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Healthy Traveler: Hiking With Walking Sticks

Walking sticks can be a great addition to a hike—if you're willing to work a little harder.

couple with walking sticks, image
Photo caption
Walking sticks can help with balance in rocky areas.

Q Should I hike with a walking stick—or even two walking sticks?

Trekking poles—whether made of carbon fiber or of sticks found by the trail—are a popular hiking accessory. They can make any walk feel like an adventure in the Alps. But do they actually help?

Walking sticks definitely support walkers who are unsteady on their feet, says Michael Saunders, a professor of kinesiology at James Madison University in Virginia. But, surprisingly, they don’t seem to take any effort out of hiking. “You might end up working harder,” he says.

In a 2008 study, Saunders and colleagues measured the heart rates and breathing of 14 young men hiking a little less than a mile with and without a pair of high-tech lightweight trekking poles. The hikers didn’t notice a difference, but tests confirmed that using the poles required a little extra effort.

Saunders’s take: If you’re hiking for fitness, the sticks can boost your workout. That’s because they get your arms in on the act. But to simply stride down the trail? You might want to count on your own two feet.

Photography by Halfpoint/Shutterstock

This article was first published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.