“I couldn’t go back to the trail without my stick! The constant ups and downs with 30 pounds on my back were very hard on my knees, and without a stick they would be unbearable. My hiking stick had become an extension of my hand — I was lost without it.”
My favorite correspondent reported in from Colorado that she’d been hiking an area known as the hogback, a geologic formation that constitutes a precursor to the foothills of the Front Range. Having once lived near the hogback, she knew that in itself would interest me. Then she sweetened the pot.
“A lot of the hikers were using hiking poles,” she said. And no, she confirmed, they weren’t all older hikers. “It was a mix.”
It struck us both ironic that in the fitest state in the nation hikers are quick to use the aid, while here in one of the least fit states we continue to wobble along poleless. One thing those Coloradans may know that we don’t: using poles makes for a better workout.
“Walking poles work your arms, shoulders, chest and upper back muscles through a functional range of motion as you walk — which can help you turn your daily walk into a full-body workout,” according to Dr. Edward R. Laskowski with the Mayo Clinic. “The arm movement associated with walking poles adds intensity to your aerobic workout, which helps you burn more calories.”
I lead a couple of hiking groups, including GetHiking! Triangle. Courtesy of Great Outdoor Provision Co., I keep six loaner hiking poles in my car trunk. Before every hike I announce their availability. On a recent outing with 43 hikers, four took me up on the offer, with two making comments to the effect of, “Guess this makes me old now.”
No, using doesn’t make you old. In fact, it keeps you from getting old, at least parts of you. Other advantages to poles, according to Dr. Laskowski:
Last year I was backpacking across Jane Bald on the Appalachian Trail when I came upon a 74-year-old gentleman from Atlanta. We talked for a few minutes, mostly about his extensive hiking experience in the region. “Of course,” he said after sharing his 10th favorite trail, “I wouldn’t be hiking any of them without these.” At that, he tapped the two hiking poles he’d been leaning against. “Wish I’d started hiking with ‘em seven years sooner,” he added. “Would have spared my knees some pain.”