Poling Efficiency

With the primaries and presidential elections coming up, I thought I would write a post on poling technique – just a different type of poling technique. I am talking trekking poles, not political poles.

It recently popped into my mind as I was out on my first cross-country ski of the year the other day. I am an avid skate skier and strider during the winter and have subconsciously crossed over much my trekking pole technique from habits from these sports. A lot of power is generated from poling in skiing but I feel they could be used more efficiently in trekking. I haven’t heard specifics of the topic discussed much in the hiking community so I figured I would address this area.

I will also use a similar method of naming and association for reference to the various poling styles in skating versus hiking.

Single sticking:

In skiing this is poling one pole at a time with the opposite hand as your foot plant. It is typically used when ascending steep hills or when you are truly exhausted.

For trekking, this would be the typical walk where your left hand pole is planted as your left foot lands, and right pole is planted as your right foot falls, or vice versa. This is the normal system. This adds slight efficiency to propel yourself forward, I’d say less than 15% even with a good push off, but does take some of the strain of your legs from the repetition of walking and on descents. It is especially valuable on steep descents (but I still find myself using V2 Alternative more often on the steepest of descent).

V1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j50I6stjyHo

In skating this is where one double-pole-push for each full stroke-cycle of both leg-pushes — with no distinct “glide” phase on the poling-side ski before the pole-push starts. In skiing this is often used in high-resistance lower speed situations and the poling takes place as your foot lands. See the video link above for details.

I often use this technique while grinding up hills or on steeper terrain. I will pole with both poles to carry me through a full stroke cycle of both leg pushes. It is a slow and steady motion that keeps a constant flow uphill.

I also, but more rarely, use this technique on slow, technical downhills that need concentration on where your foot and pole plants are located.

V2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pjzh_65-I4

In skiing this is two double-pole-pushes for each full stroke-cycle of both leg-pushes. So each single skate-push is accompanied by a double-pole-push. Used in a range of situations, except high-resistance and very high-speed situations. Note that initial the pole plant happens just before the ski is set back down on the snow.

I mention this method because of the timing and pole plant timing. It is not used often. Mainly this will be used in trekking in a slow downhill situations to brace yourself and prevent impact on your legs and knees as you step down steep steps or through steep, tricky terrain. It is hard to get two pole plants in per leg stroke cycle while trekking on normal ground.

V2 Alternative (also known as V2 Alt.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxErUs42bBI

This differs from regular V2 because you are just poling on one side. Again the pole placement is right before your footfall.

I often use this technique on non-technical terrain and well-graded trails and even slight uphills, or while road walking. It works especially well on dirt or gravel roads when I am trying to get into the 3-4 mile per hour target speed and maintain that. The strong single push off of the double pole at the time of your footfall propels you forward through your full stride cycle, while also giving you enough recovery time between pole strokes.

Conclusion

Yes, you are probably right………I do have too much time to think when I am out in the backcountry. This analysis is probably above and beyond what is necessary, but hopefully it helps. These types of thoughts are what went into the planning for our winter PCT hike. Details, details, details. After all proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance.

 

Note that these techniques may feel awkward at first but you will gain coordination and efficiency with practice. It should be less clumsy than learning to Nordic ski – where the first few days you feel like a baby giraffe.