Any British hiker will tell you a bit of rain doesn’t stop the day hike. Driving rain is character building and other nations’ hikers that say otherwise are soft. Its true I guess, we will go out in all weather, pigheadedly pretending to enjoy ourselves when you cant feel your hands on a autumn day and its just plain miserable, with sideways rain scouring the hillside. You see a determined father out in front, then 30ft behind is a wife dragging the complaining child. I used to figure that big mountains abroad had much worse weather so we should at least be comfortable in our lot. This mentality carries though on a few points. Another being everyone needs a good sturdy pair of hiking boots if your going for a day hike, because that’s what sensible people do. To be seen out in a pair of trainers on a mountain is just plain dangerous, folly, laughable. They should also be gortex also because it’s a word we associate with quality products.
These thoughts are for the main part wrong, but forgivable. Brits seem to specialise in this kind of thinking, the traditional hard man thoughts on matters. Now, early on i switched to lighter footwear and this was good in my eyes, but, one thing I have personally come to realise, is how wrong I was about hiking poles.
And as the hardier hikers push past on such days, they often scoff anyone bearing a pole in hand. The belief that hiking poles belong in the grasp of the old and unsteady, the slow and those caught out by the salesman in the shop. Any Europeans spotted hiking with them must be idiots, and a few years ago I would have shared the sentiment and mocked anybody bumbling up a path with these unnatural extensions to the arms.
Now, I used to be fast going up hills, for a hiker anyway. Pushing hard, reaching the summit and thinking I was Boss. But I always knew I had a limit. With heavy boots on feet, for me a couple of 3000ft ascents in a day would be that limit. At which point my legs would begin to cramp up, and the pace would slow. I would be beat.
Then I bought a set of hiking poles. I was embarrassed wielding them at the foot of the first hill. Trying to hide them from view to other hikers, Not quite sure where I was going to place them. I spent more time looking at the ground than the scenery around me. But soon enough it clicked. I climbed to the summit of the first peak…..
I felt fresh, fast, like I was just warmed up. So I descended the other side of the mountain into a valley I hadn’t been in before. That was easy, so a paced back up. Striking hard with the poles propelling myself at a hill running pace. I was back at the summit (this day was Scafell Pike). More to the point, I still felt fresh. I descended quite bemused. Had my fitness increased dramatically overnight? I flew up and down the mountain twice and swore I could do it again. ….
So I started using them. Never too sure if it was the hiking poles propelling me or just the mental drive. I went hiking in the states but left the poles at home. For a few hundred miles hiking I felt great, but slower on the uphills. Then an opportunity for some testing came. By the will of Zeus I kind family in Montana out of the blue donated a set to me. I carried on hiking, and a couple of weeks later met another hiker who was going fast. I would hike on and off with him over the next few weeks.
The first time was on a ridgeline on the montana/Idaho borderline. Full of PUDS(pointless ups and downs). I had my hiking poles, my friend Tim didn’t. I was fast, climbing the hills with ease. Hiking Ahead, but not separated from Tim. The next time met him was just south of Yellowstone park. Another half day hiking with Tim, he had his poles, and he was more than a match for me, quicker with every stride. I was slightly injured so I disallowed the result (honest). But then came the perfect test
120 Miles across the Great Divide Basin.
A perfect arena to test hiking speed with and without trekking poles. 120 mind numbing dull hot, dry miles across an arid pan. We set off, and the pace was as fast as I could comfortably go. Every time I stopped using the poles to propel myself, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep to Tims pace with poles. When I resumed using them, it was no effort. I never told him, but a lot of that time in the big dusty pan crossing I spent testing with and without poles. By the end of the basin we averaged about 4-4.4mph over the 120miles through baking heat. (only counting the hiking time, we did also sleep). The point is Tim was a faster hiker than me, but with poles I could match him (just).
To understand the difference the poles make I want you to imagine (or do if you can be bothered)-loading a backpack with say …… 10 litres of water, put it on your back, and start doing squats. When you get close to your limit and your legs start to cramp, Take the pack off. I’ll bet you can now do considerably more, and, you will fly doing them. Now imagine that weight is your arms, how much easier would it be to march up a hill if that weight wasn’t there. That’s what the trekking poles do for you, if you push down on them, you can take considerable bodyweight off yourself. Less weight is less effort for your legs. So you can go further. The same applies walking across flat ground. With poles properly adjusted, and pointed backwards slightly, you can propel yourself forwards far quicker.
In summary, I now love Hiking Poles, they make Hiking easier, they rock.
(bonus point- It is possible to buy a tent or tarp that utilises you trekking poles , eliminating tent poles, making you pack ever lighter than before. Which would you rather carry- a 400gram hiking pole tent or a +1kg regular tent, in some cases more than 3kg)