Hike Like a Girl: Part Five: TREKKIN’ POLES

Spelled how the kuhl kids do it. Pf, whatever, nobody pronounces the “g” anyway. Nobody says “trekking poles”; it’s always “trekkin’ poles”. The apostrophe takes the place of the letter not said. Deal with it.

Oh, hi, didn’t see you there! So this one WAS gonna be called Part Five: Accessories and I WAS gonna ramble about all the bits and bobs I bring or don’t bring hiking. But, honestly, short of the obvious like a stove and water filter, etc, which will get their own parts in the next installment or so, THE MOST CRITICAL EXTRA THING TO BRING HIKING OR BACKPACKING IS A PAIR OF TREKKIN’ POLES. A properly selected pair of trekkin’ poles will save your knees, your ankles, your back, and potentially your life.

I’M NOT FUCKING KIDDING AROUND.

I can’t tell you how many times my trekkin’ poles have saved me from falling and breaking a limb or dying. They’re game changers. They give you four operational legs rather than two, and do you see ANY two-legged creatures besides dumb humans gamboling around the wilderness? NO. Because four legs are absolutely better than two. Well-applied trekkin’ poles will save your ass from getting wet while crossing a stream; they’ll save your ankle from getting twisted while scrambling a particularly rocky trail; and they’ll save your knees from exploding during a steep decline.

You think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. Anyone that has walked in the wilds with additional weight on them (ie a pack of any weight really) will tell you that you want a walking stick or two, and the better option is a pair of trekkin’ poles. Poles are lighter than sticks, better designed in the grip, easier to use, and way more durable.

I love mine so much I did a fucking photoshoot for them. Here they are!

I have the Black Diamond model with the cork ergonomic grips and the carbon fiber lower bits. I got these ages ago from a retailer that doesn’t exist anymore, much like most of my major gear assortment, and honestly Black Diamond probably doesn’t make the exact model anymore just like Osprey doesn’t make my pack model anymore but still makes a 70L womens pack in green. You know. The basics are still there in the catalog: they just changed the names.

The important keywords to remember here are: CORK, ERGONOMIC grips, and CARBON FIBER lower bits. Cork is absorbent, so your hands don’t get all sweaty! YAAAY! “Ergonomic” means that they’re angled a smidge instead of being straight up and down, and HOLY SHIT does that take all the stress of impact off your wrists. It’s amazing. Pay more for it, it’s worth it. Carbon fiber is important because it’s a sturdy material that is lighter weight than steel and will still do the job.

There are a few key points to make regarding the proper fitting and use of trekkin’ poles. When standing still with your pole planted next to you, your elbow should be at a 90 degree angle and your wrist should be straight. Like this:

See that ergonomic angle? See how my hand fits perfectly into it and doesn’t try to bend the pole to accommodate? You want all these things.

You should also note how the handle loop is positioned around my wrist. My partner is a purist and cuts all the tags off his clothing to save weight, so he also took the handle loops off his poles. Whatever, it works for him. I keep the loops on because I have carpal tunnel syndrome and will occasionally, COMPLETELY BY RANDOM, lose all grip in either of my hands. THIS IS BAD if you’re trying to hold on to stuff like trekkin’ poles! The loops have saved my grip multiple times when a snag in a rock or a nerve flare up would otherwise leave that pole behind.

To correctly use the handle loop, insert your hand from below the loop and then grab the handle. This will place the curved end over your wrist with the collected ends that connect to the handle below your wrist (and often, in your palm when you hold the pole.) Take note this is the LEFT pole in my LEFT hand. Your set of trekkin’ poles should have a left and a right pole, for reasons I’m not sure of, but it’s definitely important and you’ll notice once you start walking if the wrong pole is in the wrong hand.

If you have the loop worn correctly, you should be able to let go of the pole and not drop it! WEEE!

So that’s fitting and measuring done. There’s just one more tip on trekkin’ pole use: THESE ARE NOT FOR POLE VAULTING. These are designed for tapping along rocks and roots and such to ensure you remain upright with all of whatever you’ve got in your pack. Aluminum poles CAN break if you try to use them for pole vaulting. Steel poles CAN break if you try to use them for pole vaulting. And then where are you? You’re fucked, that’s where you are.

Fucked.

Do you have a favorite model of trekkin’ poles? Geek out with me in the comments below!

Hike Like a Girl: Part One: Shoes

Okay, hey fellow tomboys, don’t look at me like that. If your feet aren’t happy, then your hike is GOING TO BE MISERABLE, guaranteed. Out of sheer stubbornness I wore my Vibram Five Fingers on a backpacking trip one November. We had to do some stream crossings (because OF COURSE we did, there is always a secret stream crossing that you didn’t expect) and after that moment they NEVER dried out. My feet were wet the whole trip. I brought two pairs of socks, but because it was generally misty the whole time those NEVER dried out, and my feet were wet the whole trip. I legit don’t remember much of that trip except that my feet were wet the entire time. It makes THAT MUCH of a difference.

So, I’ll wear my Five Fingers on future day hikes, but maybe not backpacking trips where you want to limit what you’re carrying. For backpacking trips, I wear my Ahnu boots. I got them so long ago I can’t remember if they’re the Sugarpine or Montara model. Whatever they are, they are genuinely waterproof and breathable.

As a section-hiker, here are my key tips for how to pick the best pair of shoes for your hiking/backpacking trip:

  1. DON’T BE STUBBORN. Don’t pick a pair of shoes just because you like how they look or a friend told you they LOOOOOVE their pair of Kangaroo Tree Hopper Bullfrog-Skin Skyboots. Okay? Don’t do it. I did it, and all I remember of that trip (reminisced above) is that my feet were wet the whole time.
  2. CHOOSE COMFORT. You want your feet to be comfortable. If the pair you tried on is too snug in the toe box, try a different pair. Sure, they MIGHT stretch out, but you’re not going to spend the right amount of effort breaking them in before the trip, ARE YOU? So try pairs on until you find something that makes both feet stretch out and relax.
  3. TRY SHIT ON. I feel like this goes with the above tip, but seriously, don’t just order shit online. Go to a store and try shit on. And preferably buy from the store at which you tried shit on, instead of then going online to buy the same shit. Support local businesses.
  4. BREAK THEM IN. Spend a mile or two at home, BEFORE YOUR TRIP, wearing your new shoes in as many different environments as you can. This will tell you via blisters whether the shit you bought is going to be comfortable on the trail. Blisters suck at home. THEY ARE TEN TIMES WORSE ON THE TRAIL. Especially when the shoes that caused them are the only things you have to wear.
  5. MEASURE TO YOUR ARCH LENGTH. This is a thing that surprisingly most folks have zero clues about. At a proper store, they will have a device called the Brannock device which rather looks like a torture implement but is not. In the right, educated hands (SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES!!) this device can be used to measure 1) your arch length, 2) your toe length, and 3) your foot’s width. There are Mens and Womens Brannock devices. If you are buying a pair of Mens shoes, use the Mens Brannock device for sizing. Likewise with Womens. I don’t give a fuck if you’re a woman buying a pair of Mens shoes because the toe box is always wider or the colors are better, use the Mens Brannock device if you’re buying Mens shoes. Gender is stupid. Hiking shoes are designed to bend where your foot naturally bends, and this region is called your arch. If you measure to your toe length and your arch length is DIFFERENT (which it generally is) then your shoe will be bending at your toe and that’s going to result in painful, unhappy feet at the end (or, indeed, middle) of a hike. If the store you’re at doesn’t know how to use the Brannock device, fucking pull out your phone and Google/Youtube that shit. It’s not hard.
  6. HIGH-TOPS DO NOT GUARANTEE ANKLE SUPPORT. In most cases, they don’t provide it at all. Think about it. If the bit that comes up around your ankle is SOFT MATERIAL THAT IS PLIABLE AND BENDS, it is NOT going to prevent you from rolling an ankle. If it’s thick, sturdy leather, then okay maybe there will be some support but you ABSOLUTELY have to make sure that the lacing is done correctly so that the upper wraps around your ankle with COMPLETE CONTACT IN THE BACK AND SIDES. If there is room between your leg and the upper material for air to move around, let alone a finger to get in there, it’s not a good fit and will NOT prevent you from rolling an ankle. Worse, it’ll make you THINK it’ll prevent you from rolling an ankle, which will make you take risks, which will INCREASE your risk of rolling an ankle. True story.
  7. WEAR WOOL SOCKS. Wool socks help to regulate your body temperature, they wick away sweat which helps prevent blisters, and they are less prone to getting an odor. Wool is great. If you’re about to comment that wool is itchy, fuck you, that’s what Merino wool is for. (If you genuinely have an allergy to wool, consult your doctor.)

Enjoy your hike!