In case it wasn’t clear by now, I like to overthink things. Today’s obsession is gear-related: walking stick vs. trekking poles.
I’ve used both, but both rarely. In general I don’t like having stuff in my hands when I am hiking – but there are enough advantages to doing so on the Camino that I plan to do one or the other.
Let’s face it, the walking stick is a classic. Nothing says “pilgrim” like a sturdy wooden staff. Walking sticks alleviate some walking weight, help with balance, and are good for “leaning breaks” and fighting off wild beasts. As an added bonus, my dad makes excellent custom-carved walking sticks to which he can add personal items (like pebbles, coins, or other items I find along the way). So if I carried a stick on my Camino, I’d have an amazing souvenir when I return.
On the downside, walking sticks are significantly heavier than poles. Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but consider that 1 km equals about 1,300 steps. That means that a longish day, say 25km, is about 35,000 steps. Even if the stick is lifted every other step, that’s 17,000 lifts per day! In situations like that, every ounce counts! Sticks are also not easily stored – so if you have one, it has to be carried all the time whether you are using it or not. Finally, there is also a real possibility of loss on the airline due to the ever-changing TSA rules. This would represent a more painful personal loss than a generic piece of gear.
I haven’t used poles enough yet to confirm their benefits, but I’ve become at least theoretically convinced of them. The idea is that they take weight off your lower body (think knees), provide more forward motion on uphills or flats, and help control downhills and tricky spots by doubling your balance points. Moreover, they are collapsible; so, when you don’t want them in your hand (or just want to use one), you can stow them easily. (In fact, convenient pole storage / access is one of the selling features of my pack).
One downside to trekking poles is price (especially if you get good ones). The cheapest poles are far more than the average stick (if you even purchase one instead of just finding it along the way). Another significant negative is the fact that trekking poles posses zero gravitas. If you want to look cool in your photos, poles are fine – if you want to look epic, nothing beats the staff! (I’m certainly not going to display a Bass Pro Shop trekking pole on my wall with a Camino shell hanging off it!)
Perhaps this is a false dilemma. I could follow David’s lead and use one of each! This would resolve the debate, but it wouldn’t solve any of the stick problems.
I brought this conundrum to my walking stick guy (my dad) who surprised me with his advice. Given my indecision over gear and the potential transportation difficulties, he suggested I simply use whatever I wanted on the Camino and plan on not necessarily keeping it as a souvenir. Instead, I could just bring him things from my Camino to add to a stick he’d make me when I got back. It might not end up being what I carried, but I wouldn’t have to spend the whole trip stressing over losing a stick (if I use one instead of poles) – and the items I collected would still be made into something special to keep / use in the future.