30 Reasons to Backpack with Trekking Poles

by Dave Gantz

I took a friend backpacking recently and allowed her to borrow my trekking poles for a few miles.  I immediately regretted my decision.

While I frequently day hike and trail run without poles, I’m almost never caught without poles while backpacking.  Why you ask?  Well, here are just a few — OK, 30 — reasons why I love backpacking with trekking poles.

1. Walking

Pick your head up, straighten your back, and briskly head out into the wild!


Hiking on the Great Eastern Trail, NY

2. Ankle saver

Shift your weight to the pole when you begin to role an ankle to save yourself from an ankle sprain.  This is particularly helpful on rocky trails, such as those found in Pennsylvania and New England.

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     Climbing rocky trails in New England

3. Energy savers

Core muscle support.  Use your poles to keep your balance on slick and steep terrain.

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     ‘Two Weeks’ crossing an ice chute below Foresters Pass, CA.

4. Shelter poles

     Save weight. Instead of carrying tent poles, just use your trekking poles.

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Tarp shelter, Susquehannock Trail, PA

5. Balance

4 legs are better than 2, especially in the mud and muck.

6. Testing water depth

Muddy flooded stream crossing?  Find the bottom with your poles, before stepping into the unknown.

7. Stinging nettle defenders

     Clear a path, like dull machetes, and save your legs from the burn.

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A forest of stinging nettle, Bucktail Path, PA

8. Stream crossing aid

Bear Creek Crossing, Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, during the spring melt.  Bring trekking poles or plan to go swimming.

9. Snow drowning protection

When you, “posthole down to your trekking poles” and almost find yourself stuck, face first, in a pile of cold snow.  It happened to me once and was surprisingly terrifying.

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     Adirondack Mountains, NY

10. Rattlesnake shields

Its 4 AM, and you’re walking through the woods in the rain with only a headlamp and trekking poles.  Then you almost step on a beautiful yellow phase rattlesnake who is hunting and poised to strike (see photo below).  Luckily your trekking poles will protect you.  Well, not really, but they made me feel better.


     Rattlesnake, Quehanna Trail, PA

11. Removing thorns from the trail

     Slice and dice trail debris while walking through.

12. Stabbing mice in shelters

     Use your poles to keep the shelters clean. I’m assuming this works.

13. Keeping weirdos at bay.  

Imagine that you are in Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, or Last of the Mohicans.  Whatever it takes, pretend that your poles are mighty swords.  It works.

14. Keeping dogs at bay.

Usually this works; although, I did get tagged this summer (didn’t get my poles up in time to swat the dog before he got me).


15. Breaking spider webs

When traveling alone, spider webs can be a constant, disgusting, and tedious obstacle.  Swat these nets down with your sanity saving poles.


16. Pointer tool


Leading the way, The Long Trail, VT

17. Cat hole digger

     No trowel needed.  Poles can also clean out over used fire rings.

18. Trash collector

     Stab plastic bags and place in your pockets to be disposed of at home.

19. Emergency signaling device

     Wave frantically.

20. Rudder, while glissading



     Glissading in the Sierra Nevada’s, CA.

21. Snow shovel and anchor

Dig a spot to sleep in the snow, than use your poles to anchor your shelter to the snow.

22. Frustration release

     Warning: Beating poles on trees will result in bent poles.


     Bent poles after the Sierra Nevada’s, CA.

23. Photo Model

     When walking alone, one needs a reference point.


     A big pile of snow in OR, in August, in the middle of the PCT.

24. Mountain climbing


     Climbing Mt. Marcy, NY.

25. Writing utensil

     Leave notes and arrows in the sand.

26. Climbing aid

     Hold on, I’ll pull you up.


     Ladder climbing in New England.

27. Percussion instrument

Keep a rhythm while you sing to yourself.  Or scare the animals away by banging the poles together.

28. Knee saving device while descending

     Use the poles and save the knees, young grasshopper.

29. Snake mover

     Warning: it makes them really mad.

30. Bottle opener

     Seriously, it works.







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