Pole Dancing

Elachee Nature Ctr-East West Lake Trails 11-23-08-061The summer was 1989 and North Carolina was a riotous green.  I was spending a few months in Brevard and one fateful day, my friend John asked if I would like to go hiking   I call it a ‘fateful’ day because it changed the trajectory of my life dramatically and was the first step, (no pun intended) towards a future full of mountains, trails and adventure.

On that particular day, I enjoyed the hike despite the fact that I fell into the mud.  It wouldn’t have been any big deal, except that the trail was dry, the day was dry and there was only one small muddy section on the whole hike. I fell into that small puddle and begun a long history of being the clumsiest hiker that I knew. If there was mud or water on a trail, I would fall into it.  That was the day that Mud Butt was born.

My trail name came about amid a storm of laughter and beer at a party that summer, and I embraced it wholeheartedly.  I might be balance-challenged, but at least I had a cool name to show for it!  And in the years to come, in the midst of cries of ‘are you ok?’ and ‘there is a stream over the next hill that you can wash the mud off with’ I became a hiker.

Several years after my less-than-graceful beginning, I discovered the joys of hiking poles.  I purchased two sticks that telescoped to the perfect height and proceeded to extend my hikes further and further.  Years went by and I became so attached to my poles that I wouldn’t even go to the water source without them.  They provided balance, confidence and, on occasion, less need to do laundry.

It wasn’t til a decade later when I was talking about my trail name to some friends that I realized that I hadn’t fallen in the mud in a really long time

When it occurred to me that I wasn’t quite as clumsy as I used to be, I had a momentary existential crisis. Who was I if I wasn’t Mud Butt?!  Could I still be Mud Butt if I didn’t actually end up in every single mud puddle?!

But the moment was short lived and I realized that anything in the world that makes my hike more enjoyable, is here to stay.

The question is, should you use hiking poles?  If you are a new hiker, I would encourage you to give them a try.  They save your knees, provide great balance, help you cross streams, and give you a way to clear brush away from the trail ahead of you.  When used well, they even help you pick up the speed and find your stride.  You will be faster, more efficient and safer.  What more could you want?  I suggest starting with one pole to see if you like it and then trying two.  Most poles do telescope so if you get out on the trail and don’t feel like they are working for you, you can throw them in your pack.

Here are some of my random thoughts on pole use:

1. There are lots of ‘official’ ways to use your poles.  My advice is, don’t get caught up in the right way and the wrong way.  Just find your own way.

2.  The telescoping element on many poles becomes loose as you are hiking. Before going down a descent, check and make sure your poles are locked tight.  This would be a bad time for them to telescope in on you!!

3.  If you are a backpacker, consider having your poles do double duty.  There are lots of tents on the market that don’t use actual tent poles.  Instead, they use your hiking poles for set up.  It saves you weight and room in your pack.

4.  Last but not least, don’t exert a lot of extra energy leaning on your poles when you don’t need to.   I had an honest moment of panic on the Incan Trail last summer when the guide tried to take my poles away.   He said that in using them to support all of my weight, all of the time, I was using a lot of excess energy.  I listened to him and started treating them more as accessories them actual crutches.  I rely on my leg muscles to power me up now, rather then my poles and arms to drag myself up.  Now I am a more efficient hiker!

I will finish by saying, consider renting a pair, or borrowing a pair to try before you actually buy some.  Hiking poles are expensive, so you don’t want to spend $80-$100 on a pair unless you will truly use them.  And please, please, please do not buy the cheap poles that you find at the big box discount stores.  I know that they are shiny, red and $10 a pair, but you truly get what you pay for.  Remember that whole “going downhill is a really bad time for your poles to telescope” thing I mentioned earlier?  These have a BAD tendency of snapping, breaking and just not working.  And you could really get hurt.

Good luck with your poles and get out there and hike!!

Do you use hiking poles?  I would love to know why or why not?  And do you have any other helpful hints for other hikers?  Please click below and share your comments with the rest of us!

Anna aka Mud Butt

Note: When it comes to a particular brand of pole, I am a real Leki fan.  My experience with their national customer service has been pretty poor, but you cannot deny the quality of the product.  And the rep that they have for the South East is wonderful.  His kindness and helpfulness has kept me a Leki customer and it is partly because of him that I recommend their product.

One thought on “Pole Dancing

  1. Yes, I use poles. In fact, I have a collection of them: in the house, in the car, even in the garage. I’m 70 and have REALLY bad balance. I’ve been known to trip over my own bootlaces. (Hence the trail name “Bootlace Grace”, which is embroidered on the brain of my Osprey pack.) I use poles for hiking, but also for trotting up and down my 150′ driveway in snow and ice. They’ve saved me from some spectacular falls in the past several years, and on those rare occasions when I fell anyway, they’ve been great aids in getting back on my feet. A couple of years ago, I had a total knee replacement and thought that would end my hiking. It hasn’t. The poles give me confidence, and I feel more like a quadruped than a biped because I can use them to do subtle balance corrections on uneven ground. I strongly advise new hikers to consider the flip latch poles, rather than the type that screws tight. They’re more dependable and less likely to fail when you really need them on a downhill stretch. In snake country, I use a pole to tap the far side of a downed log or rock where a critter might be taking a nap on the trail. Having poles makes creek crossings much easier. Besides, they make ya look cool when you’re an old crone. Much better than a cane and all that. LOL!

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