Hiking

Shock Absorbing Hiking Poles: Hack or Bodge?

Black and white photo of mountaneer with trekking pole

I was recently asked my view on shock absorbing hiking sticks. The most common question is: are shock absorbing trekking poles a gimmick or do they offer real benefits.  So I borrowed from my friends at the Global Cycling Network and ask are shock absorbing trekking poles a hack (real benefits) or a bodge (gimmick or poorly executed). I am sharing my thoughts with you today on this topic. Shock absorbing trekking poles are a great advance in pole technology and provide increased utility for people that want to manage shock to their upper extremities. There are several ways to bring shock absorption to a hiking pole and we will look at them all.

There are a number of options on the market today if you want a shock absorbing trekking pole and most are priced at a premium to poles without this feature, so understand up front that you will pay for this feature over what you would pay for a standard, non shock absorbing hiking pole. You can expect to pay 20 to 40 percent more for this feature over a standard pole.  You should also expect them to weigh more and be more complex.

Let’s look at how different poles achieve shock absorption. The most common method is a rubber damper, though some use an internal spring in the handle. There are three principle methods where they deploy their shock absorption systems. The common places to place this technology is either at the tip, the handle or one or more of the “joints” in the pole in between these two areas.
All shock absorbing hiking poles are designed to “give” on the vertical axis a bit in response to harsh jolts coming through the pole. While this vertical give can give a better experience by reducing shock, it also dampens power transmission to the ground and conversely defeats some of the purpose of trekking poles. However, for some people that are less tolerant to shock on their wrists, elbows and shoulders, the tradeoff between efficiency and comfort may well be worth it.

There is also some question as to the durability and longevity of such systems. Given that a conventional trekking pole has no parts that move during use, they have little to wear out, save for rubber pole tips. Once you introduce a shock absorbing system to the pole, you now have a part designed to move with each stride. Moving parts may be incredibly durable, but over time they will either fail or become less effective. It is important that you learn which systems are effective AND durable. Read reviews, particularly ones that are from longer term owners.
There is also the question of lessened structural integrity of the hiking stick due to the introduction of a well designed weakness. Though shock absorption is designed to only give on the vertical axis, there will intrinsically be some give on the horizontal. This horizontal give can lead to more wear on the joint with shock absorption and could lead to a failure at that point. Though it would likely take a large degree of force to make it fail, it is a possibility.

Lastly, let’s discuss weight. A shock absorption system requires more materials, and due to the nature of the work they need to do, they will make the pole heavier. I would encourage anyone considering shock absorbing trekking poles to consider that weight penalty for these poles. You can expect the poles to be 15% to 20% heavier. While this only equates to a couple of ounces per hiking pole, that weight is not inconsequential when you consider you will be moving this weight with each stride.
In conclusion, we hope you learned more about shock absorption. Our final word is that shock absorbing poles are great for those that need to lessen shock to joints in the arms, but this feature comes at a cost – both financial and in the utility and longevity of the pole.

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