In the days BWP (before walking poles) I would have balked at anyone who dared suggest I even pick a pair up, let alone head towards the trail with them in my hands. Me with walking poles? No, never!
However, as the Inca Trail loomed in 2014, I did start to wonder whether I should give them a try. So I left my preconceptions at the door, wandered into a shop and bought a cheap pair for about £10. I stuffed them into my holdall, not thinking that I would bother to even get them out once I arrived in Peru.
When I arrived in Cusco though, I found that not only did the overwhelming majority of other hikers have them, but that the local Inca Trail porters actually call them “magic sticks”. What did they know that I didn’t? I wasn’t about to risk being left out. So on the day that we left for Kilometre 82, the start point of the Inca Trail (and so called because it’s 82km on the railroad from Cusco), I had them lashed onto my pack, y’know, just in case.
As we started Day 1, they stayed strapped to my rucksack. I didn’t think much about them, in fact. But that soon changed as talk over dinner turned to the infamous Day 2 – the slow and gruelling ascent up to Dead Woman’s Pass, an unrelenting upwards trail to the highest point of the Inca Trail. We were going to need them, so as the day dawned, I had them gripped tightly. And boy, was I glad that I did.
Since that day, I’ve used them each time I’ve gone walking from the Brecon Beacons to Snowdonia, to the Andes.
But what are the benefits of using walking poles? Mostly, poles provide stability and balance, which cannot be overestimated when you’re on a steep ascent. They distribute the stress across your entire body, so when you’re walking your upper body gets a workout too. All in all, if they’re used properly, they will increase your speed and help prevent injuries (they really save your knees on a sharp descent). And what’s not to like about that? I certainly wouldn’t be without mine.
The Leki Vario XS weigh just 422g for the pair. I got them new in Ecuador last year and that’s the set that I’ll be using for Walking Wales too.