By Matt Misterek The News Tribune
You know what it looks like when circus clowns cram into a tiny car? That’s what came to mind as I loaded my backpack for a week on the Wonderland Trail.
Illumination? Check. Insulation? Check. Hydration? Check.
Then my mind reluctantly turned to an “-ation” you won’t find on the standard wilderness survival list.
Stabilization. To check or not to check?
I had never used trekking poles. All my hiking life, I’d been a contented biped. But backpacking the entire Wonderland Trail? This would be new territory.
So I borrowed a pair of trekking poles from a buddy. Now, in the words of the great songwriter Neil Diamond, I’m a believer.
- They might save your life, or so it seemed during white-knuckle stretches on our trip last summer. Having more than two contact points with the ground improved our odds of not taking a spill on unstable terrain or patches of snow. Poles are well worth the occasional hazard of catching in the brambles or getting stuck between planks on a wooden footbridge.
- They will save your breath, and the exertion of taking off your pack too often. I was grateful to have poles to lean into during the endless switchbacks and to support me like a crutch during 30-second rest breaks.
- They will extend the warranty on your knees. According to a 1999 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine, using poles on a 25-degree downhill grade lessens the compressive force on knees 12 percent to 25 percent. Even on flat ground, there’s a 5 percent reduction.
- They are more multi-functional than a Swiss Army knife. Use your poles to tap out a cadence on the trail to keep your hiking party in synch. Wrap strips of duct tape near the top for quick unspooling during adhesion emergencies. Mount your GoPro video camera on one of the handles. Prop up a sagging tent at your campsite. Break cobwebs, fend off attacking wildlife (note: may only be effective on squirrels) or gently prod the slowpoke in front of you.