Welcome to Day 8 of our 12 Gifts of Christmas – our guide to our favourite outdoor adventure kit to hopefully inspire you when it comes to buying Christmas gifts for the Adventurers in your life.
Today I’m shouting about my Leki Makalu walking poles. Mine are fifteen years old now and come on almost every walk/hike that I do. I don’t always use them but it’s a comfort to know they’re there!
I first used walking poles in 2002 on a winter skills and ice climbing course in the Cairngorms. The snow was thigh deep, making it hard work to walk into the coire (the curved hollow in the cirque of cliffs). My balance and pace isn’t great at the best of times, but when I’m tired it really shows! The instructor offered me his poles to try and immediately my pace picked up. Those poles were mine for the rest of the week and as soon as we got home I went shopping for a pair of my own. After borrowing mine my mum bought her own pair. And it wasn’t long before Michael got some too – even though I think initially he thought he wouldn’t benefit from them.
What are the benefits of using walking poles?
First and foremost for me, it’s stability. I have arthritis in my knees which makes them feel bruised after regular impact and they sometimes give way. So when the ground is steep, uneven or exposed I end up going incredibly slowly to make sure I’m not going to jar them or lose my balance. With the walking poles I have additional points of contact with the ground which gives me more stability but also more confidence so I can move more quickly.
Reducing impact. I’ve already mentioned the impact that my knees feel. But even if you’re fully fit and healthy, after a long hill day you can start to feel the impact of a steep downhill on your knees and ankles. When using poles, up to 20% of your body weight goes through the arms each time you step down. So for me at 65kg that’s 13kg per step saved, so coming down Snowdon for instance which is around 1,000 metres I would save 16 tonnes of weight going through my lower body and joints using my walking poles. If you add the weight of a heavy rucksack it really starts to add up.
Using walking poles means that your arm muscles do some of the work in propelling you forwards. And they also help you to walk straighter. With a better posture you can breath more easily, and also reduce the risk of back pain. And here’s a very important point. If you are going to walk with poles make sure you use two. I see some people using one in the way that shepherds on Christmas cards have one stick – but if you follow someone using just one you’ll see them lean ever so slightly towards the pole with each step they take. That’s a surefire way to injure your spine
Make sure you have them at the right length for you. Your elbows should be at right angles so you will need to make them a bit shorter for uphill and a bit longer for downhill.
Crossing streams they give added confidence – and you can shove the pole in to see just how deep it is before you attempt to cross!
Features to look out for when you’re buying a pair
Shock absorber option – mine have a twist action so they will absorb the shock of the downhill through little springs, but when I’m going uphill I can twist it off so that they’re more stable.
Changeable feet – these aren’t absolutely necessary, but if you regularly walk on stone pathways you might want to pop rubber feet onto the bottom to reduce the noise of the metal points hitting the rock – it helps to reduce erosion too. I also have snow basket feet for mine, but I’ve never used them.
Lightweight – it’s great to have a lightweight pair if you’re going to be carrying them for any distance. Leki has a good guide on their website as to which model suits which type of walker. If you’re heavier you’ll need a sturdier pair for instance, likewise if you’re going to be doing some serious mountaineering. If you’re more likely to be on country park paths you might not need something as rugged.
Grips – they come in all sorts of shapes now and different sizes. The best option is to go and try a few and see what is comfortable for you.
Length – You will need a pair that can extend to a height to suit you. But the collapsed length might also be important. Mine collapse down to 71cm, but Michael’s Black Diamond pair go even smaller. So when we fly mine have to be taken apart to fit into my bag whereas his can fit in easily with no fuss.
Twist lock or clip system? Clips are faster to adjust and are easier to use in extreme cold conditions. Although you will still find twist lock on some cheaper models.
Other uses for walking poles
- Take a tarpaulin and use your poles to make a shelter at night instead of carrying a tent
- Use them to make a splint if someone breaks their leg
- Make a stretcher if you need to carry a member of your group to safety
- Set up a washing line at the campsite
Walking poles start at around £60 a pair but you can spend more than double that for the lightest weight, most compact, technical poles.
Can you think of any other quirky uses for them? Let us know in the comments.
Find all of our gift recommendations here;
Day 1 – The Buff
Day 2 – The Lifeventure Thermal Mug
Day 3 – The Silva Expedition 4 Compass
Day 4 – The MSR Pocket Rocket Stove
Day 5 – The Alpkit MytiStax
Day 6 – The Satmap Active 12 GPS
Day 7 – Icebreaker Merino Tshirts
Day 8 – Leki Walking Poles
Day 9 – Alpkit Viper 2 Headtorch
Day 10 – Hats
Day 11 – Mountains
Day 12 – Ordnance Survey Maps