Does Using Walking Sticks Conserve Energy?
By Steven Gillman
walking sticks or trekking poles conserve energy as some claim? Ray
Jardine, one of the earliest promoters of ultralight backpacking,
pointed out years ago that carrying more weight in the form of
walking sticks has to take more energy. It's basic physics. He
recommended going without. Now recent scientific research has proven
him right - sort of.
A study done at James Madison University in
Virginia found that people who used walking sticks or trekking poles
while hiking increased their heart rate and burned more calories.
The hikes were in a variety of terrains.
This was meant as a health study, though, not
backpacking research. They found improved lung capacity in those who
used walking sticks. Subjects increased their fitness level without
any perceived increase in exertion, according to researchers.
Okay, time to read between the lines and apply
this to lightweight backpacking. Is it worth using those trekking
poles or not? If you reread the above information you'll realize
that there is more energy spent when using them, but that users
don't notice. So Jardine was right about the basic physics of the
situation after all.
But the fact that users don't perceive an increase
in exertion is important. Why don't they? It seems likely that it's
because the use of the poles is spreading the expenditure of energy
more evenly between their various muscle groups. Take some of the
weight with your arms and chest and you spare your legs some of
their work. That seems logical.
Of course we have already known that whether or
not the extra weight causes us to spend more energy for the same
number of miles hiked, walking sticks can save our knees. And even
if we use more energy to do so, we might be able to go more miles
more comfortably if we spare the joints the abuse. So Jardine may
not be right about the value of getting rid of the trekking poles.
It seems that some people should be using trekking
poles, while some should go without them. Those who have weak ankles
or knees might benefit, in other words, while those who don't have
these problems and want to backpack more miles on the fewer calories
probably will do better without.
This also suggests that there may be better and
worse times for using walking sticks. For example, you might do best
to save your energy and arms when hiking long level stretches.
Meanwhile you should get the poles out for downhill stretches where
you can spread out the exertion among your muscle groups.
Copyright Steve Gillman. Get the ebook "Ultralight
Backpacking Secrets" (And Wilderness Survival Tips), as well as gear
recommendations, and a new wilderness survival section, at: http://www.The-Ultralight-Site.com
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