Why do hunters need trekking poles?


Ashton Hall hiking with trekking poles after scouting for mule deer
Hiking with trekking poles has many benefits for hunters. Photo credit: Brady Miller

East Coast and Midwest hunters may think trekking poles are silly to carry on a remote hunt, but they are an accessory that is rapidly gaining popularity among hunters and hikers alike.

Why Trekking Poles?

As Arizona Daily Sun outdoor columnist and hiking expert David Wolf puts it: “they are a godsend when you have a heavy pack full of boned out elk meat. Trekking poles aid with balance when hiking in and out of canyons, and the use of your arms spreads the workload and leaves you less tired with more capable legs at the end of a long day.” Wolf regularly hikes the Grand Canyon and also finds the poles valuable in crossing murky streams, saying, ”With the poles you can feel the bottom and not step in a hole.”

My last big game packing job was carrying an entire black bear carcass about a quarter of a mile up an Alaskan beach. Packing a load like that up and over logs on footing that gave way was a prescription for wrecking a bad knee, or worse. While I managed the task without incident, I would have gladly used trekking poles to carry that amount of weight over such difficult footing.

Trekking poles are very popular among backpackers for providing stability while carrying a heavy load in lousy terrain — like 4WD for walking. Sheep and goat hunters regularly use the poles to to provide stability when they pack out with camp materials plus a load of meat and horns. These poles provide less muscle fatigue and help promote faster recovery times.

Trekking poles provide additional balance in the form of two additional contact points with the ground and can make it much easier to heft a heavy pack through difficult terrain. The poles provide a measure of safety as well. For someone like me with a serious knee issue, the poles can mean the difference between falling and twisting a leg or simply having a nice, incident-free hunting trip. Trekking poles also reduce the impact on joints when carrying a heavy pack.

What to look for in hunting trekking poles

Carbon fiber and aluminum trekking poles
Carbon fiber and aluminum trekking poles. Photo credit: Brady Miller

Good trekking poles are an investment and can range from $100 to $200 a pair. The poles are available in either aluminum or carbon fiber models. The carbon fiber poles are much lighter while still maintaining enough strength to serve their purpose. Be aware when selecting your poles that the weight of the poles can vary considerably. Some weigh up to 8 ounces between models. Brands like Leki and Black Diamond make great trekking poles.

The pole sections fit together following two basic designs. Some models are configured like a tent pole with an internal bungee cord or there are poles in a collapsible design like a camera tripod leg. Wolf recommends avoiding the bungee cord models unless they have a locking mechanism because a rock or a log can bind the pole and then you can end up pulling it apart.

Trekking pole sections lock together with three types of mechanisms. They have a pin-pop lock on some models. Others have a snap lock like a tripod. There are also models that use a speed lock that twists to bind down. If you are checking them out in a sports store, make sure to extend them and lean on them to see how sturdy the locking mechanism is.

Cork and foam trekking pole grips
Foam and cork trekking pole grips. Photo credit: Brady Miller

Grips on the trekking poles have three basic varieties. Cork grips are preferred by a lot of people because they do not generate a lot of sweat and are found on more expensive models. Foam grips and rubber grips are also available, but the rubber grips can cause chafing on hands if used on long trips. Most poles also have shock absorber systems that help absorb shock and reduce fatigue.

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Other uses for hunting with trekking poles

Trekking poles adapted for rifle shooting
Trekking poles adapted for rifle shooting. Photo credit: Brady Miller

Trekking poles can also be adapted for other purposes while on a hunt. Some choose to adapt poles to double as a set of shooting sticks for an accurate rifle shot. There are commercial model adapters available for around $10. Some trekking poles are being manufactured to also connect as shooting sticks or a shooting platform without the need for the extra adapter.

Trekking pole used with a lightweight tent
Trekking poles are a great option for lightening up your tent setup. Photo credit: Brady Miller

Some hunters use trekking poles as tent poles in ultralight shelters or tents once they arrive at their campsite. There are a number of manufacturers that produce ultralight tents and shelters that are designed for using trekking poles instead of tent poles, which helps to lighten the load for camping in remote areas.

Other trekking poles have camera mounts that are built-in or can be purchased as an accessory, allowing the trekking pole to double as a camera monopod for photography. This can be handy for getting a steady camera hold for a scenic shot or sticking the pole into the ground and taking some hero shot selfies with a big game animal.

Accessories and other considerations

Lorenzo Sartini hiking with trekking poles while hunting

The majority of trekking poles come with adjustable wrist straps, but some are better than others. Some of the wrist straps are padded or lined to prevent chafing your skin on a long hike. Baskets are available for the bottom of the trekking poles that can be used on mud or snow. The baskets are removable. There are a couple of different sizes available, and you can purchase larger sizes for heavy snow. 

Pole tips are built to help out on hard surfaces. Hard rubber tips that are angled are available for walking on rock (or pavement). Most trekking poles come with a carbide or steel tip to dig into the ground. You can buy rubber tip protectors or covers for when you do not want the metal tip clicking along the rocks during a stalk. The carbide tips are great on ice and rock, but can make a lot of noise. 

Trekking poles may seem funny from a hunting perspective, but once you try them your legs will be glad you did! So before you head out on your next backcountry big game hunt, consider adding a pair of trekking poles.


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