On a day off from my tourism job in Juneau, Alaska, I sat on my front deck enjoying a cup of coffee, reading a book, and taking in the view of the beautiful Gastineau Channel and Mt. Bradley towering above. My solitude was abruptly interrupted by a tourist on the sidewalk, "Wow, so this is the last frontier." I peered over my book to see a man standing on a sidewalk less than a mile from downtown Juneau. He was sporting an adventure hat, a safari vest, and a pair of trekking poles. While I did not doubt that this "adventurer" was far from his normal life in a cubicle, the only response that I could muster was a chuckle. Perhaps it was my jaded view of tourists after a long summer of catering to them, but this was my opinion of those using trekking poles. I figured that "yuppie sticks" were merely a marketing ploy to take money from these urban trekkers on vacation.
On a recent backcountry hunt I experienced a paradigm shift. On this hunt, I brought along my brother in law, Shane. Shane has no background in hunting, but is well versed in backcountry travel as a mountaineer and a rock climber. Shane brought along his trusty trekking poles and we took to the trail, up and over some nasty terrain. I was fortunate enough to harvest a deer several miles in, and after taking care of the meat, my load for the pack out approached 100 pounds. Shane cruised along as I struggled to climb. He volunteered his poles, and though I had my preconceived notion about them, I gave them a try. What I experienced on the remaining hump to the truck changed my opinion of trekking poles. When I got home, I bought my own set, and now I don't hit the trail without them.
Many hunters who have the same view of trekking poles, as I once had are missing out. These tools give you two more contact points on the ground and increase stability. This comes in handy when ascending, traversing, and descending steep terrain. Anyone who has spent time in rugged country has likely lost his balance and fallen. Something as simple as a turned ankle deep in the backcountry can be detrimental. Trekking poles increase traction and balance.
The use of poles will also reduce impact on joints by sharing the load carried by the legs with the arms, and making heavy loads more bearable. The poles allow you to propel with your arms, maintain a rhythm, and increase your speed. They promote good posture, with your hands above the heart and increase circulation. Overall, trekking poles are extremely beneficial to the backcountry hunter.
There are many options available to one looking for a pair of trekking poles that can range in price from 30 to hundreds of dollars. The pair Shane loaned me had seen many years and miles on the trail, and made a monumental difference on my trip. I found an inexpensive pair at Costco; carbon fiber, telescopic poles with carbide tips. Even though I have not tried every option out there, I am quite satisfied with them. The gear list for a backcountry hunter is ever growing, with hefty price tags attached to each item. I completely understand the skepticism of adding another expense, and an additional cost of looking like a granola yuppie on a day hike, but from my experience, trekking poles are an invaluable addition to my backcountry load-out.
We would love to hear your opinion on the matter, and your experiences using trekking poles on your hunt. Please comment below.