But the more I watched videos people did on the trail, the more I noticed that all the serious through-hikers seemed to have them. The more I read, the more I came across people genuinely convinced of their utility. The more I researched, the more I thought that maybe i would have to get some after all. I considered going the cheap route, just getting a pair of those Fleet Farm poles, or looking for a set of ski poles at a garage sale. I mean, they looked pretty much the same to me, save for the ability to collapse them. Sure I wouldn't be able to use them to make a tarp tent or anything, not if I used the ski poles. I decided, however, to do it right in this case. I read a couple of blogs talking about trying a serious hike without them, then trying one with them. I read a lot of user experiences and reviews, and I was convinced, they would be a worthwhile investment.
But my deliberation was not at an end there. I was convinced that Trekking Poles were a thing to have. But my god! Have you seen the price on some of these? I have a difficult time justifying say, the $160 that was being asked for a set of black diamond poles when I was doing my research. That's an awful lot to spend on poles, and I was reluctant. I actually headed down to Madison, to the REI shop there with no particular plan in mind. I knew that when I asked on Reddit, people felt very strongly that the cork grips were worthwhile. I'd handled a few pairs at Scheels Sports in Appleton and Cabellas up in Green Bay, but I wasn't certain the cork was worth the extra expense, nor did I know what brand I really wanted to go with. I knew a few names, Leki, Komperdell, Black Diamond, they were all well regarded by the hikers I consulted, but no one stood out. There was even the debate over Aluminum versus Carbon Fiber.
One of the things I love about REI is their employees. Being able to consult them, not just one, but several of them... Knowing that since they work for R(ecycled)E(mployee)I(ncome) that it's not just someplace to work, but someplace they themselves shop, someplace where they know their stuff because they USE their stuff, that's worth the drive across the state to me. And, it really helped. The poles that I might have bought online but for their going out of stock, well, they happened to have (maybe the next model year?) them at the REI in Madison. And they had a rather good deal, if you ask me, on some good poles.
The REI Traverse Power Lock Cork Trekking Poles were what I set my sights on. After handling both rubber and cork grips for a spell, and browsing the store, speaking of all manner of other camping and backpacking gear, never letting go of the cork handles, I determined they were in fact worth the extra expense. and at the $90 they ask for that particular set, it wasn't even a severe expense.Certainly not compared to the $160+ models I was seeing. I expect them to last a good long time too. Though REI Branded, the poles I bought are actually made for REI by Komperdell, and I feel they're good reliable poles.
Since purchasing them, the weather has been rather accommodating. I've taken several local jaunts with the poles, less out of need for them in the local terrain and more out of a desire to acclimate to the poles. The first was a trip to Plamann Park, with the ground still half frosted. I noticed, as I began, that they gave me an additional sense for the composition of the ground. I had a better feel for my terrain going into it. In my studies I had heard them referred to as "Four Wheel Drive for Hikers" and soon, steadying myself on the way down a hill, I was convinced (a) that this was entirely apt, and (b) that had I not been using them, I would have landed on my pack when the muddy sod slid off a bit of ice. Fortunately, I WAS using them, and I did NOT take any such spill. They help quite a bit on the uphill as well, allowing me to surmount hills faster than I would otherwise. The real surprise for me was how they helped in flat-but-muddy terrain. On my first visit to High Cliff State Park for the year, the trails proved rather pudding like, the ground was very squidgy and had I not been so equipped, I might have had a more difficult time getting through. Once again, my Four Wheel Drive came through for me.
And these experiences are just test-drives in my metaphorical backyard. Nothing serious yet. But I have no doubts that the poles will see me through much more interesting terrain than has yet been tested. Though no one's provided me the 'proper' way to use trekking poles, intuition tells me that you want to do like I was told to do when I was on crutches for a broken leg. Move your right hand with your left leg, and your left hand with your right leg, this way you've always got stable points of support. If you did Right leg/Right Pole and your left leg gave out, you'd topple left. if you do Right Leg/Left pole and your left leg slips out from under you, your remaining foot and pole will give you the balance you need.
For someone considering Trekking Poles or wondering what to look for in them, the following are my thoughts:
- I chose Aluminum over Carbon Fiber. When Carbon Fiber breaks, it breaks pretty thoroughly. It's done for. It's also costlier. Aluminum Trekking poles may not be ULTRA light, but they have been light enough to suit me this far.
- I chose Cork Grips over Rubber. the feel of them in the store seemed to hint that what I was told by dedicated hikers, that the cork is a lot better for maintaining grip with sweaty hands, and more comfortable in your hand all day long seemed to ring true.
- I'm more than happy with the REI branded/Komperdell built poles. They've proven sturdy so far, and I would be shocked if that didn't continue to ring true.
- Don't go with the cheap $15 per pole ones. They're not rated to bear your weight.
As far as using your poles go, I just found this link here which looks like a pretty good guide on them. Looks like I had it partially right. Alternate sides for stability, same-side for support, poles together for certain terrain or situations.