Leg Up On the Competition

Four legs are better than two when it comes to hiking, says avid hiker Betty Petty, who doesn’t go hiking anywhere without her trusty 10-year-old trekking poles.

“You definitely need trekking poles if you’re going to hike any place other than a Riverwalk,” says Petty, who is past-president of Benton MacKaye Trail Association, a member of the Cumberland Trail Conference, the Cherokee Forest Voices, the American Hiking Society and editor of the Chattanooga Hiking Club newsletter.

“If there are stream crossings or if you are climbing up steep hills, hiking poles are extremely useful. They give you two more points of contact with the ground so if you’re walking across something slippery, they can keep you from falling.”

Trekking poles are also beneficial to give the arms more of a workout, rather than putting extra pressure on the knees while exploring a trail with a lot of elevation changes. Our region’s varied landscape and changing terrain make most trails good for trekking poles for ascents, descents and dealing with the multitude of wet rocks and water crossings.

“Probably the biggest place you really need them is when you are trying to cross a really treacherous stream,” she says. “People misjudge water when they are trying to cross it. As a rule, don’t try to cross any fast-moving water that is more than knee deep. It’s amazing how much force knee-deep water can have when it’s moving swiftly.”

If trekking poles push the budget, look for regular ski poles which will work just as well. Before updating to her LEKI trekking poles, which collapse to easily attach to a pack if she decides not to use them, Petty used a pair of regular ski poles she got on sale for $5 – a small price to pay for two extra legs.


Standard Poles

These are lighter and less expensive, but don’t come with anti-shock features to help absorb impact as you go downhill. For beginners, these may be a good option as they still provide balance and extra support.

Anti-shock Poles

Anti-shock poles have a mechanism that absorbs shock when you walk downhill, which helps to decrease impact on the body. These are recommended for those with damaged ankles, knees or hips. When it isn’t necessary, the anti-shock function can be turned off.

Hiking Staffs

A hiking staff, also known as a walking staff or travel staff, is a single pole that is best suited for simple flat terrain with very little or no pack weight on your back. These can include anti-shock features and are useful for lower back support on less challenging terrain.

Ultra-light Poles

The ultra-light trekking poles, weighing much less than standard poles, were designed for the hikers or backpackers that work toward maintaining the least pack weight possible.

Compact Poles

These shorter, lighter poles are equipped with smaller grips to comfortably accommodate hikers with smaller hands. Youth poles made in this fashion are also available.


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