Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to select trekking pole for yourself, kids

Walking sticks offer several benefits, especially with carrying children

Also known as walking sticks, hiking sticks or walking poles, trekking poles are necessary for maintaining stability on uneven or wet surfaces and to help reduce fatigue. The latter makes them useful on even surfaces. By transferring weight to the arms, a trekking pole can reduce stress on knees and the lower back, allowing you to maintain a better posture and to go farther.

Trekking poles have some other benefits beyond keeping your balance. If forced to stay the night in the wilds, a stick can be used to build a makeshift tent. It also can be used to fight off attacking animals.

As an adult with a baby or toddler on your back, you’ll primarily want a trekking pole to help you maintain your balance, even if on a flat surface, and to help absorb some of the impact of your step.

Qualities of a good trekking pole
Graphite tips provide the best traction. A basket just above the tip is a good idea so the stick doesn’t sink into mud or sand. Angled cork handles are ergonomic and help absorb sweat from your hands so they don’t blister. A strap on the handle to wrap around your hand is useful so the stick won’t slip out. Telescopic poles are a good idea as you can adjust them as needed based on the terrain you’re hiking and as kids grow to accommodate their height.

The pole also needs to be sturdy enough to handle rugged terrain, as you don’t want a pole that bends when you press it to the ground. Spring-loaded shock absorbers help when heading down a steep incline but aren’t necessary. Indeed, for a short walk across flat terrain, the right length stick is about all you need.

When hiking, take off any tip protectors that come with the pole. Usually these protectors are included so the sharp tip doesn’t cut or scratch other objects while you’re traveling. You probably don’t need such a sharp tip on a pole when hiking with kids, children, but should you have one, definitely make sure kids don’t horse around with the pole.

You may have seen pictures of hikers using two trekking poles, as if they were skiing. Having two poles works well on long backcountry treks and over steep terrain, but you probably will only need one pole on your day hike. I myself like to have one hand free in case I need to hold my child’s hand or help him up or down an embankment.

Trekking poles for children
Children don’t really need trekking poles unless tackling steep or uneven terrain, but they’ll likely want one to look like an adult. Kids as young as three can use trekking poles. You will need to adjust it to their height, though.

If buying a trekking pole for a child, make sure the grip isn’t too large for them, as children have smaller hands than adults. Next check the length. Holding the child’s arm out at a right angle (with the elbow the bend) in front of them, adjust the pole length so that the tip reaches the child’s ankle.

You’ll have to show most children how to use the trekking pole, or they’ll soon be dragging them behind them. Prepare for younger kids to misuse trekking poles, which they find are great for whacking plants, trees, rocks and even siblings.

Also be prepared to eventually carry a young child’s trekking pole, even if they’re still on the ground. They’ll grow tired of carrying it (or playing with it). Velcro leather pieces that bicyclists use for their wrists are perfect for securing their trekking pole to a carrier or backpack.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.