Trekking poles. A short, semi scientific test by a novice trail runner.

Trekking poles. A short, semi scientific test by a novice trail runner.

Trekking poles. Are they worth it? Are they useful? Why are they called “wizard sticks”? Many a world class trail runner swear by them. I decided to try them on a few segments I use for power hiking training, to see if any of the questions can be answered in less than an hour.

Some points to note:

  • Prior to this I have 0.0 secs use of trekking poles under my belt
  • The first segment is a category 4 climb.
  • I am an average climber.
  • I do not have great arm strength.
  • It is a very short test

The first part of the test was without poles. Up and down. Going out as hard as I can, it resulted in some PR’s on the segments. Just so that the assessment on the impact of the poles could really be measured. Power hiking most of the way and running down again.

After a 20 min rest, half a banana and some fiddling with the poles. I set off again. The first third of the segment was trying to do a walking type maneuver, step, pole, step, pole, like a 4 legged animal. Before settling on a ski-ing type of technique. This while trying to adjust the length of the poles on the fly (successfully) It seemed to work best and felt like it would if you pulled yourself up a hill by using the tree trunks on the side of the trail. With the added benefit of being able to push off further.

Coming down, and again adjusting the poles on the fly to the longest setting, I used them to steady and brake as I ran down. By this time it was raining and the added confidence the poles lent was reassuring. Keeping in mind that I only used them on the jeep track where space would allow. The single track coming down was not wide enough.

Looking at the data afterwards, it affirmed that my pre-test predictions were indeed wrong. My predictions were that the poles would make me much faster on the climb but raise my heart rate, as I would be using my arms and upper body as well. I had no idea what the downhills would do.

What happened was the speed of ascent was pretty much the same. Technique and practice would improve this for sure. BUT the effort required was a lot less. You can see that from the two screenshots below when you look at Relative effort and Calories. Without pole first. With poles second.


The next images tell the story of the segments, without poles:


With poles: (downhill much faster note HR differences)


(I would not have been able to do this without the poles on the second run)

It would seem to me, that on a long run or race where there is a great deal of ascent. Poles would make a huge difference in terms of energy expenditure. Whether carrying the extra weight of the poles would offset that… needs a much longer and more scientific test. I also enjoyed that extra sense of security on the slippery muddy downhill.

Poles used are these right here

Comments and questions are always welcome!

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