Trekking poles are now an essential part of my backpacking kit and have been since that fateful day 10 years ago when I learned the hard way.

A decade ago I thought trekking poles were for the old and weak. I have since changed my tune big time and could likely now be described as an evangelical advocate!

When trekking poles first started to appear in the hiking mainstream, I read all the hype and quickly went out to my local outdoor store and bought a pair of Makalu Leki Trekking poles. They have been with me for 30 years, and for the first 20 years, they were mostly used for telemark and backcountry skiing, until that day my knee made a strange unnatural popping noise while backpacking with an un-Godly 50-pound load.

Bruce’s last hike with a heavy pack – 50lbs in Bon Echo Park 2009

We were backpacking on a short but wonderful trail in Bon Echo Provincial Park in Ontario. The day was smokin’ hot, the scenery was excellent and my company was superb – my wife Tracy. In an attempt to be the gracious and manly husband, I choose to carry too much of the communal load. On the first afternoon of the 2-day backpacking trip, I stepped up and over a large rock, pivoted my leg and popped the knee. There didn’t appear to be any issues and we made it to camp that night with no problems.

In the morning my leg couldn’t bend. My knee had swollen overnight, and simply getting out of the tent now involved Olympic-level contortions. We still had a 4-hour hike to the car, and I was now disabled. We needed a plan.

Tracy was excellent.  The plan required her to step up big time. She carried the bulk of the load and gave me her trekking poles. Off we went, Tracy the pack mule, and me struggling at a painful snail’s pace.

trekking poles tracy 2009
Tracy hiking with her Leki Makalu trekking poles. She eventually loaned to me and “saved the day” – Bon Echo Provincial Park, 2009

I felt love twice that day. First to my WIFE for carrying the bulk of the load and relinquishing her valued trekking poles.  Second… to the TREKKING POLES!

I’ve hiked with poles before. I always felt they got in the way. I preferred my hands free for grabbing rocks and snapping photos. However this day my tune changed big time. I discovered the poles gave me power on the ascents, support on the rocky terrain, and stability on the descents. The stress on my knee was reduced, and we made it out and back to the trailhead with little fanfare.

Our Backpacking trip was over.  Instead of retiring to the city, we chose an evening of car camping. We pitched our tent, built a campfire, cooked hotdogs, and shared a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. With my leg iced and elevated, the wine was therapeutic.

Several months later I had knee surgery. Now I always backpack with trekking poles, not because I have to, but because it’s smart!

trekking poles mt washington
10 years later my pack is lighter, my trekking poles are now with me on all my hikes… and my body thanks me. – Mt Washington Summit, 2019


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