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Are hiking poles a waste of money?

pole-200x148Q. I’m going on a backpacking trip and am wondering if I should get hiking poles or not. I think they would help with balance, but my dad says they are a waste of money. What do you think?
— Curious LeRoy, Dubuque, Iowa

A. I never used to be a trekking pole kind of guy, but I just got back from a backpacking trip down in Patagonia, Chile, and I’m so glad I brought them along.

As you mentioned, trekking poles are indeed helpful for boosting your balance, especially when crossing streams or stepping on unstable rocks or loose ground. They are also handy for steep uphills — you can plant the pole in the dirt and use your arm strength to help pull you up. Most of all, I find they help when going down steep downhill sections because you can use the poles to catch yourself and reduce the pounding on your knees from the added weight of a full backpack.

While some of my friends like using two trekking poles, I prefer just a single pole. Though aluminum or carbon fiber poles are lighter in weight and stronger, a good solid wooden hiking stick is cheaper and will definitely do the trick too.

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27 Comments on Are hiking poles a waste of money?

  1. Gate Keeper Jim // October 15, 2018 at 10:08 pm // Reply

    I use one stick in the swamp. There are quick sand like mud holes that will swallow you up to the shoulder. It will help get you out of there. Great for dealing with snakes and most importantly they clear spider webs!!

  2. GtheSwimmer007 // May 18, 2015 at 9:17 pm // Reply

    Tall branch + knife = perfect walking stick

  3. MachuPeachu // March 26, 2015 at 2:45 pm // Reply

    I never use hiking poles and I hike a lot. Generally I hike up slowly and sprint downhill. Please don’t run down a hill unless you have the correct footwear or you will get hurt. Anyway I think they are a wast of money.

  4. Being young and nimble you won’t use them, it’s just not cool, but as you get older they will certainly save your knees and back.

  5. Grateful Dan'l // March 11, 2015 at 5:42 am // Reply

    I was a skeptic in my younger days, and now wish I hadn’t been. While balance is important, the poles are extremely important for easing pressure – wear and tear – on knees. Use two poles as the right pole helps your left knee and the left pole your right knee, and you get into a rhythm as you hike. Go for the telescoping type – if you want a break, they can be folded to a size that fits along your pack with cords.

  6. “Most of all, I find they help when going down steep downhill sections because you can use the poles to catch yourself and reduce the pounding on your knees from the added weight of a full backpack.”


  7. Thrifty Hiker // March 10, 2015 at 8:15 am // Reply

    I bought a set of old ski poles to take on my hike in Scotland and it was really worth it. I did get a lot of funny looks because they were ski poles but I was glad to have them on the rocky terrain. I purchase some rubber end caps and they were just as good as the expensive hiking poles. It would have been easier to travel with nice collapsible poles but at the time I did not have the money to spend.

  8. When I encountered a big snake in the middle of a hiking path I was very grateful to have my hiking pole. I didn’t hurt the snake and he didn’t hurt me.

  9. I really like hiking with one pole. Two seems to get in the way, but at times useful. I have gone back to a strong staff. Has more character, and, I find the metal poles break/bend/lose tips. Make your own poke and you have a great memento and talking piece.

  10. please consider all the alternative ways of using a hiking pole, from being an emergency tent pole to being a signaling device.. My troop found 32 different uses….

  11. 15 or so years as an assistant leader and many hiking trips always used one, at most trails in the at the head of a trail I most always found a few leaning against a tree that somebody left for the next hiker.

  12. I love my Hiking poles. They help my knees , back , and balance. I use 2 poles. Used ski poles work well. Most ski resorts will give you old ones free.

  13. Ghatf10457 // March 9, 2015 at 7:24 pm // Reply

    On an overnight hike they can also double as your shelter poles.

  14. Joepack404 // March 9, 2015 at 6:39 pm // Reply

    I find trekking poles do a number of things. Balance is obvious, pressure off knees in some instances, keeps my hands from swelling, make great tent poles for my tent. Need a hand getting up from the ground? Hiking pole. So if you think you would like to use them, use them. If you choose not to use them, don’t but keep your attitude to yourself. As long as you are on the trail and enjoying the day, don’t let others determine what you should use or feel bad about using.

  15. Poles are definitely helpful; the k depth of streams, mud, creeks, harmony or bug dissuader. Can be used in emergencies as a splint, shelter pole, signaling device, crutch, if wood fire.

  16. Buffalo Gal // March 9, 2015 at 6:05 pm // Reply

    It depends on where you are hiking. In places with nice trails and switchbacks that make the trail less steep, you might not need them. (California for example) In places where you are scrambling over rocks and going over steep terrain (New Hampshire for example) they are wonderful – especially for the way down and saving your knees.

  17. ScoutingVolunteer // March 9, 2015 at 5:09 pm // Reply

    I didn’t use them when I was in my 20s or younger. I used 1 pole while in my 30s but didn’t really “need” it. Now, in my 40s I am thankful to have them and now use both poles.

  18. easy to answer … try using them. if you like them, then they’re for you. if you don’t like them, then don’t use them. 14,000,000 knees in the world they can’t all be the same.

  19. Ranger Dave // March 9, 2015 at 4:22 pm // Reply

    They definitely help with your balance, especially on rough trails. A small investment considering the expense and inconvenience of a twisted or sprained ankle, knee, or other body part. Of course you should always make sure that your pack is well balanced and at the appropriate weight. I have also found that using poles helps balance me when I need to stoop down, or get up after a break.

  20. It’s a waste of money but they are helpful it’s easy to make your own.

  21. tourist grammy // March 16, 2014 at 12:21 pm // Reply

    They are nice for even everyday walking when you’re on a trip that involves a lot of walking around due to lack of nearby parking, (example: Gatlinburg, TN) it sure saves my knees!! YES-they are worth the money!

  22. EagleScoutDad // March 12, 2014 at 8:26 pm // Reply

    I was skeptical about them too, but I found a good article called “Is it time to take trekking poles seriously” that made me give them another try. I found it much easier to hike on steep or rocky trails with them — they really helped take pressure off my knees and helped with balance.

    The article is here in case anyone else is interested:

  23. Hiking poles really help if you are hiking in the mountains.

  24. I never used poles and thought them pretentious and potentially hazardous on steep ground. Now my only question is do I want to use just the one or both of the poles that I have been using for the past year.

    Buy them!!

  25. Yup, waste of money!

  26. I just got back from a 5 day backpacking trip in Monterrey and I didnt bring trekking poles. I didnt think I would need them, but then we had a day where we went beside a river and ended up having to cross it 22 times. I fell in half the time. I would really advise having them if you plan on doing any sort of water crossing.

  27. Definitely make a difference. On my first two Philmont treks I did not use poles, third I did and much easier going on an older hiker. YES use them.

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