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Welcome to Doodlecat, where we enjoy the pleasures of life (with a slight bias towards the outdoors). This page is regularly updated with news and views plus information about any additions or changes to the various parts of the site. It acts as Doodlecat’s Blog too, so the odd rant considered opinion may pop up from time to time.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Walking poles - who needs them?

picture of Leki PolesBrowsing the excellent Grough recently, I read a piece about medical emergencies in the hills, and followed the link to the medical section of the BMC website. All good stuff of course, but being curious I dug further, and came across a download for a piece on the use of walking poles.

A key sentence stood out: "During load carriage on moderate grade, they reduce the perception of physical exertion." 

Did you see what caught my attention? Yes, the telling phrase "the perception of physical exertion". Not, please note, the actual physical exertion.

It's quite interesting, especially when considering that "Long-term use of sticks may reduce balance and coordinative ability of the subject. This disadvantage is becoming more and more evident and can lead to certain balancing problems, especially in difficult mountain areas... "

My recent walks have been without the use of poles - mainly because I find they just get in the way when you want to use a compass, have a drink, smoke a fag etc. But the balance thing is undoubtedly true - you can become overly reliant on the sticks in difficult terrain, to the detriment of your natural balance and rhythm.

On the other hand, it is considered that for those of advanced age, with excess bodyweight, arthritis, and / or carrying heavy backpacks the use of sticks, especially downhill, may be beneficial. So I'll probably take mine on the TGO Challenge then ;-)

But, for the more lightweight hiker - given that the weight of your pack and footwear has probably reduced by 15lbs or more over the past few years, do you need those poles? Especially if you carry them most of the time. And even of you do clack clack along all the time, is it really neccessary? Or have we all fallen for  marketing spin and truly believe that without these talismans we'll be carrying hundreds of elephants (or whatever the ad man's pachyderm of choice might be) up every hill we encounter? Are they more of a security blanket than a real benefit?

The consensus of the UIAA medical committee seems to be that, unless diseased, overloaded and infirm, most of us don't need them, and might even be better off without them.

Just a thought.

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Anonymous whitespider1066 said...

well Dr Karl says they work, and my own experience has shown for me that they make a difference.
But excellent I'm looking forward to the comments on this one.

December 6, 2009 at 10:14 PM  
Blogger BG! said...

Aside from trying out some Pacerpoles indoors for not more than a couple of minutes, I've never used them and never will. Evolution made me as a biped and balanced me accordingly, so that I can do most of my walking with my hands in my pockets, or holding hands with the kids, or holding a camera, or a ciggie, or an ice-axe. I don't want to interfere with that. Hands are far too useful to be burdened with clackety-sticks.

December 6, 2009 at 10:27 PM  
Blogger mike knipe said...

Walking pole denier! Best delete this post before the Chally thought police read it.
They're very useful for pointing at things, poking aggressive animals, poking docile animals, seeing how deep the peat is, crossing fast moving water, as a hand hold on steep stuff and poking things (Have I already mentioned poking things?)
I don't care if I lose my balance, as long as I still have bladder control.
..... holding a ciggie...tch tch... keep it in your mouth like a proper man, ya big Southern pansy...

December 6, 2009 at 10:34 PM  
Blogger BG! said...


Less of the "big", if you don't mind!

I've never been so insulted.


December 6, 2009 at 10:40 PM  
Blogger Alison Hobbs said...

My ninety year old Mum refuses to use a standard walking stick designed for the elderly, but she's not too proud to lean on a high-tech, telescoping stick designed for hikers. She says, "I *was* a mountaineer, you know." Even then, she leaves her stick at home when she goes shopping, "because it gets in the way."

December 13, 2009 at 6:52 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Ali, refer your Mum to Mr Knipe's sage advice above. Pointing and poking are much enhanced by the judicious employment of a sharp stick ;-)

December 14, 2009 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger buryblue said...

I must admit I bought some walking poles up in Keswick prior to walking up Kilamanjaro. I have to say I didn't use them. I went up the "whiskey" route and at the beginning some boys were selling some large sticks and to be honest they looked just as good as a walking pole which has remained some where in the loft ever since.

December 19, 2009 at 7:12 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Kilimanjaro! I'd need a stretcher, not poles for that one. Mind you, the "Whisky route" sounds strangely appealing :-)

(liked your snow pics btw).

December 20, 2009 at 4:39 PM  

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