Four Wheel Drive in the High Country

By Robert Hanneman, May 2014

I remember the first time I was introduced to trekking poles. It was the first Mountain goat hunt I ever went on. My buddy who had the tag had a set of trekking poles and the rest of us did not. I don’t think two guys could have made more fun of anyone for using trekking poles than we did. By the end of the hunt, we were both trying to buy his trekking poles from him. It was now his turn to make fun of us as we had tree limbs that we were using for walking sticks. As soon as I got home I went to REI and purchased my first set of trekking poles.

For the last 14 years, I have not gone on a backpack hunt without trekking poles, and I encourage everyone else to bring a set. I honestly think not having them can be a safety issue, especially if you get into rough, nasty country with a heavy pack on. The best way for me to explain it to people who have never used trekking poles is that it is like being in four-wheel drive in the mountains. Some people only like to take one trekking pole to use, but I am a firm believer in taking two trekking poles. For me, I use my trekking poles anytime I am going uphill, downhill, over water crossings, or over broken, uneven terrain. I always take the time to adjust the trekking poles so they are shorter going uphill and longer going downhill. Downhill offers your biggest chance of falling, and with gravity it does not take long to get yourself injured. I cannot count the number of times that I was able to catch myself from falling down by using my trekking poles.

Over the years, I have used and broken many different sets of trekking poles on backpack hunts. Through trial and error I have found the trekking poles that work best for me. I do not like any of the twist-lock designs, used to keep the trekking poles from collapsing. I have seen them fail too many times. I now only use trekking poles with a cam-lock design, used to keep the trekking poles locked into place. I have yet to have the cam-lock design collapse on me.

For the last couple of years, I have been using Black Diamond trekking poles with great success. Currently I am using the Trail Pro Shock trekking poles. These trekking poles weigh in at 1 lb. 5 oz., and when fully collapsed they measure 27". These trekking poles have a cam-lock design to lock the poles at the desired height. They also offer control shock technology, which is a built-in shock absorber. At first I really thought this was just a gimmick, but after using them it actually makes a big difference at the end of the day. At this point, they are definitely the best trekking poles I have ever used.

For this year, I will be testing out Black Diamond’s Ultra Mountain Carbon trekking poles. These trekking poles are 100% carbon fiber construction and have a 3-section Z-Pole folding design. These trekking poles go together like tent poles do. After the poles are together, you slide the handle up and the poles lock into place. They go together very quickly. These trekking poles weigh in at 1 lb. 2 oz., and when fully collapsed they measure 14". They are 3 oz. lighter than the Trail Pro Shock trekking poles and are 13" shorter when collapsed. This will make them a lot easier to put in my pack. The only thing I am unsure about at this point is the lack of adjustability. In the past, I have always been able to adjust the length of the trekking poles when going up or down steep mountains.

Some of the sheep and goat hunters in Alaska and Canada have been using a combination ice axe/trekking pole. I have never had the chance to use one in the field, but they could be great for someone who is hunting up north or doing a late season Mountain goat hunt in the western states. A few to check out are the Black Diamond Whippet, the Stubai Tour Lite Telescoping, and the Petzl Snowscopic.

Other than using my trekking poles for hiking, I have used them countless times to set up my shelters. In the early season scouting trips and archery deer and elk hunts, you will find me sleeping in my Kifaru MegaTarp. When weight is an issue on my late season hunts, you will find me sleeping in my Hilleberg Rajd. Both of these shelters can be set up using only my two trekking poles and a few guidelines.

Years ago, when I thought I was young and tough, I was the guy who made fun of a buddy for using trekking poles. I am sure glad I have gotten a little smarter with age.