Turbocharge your hike
Moses was on to something. Whether you wander in the wilderness for 40 years or 40 minutes, walking sticks make hiking a faster, fitter and safer exercise. A simple staff pared from a tree branch can add stability on steep, uneven terrain and allow arms and shoulders to lighten the load on hip, legs and back. New aluminum hiking poles, long used in pairs by Europeans, are helping to popularize in this country the outdoor aerobic activity known as trekking. Below, the latest models, from high-trek to low-tech.
One way to travel light
Leki Ultralite Ti Air Ergo PA AS hiking poles: The Maserati of hiking poles. Top-end model from the market leader, designed for speed, with aluminum/titanium shafts and features to speed your journey.
Likes: Very light. 17.6-ounce weight (per pair) is said to lessen “swing weight” fatigue for high-speed hikers and backpackers. Built-in shock absorbers lessen jarring. The bent handle allows better push-off and reduces risk of wrist injury. Telescoping shaft accommodates anyone from children to adults up to 6-foot-5.
Dislikes: Foam-covered handle is comfortable but too soft to maintain a solid grip. And there’s that steep, El Capitan-like price.
Price: $149 for a pair. (800) 255-9982; www.leki.com
Built for comfort
Masters Kompressor Top hiking poles:
A real bargain with Mt. Everest features, Mt. Wilson price.
Likes: Built-in shock absorbers can be switched on and off. Very comfortable, 1.5-inch-wide strap is nearly twice the width of others. Bent, hard-rubber handle for fast push-off, high-performance. Three-section telescoping shaft that is similar to Leki’s.
Dislikes: 24-ounce weight, though typical, is too heavy for gram-counting, adventure-racing
Price: $85-$90 a pair. (800) 425-7462; www.alpinasports.com
It’s also a unipod
Tracks Compact Travel Staff: Fold-up pole with screw-off walnut knob -- and a camera mount.
Likes: Easy conversion to a unipod makes it ideal for bird watching and travel photography. Three-section, 11-ounce staff collapses down to 20 inches. Push-button mechanism allows easy length adjustment, from 3 1/2 feet to 4 feet. Rubber foot, great for street walking, can be removed to expose a trail-worthy carbide tip.
Dislikes: You have to buy a second pole to do hard-core trekking.
Price: $65 each. (800) 531-9531; www.cascadedesigns.com/tracks
Helping hikers stick with it
Whistle Creek Hickory Compass hiking stick: Varnished hickory with a rubber foot and a tiny compass burrowed into the top.
Likes: This 3-pound mini-telephone pole makes you feel fearless and connected to history -- think of Charleton Heston’s Moses in “The Ten Commandments.” This pole is great for leisurely strolls on streets as well as on well-groomed trails.
Dislikes: Without a real handle to grip and a metal tip to dig in, it isn’t suitable for true aerobic hiking, especially in rough terrain. The compass is fun, but so small (a half-inch in diameter) that you must squint to read it. You’d need a hacksaw to adjust the stick’s roughly 4-foot length.
Price: $34 each. (970) 586-7310); www.whistlecreek.com