Trekking poles are pretty obviously used to assist while hiking, walking or even running. They help with balance when wading through streams, reduce pressure on the knees when carrying a heavy pack, or just increase the support you give to your legs while moving.
But beyond that very obvious function, trekking poles are an amazingly versatile item that are worth carrying, even if you are not always using them for movement. In some cases carrying two poles is needed, but at times, just having a single hiking pole strapped to your backpack can be an excellent tool. Here is a list of things we sometimes use them for:
With the increased popularity and supply of shelters that are trekking pole-supported, this function is almost a no brainer for the lightweight backpacker. Trekking pole-based tents today are beyond the basic flat tarp and can be a single wall, a double wall or even four season tents. Made by seemingly every small cottage manufacturer, the trekking pole tent is also offered by bigger brands such as MSR and Big Agnes.
I can't imagine not taking pictures outdoors anymore, either for Cnoc or for myself, and the idea of taking a tripod when I already have 2 parts of a tripod with me is annoying. Trekking poles are so naturally suited for photography and can be used in 3 main ways: as part of a tripod, as a monopod or as a selfie stick. There are great aftermarket products that can turn your Vertex poles into any of these photography accessories:
- Tripod: Trail-pix uses the tip of your poles with an extra pole (purchased separately) to connect to a single piece metal head to form a tripod. This is really brilliant, and at 68-228g it is light!
- Monopod: Some poles come with a built in monopod attachment, but those are not always comfortable to use when you have a screw at the top of your handle. Instead, here is a really simple trick to convert your pole into a monopod very easily:
- Selfie Stick: If you are shooting video outdoors, it is nice to be able to explain a thing or two while hiking and a selfie stick makes the whole process very simple. And since you already carry a stick, a simple attachment like the Stick Pic makes your trekking pole into a selfie stick. Tip: the Vertex accepts the #2 Stick....
Spider webs, branches, ferns: they all trying to take the space in front of you and can surprise by covering or smacking your face. As you are hiking, think of the pole as an extension of your arm, allowing you to carefully, respectfully and comfortably clear the path in front of you. There is nothing more annoying than walking face first into a spider web; use our hiking poles to clear your path.
Water or snow can be surprising in how deep they are, so a trekking pole is the best accessory to assess the depth of unknown areas. Checking snow, mud or water before wading in can make a big difference between the feeling of an easy cross and a messy, wet and uncomfortable cross.
No, I don't mean that you should start thinking of your trekking poles as a weapon, but many times the main reason we get attacked by wild animals is that we surprise them, nothing else. Bashing your poles against each other to make a strong noise as you turn a corner will change a potential bear encounter to yet another beautiful section of trail.
If push comes to shove, you can always use your poles to make yourself seem more intimidating and bigger than you really are. Just ask Andrew Skurka about his Grizzly bear encounter in Alaska:
If somehow you find yourself in a need for a splint or a stretcher, your trekking poles are the best solution out there: straight, stable and length adjustable, trekking poles make a great splint. Double up the length of a trekking pole with some fabric in between (like your tarp) and you have a solid, lightweight stretcher. Last, your trekking poles support you, and when extended with some fabric at the top or foam can be used as crutches.
Drying clothes on multi day trips is very important, for your comfort, morale and the longevity of your gear. You can either use your poles as part of a drying line system, either with your shelter or a tree. On the other hand, for cold wet days with sunny spells, taking your gloves or socks and sticking them on top of your poles will really increase the speed of drying them. Just stick your poles in the soft ground, take off your gloves (or socks) and put them as if "dressing" the pole's handles.
Lean your backpack on shortened poles for support, and just lean back. A simple lean on chair anywhere, add mat for your bottom for extra comfort.
Setting anchors in snow or sand is hard - you need wide, big surfaced pegs. If by any chance you came unprepared for pitching your tent on sand or snow, dig a long trench, about 5" deep, and lay your poles inside. cover the edges, leaving the center exposed to tie the guy line to. Once the shelter is setup, cover the rest of the poles.
If you rely on your poles for shelter, sturdy branches will do the trick too.
Especially valuable when trying to communicate or signal an aircraft in the mountains, you can extend the length of your arms for better visibility or catch attention. That can be done by tying a bright fabric to the tip of the poles and following these basic hand signals:
Experimentation adaptation: paddles, fishing rod
The above is not limited of course, and you are only limited by your own imagination and needs. Some of the less conventional ideas I've heard of are:
- Fishing rod - pretty intuitive, but not easy to make at all, but here is a little video to try at home (just don't drill too deep into your Vertex poles....)
- Paddles - requires some DIY, but it is becoming more and more popular among packrafters that aim to reduce pack weight. Here is a good tutorial by Forrest McCarthy.
What are your ideas? Are you using your poles in a whole new way we can't even imagine?