Far away are those times when one of the first things we did when we started our walks was to look for a branch lying on the ground, if possible, thin, resistant and as straight as possible, which we set off to support us during our march. Now it is difficult to see any mountain sports practitioner, whether mountaineer, hiker or simply hiker, who does not carry his walking poles.
But... Is their use recommended? What do we know about them? How are they used? Are they all the same?
The first question is fundamental and we must therefore analyse it by applying common sense. Let's look at the pros and cons.
As walking poles are a tool, we must use them when necessary and not abuse them if there are no circumstances that make their use advisable. It is important that our sense of balance develops correctly, as well as the elasticity of our muscles, we should also adopt a good walking technique that strengthens and relieves our joints without having to constantly resort to the use of the walking poles. These would be its cons.
Let's look at the pros: they reduce the possibility of injury, especially on descents, and help us make the ascents more bearable. They distribute our weight better, as well as that of the equipment we carry. They help us keep our balance in difficult situations, as we go from having two support points to four. We can use them to probe the terrain where we must tread and they also help us to chase away animals that we find in our way... does anyone give more for less?
The material used for its construction is generally aluminum, although there are also carbon and titanium. There are fixed ones with one section, like the ones for skiing, telescopic ones with two or three sections, or folding ones with a fixed length, these last ones, and just to give you an idea, are "similar" to the ones a blind person would carry.
In this article I will focus on the three-section telescopic lifts as they are the most popular and in my humble opinion also the most balanced for the use we will give them. In this type of canes there are two systems to adjust their length and to execute their folding, internal or external. The first system, also called screw system, consists of a plug that expands when you turn one of the sections until it jams the tube and thus leaves it fixed. The external or clamping system consists of a lever that, when closed, provides enormous pressure on the lower tube, thus making it fixed.
Now we will observe that some of them have the characteristic of being shockproof, when this is so, it is indicated to us that these walking poles have a system of vibration damping and absorption of the impacts that are produced when the tip hits the ground. They are a little heavier and more expensive, but recommended for people who are especially sensitive in their arms to this type of continuous hitting.
It's the part where we hold the walking stick. The material for its manufacture has to be of quality since it is the area that is in contact with our skin. It flees from hard plastic, is unpleasant to touch and makes our hands sweat. The recommended materials are rubber, cork, foam (visco-elastic foam that adapts very well to the shape of the body dissipating the pressure exerted) or skin. We will also see on occasions that under the handle the tube is lined with foam, this facilitates the positioning of the hand in specific circumstances, avoiding having to modify the length of the cane. The slightly forward inclined handle is another feature that can prevent wrist pain.
It is a tape that comes out of the handle, it must be wide and soft because sometimes we will have to lean on it to get extra traction and prevent the fingers from falling asleep. They must also be able to be graduated.
Circular plastic surface located in the lower part of the cane, which prevents the cane from sinking when it is our turn to lean on it on soft surfaces. They can be of various sizes, the big one for snow and the small one for mud or earth, the way of placing them can be by pressure or by screw, it is always interesting to carry a spare one in the backpack.
It is the end of the walking pole, it is located under the basket and in its final zone there is a metallic tip that is usually made of widia, a very resistant material that can have different shapes. In some models they can be replaced. In order to avoid that this tip wears out when we walk on very hard grounds there are some rubber accessories in which part of the baton is embedded, thus protecting the tip.
The time has come to use our walking poles, trekking or mountain and we have to do it well so that they serve us as a help and not as a hindrance. The height of the stick must be that which allows us to form, between the forearm and the arm, a right angle once our tool is resting on the ground. In the descents we will carry them a little longer and in the ascents a little shorter. If you use snowshoes, they are an indispensable complement. They can also be used for emergency situations, to prepare a small shelter, to immobilize an injured member and even to improvise a stretcher. If you walk in a group, you must leave an adequate space between each person so as not to hurt the next mountaineer.
As for the strap, in lands with certain difficulty, in descents or where we can fall, it is advisable not to use it. On simple terrain or uphill, we can use it by resting our wrist on it and thus manage to release the tension produced in the forearm by holding the handle tightly and continuously.
A question that always arises is whether one or two canes are better, the decision will vary depending on the length of the route to be taken, the distance, the weight we carry and the terrain on which we are going to move.
As for the form of transport, we must carry them in the backpack with the tips pointing towards the ground and if possible protected, in this way we better protect the settings of the walking pole, avoiding the greatest entry of water and dirt. Once used, it is convenient to disassemble the sections, let them dry and clean them to avoid internal corrosion and thus have them ready for our next activity.
At the time of purchase it must be taken into account that the product is marked with the CE standard, as this guarantees us a minimum level of quality. You can also find other approvals (UIAA, UNE, EN or ISO) that guarantee a certain degree of quality in their manufacture. In the label we can also see what type of aluminium has been used for its manufacture, (types 6061,7001 or 7075 are the most used). Another element that requires our attention when purchasing our poles is the handle, its quality in most cases is a true reflection of the category of the components of the walking pole. They should be light but resistant, since sometimes they will have to bear a great part of our weight on them.
Another important characteristic is that they are folded as short as possible to be able to carry them comfortably in the rucksack, and if you ask me about the adjustment system, at the level of my personal experience, I like it more as a lever than as a screw, both for functionality and for result, but "for colour tastes".
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