Whilst out hill walking in the beautiful mountains of Ireland, you will find yourself moving through a variety of terrain. This will include sodden bog land, thick heather and gorse, forest and even snow. In such conditions your balance will be tested to the limit, and it will be up to your coordination and leg strength to keep you on your feet, after all, your legs are your main source of balance. However, it can help to have some extra assistance in the sometimes very difficult task of staying upright, and this is where a good set of walking poles can be worth their weight in gold especially when coming down the 600 steps at the end of the Spinc Walk.
Twenty years ago a hillwalker may have simply picked up a stick along the way and used it as a sturdy pole, but nowadays there are a veritable plethora of modern walking poles available. Most of the modern walking poles are extendable, have a good grip, and even have shock absorbers!
So what should you be looking for when making a selection?
Length. Modern Walking Poles are usually extendable, and are often made up of two or three parts that slide into one another, and they can be fastened or loosened by twisting them in opposite directions. This is quite important as it also allows you to adjust the height of the pole to suit your own needs. By counter-rotating these parts, you can either loosen or fasten these parts. This enables you to increase and decrease the length of the pole, usually to an exact height due to a scale on the pole. However, with extended use the pole can become compressed so it is important to look for a set of poles that have a locking system to prevent this. Always remember to shorten your poles when hillwalking on steep ascents in order to compensate for the difference in height. When you are hill walking down hill you should lengthen your poles. This will keep your body from leaning forward and will therefore help you with your balance. It will also take some off the stress and strain off your knee joints as you hike, but they will not support all of your weight, and if they collapse whilst you are using them, you may injure yourself.
Grip. The hill walking conditions, terrain and your personal preference will determine what type of pole grip that you will want. Most grips are rubber, and can be held on the palm of the hand, or from the top of the pole. Advanced poles might have slightly bent pole grips which are better for steep inclines, and some even include self-arrest hooks similar to those on an ice axe. However, going to such extremes is not really necessary when out in the hills in Ireland.
Tip. You also need to have a look at the tip of your pole. This will be made up of a basket, which stops your poles from being buried too deeply in softer surfaces, with special baskets being available for snowy conditions. Make sure that the tip of the pole is not too sharp, and strike a balance between adequate grip, but are not dangerous to you or your equipment when you are out hill walking and hiking.
Overall, make sure you purchase some poles that will suit your needs, and the terrain that you will walking through. And remember, leave no trace behind!