Walking Poles…….worth it for me?

Sunday finds me reviewing my current kit and my next few walks and camps. I want to do a bit more tarping in the next month or two but I have a conundrum which links into the title of the post. When previously tarping I have used bespoke tarping poles of the carbon variety for lightness. These have left me somewhat underwhelmed because of several things:

1. They are quite bendy compared to tent poles. Bendiness in the poles restricts how tight I can pitch the tarp which is important in windy conditions. Ok they are light and the bendiness is the compromise you accept for the weight saving. I would just feel more secure if the poles had more rigidity.

2. They lack “feet”. Ok what I mean is that all the poles I have end in a simple rubber grommet type bulb. There is no wide foot or platform for placing on the ground which if you have soggy conditions means the poles will simply start sinking. Again a weight compromise and yes I can buy “feet” for the poles but its an inelegant solution.

3. The tips dont lend themselves to guylines. I mean that the tops of the poles are very simple affairs that can fit in a grommet but will not hold a simple guyline knot. Yes again, I could learn how to do hitch knots and the like but I like point and shoot equipment. I could create grommet straps for linking the tarp to the pole but again this is a faff.

4. I cant use them for anything else! Ok I am being curmudgeonly here as my poles together weigh around 100g or so and therefore not exactly heavy. This last point alone led me to thinking or rethinking about walking poles….

So, in the past I have tried poles and not been enamoured by them. I find I dont need them per se at the moment (though as I get older I am sure this will change). People who use them rave about them. I still in the back of my mind think pole use is a bit like the boot vs shoe argument. People who wear boots say they help walking because they are sturdy and they can walk over any terrain and not slip fall over or break ankles etc. Poles to me feel like they are a detraction from the art of walking. Having said that I can see a use on climbs and descents but for pure ridgewalking I dont see a need for them (IMHO of course!)

So, my pondering about tarps and tarp poles made me think about walking poles. If I could find a pair of poles that were lightweight, could be used for occasional walking duties (but more often then not stowed in the pack) and be much more superior to tarp poles for the above 4 reasons then maybe……

Having spent a few hours researching I have come to the conclusion that standard poles be they flick lock or twist lock just wouldnt cut the mustard for me being heavy and faffy. Also aluminium as a material of construction would be much heavier than my current poles (4 or 5 times the weight). Delving in a bit further I discovered that apart from the obvious carbon poles, there were actually simple 3 or 4 section poles that rely on stretch cord to assemble/disassemble rather than locking mechanisms. These have the advantage of being lighter and thus less likely to fail (in some ways). Having looked at several examples of these types of poles I have a little list of potential goers.

  • Black Diamond Ultra Distance Carbon Trekking Poles – these are around £100 and 265g for the 110cm length. They are unadjustable in height but have mini baskets (but cant fit snow baskets), a longish foam handle and adjustable hand straps. Apparently the locking mechanism is the best for this type of pole (less slippage of the internal bungee cord)
  • Grivel Trail Poles – these are typically around £75 so cheaper and have a long foam handle and sleeve for hand position adjustment when going uphill or down. They have a simple baskets (again no snow baskets) and apparently the locking mechanism can be hard to disengage. They weigh 430g for a pair so are relatively heavy but still lighter than most standard poles. Again height of finished pole is unadjustable
  • Mountain King Trail Blaze Walking Poles – these are the simplest and lightest of all the poles here being a mere 220g for a pair! They have simple foam handles and rely on an external velcro tab to retain the bungee cord that keeps the pole sections together. They can also suffer from boggy ground pulling the pole sections apart slightly in use. The pole height is again fixed. They are cheap though at around £65 for a pair
  • Black Diamond Distance FL Trekking Poles – these are a halfway house with most of the pole being the bungee cord fixing arrangement. However the very top section has a flick lock giving 10-20cm of height adjustment. This is very useful for tarp tents and also if you want to adjust your poles for uphill or downhill sections. They weigh in at 445g and cost around £90. Again they cant accept snow baskets.

So, two questions.

1. Do I get a pair of walking poles with a mind to occasional use eg uphill/downhill sections but not used 90% of the time? In addition to this replace my unsatisfactory tarp poles which I feel are flimsy and not ideally suited to getting a good tarp pitch (yes I am lazy and dont want to faff too much!)

2. If I did, which of the above examples would best fit my requirements?

Answers on a postcard…..

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About Saddlebags and Backpacks - a brewer's outdoor adventures

I am a keen hiker, camper, cyclist and general all round gear addict..... I also manage to be a professional brewer in my non-spare time :->
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18 Responses to Walking Poles…….worth it for me?

  1. Robin says:

    Fizan compact http://www.ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk/fizan_compact_trekking_poles.html 316g per pair? I take trekking poles but don’t use them much. Primarily they are for my Duomid, but are useful for downhill, uneven ground (e.g. tussocks) and stream crossings. Personally, I prefer fully adjustable ones as they are easier to stow. I mainly use Leki Makalu carbon, weighing 400g per pair. Might get the Fizans.

    • backpackbrewer says:

      yes another option there Robin. I nearly included them in my summary but a few reviews werent over enthusiastic about them. However its personal use that counts and they bridge a nice balance between weight and flexibility of height adjustment.
      If I have a tarp-tent or two these would probably be the best all round option in fairness

  2. Blogger Zed says:

    First, you don’t need poles to hold up a tarp, according to Ray Jardine. He looks for suitable bits of tree in the back end of the day. He has also draped his tarp over bushes and squeezed in under.

    Second, TGO reviewed poles in March 2012. Lots of variety.

    Third, the weird bit. Swinging the weight of trekking poles on the ends of my arms somehow increases my endurance. My first go with poles was over Beinn an Eoin and Baosbheinn from Torridon. Nine hours and I finished fresh as a daisy. A twenty mile day from Claerwen confirmed my finding.

    Both hikes were with Kohla Classics, which are much heavier than the Fizan Compacts recommended in the TGO test. I think that my centre of mass goes from side to side on rough ground. It has to be decelerated then accelerated back towards the midline of my forward progress. Poles reduce that side to side business and make rough ground hiking almost as easy as lawn walking. On paths or other easy terrain where my walking style is as smooth as it ever gets, I fasten the poles to my pack, and that is why I use Carbon Makalus. They have a short stowed length. TGO say the Fizans go shorter.

    Carbon Makalus are not hard to break – entirely my fault – but R&R Enterprises, and Leki, had a great attitude towards getting them fixed.

    • backpackbrewer says:

      thanks for the reply Zed, much appreciated.

      I am still in the shall I shant I camp. I guess the best thing would be to try with someone elses poles for a day. Having said that I reckon I would probably still only use for uphill/downhill sections 🙂
      Re the tarp thing, sometimes I am nowhere near trees but I guess I could pick stuff up en route 🙂

  3. beardedgit says:

    “Mountain King Trail Blaze Walking Poles… rely on an external velcro tab to retain the bungee cord that keeps the pole sections together. “

    Not quite. The cord is held in tension by locating a knot in the cord into a notch in the top end of the handle. The velcro is only for holding down the flappy end of the cord after it’s been tensioned.

    • beardedgit says:

      Doh!!! That’s not quite right either…
      The velcro is for holding down the flappy end of the cord after it’s been tensioned… AND for wrapping around the sections when in the “folded” state, it tames them enough to get them into their mesh storage-bag.

      • backpackbrewer says:

        thanks again for the update 🙂

        how do you get on with them?

        • beardedgit says:

          Only used them once, with snowshoes in some deep stuff. I’d replaced the standard baskets with proper snow-baskets and they worked fine. These things are so light that carrying 2 pairs of baskets isn’t much of a penalty – 2 x 120cm poles, 2 x rubber ends, 2 pairs of baskets and the mesh bag comes in at a total dry-weight of just 348g

          • backpackbrewer says:

            thats very decent weight for a complete load out for all eventualities

            not bad at all

    • backpackbrewer says:

      ahhh, many thanks for the correction 🙂 always pays to get opinions from people who use the things

  4. ianpwood says:

    I use leki compact ultralites. I think they are a bonus for bog and beck leaping. I also thin they help on the uphill as well as the down. On the ridges or scrambly bits, they’re better off on your pack. IMHO. Recently bought a tarp and for the hills in the UK, I think poles, tent or walking are a sure fire way of pitching.

  5. Martin Rye says:

    PACER POLES. They also cost less than those on your list.

  6. Marcus says:

    Using poles is a bit like marmite. I first started using a pair because I found my knees were really struggling over long days of ups and downs and they made it so much better and in a sense I agree with Blogger Zed’s sentiments above about endurance etc… Your best bet before buying any though is to try a pair out and make it over a couple of days as they take an hour or two to get used to at first.

    If you didn’t really get on with them, or really don’t need them I’d not bother buying a pair purely for tarping. Find a couple of decent sticks along the way or just before you’re looking to pitch and use those – proper survivalist style!

    If, like me, that unlikely or too risky an approach I use a pair of Titanium Goat adjustable poles (now made by Rotalocura) and find these really light and fairly stiff. They are fully adjustable and take a lot of weight. No issues holding up my Trailstar the other weekend during a windy night on the Aran ridge either. Just some food for thought…

    • backpackbrewer says:

      and much food for thought it is Marcus, thank you. As always I will take the option to feel, touch and handle a feel different poles to see if any spring out at me as good contenders.
      BG has very nicely offered to lend me his Mountain King Trail Blazes! 🙂
      Good to know about the Rotalocura poles (try saying that after a few sherberts) too

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