I am definitely a creature of habit. Hiking, and preparing for it, is no exception. I pack for a hike the same way every time, regardless of distance or difficulty. The only major changes I make in my preparation are in regards to amount of food and water, or climactic conditions. Otherwise, for your average 3-season hike, I dress the same way, pack in the same order, and take along a standard set of essentials (rain coat, med kit, etc…). My habits aren’t born from superstition, but the ritualistic nature of the way I pack and the way I use certain items probably borders on the way professional athletes prepare for a game.
One of the items I take and use on every hike is my set of trekking poles. It has to be a really mellow hike for me to not use them. Since I started using trekking poles a few years back, I’ve loved using them, and have seen their tremendous benefit. I didn’t always use trekking poles before, but in the years of my most intense and concentrated hiking adventures, I’ve used them considerably.
Just last weekend, I went out on 6 mile loop hike in the Upper Paugussett State Forest in Newtown, CT. I circumnavigated the forest on the blue blazed Lillinonah Trail. I began the hike using my trekking poles, as usual. However, less than a mile into the hike, it hit me that on this day, I really didn’t feel like using my trekking poles.
Quick hike review: For a weekend morning, this is a great hike. It takes the hiker along Pond Brook and Lake Lillinonah (which is a dammed up section of the Housatonic and Sepaug Rivers). It is quite nice to hike along while taking in views of the lake and hearing the water lap up against the bank. The conditions vary from very gradual to some short and steep sections, lake side much of the way, through old New England stone walls, timber management areas, and maple sugaring groves. Despite the scenic nature of the trail (it is considered a scenic trail by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection), I went on this hike in search of Bald Eagles. Part of the trail is closed during the winter for their nesting, and I was hoping to catch a view of them this spring. However, I am completely unsure if they stay in the Paugassett in spring and summer. I did not see any, but of course on a beautiful day as the leaves were finally arriving in the forest, the hike was not in vain. In fact, I believe I heard a Barred Owl, so that was cool. This was a nice and easy hike, that I very much enjoyed.
But back to those trekking poles. After deciding I didn’t want to use them, I strapped them onto my backpack and forgot about them. I hiked well without them on this day. I began to wonder if my use of trekking poles was habitual and sometimes unnecessary. For example, I take them on almost every hike. However, I will sometimes trail run on the same section, or similarly difficult sections of trail. I don’t ever take trekking poles trail running, as they don’t seem too conducive the running. If I don’t need them while running, then do I even need them when I’m out on an average hike?
Most people I know either use trekking poles or they don’t. Period. Maybe use of trekking poles doesn’t need to be a black and white, use all the time or use never type of thing. However, it’s kind of like, if I bother to take them, I might as well use them. And I really do enjoy using them, and think they are useful in a number of situations. Maybe not EVERY situation though. So, although my use of trekking poles is rooted the benefits they can provide (in general taking some of the weight from my legs and knees, but additionally in special situations: i.e. when carrying a very heavy pack, for use in shelter support or emergency limb-splinting, etc.), using them has formed into a strong habit that can at times be blind to my actual needs as a hiker and the conditions the trail is presenting to me. I guess I can start using them more situationally, as they are not necessary for those low key, shorter hikes.
So, the questions are to my fellow hikers:
1. Do you use trekking poles? Why or why not?
2. How/when do you decide to use or not use them?
3. What habits do you have as a hiker/backpacker?