I have been hiking since my family’s trips out west when I was still counting my age on two hands and I started backpacking about as soon as I was big enough to carry all the gear for a night out. Being a particularly observant outdoorsman (when it comes to gear), I quickly came to associate trekking poles with older hikers. Mind you, the word “older” here is used in the loosest sense of the term since pretty much everyone looks old to a particularly scrawny 12 year old. I took my share of tumbles, but continued to rock hop across streams, bomb downhills, and sprint uphills. All of this energetic frolicking, of course, had no aching repercussions the next day.

As I got older, my packs got heavier and I learned quickly that such throw-caution-to-the-wind behavior resulted in slips, twisted ankles, and especially sore knees. And so I comfortably settled into the more “mature” hiking gait: rhythmic uphill climbing, cautious descending, and generally exercising more control on the trail. Toning down my spaz-tendencies did me well for a few more years, but then I came to discover that the aches and pains that had only previously been associated with my brash hiking style were present after any day with a heavy load or on sketchy terrain.

Unfortunately, I looked for a solution in all the wrong places. I bought heavier duty boots for more support. Better, but still achy. I started lightening up my pack and leaving the unnecessary behind. Helps a lot, but the soreness is still there. Oh well, I guess a few aches and pains will just get integrated into the whole outdoor schema. Around this time my parents started going on more hikes with my aunt and her hiking club. After having the same knee and ankle pains that had motivated me into so many gear purchases, they took a different approach to problem solving and invested in some trekking poles their club members had recommended. My dad conserved much more energy climbing hills that would have been too steep before the poles. My mom was able to maintain better posture and avoid back pain the next day. And both of them received a fair amount of mockery from their naïve gearhead of a son.
Content to endure a few aches for the sake of my outdoor addiction, I focused my attention more on the new ultralight movement. I was (and am) a moderate ultralight-er at best. Seeing as how I had a great bag, pad, and pack for fast and light trips, I started looking into tarps as an alternative to my old tent. Problem is that I can’t always depend on good trees as anchors. So I begrudgingly invested in a pair of Leki trekking poles and began discussing my homemade tarp plans with anyone who would listen. Well, the poles arrived but the tarp has yet to materialize. So you think that they’ve been sitting in my closet, right? Wrong.

I was lucky enough to have them on a recent weekend trip to Mount Rogers. The seams were bursting on my daypack, but I had two nights worth of food and clothes inside. Hiking in my Montrail running shoes (the purpose of the trip was a half-day trail run), I expected the usual aches after hiking especially since I was in shoes rather than boots and running between hikes. I was surprised by no stiffness. I found it pretty easy to get into a good rhythm (think XC skiing) with the poles in hand and they really helped getting up the hills and especially coming downhill. I made sure to adjust the poles accordingly for the terrain, and they were really a pleasant surprise. On a trip that was all about saving weight, one item I had never considered essential really made the trip much more enjoyable.

To make a long story short, I had to once again take my foot out of my mouth and compliment my parents on finding a solution that was apparently too obvious for a gear enthusiast. Trekking poles offer great advantages to all ages, all ability levels, and in all environments. If you’re still skeptical, come down to one of our stores and check out our selection of Leki, Life-Link, and Tracks poles and staffs. Save yourself the shoehorn.

Daniel Grillo, Marketing Intern