We didn’t either until we started backpacking in the Wrangells!
Ask any SEAG guide if they use trekking poles when backpacking in the Wrangells, and their answer will be “Yes! Always!!” Although we recognize it’s not always an essential item for backpacking elsewhere, trekking poles are a crucial tool for covering the rugged Alaska backcountry of Wrangell-St. Elias.
With our rugged glaciated terrain, trekking poles provide one additional touchpoint with the ground. When a rock shifts unexpectedly under your foot or the tundra is softer than expected you have another point of contact to keep you upright.
If you have foot, leg, knee, hip, or back pain, trekking poles are a no-brainer. They help transfer the load away from your injured areas and turn the hike into a more efficient, full-body workout.
Trekking poles are essential for river crossings! They provide much-needed additional stability when hopping across slippery rocks and can be leaned into during deeper crossings with a strong currant.
They can also be a useful tool when you’re in camp! Some lightweight tents rely on trekking poles for support, and they work great in a pinch to help splint a broken tent pole if something goes wrong.
Trekking Pole Tips
- For most terrain, adjust your trekking pole length so your elbow bends at 90 degrees. When going uphill, it may be helpful to shorten your poles. When side-hilling, shorten the uphill pole and switch hands when switchbacking to keep the lower pole in the uphill hand.
- Some trekking poles have multiple grips along the shaft, so you can just slide your hand down to a lower grip instead of fully adjusting them
- Trekking poles come with either a “flick-lock” or a “twist-lock” mechanism. We recommend the “flick-lock” version for extended backcountry trips, as they’re easier to repair in the field.
- For those who plan on traveling with their poles, 3-section poles tend to pack best in a duffel and are smaller for attaching to your backpack when not in use!
- Small snow baskets are especially helpful on our tundra here in the Wrangells – then your tips don’t sink down into the moss and get stuck in the rocks below!
- Trekking poles aren’t recommended on glaciers as they have a tendency to slip out from under you. We make an exception for backpackers with heavy backpacks and coach them on proper use.
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