Somewhere along the way, hikers and backpackers got the idea to use poles to help them travel the trails. Of course, before that hikers traditionally used wooden hiking staffs, ranging from a broken-off limb found in the woods to ornately carved wooden works of art, decorated with metal plates signifying trails and parks, prized by their owners (I’ll never forget the time a group of us camped out and during the night someone’s expensive carved hiking staff got mixed up with firewood and burned).
Today, most hikers have abandoned the wooden staff for metal trekking poles. These poles are lightweight, with built-in shock absorbers and handgrips as well as straps to wrap around your wrists. Trekking poles also adjust, to make them high or low to suit also your desires. They range in price from $20 models to $200 ultralight carbon fiber poles.
Trekking poles are advantageous for hikers and backpackers, especially in the mountainous trails of East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina. While traveling uphill, hikers use their trekking poles to help them climb, spreading some of the ascending energy from the legs to the arms. This not only keeps your legs fresher, but also exercises your upper body.
Trekking poles also deliver an advantage while going downhill, especially if you have a heavy pack. When descending, hikers and backpackers put extra strain on their knees and lower body trying to absorb the shock and weight of going downhill. By planting your trekking poles while descending you can spread punishment on your knees to your arms and shoulders. This keeps your knees fresher for the rest of the hike.
Trekking poles have become so popular that certain tent and tarp manufacturers have incorporated trekking poles into their shelter designs. This way, a backpacker can carry a tent or tarp and use the trekking poles as tent poles, thus saving weight.
So what are the disadvantages of trekking poles? Primarily, it is simply keeping up with them. First, you have to get them into the car, then to the trailhead, then on the hike. Sometimes while stopping trekking poles get left behind. I have found trekking poles on the trail — and left them too.
I just started using trekking poles a few years ago, acknowledging that not only can I spread the exercise value throughout my body with trekking poles but also it eases the punishment on my legs. However, while writing hiking guides my hands are occupied carrying a GPS, a voice recorder, a camera and a map. Therefore, it is really hard to manage all that stuff and a pair of trekking poles.
Therefore, I primarily use just one trekking pole, keeping the other hand free. However, most backpackers and almost all Appalachian Trail thru-hikers use two trekking poles. I recommend them no matter what your age or distances you hike, for it is simply a great way to get exercise from head to toe while walking the beautiful trails of the Southern Appalachians.