA XL SPEEDLOCK
Leki are one of the market leaders, and the highly efficient Speedlock version has seen a number of upgrades in terms of lightness and the speed of the locking system (thus the name). Weighing in at 525g a pair, they are extremely durable and are well suited to more demanding terrain. Interestingly, should you be particularly tall, they will suit you well, thanks to an adjustment range of 70-145cm. Made from lightweight high tensile aluminium tubing, the advanced speedlock system offers a very secure lock, so there is no worry about slippage The extra long Aergon thermal foam grips are extremely comfortable, offering ergonomic support. I like the long handles, making it easy to adjust to the lower part of the shaft when on a steep approach section. The Carbide Flexitip comes with an interchangeable basket system. They are certainly not the lightest or the most compact of poles I have tried, but when it comes to usage, they are second-to-none. The build quality is exactly what we have come to expect from Leki. The durability is substantial, the 3-section pole offering exceptional length adjustment, and the hand grip is neatly shaped, offering all-round comfort, whether or not you are wearing gloves. Although I didn’t find it an issue, some may find the minimum adjustment of 70mm a slight hindrance when it comes to carrying them, so bear that in mind. It might be an idea to take your rucksack along when checking them out, just to be sure. £110 (pair), www.leki.co.uk
KOMPERDELL HIKEMASTER POWERLOCK
Manufactured in Austria, you would imagine Komperdell know a thing or two about the mountains and the gear to suit, and you would not be mistaken. Honed over the past 80 years, the craftsmanship is exemplary. Take, for example, the Hikemaster, a 3-piece telescopic pole made from aircraft grade aluminium alloy. With an adjustable length of 105 to 140cm, they are perfect for hikers, offering all the confidence that is required when encountering varying terrain. They come with Komperdell’s Powerlock mechanism featuring machined alloy locking levers that wrap around the pole joints, thankfully avoiding the need for twisting. You simply open and close the clips for the desired length adjustment. They have a comfy grip complete with padded strap, and a Tungsten/carbide flex tip, with Vario trekking basket. Nice and light, with a simple clip lock, they are worth their weight in aluminium. £80 (pair), www.komperdell.com