I had been walking for several miles already. My pack was whispering to me “Try them. Go on, trrrryyyyy them…” and I couldn’t resist any more. One minute later I had four legs instead of two and my arms were scissoring through the day’s route. Trekking poles – a strange new way to walk.Part of the point of me choosing to walk the LOOP Section 4 on that particular day was that I could crack out my new Mountain King Trail Blaze trekking poles in undulating terrain and on a stretch of path that was far enough away from slack-jawed Sarf London yokels that I wouldn’t feel utterly embarrassed by my stumbles and clacking. To be honest I’d always looked upon other users of trekking poles with an air of curiosity mixed with contempt, but that is after all the dominating effect of ignorance on all people – sweeping prejudices. Why use poles when I have two perfectly acceptable, if slightly pasty, legs? That was the question I always put to myself before I actually looked into why people use them. That alone was quite a revelation. The main points laid out by Mr Peter James Clinch really sold me on the idea of at least trying some out, but here is his table of pros and cons:
Trekking pole pros:
- reduce knee pain
- increase hill climbing power
- can increase endurance
- aid crossing soft ground
- can aid balance for activities like river crossing, scree running, etc.
Trekking pole cons:
- financial outlay may be required
- increases total energy expenditure
- keeps hands full
- get in the way on technical sections
- often ineffective due to poor technique
Now, if you visit his site you can see the full explanations for each of those points. Other sites back up his pro point of increased endurance by stating that you reduce the weight load on your legs by a 33%. That is a tremendous saving which would easily add up to 5 miles of extra walking distance, perhaps far more on level terrain, before you got too tired. The other pro that features heavily on other sites is the upper body workout you get from using the poles because you are using your arms to take all that extra weight off of your legs. That can only be a good thing, right? Well technically yes because I don’t want to end up with bulging muscle on just my arse and pins, like some weirdly lanky Weeble, but you do have to remember Mr. Clinch’s second con point which is that the total energy expenditure is much greater than if you walked normally. Some say you expend 25% more than usual. The other cons were, for me, unimportant overall because technique can be learned and only impatient or disorganised people will worry about their hands being full all the time.
With the allure of far greater walked distances a realistic proposition I bought a pair of Mountain King Trail Blaze poles from eBay for only marginally less than retail value. They weigh an unbelievably minuscule 125g each so you don’t even notice when they’re in your pack. I’ve delighted in handing them to people interested in examining them and seen their arm overcompensating for the expected weight so that their hand shoots up in the air a little when they take hold. They don’t trouble you at all when walking with them. So, I set off onto the LOOP anxious to get to grips with these mystical leg-saving wonder-sticks but didn’t feel ready to do so until well over half way.
I clicked the four sections together and then immediately came across the biggest issue of the day – how do I keep the sections in a pole formation? Let me explain: there is a cord running up the centre of all the sections which emerges from a hole at the top of the handle. the cord has a toggle of plastic attached and there is a notch in the cord’s hole where, presumably, the cord sits. I therefore assumed that the toggle would push back into the hole and clasp the cord tightly, thus securing the four sections of metal into a nice, rigid, non-clacketty trekking pole. INCORRECT.
I spent the next 90 minutes using the poles to great effect when climbing up and down slopes and stairs, avoiding muddy slips, and pushing brambles out of the way. But to do this I ended up having to hold the centre cord tightly. I already knew that this was bad trekking pole technique but without knowing any better way of gripping the cord so that my poles didn’t crumble apart like the buildings in Inception I muddled on. Even though I was dismally failing to use them properly the impact on my legs was obvious. It felt as though I was barely using them! It really is true how much weight you save. At the end of the day I had slightly aching shoulders from my dubious technique as well as long years of neglect but the basics were there.
I spotted another trekker using poles some way in front of me and he eventually turned off the LOOP and onto the Vanguard Way – one of my future targets – but apart from that I had very little interaction with anyone to point and laugh at me. Except some children who asked slyly if I was going skiing, gits!
So, the cord problem… It’s not a problem, it’s my niggardly nature in going to eBay rather than the manufacturer which is at fault. Simply put you have to put a huge amount of welly into pulling the toggle up until you find a knot further down the cord coming up through the hole. That knot easily slots beyond the notch and locks the pole completely rigid. Since discovering that, via Google searches rather than instructions that weren’t supplied with the eBay listing, it all works perfectly. Properly put-together there’s no clacking from individual segments, just the tip on stones, and the wrist loop and grip are very comfortable.
These poles will form a regular part of my walking kit from now on, especially outside of urban areas as they seem essential for more muddy sections. Conditions like that would be tough enough on two legs anyway so I expect I will have to grow two extra legs far more often. I look forward to putting them to greater use very soon.