HOW TO CHOOSE… Trekking Poles & Headtorches
Author: Taylah Danaë Baggs Date Posted:19 April 2018
You have a multi-day trekking adventure coming up. Perhaps there’s a big camping/hiking trip planned with all your friends. Or maybe you’re an avid day-hiker that enjoys exploring the trails on the weekend. Whatever the case, you’ve probably already picked out comfortable shoes, a sturdy pack, and the perfect tent. But you’re not yet fully prepared.
Headtorches and trekking poles are important hiking accessories that will vastly improve your time on the trails. This guide should help you to understand why owning a headtorch and/or trekking poles is a smart idea. It will also guide you through selecting an appropriate model and tell you how to avoid common pitfalls.
Headtorches / Headlamps
As we roll into winter and the days keep getting shorter, you don’t want to be caught out after dark without a convenient light, especially on hazardous trails. Headtorches can keep you safe at night by stopping you from tripping over obstacles such as tree roots or falling into rabbit holes or potholes. They also increase your external visibility, warning cars when you’re near roadsides and helping other hikers keep track of you. They’re also useful to have in your car or home in case of power outages or similar events.
To select your headtorch, decide which of the following features are most important to you and find the headtorch that excels in those categories.
Luminosity (measured in lumens)
The higher the lumens, the brighter the headtorch’s beam. If you just want to light your way around camp at night, then you don’t need a super-bright headtorch. On the other hand, if you’re using your headtorch to run on trails and rough terrain at night, you’ll need a bright headtorch to light up obstacles at speed. Brighter isn’t always better: a particularly bright light can make it harder for you to look at maps, and it also reflects light in misty/foggy conditions, meaning you can’t distinguish features as well.
Flood vs. spotlight beam
Some headtorches use a wide-spread (flood) beam, while others use a narrower, focussed (spotlight) beam. Flood beams allow you to use your peripheral vision, while spotlight beams are great for seeing into the distance. Having the ability to switch between these beam patterns is a great feature.
Headtorches may offer a strobe light, a brightness memory (so you can turn your light off and on and it will remember your last setting), or red, green and blue night vision modes. Decide which features you’ll actually use and keep in mind that you don’t want to be standing around clicking and holding buttons to get back to the setting you need.
Nobody wants to be halfway through a hike and have their light die on them. If you’re on long trips and won’t have access to charging points, pick a headtorch with a long battery life. If you’re only going to use your headtorch sparingly, or for short to medium runs, then a shorter battery life isn’t a problem. Remember that battery life changes depending on your headtorch’s settings. Maximum burn times always list the headtorch’s life using the lowest setting.
Hint: keep a spare set of batteries in your pack. Even better, store your batteries separately to your headtorch and only pop them back in when the sky gets dark. This will eliminate any power loss during the day.
Most headtorches are lightweight. After all, they’re designed to be worn on your head. If you’re an ultralight enthusiast, however, you may want to shave off even more grams and select a superlight headtorch. Just keep in mind that you will likely have to sacrifice battery life.
Trekking Poles / Hiking Poles
If you haven’t used trekking poles before, chances are you think they look a little dorky or are only for “old people”. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Trekking poles have plenty of important uses, including:
- Alleviating your weight and improving your balance when you wear a heavy pack
- Improving your traction and balance over uneven/slippery terrain or stream crossings, thanks to an extra two points of contact
- Reducing strain on your knees and ankles, especially during descents
- Helping you to maintain a consistent walking rhythm to increase your speed and stability, while regulating your breathing
- Improving power on uphill slopes, since you can dig in your poles and help pull yourself up with your arms
- Improving circulation and reducing heart rate by keeping your hands close to/above your heart
- Checking water depth, rock stability and terrain safety (think quicksand, melting snow, etc.)
- Moving thorny or stinging plants out of your path, as well as other nuisances such as spiderwebs
- Pitching ultralight shelters, which saves you the weight of bringing tent poles. Trekking poles are also stronger and more rigid than tent poles, and therefore better able to stand up to strong winds
- Miscellaneous uses, such as hanging your laundry, defending against wildlife attacks, and acting as medical splints.
It’s essential to purchase the correct pole length for your height. Stand up straight, preferably wearing your hiking shoes or boots, and bend your arm 90 degrees at the elbow so that your forearm is parallel to the ground.
If you’re trying poles in-store, choose the one that you can lightly grip in this position. If you are shopping online or want a more exact measurement, then measure from the floor to your elbow in this position to calculate which length pole you need.
Adjustable vs. Fixed
Fixed poles come in single sizes such as 110cm which you want to get right and usually size for flat ground.
Height-adjustable poles can be shortened and lengthened to suit your exact measurement. Ideally you want your flat ground measurement to be half way between the minimum and maximum so you have room to adjust for up and downhill. You can also fine-tune them on the trail if you want to adjust your poles according to terrain (generally, longer for descending and shorter for ascending). If you travel with your poles on public transport or flights, ensure that your poles can be shortened or folded up.
Aluminium vs. Carbon Fibre Shafts
Aluminium pole shafts are lightweight and strong. They make for flexible poles that can bend under very heavy loads but are unlikely to break.
Carbon fibre pole shafts are the lightest pole shafts available, so grab trekking poles made from carbon fibre if you’re an ultralightweight enthusiast. Carbon fibre is strong and absorbs vibration and shock so it’s great for downhill slopes. It can, however, shatter easier than aluminium poles if you bang them around excessively.
Trekking pole grips come in four main materials:
- Foam – soft, durable and sweat-absorbing
- Cork – lightweight, sweat-evaporating and can form to the shape of your hand over time
- Rubber – good for hiking with gloves in snowy/cold conditions, but not for summery weather, as it can give you blisters
- Plastic – a cheaper alternative that you should steer clear from, as they can be painful and slippery.
Here are some additional features to look out for on trekking poles that you may want:
- Shock absorbers – reduce impact on your wrists and arms
- Baskets – summer baskets prevent your poles from sinking into mud or getting trapped between rocks. You’ll need larger baskets for snowy conditions.
- Tips – carbide and steel tips are great for gripping on rock, dirt and ice. If you plan to walk on asphalt or concrete, though, invest in a pair of rubber tips to protect both the ground and your pole tips.
- Straps – allow you to use poles with a more relaxed grip. Ensure these are comfortable to use by placing your hand up through the strap. Place your hand against the grip, allowing the strap to rest against the web between your thumb and forefinger. Slide your hand down slightly until you have a comfortable grip. Now you don’t have to hold your poles so tightly: the tension applied between your wrist and the strap will serve just as well, if not better.
Now that you know the important facts about trekking poles and headtorches, you can select your perfect product and hit the trails knowing that you’re fully equipped to handle whatever the great outdoors throws your way.