The Power of Poles

Moderate hikers at Lost Dutchman State Park ready to hike to Siphon Draw: Front row (left to right): Scott Downey, Kathy Ivesdal, Kitch Trost; back row (left to right): Jim Savage, Paul Feeney, Curt Brown, Ed Molinari, David Coffman (photo by Warren Wasescha)

Warren Wasescha, Sun Lakes Hiking Club

No, not Lech Walesa, or any of his Polish contemporaries (although that would be a good article to read). This article is about the power of hiking poles—those sticks you see people using on hiking trails. Not everyone is aware of their power.

My first use of poles was back in 2016 when I hiked to Phantom Ranch at the Grand Canyon. Another club hiker convinced me to use them. Said I was foolish not to consider them. Said they accomplish two things: First, they take pressure off your leg muscles to reduce the strain that would otherwise cause your leg muscles to fatigue prematurely. Second, they help build up your upper-body strength. The pressure on your leg muscles is shifted to your muscles in your upper body—a win-win. You get to hike longer. Your upper body gets a workout. The poles worked beautifully on this hike, and I’ve been a proponent ever since.

Poles also help prevent you from falling. With three points of contact, it’s very hard to lose your balance and slip or fall. When you hike, each time you take a step, without poles, you’ve got only one point of contact, the foot that’s grounded as the other moves forward. Pretty easy to get tippy and fall if something throws you off balance, like an unexpected rock in your path. With poles, they act in concert with your grounded foot to keep you upright and stable.

An example of where poles really helped keep me upright was on a recent hike to Siphon Draw in the Superstitions on a day after a rainfall. Some of the ascents and descents were damp and a bit steep. Several times, the tread on my aging hiking shoes were not as grippy as I was hoping, and I lost my footing. Having poles in my hands saved me from what otherwise would have been a nasty fall. By the way, I went shopping for new hiking shoes later that day.

Another benefit of poles is that they simply help you hike faster. This is especially evident on downward slopes. Without poles, to keep your balance, you often take baby steps to avoid the risk of a fall. With poles, you have more stability, allowing you to move at a faster pace. They also take the pressure off your knees as you make your descent—another win-win situation.

Like hiking? All upcoming and past hikes, along with information about our club, can be viewed on our Meetup site. Just type “Sun Lakes Hiking Club” into your web browser to locate us. Questions not found on our Meetup site? Please reach out to our president Stu Frost at [email protected].

If you like hiking, we’d love to have you join us. We are a friendly, inclusive group of hikers who welcome all able-bodied hikers. Our goal is to make group hiking fun, challenging, social, and safe.

We look forward to hiking with you!