There was a time when I loved to hike. It took two forms: There was the relaxed “walk in the woods” out by my house in the country and walking along a trail, usually in a state park. I wasn’t into those long marathon hikes where you pushed for ten miles at a time and went from state to state, literally peeling the skin off of your feet at the end of the day. But, a nice five miler, even over fairly rough terrain, was about right for me. There was a three-mile stretch in a state park by my house called the “Thousand Steps Trail.” Now a thousand steps doesn’t seem like very much at all, and I never really counted them, but walking the thing seemed more like climbing a cliff because the “steps” were all straight up. The trail winded its way around and through a large clump of trees and ended at the mouth of a cave that was set high up on a bluff overlooking the river. I only realized that I was ascending so high when I reached down to touch a bush that I was walking by and realized that it wasn’t a bush at all, but rather the top of a very tall tree!
Then as I reached the pinnacle of my forties, I began having trouble with my left knee. The doctor told me that I probably would eventually have to have the thing replaced, but that I should probably delay surgery for as long as possible. The whole thing pretty much ended my hiking days. I can still walk a fairly good distance on a level surface, but have a lot of trouble if the incline gets to steep. Then I saw an ad for some trekking poles at a local alpine shop and decided to check them out. In the past I had either walked along without any support or used my trusty hiking stick made out of oak. Now I am the proud owner of a set of Masters X-Lights. I’m not a great comparison shopper, but I did compare a few of the poles before I settled on the one that I finally purchased. I learned a few things about them along the way.
The dynamics of the whole thing is pretty simple. When you walk you have two points of balance, your feet. Adding two more contacts with the ground not only improves balance and stability, it also allows a hiker to use his torso and upper body when walking, lessening the impact on the knees and lower back. The poles actually function as an extra set of legs, especially on uneven ground. Each pole, when planted, reduces weight on the legs and back by at least the weight of the arm, which on average, is about 9-13 pounds. Applying pressure to the poles can easily raise this number to 15-25 pounds. Here’s a comparison of a couple of the poles:
The poles are usually made of aluminum and range in price from $65 to $150. The Leki Makalu is considered one of the top hiking poles on the market today. The price for these super lightweight poles is in the $110 to $150 range. The poles are made using a slow heat process that makes them practically unbreakable. They also feature an easy lock system that keeps the telescoping three-section poles secure. Other features include concave carbide tips, positive angle grips that are comfortable all day, and shock absorbers that last practically forever.
The X-Light, (the one I ended up buying), is Masters’ take on the super lightweight trekking pole. It has a lot of the features, but not the price tag of the Leki Ti series. The poles feature a SBS shaft locking mechanism and foam grips with a shaft extension that allow you to “choke up” on the pole when you are moving uphill. Unlike some of the more expensive models, the X-Light has no shock absorbers and the foam handles do tend to wear out easily.
Since I’ve bought my poles, I have been able to increase both the length and the difficulty of my walks. The only thing easier would be to get one of those Segway machines.